Community Solutions to XO Deployment Scale Blues


There's many problems in OLPC right now, but scaling successful deployments is a biggie. Basta botón para muestra (a button will suffice for a sample), since together with this one specific problem most of what's wrong with OLPC has one central point:

The exclusion of the community from policy making is what is keeping OLPC from really taking off.

A major source of discontent around those who want to have OLPC become real in their own neighbohood is the minimum number of XOs that OLPC will take a donation for (it appears OLPC does not "sell" them, IRS technicality). The canonical example is Chile, where 900 was not enough.

Not a sustainable deployer

The Sur list (Pilar Saenz from Colombia in particular, kudos) seems to have found why it is so. OLPC decision-makers believe the only way to start a deployment is to send a Cambridge-designated expert in, or supervise things from CC1. Thus, obviously and quite sensibly, you would not want deployments that are so small that they would not pay your expert, who not only is an expert, but an American expert (more $$$)

No matter this is totally inconsistent with Nicholas' sola machina view that the XO itself will bypass "experts" (aka teachers), providing a better learning experience through the Internet than they would get through their teachers, even though, for example in Uruguay, those are rather highly trained. And a teacher-centered approach is a key to success.

It all bottom lines into that, apparently, the community cannot be trusted, and we need someone else (assigned by OLPC headquarters) to teach us how to do things right

Which explains how hard it has been for me to convince Rodrigo Arboleda, thanks but no thanks, against his constant insistence that I need to make the deployments in Bolivia larger so that he can justify sending his people in.

Now, I am sure some of those people are swell, I might even have met a couple of them, though not getting response to my emails has been my experience in trying to connect with some. And I am sure Mr. Arboleda sincerely believes this is the best path, not out of any evil intent but just because he has not been given the right information.

The real problem remains: even if that were a good idea (and it is not) such a deployment model is expensive, and it cannot be scaled up or down. Imagine the wildest dreams of Dr. Negroponte, and 4 or 5 governments "get the vision" and want 10 thousand XOs tomorrow, to get to a million each by the end of the year. Who would you send, if the only right way is experts?

Pilar, responsibly as the best of us, when she finds a problem, she offers a solution. In her own words:

Habrá que mostrarles que mantener centralizado el proyecto es lo que más daño le esta haciendo y que nunca podrán responder de forma adecuada si no construyen capacidad de soporte y respuesta local. Algo que perfectamente pueden asumir los grupos de la comunidad si hubiera la voluntad y la comunicación necesaria.

'We will need to show them that to keep the project centralized is what has been doing it the most harm, and they will never be able to respond the right way if they do not build local support and local response. This is something that perfectly can be done
by community groups if the necessary willingness and communication were there

OK, to make it simple so it can be agreed upon by all'uns, when Dr. Negroponte comes in on Wednesday to hear the community proposals, please pass him the following:

  1. community-based solutions are scalable, up or down
    Once you get going, you have options that will serve well the G1G1 1-family deployment of one XO, and the 200.000 Uruguayan one, and anything in-between mostly anywhere (I agree some artisanal work might be needed for some out-of-the-way localization, but the community is often better prepared to do that too. You may even hire a community-connected expert or consultant (Hi Michael!), who will help you connect to the community as his first act)
  2. community-based solutions are better
    By drawing in the expertize of the many, no one is left alone to his own wits, and unless it is a proud and silly person, he will seek help when he needs it, and get it, because it is there, offered freely by the OLPC community.
  3. community-based solutions are cheaper
    it eventually becomes a self sustaining process, no need to host training meetings for local experts to send out, no need to bring over to Boston local people who will then be the patronizing experts in their own countries. Yet you do need to provide some basic services, like a wiki, listserv, conference calls, and a few actual employees who are there 24/7 to serve the community. This is totally peanuts when comparing costs, and we already paid for that zillions of times over for all eternity with what the community already has contributed through G1G1. And the local community is right there to help things along, growing in its own skills and abilities, able to better troubleshoot than anything else, and having more buy-in than anyone coming from abroad, however good those might be

Yama Ploskonka is a representative for Bolivia and Chile with Open Learning Exchange, but who started as just one more member of the OLPC News community


In honor and apology to the gentleman from Costa Rica, connected with several nonprofits, who tried to visit 1CC a couple days ago and was not allowed in the building, the Ploskonka household is having Costa Rican Tarrazu for their morning coffee today.

I am sure he will make a great community member, by the way, and he was not left too sore by the experience, which is a good thing, of course after a volunteer spend 25 minutes on the phone with him.

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Reading this post explains a lot.

There were some TCO calculations posted earlier on OLPCnews. These did immediately show that sending in a US expert kills any dream of sustainability or cost effectiveness.

From your post I get the strong impression that they really do not get Free Libre Open Source software (FLOSS).

Compare this with the designation of an 18 year old Brazilian, Marcelo Tossati, as maintainer of the stable Linux 2.4 kernel in 2001.

That is the difference between how Linux kernel developers look at responsibility and 1CC does it.

The Linux kernel developers made a very good choice.


"they really do not get Free Libre Open Source software (FLOSS)"

No, they don't, Winter, and you and I agree it's not just about the "software" part of FLOSS, as single-minded people might think, it's the spirit, it's the community, it's ubuntu, or ukamau in Aymara. Of course you cannot turn that into an Excel© spreadsheet, which might be a good thing, except that current decision-makers are business people, not quite attuned with this whole Bazaar model, which I agree defies the laws of Nature as we used to interpret it. But the bumblebee flies, oblivious to scientific data and a business model that would establish it is not possible (or so I was told when I was a kid)

This post seems right on the money, based on all that I've read on OLPCNews in the last year. OLPC is far too opaque to make effective use of the goodwill and energy of the community.

Several times I have heard complaints that OLPC refuses to let someone buy a classroomful of XOs at $200 each to start an independent pilot program. Why? It seems like nutty self-destructive behavior to me.

As I've said repeatedly, OLPC needs to sell XOs to all who want them. How can OLPC obtain the necessary economy of scale when it cuts itself off from a potentially huge market--individuals? When those million-unit orders to 3rd-world governments failed to materialize, OLPC, for some reason, chose not to pursue other ways to sell their laptops. I am baffled.

Oh yeah, and now that they only have something like a dozen staff left, failing to harness the community would surely be their doom.