[Guest blog post by Marek Čaněk, co-founder of praguewatch.cz and a PhD Candidate at Prague's Charles University and an activist in urban and migrant workers' issues]
Praguewatch.cz is an internet guide to Prague’s controversial cases of urban planning, big development projects, parks and allotments under threat and alleged cases of corruption and clientelism. A group of people mostly interested in different aspects of urban development (a human geographer, sociologist, transport expert, urbanist, etc.), we launched the website in September 2010, due to our dissatisfaction with Prague’s politics. The combination of a long-term one-party rule together with the power of the developers, who have close ties with the political elite, has left little room for alternative scenarios of development.
Critique, engagement, memory
The site is based on the cooperation of academics, experts and engaged citizens. The aim is to offer space for critique and debates on conflicts around the use of public space and resources. While the team of praguewatch.cz, together with our collaborators (who come in big part from Prague non-governmental organisations), has so far mostly mapped cases where decisions about proposed developments cannot be altered, we plan to follow and support individuals and groups who would like to get involved in cases with a mind to change their outcome. In this regard, one category of the site is especially crucial: information about selected upcoming decisions on constructions, etc., where affected people and communities have only a certain amount of time if they wish to get involved in the administrative decision-making process. However, we also think that the website can be useful as a memory-bank of controversial decisions made or not made (for example, sometimes there is the issue of insufficient regulation of historical monuments and sometimes a too strict regulation of street musicians).
Projects within Praguewatch.cz
There has so far been quite a positive response to praguewatch.cz, with a growing number of people and NGOs wishing to cooperate with us. We have started discussing cooperation with some organisations, which could have main responsibility for a concrete category on the site. These organisations could then have their own (sub)projects within praguewatch.cz, once we have agreed on common publishing and editing rules. We would still, however, have a main editor of the site to make sure that a certain style is maintained and to guarantee that some major development cases are looked into from a more complex perspective. There are a number of challenges that we face but the main two are the verification of data as well as a definition of what is “in the public interest”.
Ushahidi has been very useful in many ways and we plan to use some of its functions more (e.g. the possibility to collect data from a larger number of people for some specific issues). I will focus here on some issues we need to solve and hope to get some advice from the Ushahidi community. It would be time consuming for our programmers (who do not have a good knowledge of the deep structure of Ushahidi) to make some changes, especially if they have already been done by programmers in other Ushahidi projects. I could not find the code/hacks for some of these on the Ushahidi forum. I hope we can also contribute to ushahidi by sharing some of the improvements we develop (e.g. I will share the code for implementing google street view on the ushahidi forum).
My question is if there is a code available for the following things we would like to implement:
- the possibility to send alerts from the map only for some categories (I saw that e.g. Haiti ushahidi has implemented it http://haiti.ushahidi.com/alerts);
- the possibility for the user to be able to see a list of names of reports when s/he clicks on a cluster of reports on the map (this was implemented in http://voiceofkibera.org/main)
- the possibility to choose one category and see the list of all reports within that category (as is e.g. here http://www.nigerdeltawatch.org/reports);
- sharing of the individual reports on facebook, etc. (has anyone implemented it?);
- an editor of reports so that one needs not know html to change the formatting (has anyone implemented it?);
- the possibility to have rss feeds for each page/report and a sharing button for facebook.
However, the most important and biggest change that we need to look into is the possibility to adjust moderator rights better (e.g. we would need one person/organisation to be able to update information about one report but not to be able to change other parts of the site). This may prove too difficult and expensive to program however.
Potential for development of Ushahidi
I see a great potential in developing ushahidi to be used in mapping urban issues and support citizen engagement. I hope more sites like this will develop and we could share knowledge and technical solutions. Finally I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the creation of praguewatch.cz and also for the financial support we recieved from the Open Society Fund Prague.