Hardware for Civil Society: the Maker Movement Approach in Cambodia

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Mr. Sourn Samean, data specialist from Open Development, is showing a micro controller before a training (above). He is testing the connection between the controller with GSM transmitter. This will allow for data from a sensor to be uploaded automatically to the cloud server where anyone can access it (below).
“This is the first time I learnt about maker tools and how to write basic code programing for the tools. NGOs may use these tools to monitor flood level or air pollution, or connect with trap cameras for wildlife conservation,” said Mr. Sourn Samean, data specialist at Open Development Cambodia.

In February, twelve participants from eight civil society organizations (CSOs) across Phnom Penh attended a three-day workshop where they learned about the “maker” approach and its potential use in CSO community. The Maker Movement is a group of people across the globe who want to work with hardware and electronics, even when they are not qualified as engineers or technical specialists. The movement enables non-specialists to design and build sophisticated electronic and mechanical devices to assist their work in both development and business fields.

Over the course of three days, participants from eight different civil society organizations attended a Maker Lab Workshop run by the DAI Maker Lab, hosted at Development Innovations. During the workshop, these CSO staff members were exposed to popular maker tools. They learned to use the Arduino micro-controller platform, a simple, inexpensive computer that can be used to collect data for a variety of needs. Software can be programed to send that data to a central location for local users, using the internet or SMS technology.  For CSOs in Cambodia, maker tools and approaches open the possibility of designing custom hardware that support CSO missions – hardware that no manufacturer would find economically attractive to mass produce. Data that has traditionally been the exclusive responsibility of governments, like air and water quality, can now be affordably collected by CSOs to advocate for their interests.

Rob Ryan-Silva, Director of DAI Maker Lab, who facilitated this workshop, recalled, “Several participants told me that they found the hands-on, maker approach to learning deeply refreshing.”

When asked what their organization can do with or build with these techniques, participants identified several practical ideas. Participants suggested building a live monitoring system to track city traffic levels through trackers mounted on tuk-tuks, simple rickshaw motorbikes that are popular transportation sources. Others said road quality could also be recorded and mapped this way with the addition of inexpensive accelerometers to register poor quality roads. Garbage trucks could be tracked to verify whether contracted routes were being promptly served. One CSO discussed plans to integrate custom flood sensors with the existing telephone warning system to reduce costs and improve reaction time in an emergency. Rob concluded that all of these ideas, and many more, can be implemented with the techniques learned in the workshop.

The Maker Movement is on the rise in Phnom Penh, already a growing hub for 3D printing resources such as ARC Hub PNH and Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, who both use 3D printing tools to solve local challenges. ARC Hub PNH ran a hands-on Mini Maker Faire this year at the 2nd Annual Cambodia Science and Engineering Festival and is part of the South East Asia Makers Network (SEAMNET), a group of maker spaces from across the region.

Download this success story in PDF.