Breathe easy – a glimpse of car free london

Car free day was in our street yesterday, around 20 roads were closed by groups of neighbours across our borough of London. I grumpily forced myself out of bed, huffing along to help manage setup of “road closed” barriers across the busy ratrun of junctions down our street -and in the back of my mind as I walked about, I worried about the potential road rage of Sunday London drivers. “What have I got into?” I muttered to nobody in particular.

Apart from one or two grumpy stares,and a bit of futile over-vigorous steering, I was pleasantly surprised- even slightly shocked- that most people were rolling down their car windows to ask about what was happening, with the majority being pretty supportive of the idea.

Air pollution exacerbates asthma. The road closure gave a space to for kids to play and for all to breathe cleaner air. The legal case of one little girl Ella – is pushing the issue of clean air up the political agenda. In her case, air pollution was suspected to be a causal factor in her death aged just 9.

We live on a hill and very quickly adults and children alike were happily enjoying the freedom to skateboard and cycle right down the middle of the street. Adults spoke to other neighbours who you wouldn’t normally bump into.

It was neighbourly and relaxed in a non chintzy way that meant even I cheered up.

Later on, standing at the top of the hill and looking down, I noticed that the visual clutter of the many shiny cars had also disappeared. I took a breath of fresh air, and for a minute, it felt like a glimpse into the future – a better vision of London that I could happily bring my kids up in. (Throwing in a few shared cars, bikes and electric vehicles).

Why I stopped blogging…and what I think now

I used to have a blog of my own. It was, in fact, on this page right here. I wasn’t sure if had anything to say but Tim Davies persuaded me that my words counted for as much as the next self appointed blog-commentator and so I began to write.

This was in the early days of citzen assemblies, edemocracy and before facebook was a thing. I was working at an exciting social participation startup called Involve.org.uk with my colleague Richard Wilson and we were gathering, researching and teaching participation methods to a huge range of government and public sector bodies. I once created a *cutting edge* pack of cards with Thinkpublic that included explanations of innovative participatory tech like…mobile picture messaging (!)

Over time, things I wrote on this blog got picked up by others and we had some good online debates, some conferences and meetings that led to new connections and ideas. The blog felt useful and productive.

Over time I found a self- doubt creeping in, the increasing mass of voices online that seemed so sure of their opinions and assertions -people putting ideas out relentlessly on the many new platforms available. They seemed ever more binary. My online potterings felt a bit irrelevant and indecisive in comparison. In fact the more we were to encouraged to blog at work in my subsequent role at Nesta- the more the boundaries blurred between personal ‘work’ views – and the less sure of my own opinions I became.

I stopped blogging and put my head down to work, volunteering and family, entering a period where I threw my heart and all my work and spare time into practical projects where I believed I could make a big difference – 360giving.org.uk, democracyclub.org, Local Trust, Crowdfunder.co.uk, Otesha, Neighbourhood Challenge, the Big Green Challenge. On the home front I moved house and had two children.

Right now, society is going through very challenging and unsettling times. I just spent the day at a innovation conference for work talking about hope in the face of fear and it made me reflect on this choice to step back and think “What do I know?”

Well… I know that many great and difficult changes are needed to make a better society and better places to live. I know in my heart the values I think can help make that change – openness, collaboration, kindness, thoughtfulness and authenticity. I know the truth that I see and hear around me from the many wondrful people I have worked with over the years – people changing the world around them for the common good. I now that change comes only from optimism, perseverance and a sense of self belief. I’ve also grown up a bit, developed wrinkles and regained a few precious shards of free time. I know that don’t have the time to be afraid any more.

So, the blog is back…wish me luck in writing it. We all have a voice that matters. It’s easy to tell other people that – it turns out I found it much harder to tell myself.

Bursting the filter bubble : Step one, leaving Facebook

Feeling like a fly caught in a web of specially tailored content? Releasing yourself from the mighty strong grasp of a filtered internet experience is a long process that can be quite tedious. I wonder why I’m bothering at all sometimes…these “bursting the filter bubble” posts are my notes on the experience and to remind me why it matters.

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Spring 2017; I went online to check some travel plans for the following week and before I knew it I’d spent over half an hour browsing Facebook- ranging from a range of accquaintances’ holiday snaps to a few mildly distressing news stories things personalised especially for me. I felt vaguely deflated. It seemed to be a web browsing pattern I was increasingly drawn into like a fluttering little moth.

I wondered 1) how much time I had wasted in snippets, 2) how much calm, scenery and thoughtfulness I’d missed out on by checking my phone during idle moments 3) whether this ultimately pointless activity could contribute to feeling anxious or pessimistic or self fixated.

I decided to finally leave Facebook. Would it help? I had no idea, but I thought at least it was worth a go to try and break the habit.

***

But why did it seem so difficult? Firstly, it actually was moderately difficult to see how you got through the menu to the “leave Facebook” section. I tried for a while via menu and eventually got faster and clearer information by searching outside Facebook for the answer… not great.

Secondly, How could I take some of my photos other data and connections off the platform before deleting my profile?This removal of data thing looked a bit complicated… I spent some more time reading

“…there’s private data that belongs to you, such as your email and photos. Second, there is data that belongs to you but that you have published on, say, Twitter or Facebook or a bulletin board. Third, there is commercial data, of the sort that you create when buying things online. Fourth, there is metadata that you don’t know about, which tracks your browsing habits, location, and so on.”

I realised I’d spent close to an hour trying to work out how best to completely leave Facebook.

Come on, just delete it I muttered to myself.

Finally, with my mousepointer hovering over the final button, suddenly all those friends, photos, connections suddenly seemed hard to “just delete”.

Funnily enough, Facebook agreed, it even flashed up a message to tell me how hard it would be to leave, they would “miss me”. On screen, there were the faces staring at me of some people Facebook algorithm must have worked out were my actual friends and family.

Pausing to acknowledge that they really know how to design for user retention, I rationalised….I can’t spend more time on this, I want to get rid of or save this data properly, I also want to stop wasting time on Facebook and on leaving Facebook.

So…cursing…I decided I’d spent enough time dithering and decided to deactivate Facebook instead of deleting it, and I still haven’t actually left. I’m technically still in Facebook limbo at time of writing.

I’m sure this is exactly what Facebook would prefer people like me do. Hoping the network would draw me to reactivate at some point in the future.

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Let’s see if it happens. For now, it’s been a fair few months, and I haven’t missed it one bit. In fact, I even started writing the odd blog again in those spare moments…

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Blogs in other places … including digital trends in social innovation

You only have so many blogs in you – right?

I am currently blogging mostly on my work pages over at Nesta – you can see if you scroll down past the mugshot to a list of Alice Casey Blogs at Nesta which I guess I dont need to duplicate in full here – except for the one below as I think it sums up a wide range of interests I’m working on quite nicely on how people are using new tech to make a social impact.

Digital Social Innovation : 11 Trends to Watch

People are using digital technology to revolutionise how we make social impact and to develop useful new resources for everyone. We know this is happening in a wide range of ways but is often informal and community-driven which means that finding and supporting people who are delivering or expanding great project ideas is a difficult task as the field is not very visible. We’re trying to increase this visibility by crowdmapping this space.

If you or someone you know is working on projects in the areas below please let us know about them by adding them to the open crowdmap over at www.digitalsocial.eu You can read the detail and find more examples via the detailed article under each link.

  1. Crowdfunding is a great example of how online networks can disrupt the usual way of doing things, in this case; funding new projects. The number and type of platforms has grown in many directions, whether sourcing volunteer time alongside fundraising, providing public match-funding for community projects or creating revenue sharing for social enterprises.
  2. Crowdmapping became more widely known when it was used in disaster relief operations such as that after the Haiti earthquake. It showed how usefully social media and citizen reports could be to target relief more effectively by collecting this information rapidly for anyone to view on a live map. How to develop this for more ongoing citizen engagement and accountability is a live question.
  3. Crowdsourcing is a term that covers all kinds of ways in which information is gathered from a large crowd and used to create new insights. There are some exciting developments using crowdsourcing within top-down decision making processes in systematic ways to create direct engagement on governance.
  4. Sensor networks are becoming more common as sensor technology becomes cheaper and more widely accessible. They are particularly well suited for monitoring areas of common popular concern where it is difficult for an individual body to gather quality and quantity of information, for example citizen-led pollution monitoring.
  5. Open hardware is the creation of physical products through using digital processes. The social applications are hugely varied, from medical products to sensors to a wide range of tools and other devices.
  6. Data powers applications of many kinds, and the social impact applications of data are hugely varied, but they depend on the quantity, quality and availability of this data. In the detailed article you can read more about what big, open, linked data actually is and why it is so important for social impact projects.
  7. Open source code helps people to avoid starting from scratch when creating new projects. When your project is a volunteer-led initiative, it is incredibly valuable to understand more about how code sharing platforms like GitHub work.
  8. Open licenses help people to freely share any of the things they have created for others to re-use. Whether that is data of any kind, or content; knowing you are free to re-use and build on existing knowledge is an important foundation for digital social innovation.
  9. Citizen science describes a movement that unlocks new resource for research and analysis. The zooniverse platform is a great aggregator for examples of projects, whether getting the public to help classify cancer cells, or monitoring light pollution or using health data to understand chronic health conditions
  10. Open learning takes place informally in many ways online, for example using Wikipedia or Youtube to find out information or to receive instruction. However, there is an increasing movement towards making comprehensive online learning resources available for free or cheaply online and it is also fuelling all the technical and digital learning needed to make the most of all the opportunities that digital innovations offer, for example through free and open coding courses.
  11. Collaboration spaces like FabLabs and hackerspaces aren’t of course an entirely digital phenomenon, but we wanted to include them here because getting together face to face is still incredibly important to accelerating the new social applications that can come from digital technology. If you know where to look, you’ll find many exciting meetups to collaborate and develop new digital projects – or just to hang out.

The 11 digital social innovation trends above are the areas we found that seem to be particularly exciting and important to developing social impact through digital innovations. These trends overlap and depend on oneanother to create social impact – no doubt you can think of more! We are only at the beginning of realising what can be achieved through combining these trends to create entirely new ways of creating products and services with real social value.

Anything missing? Want to know more? Contact us via @digi_si or email Peter Baeck & Alice Casey to talk further about DSI and of course, dont forget to add yourself to our map. We’d love to hear what you’re doing.

– See more at: http://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/eleven-trends-watch-digital-social-innovation#sthash.ENKYst9s.dpuf

Rational Parliament : Fracking

rational parliamentOn Tuesday evening I wandered down to Conway Hall in London to help run the Rational Parliament – an experimental debating forum for issues that matter to citizens, but that are very hard to find unbiased, evidence based info on. We debated the rather hot topic of shale gas extraction or ‘fracking’. You can hear more about what went on in the debate over at the Rational Parliament blog.

I was there more to look at how we structured the debate and to understand how to get different experiences of debate and understanding for those attending the session. A few experimental things were trialled including using a language expert to help people reflect on the way speakers manipulate language when making their points; a way of using cards that can be held up to visually express when they felt a speaker needed to give more evidence to be credible, and also the way in which the actual topics for discussion were sourced and voted on by the room. These experiments worked together to achieve a more collaborative experience that aimed to raise understanding in the group compared to a more traditional ‘broadcast’ style debate.

Expect further experimentation, and some more knotty topics for debate in the New Year!

Mozfest : Indicators for measuring the impact of news (part two)

So; as mentioned in the last post on here I have been thinking about understanding, simply communicating, and measuring impact in news.

I’m now going to delve a bit further into this; I’m paying particular attention to citizen-interest topics, social justice in all its forms; any stories penned by campaigning journalists, activists and citizen reporters as well as those representing ‘solutions’ journalism.

Mozfest measuring news

In my last blog I got to the basic doodle above after saying that a finely layered hierarchy (a pyramid) might not be useful to us to communicate impact as it quite a blunt tool and implies that change only happens in one way – ie. by climbing to the top of the hierarchy of ‘change’.  I do however think that we can still usefully group this information – so have grouped these basic categories in a simple way that can help us focus on the ‘type’ of change we want to see as a result of our online journalism.

Lets go into this a bit further.

I think we are looking at three groups within this simple impact measurement:

First group: 

1) People read it (Measured in pageviews, click throughs etc.)

2) People comment on it (Measured in quantity and quality of exchanges, sources of comments)

3) They share it (Measured in depth, frequency and diversity of share – eg. across many networks, to non-target readerships)

This first group is important because it represents broad reach and demonstrates a base of interest and potential network emerging from readership. It can of course help inform the content creator in a live way as to how their stories are being received. It could be seen as a proxy for relevance/interest of some kind or it would be being shared, commented on or even read.The challenge here is understanding the diversity of the shares across relevant indicators (are you breaking out of the echo-chambers of opinion?) and also the response of the reader to the content. (positive or negative). So far as I know there is no simple open source tool to help citizen journalists do this to ensure they are not just ‘talking to themselves’.

Second group:

1) They do something offline (Join a meeting in local area, attend a protest etc.)

2) They fund it – probably online- (though donations, crowdfunding, subscription)

The second group represents a step towards making specific change – so to me seems like it has a different quality of engagement; it has a cost in time or money to the ‘reader’. It is a form of journalism that has somehow become directed towards a common purpose, a specific action in a more ‘hands on’ way. The challenges here are measuring how likely the individual is to ‘convert’ into an active citizen on the topic in question and go on to construct a citizen-led response. Are there ways of monitoring this conversion process through integrating relevant platforms like meetup or crowdfunding sites into citizen journalism tools or dashboards. Is there a way of promoting action beyond ‘sharing’ in a more visible way? (eg. at the minute ppl have a set of sharing buttons on articles, what about addition of ‘do something’ buttons?)

Third group:

1) Decision maker interacts/responds to it (Measured by relevant actions/statements )

This is different from the other two as it represents a response, not an action under direct control of the reader. It represents impact on specific power dynamics. If the head of the company or government or whatever you’re writing about replies or changes their policy as a result, then you know you made a difference. In some ways it is perhaps more linked to ‘group 1’ – a sense of mass movement rather than a deep/constructive citizen led movement. To my mind both types of change are required – the one that people begin to build for themselves as represented in group 2, but the one that they lobby for against power as represented in group 3. 

The challenge here is who to target, how to be heard- and how to know if you are on the fringes of being heard by those in power who you want to affect. Are there ways of measuring readership by organisation that could help activists know when they are beginning to tap into relevant social networks of those in power?

It is clear that there is scope to develop some accessible tools for citizens and journalist activists to understand and target impact more effectively. Perhaps they are already being built somewhere? Let me know if you have found some and want to share!

Mozfest : measuring the impact of news

A couple of weekends ago the glorious Mozfest happened in Ravensbourne college right next to the  02 dome in London. If you haven’t been before you should, (to Mozfest I mean). You’ll find awesome people and atmosphere, something tech related for everyone to get involved in from all the makers activities to the open badges work, and an array of surprisingly nice crustless sandwiches. All well and good I hear you say – but what hsa this to do with news? Well, the Mozfest folks look at journalism as one of their areas for development – and this is my personal area of interest – I beelined it up to the top floor to find out more.

Why is measuring impact of news so important?

We could answer this in a number of different ways. In a way, at the heart of it this is about power and learning. If you control media (or you control your own consumption of media) then in a way you reduce diversity of opinion and stories you are exposed to ; and you could argue that reduced exposure to alternative viewpoints therefore reduces learning and collective understanding. We now use so few sources, increasingly so few websites to get our news -in effect tailoring our own customised ‘agreement’ channels to view our online world. We can easily create our own lens to view the world, one which provides little challenge to our own views and assumptions about the world. Its easy and perhaps more comfortable to live in a news echo chamber, or perhaps to block out the ‘news’ from our online experiences completely. When in theory there is more content available then ever this poses a big challenge particularly to campaigning journalists bloggers and citizen reporters. Aspirations are including but not limited to the following:
1. How to be read by a lot of people (understandably where a lot of focus goes but possibly as important I think are the following three…)

2. How to be read by diverse groups whose opinions you want to shift

3. How to be read and responded to by decision makers who can affect change

4. How to inspire direct action-taking by readers.

The journalism fellowship folk from Knight Mozilla there were working on many related questions, one of which was around what ‘impact’ actually looks like and how we go about helping many diverse and often under resourced journalists operating in widely ranging circumstances to define and to measure impact.

We started with a pyramid sketch on the day:

pyramid news impact

with the intention of giving a hierarchical value to measurable indicators. Pyramids are unhelpful in the long run but can be a good place to start visualising value and frequency as they tend to expose what doesn’t really work in a hierarchical approach – you read more thoughts on it here from Jessica Soberman – noting that as ever the reality is more complex. The challenge is to know to know which combination of variables are important/valuable, at which frequency under which circumstances- so, after our initial pyramids were created I went back to drawing board after meeting and tried boiling down to this crude set of first level definitions that can be combined and drilled into to suit multiple purposes.

Mozfest measuring news

Mozfest measuring news

Where to go from here? We need to add some more specific, measurable indicators and ways of easily tracking them in a dashboard to assign value or weight to the article and try and help journalists target their work more effectively.

I am going to try writing those up next so if you have any thoughts please drop me a note or add a comment below.