#rebootbritain : social by social and interactive charter

I went to the NESTA Reboot Britain conference on Monday afternoon. My top two ideas to watch were:

1) Social by Social : New book/website looking in a practical way at how social media offers opportunities for social change. Check out the link. Sponsored by NESTA and written by David Wilcox, Andy Gibson, Amy Sample Ward and Nigel Courtney and Clive Holtham of Cass Business School.

2) Interactive Charter : Tim Davies and Paul Evans were joined by Tom Watson MP and Jeremy Gould to launch a charter for developing and improving how social media is used in a government context. Again, they can explain it far better than me over at the website linked to above!

The point is that both of these ideas have something in common that is very important to me, namely – a way of looking beyond what happens online into practical ‘real world’ application and culture change. If social media is going to make a real difference to the way we operate our social and governance systems, then we need more practical projects like these to lead the way forward. Let’s move from rhetoric and discussion into more piloting and learning.


Obama McCain : The world is watching… and participating!

Iranian Obama Campaigner

Ahmad Foroughi : Iranian Obama Campaigner


I love this picture of Ahmad Foroughi standing on Waterloo bridge. I met him a few weeks ago when I stopped to talk as I was curious to know what was motivating him to stand there, giving up his time on a windy Saturday afternoon.  He was wearing a cool T-shirt and carrying a sign that said “We’re searching for Americans! Can you help? Are YOU American?”

I assumed that he himself was a US citizen – enthused by Obama’s message of change – trying to spread the zeal and get others to vote Democrat too on November 4th. I was off the mark – he is in fact Iranian by birth- and unhappy with the US’s current foreign policy around terrorism and extremism. He himself is unable to cast a vote in the US election, so gave up his Saturday afternoon to stand on Waterloo bridge trying to find any American who hadn’t registered in the hope that it’ll help Obama win tomorrow.

I asked him why he was so passionate in wanting Obama to win – he went on to discuss his family and roots in Iran and the impact of US foreign policy in previous years and what it might be the future. He then went on to tell me in a matter of fact way: “Its time for a real change and I believe Obama can do this.”

The world is not only watching this election – they want to be part of it in whatever way they are able to, and its not just happening online, there are people like Ahmad willing to give up more than a mouseclick moment to the campaign. Inspired by politics, inspired by a politician, belief in the possibility of real change… write it off as  Obamamania if you like – but the passion and interest in participating has to be good for people’s rights and for generating the demand for real democratic process and real opportunities for people to influence power across the world.

I’d like to see this level of enthusiasm in the UK election next time around…

CauseWired : A Web 2.0 Book Review

Review In Brief: Causewired is a new book by Tom Watson which chronicles next generation social activism, or the ’causewired’ phenomenon – people connecting directly on social issues using the web to make a difference in real life. Its pretty interesting, has some good real life examples of the power of web 2.0 so you should probably go & check it out!

Review in Full: Its true that I don’t habitually get my news through the broadsheets anymore – and that when I do get the chance to spread out the newspapers and browse through them it feels like a luxury. Maybe its something to do with the amount of time and concentration it takes to rifle through and unfold the various supplements, find what I’m looking for without a search engine, and then read something with a wordcount longer than 500 in its entirety without any links to source material or comments from other readers to distract me…. ;)

Despite my lack of dexterity and slight attention dysfunction – I do still persevere with getting information in this way, albeit less often than I used to. Of course, this move away from the printed press doesn’t mean that I read any less information, or that I’m accessing it less often. In fact my information sources are far greater in number, infinitely more diverse and (too) frequently accessed by me than ever thanks to RSS, e-newsletters, blogs, Twitter, online journals, and regular Amazon deliveries of the latest books to take my fancy.

So… I’ve increased my digestion of online, interactive, peer to peer, user generated news and info alongside a scaled down consumption of the of printed stuff; but whatever printed articles and books I do choose to take the time out to read from this deluge of information – I’m reading them quite differently now.

The way I access and absorb information has become far more interactive. As I read, I am more actively re-evaluating the text than before, wondering what other people I know think of the material and (much to the irritation of certain print fanatics!) am constantly writing notes in the margin of printed articles/books and intermittently googling references as I go…wondering more than ever before ‘what does this actually mean in practice for me, for my work, friends family?’ etc.

So, bearing in mind all of the above, I hope you’ll better understand what I did when I received a copy of Tom Watson’s new book CauseWired last week and why it matters.

What I did when I received Tom Watson’s CauseWired last week … and was it worth it?

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I started reading from the beginning, marking the interesting sections in the margin (of which there were many) and then googling my favourite references and quotes in what proved to be a fascinating chronicle of the way in which social media and connectedness is changing the face of philanthropy and activism.

Tom W writes clear and interesting accounts of how regular people have used social media tools to highlight the ongoing issues they face in their community or that they care about across the globe. He disscusses the citizen-led coverage of New Orleans post Katrina, of how Darfur and cancer research centres came to be so well supported on Facebook, of how the face of political campaigning is being changed forever, and many other fascinating practical examples of social web tools in action. I googled all of this stuff, and proceeded to skip around a few chapters back and forth and skimmed some bits, went on to discuss the references with colleagues and IM’d a couple of friends about what I’d read. Then I joined the Facebook group and contacted the author on Twitter to let him know I’d be writing something up about his book on my blog.

Then I lent the book to someone else interested in online stuff – and I hope to get it back to read the bits where I left off to go googling… :) Then I watched some Obama videos on YouTube, joined a Darfur campaign group on Facebook and sent an awareness raising video to a few friends, and finally, I clicked online to donate some money to a small charity in Africa that I only heard of and keep in touch with through email/blogposts.

The book is a great resource for anybody who wants to better understand what all this web 2.0 stuff actually does, and what it means for ordinary people right across the globe when it comes to social change.

So, yes, it was worth reading; and what is more, it was worth passing on, so I wrote it up here on my blog.

Web 2.0 is changing everything we do in a whole variety of ways both online and crucially in our everyday lives -some of these shifts are more subtle than others and they even apply to a bog standard book review like this one.

So below, please find the rest of my web 2.0 book review, or in other words – check out these links for more info. What you choose to do with that info will be the interesting part… :)

Max Gladwell

Steve MacLaughlin

The Mongoose

David Bailey

Designing Climate Change Deliberation – Canadian style

I told you I’d get round to writing this up… here it is!

Just over a week ago I took part in a series of workshops, discussions and deliberations at the University of Edmonton in the province of Alberta, Canada. I was one of a handful of ‘deliberation/participation people’ who were there to have input into how the diverse group of Albertans present might best set up a successful, province-wide deliberative process on climate change issues.

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

The event was participated in by an impressively varied group of individuals – representing a significant range of viewpoints including;  energy industry representatives, radical environmentalists, political activists and government officials. The thing that all parties had in common was a genuine, and strong desire to move forward on the issue of climate change in Alberta. (They even gave up their weekend and worked 12hour days for free to be part of the deliberation – so I can testify to their commitment!)

So, what were we actually doing?

We wanted to put together a basis for how a public discussion on climate change in Alberta might best work – and help to move forward from polarised debate on climate change into more useful dialogue and action across the province.

Alberta is a focal point for climate change discussion as the Canadian economy has greatly benefited from the energy industry located there, including the booming Athabascan oil sands near Fort McMurray. This industry has been strongly criticised by environmental campaigners and scientists for its impact on the environment. Alberta embodies many of the environmental and economic debates taking place globally.

A key part of how myself and others present felt that progress could be made on these tough issues was through using deliberative techniques to bring people together in a more constructive and positive way than through debate and conflict.

How did you go about it?

Two main groups were involved in the design process over about four days:

One was a smaller group of around 15 and consisted  both of Albertans and of visitors interested in assisting with the deliberation and public participation aspects. This group was present throughout the entirety of the process every day.

The second group was a larger group of around 50 Albertans who were present at key points in the design process to act as a ‘sounding board’ for the ideas that the smaller group had been discussing and formulating together during the day.

This format worked well in that ownership of the process and its aims began to be built from the outset amongst a very varied group of individuals, and the rapid response and interaction between the smaller and larger group helped to refine ideas very quickly over a short period of time.

By the end of the five days we worked together to uncover the bare bones of a process that could work for Albertans, wandered across a suprising amount of common ground and found several leverage points for instigating action. As we walked out of the room on the final day, an interim steering group had been set in place and action points had been established for moving forward… so watch this space.

The experience made me feel very positive about what can be acheived through using more deliberative approach to difficult issues like action on climate change – not a form of consensus building, but rather a way of better understanding one another and identifying areas for beneficial progress.

Getting Candid Answers on the Environment

I just got back from an intense week of work in Edmonton, Alberta, assisting the design and faciliation of a deliberative process on the environment. I’ll be writing in more detail on here next week about this unique experience which included a diverse range of people interested in using deliberative methods as a way of addressing future issues on climate change in Alberta.

For now – I don’t want you all to feel like you’ve been forgotten about… (I wouldn’t forget you!) so here’s something related for your browsing pleasure: Candid Answers 2008.

Candid Answers is a US- based ‘voter guide for the environment’ which aims to showcase candidates’ answers to five key environmental questions side by side in a clear format. I think the concept is great but for two things:

1) It is not run by a neutral body – but by the NRDC – an environmental campaigning organisation

2) There is nowhere near enough impartial information available through the site to help people understand the issues more deeply.

Other than that I love the concept and the simplicity… it would be greatly strengthened by addressing the two issues above.

Check it out for yourself!

Social Innovation Summer School : Vocab Test

I went to the SIX Summer School organised by the Young Foundation in partnership with Mondragon (mik) last week. It was a gathering of people with a fantastically varied set of experiences and skills who descended on sunny San Sebastian from all over the place – but all of whom had one thing in common – an involvement in social innovation. (Whether they really knew it or not!)

What exactly social innovation IS seemed to be less clear to me as the days went by… and in a way seemed less important than the fact that ‘something’ is happening in the way society arranges itself. (Plus there was a rigorous social programme which meant that many things seemed less clear as the days went by…)

However, Charlie Leadbeter had a good go at summing things up at school’s close – saying that it’s all about doing things ‘with’ people, rather than ‘to’ or ‘for’ them.

Whether that’s a good summary of ‘social innovation’, I am truly unqualified to say! ;)

However I do think that its a good vocabulary for talking about much of the change we’re now seeing in terms of government, power structures and commerce – and of course, quite clearly, on the web.

We often stop ourselves from seeing through to the core of a system by building up vocabularies and terminologies which are quite restrictive and precise to define that system or driver. Of course there’s a valid purpose for this drive to tightly define our meaning – but sometimes we say ‘participative process’, when we just mean ‘with people’.

Anyway – it was three days very well spent – lots of room for thinking, new ideas, and most importantly meeting people from all over the world who are active in this field of social innovation – doing an astonishing variety of different things.

Here are just a few examples for you. There were many other very interesting projects too which I will be linking to in later posts :

Aussie-based young people’s org: Act Now

Brazil-based Sitawi : providing capital for social enterprises

MindLab – innovation in public administration- based in Denmark

Kennisland/Knowledgeland – Dutch thinktank that runs digital pioneers programme

The Hope Institute in S.Korea – making citizens’ small ideas for change make bigger impact