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Pilot Proposal

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V. Pilot feasibility program

It is our goal to provide a proof-of-concept demonstration that we can implement the cerbumi process and develop helpful solutions to a selection of trial challenges.

We ran an advertisement in an online community of over 30,000 members, seeking volunteers for a study that analyzed how people work together on the Internet to solve problems. The primary demographic is young men from age 16 to 25, but the well-moderated community includes representatives from every group. We ran three study cycles. For the first two cycles, we solicited a limited number of participants and conducted the trial on a private mailing list. For the third cycle, we publicly conducted the study on the community's bulletin board system. We presented the first and second groups with complex math-related puzzles, who found solutions in a few hours. Based on this success, we offered this challenge to the second and third study groups:

Refugees require housing that can be drop-shipped from around the world to wherever they are: local building materials are often unavailable, and time is short.
Can you devise a small shelter, about 10'x10' with about a 6-7' roof, that is easy to assemble, and that should cost about or less in any real quantities? It should be lightweight, weatherproof, and reasonably portable; if the refugee can't take their shelters with them, they probably won't leave. Insulation and durability is a good thing, too. How good of a product can you design? Keep going until you agree that what you have provides the maximum benefit for the lowest cost.

The discussions ultimately fell apart. Some possible reasons for the failure include an inappropriate or poorly framed question, a lack of experts in the group, a lack of discussion guidance, and poor tools. However, their wholehearted willingness to participate suggests that volunteers who will take a problem seriously can work effectively with the right framework. For example, the same community raised nearly $21,000 to provide a member's army platoon with personal armor plates for their tour in Iraq.

At this point, we believe that the cerbumi process shows substantial promise. We would like to begin a two-phase feasibility study that would first create the core components of the Cerbumi.org infrastructure, then test the process on one to three real world problems. Each phase will require approximately 6 months:

Gantt chart of pilot feasibility program, the cerbumi pilot project

The cerbumi pilot project, click for larger view

Building an Infrastructure

To begin, we will investigate the initial software application requirements. There are excellent examples of collaborative environments online that we can consider; sourceforge.net and groups.yahoo.com are both excellent models. Once we have identified the software requirements, we will purchase server hardware that matches these needs. As we source and build the hardware, we will also design the interfaces and create a sample "user experience" for the site. Lastly, we will begin to write the server-based applications that power the cerbumi process.

Attracting key supporters

Cerbumi.org will recruit an advisory board early in the pilot, consisting of several mentors from a variety of fields. We will recruit broadly from disciplines including business, communication, nonprofits, software engineering, and social entrepreneurship. Once we have identified our first pilot question, we may recruit additional experts. This will afford us greater credibility, necessary when we begin relationships with nonprofits and experts. We hope to build a critical mass of major nonprofits and experts that will act as the foundation for our participant recruiting efforts.

Recruiting participants

We will recruit participants early in the process. They will prove to be invaluable by providing feedback for the design of the application, marketing to nonprofits, and identifying opportunities. We can recruit from a variety of sources including professional societies, personal contacts, communities on the Internet (such as Slashdot.org and SourceForge.net), and colleges. Large organizations may contact their employees on behalf of Cerbumi.org. We hope to find publicity through articles in newspapers and radio stations. We will also consider advertising on National Public Radio as the project grows.

Identifying problems

As we begin our discussions with nonprofits, we will learn of dozens of opportunities for the cerbumi process to make a difference. We will solicit opportunities broadly but quickly narrow our focus to a few problems that would provide the best test. The purpose is two-fold. First, it will help to expand the Cerbumi.org user base. Second, it will serve to create a broad cross-section of the types of problems the cerbumi process might encounter. This will both strengthen the software infrastructure and demonstrate the widespread implications of the framework.

Develop and quantifying a problem for the pilot

From our selection of challenges, we will select the challenge that would best test the cerbumi process. We are not particularly interested in finding a problem that will be easy to solve given our resources. Rather, we wish to identify the problem that is most likely to give the most robust test of the framework. An ideal problem is specific, limited in scope, relatively concrete (like the shelter), and general enough in subject matter to be amenable to multidisciplinary collaborative problem solving.

Run the cerbumi discussion process

After selecting and qualifying the challenge we then run the cerbumi process listed above, starting with step 4. During this time, we will log all discussions and feedback.

Assess the process and results

After running the cerbumi process, we will solicit feedback from the participants. We are primarily interested in the ways in which we can improve the process. For instance, we may learn of limitations or complexities of Cerbumi.org that make it difficult for the average computer user to contribute effectively.

Assist the nonprofit in funding appropriate solutions

Once we find a solution worth implementing, Cerbumi.org could assist the nonprofit in implementing it. For instance, we would summarize the group's findings, extract expert consensus, and present the results to donor agencies.

Report to the pilot's funding agency on results and feasibility

At the completion of the pilot, we will document the results of the project and the feasibility of continuing.

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