As the former editor-in-chief of the technology project magazine MAKE, I've learned that makers don't limit themselves to simply making things. Their urge to be an active participant in the world around them means that they also have a strong desire to make the tools, processes, systems, and organizations that empower other people to do the same. One example is Safecast, a global volunteer-centered project that developed a low cost collaborative monitoring network to measure radiation levels in Japan after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Safecast has not only generated the world's largest open dataset of background radiation measurements, it has also established a standard for collaborative environmental data measurement projects.
Similarly, another program benefiting from maker enthusiasm is the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a non-profit collaborative organization consisting of a large number investigative groups and media from around the world. The chief technologist of OCCRP is an astonishingly prolific activist and maker named Smári McCarthy.
A short version of McCarthy's resume includes co-founding Iceland's Pirate Party and the Icelandic Digital Freedom Society, doing pioneering work in the field of digital fabrication, and helping establish Iceland's first Fab Lab. It was at the OCCRP where McCarthy co-developed, along with OCCRP executive director Paul Radu, something called the Investigative Dashboard Project, a web-based tool to help journalists conduct forensic research across millions of documents and scraped databases, including the ones from the Panama Papers, the mind-bogglingly massive leak financial and legal records that revealed the hidden offshore holding companies used by corporations, wealthy individuals, and criminals to hide their money, evade taxes, and conduct illegal business transactions. Like Safecast, OCCRP makes all the data is has collected available to the public at no cost.
Earlier this year, Institute for the Future invited McCarthy to come to its public gallery in Palo Alto and share with a standing-room-only crowd what he's learned about global corruption. There's enough bribery, assassinations, money laundering, treasury embezzlement, mob shoot-outs, and poisonings in his talk to fill the pages of an espionage thriller. The only difference is it's all true, and it's still happening.