What Goes on Behind the Scenes… An Update
August 24th, 2023
In 2020, we published our first blog post on "what goes on behind the scenes" of co-creating a Network that effectively localizes emerging technologies such as drones sustainably and responsibly, with a locally-driven, bottom-up approach. In 2021, we built upon this blog post by publicly sharing our key activities and roles on our website. In 2022, we followed up with an extensive report detailing our novel approach and model.
Our "behind the scenes" activities evolve as our journey evolves. Hence, it's time to share an update on the wide variety of daily activities our team focuses on to turn the growing Flying Labs Network into a thriving Network.
While any network organization would cherish a self-coordinating network, this thought remains "wishful thinking." Our dedicated team of Network Coordinators knows that coordinating such a geographically, culturally, and expertise-diverse network like the Flying Labs Network demands very dedicated and creative efforts. Furthermore, the values of sharing and collaboration, which are the Network's core values, ask for curation and coordination.
Mfon, Gilles, and Kenn interact with each Flying Lab regularly. They share collaborative opportunities within the Network, provide guidance on accessing the extensive resources available to Flying Labs, facilitate introductions to potential partners and opportunities, organize sharing activities such as webinars and event participation, address Flying Labs' queries, coordinate the Network's retreats (this year, the Retreats will be conducted regionally), update Flying Labs on important news, and so much more. Additionally, their annual task includes renewing (social franchise) licenses. License renewals provide a perfect occasion to discuss growth needs and ensure that each Flying Labs' sharing requirements are met. One of their key focuses this year lies in implementing the improved license renewal process that was co-created with Flying Labs at the 2022 annual Flying Labs retreat.
Similar to Network coordination, the technical support WeRobotics provides to Flying Labs is extraordinarily diverse and highly personalized to address the needs of individual Flying Labs. Kaja is leading this work, supported by Amrita, Elsa, and Kenn. Together, they contribute with their own experiences and expertise in drone piloting, data acquisition and processing, data analysis, GIS, drone maintenance and safety, sector-specific drone applications, and more.
One key program implemented over the past years that is growing both in success and application is "Turning Data into Action" (learn more in these two blog posts: link and link). Through microgrants, Flying Labs can learn hands-on, implement the methodologies of the program, and receive personalized and dedicated support from our team, this on various technical and stakeholder engagement knowledge and strategies. The team is also committed to creating technical resources and developing technical train-the-trainer courses for drones and data, information, insights, and analysis. Additionally, they organize technical online courses and learning sessions, host webinars to introduce new technology solutions, facilitate certification training in collaboration with technology partners, and more.
An underlying objective of our work is to shift mindsets towards the significance of local expertise and the role of emerging technologies in addressing local challenges encountered by diverse communities globally. This pertains to local and global contexts, as bias and prejudice often dominate the discourse on both scales.
To complement lived experiences, sharing real-life instances through storytelling is an effective tool for shifting mindsets. Given the extensive range of Flying Labs' impactful work, there are a wide variety of stories about local experts that use drones and data to actively contribute to local solutions that positively impact the lives of local communities.
Dan is gifted at crafting visual narratives that transform the tales of WeRobotics and the Flying Labs into captivating videos and photos. Additionally, he collaborates with colleagues to support Flying Labs in creating engaging blog posts and disseminating their stories through social media.
The art of storytelling, coupled with Flying Labs' efforts to engage tens of thousands of local stakeholders across multiple projects, training sessions, advocacy engagements, and more, allows us to continue shifting mindsets locally and globally.
Building and facilitating a strong and thriving ecosystem of global partners and supporters of the Flying Labs Network is one of the critical elements of our approach and success. Most of our team members contribute to this activity by identifying new partners, cultivating impactful and winning partnerships, and facilitating our broad ecosystem of technology, methodology, organizational, and research partners.
We engage with our partners through training, projects, microgrants, and events, intending to create easy access to their solutions (e.g., hardware, software, platforms, methodologies, collaboration opportunities, etc.) for Flying Labs. Through these partnerships, local experts tap into the wealth of existing solutions with equal ease as the international and Global North experts.
When asked to define "power," many Flying Labs translate it as "opportunities." We wholeheartedly agree! This is why another key element of our daily work involves creating, catering, facilitating, and managing opportunities for the Flying Labs Network. We do this in part by creating and fostering partnerships (see above), for example, for innovation, learning, and research projects (examples here and here). We develop opportunities for and with Flying Labs through a wide range of activities:
- Introductions to global clients.
- Training on more effectively developing local opportunities through co-creation (examples here and here).
- Joint grant applications and fundraising efforts.
- Sharing leads that regularly come our way through our websites.
We also offer Flying Labs the opportunity to engage WeRobotics team members as consultants on their projects if they wish to do so (for example, to fill a specific void they may have in expertise). This collaborative approach is a remarkable illustration of how local and global organizations can thrive together. It also illustrates how traditional systems and practices in the international aid and development sector can evolve.
Network Development & growth
As highlighted in this recent blog post, the Flying Labs Network keeps growing both in size and strength. Our contribution to the growth in size is through managing the evaluation process of applications for new Flying Labs. This process is co-led with Flying Labs. In cases where the evaluation outcome is positive (which is the case for half of the received applications ), our team works with the local team to facilitate their onboarding and integration into the Network.
However, most of our contribution focuses on "growth in strength." We equip Flying Labs with tools, solutions, and answers for each of the 51 detailed criteria of the Governance model that defines qualitative growth in our context. We facilitate working groups for collaborations on topics chosen by Flying Labs. We also provide a wide range of internal programs, from technical growth opportunities (see technical support) to internal online programs on sustainability and business model development for Flying Labs, templates for local contracts, and many other resources.
Sector Expertise Expansion
Drones are an effective tool for developing solutions across various sectors, including the full spectrum of the aid and development sector. While these tools are cross-sectorial, our stakeholders, along with those of Flying Labs, work within well-defined sectors, which include: disaster management, climate action, urban development, and the workforce of the future, among others. Together, our team and Flying Labs cover expertise in integrating drones and data into all these sectors most efficiently and impactfully. Flying Labs freely decide what sectors they want to focus on, depending on local needs and their core expertise. For instance, Amrita is our expert on STEM/Youth programs. Her responsibilities include:
- Collecting and documenting the wide variety of STEM/Youth activities within Flying Labs to share.
- Co-creating new STEM/Youth programs with Flying Labs.
- Advising Flying Labs in their Youth/STEM activities.
Collectively, Flying Labs and WeRobotics, have an impressive wealth of sector expertise. Our key contribution is in bundling this expertise through sector programs, supporting Flying Labs in documenting their sector expertise in use cases, co-authoring reports (like, for example, this recent report on drones in mangrove conservation) and white papers, and facilitating their participation in international conferences (and occasionally, our team participates as well ). In the second half of 2023, we are also launching a new approach to sector collaboration by creating and facilitating sector expertise hubs. These hubs will bring together Flying Labs experts, external partners, and our team's sector experts for partnerships and the creation of resources. The first hub focuses on exploring the application of drones and data in disaster management, preparedness, and risk reduction. External experts can also collaborate and share knowledge with the Flying Labs by signing up for the Roster of Experts and contributing towards the impact and overall growth of the Network.
One of our most valuable tools for our work is our continuously evolving Knowledge Sharing Platform known as WeShare, which is accessible to all Flying Labs members. Additionally, we develop online courses that are freely accessible to Flying Labs, with some also accessible to the public.
Important to note: most of our activities are driven by the direct demand of Flying Labs. Following the implementation of our Network governance model in 2020, and thanks to the annual self-evaluations of each Flying Lab, we hear directly from all Network members about their needs and wishes for growth. This comprehensive perspective and data guide our annual activity plan. For instance, in 2021, Flying Labs expressed the urgent need to enhance their relationships with Civil Aviation Authorities and their wish to be more active in shaping more suitable local drone regulations and policies. Therefore, we introduced a new role within our constantly evolving team to support Flying Labs in their work to advocate for a drone safety culture and improved drone regulations and policies.
As the needs of Flying Labs and the Networks will continue to evolve, so will our contributions and efforts. Continuous learning and evolution are at the core of our organizational DNA and fuel much of the enthusiasm and dedication we collectively invest in our daily tasks.