Mad 2012 : 7 billion people : (The worlds most inspiring photo)

Speaking to young innovators and social entrepeneurs in Hong Kong at MaD 2012 conference. A fantastic experience to meet young people with ideas and projects to change the world for the better – one step at a time! PS. Carl Sagan is awesome.

#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.

Blogging Ideas : Pakistani Spectator

A -kind of- festive post for you before the holiday season kicks off for real… I read a few international blogs through the excellent global voices and one of the active ones is the Pakistani Spectator. Ghazala Khan does a regular series of interviews with bloggers from all over the place and it was my turn last week: 

Would you please tell us something about you and your site?

I write about public involvement in decision making. This is actually takes in quite a wide range of different issues, from the tension between different modes of governance and electoral systems to how individuals collaborate on decision making in their own communities, both locally and online. I blog here.

    Do you feel that you continue to grow in your writing the longer you write? Why is that important to you?

I think everyone learns as they write more frequently – it forces you to order your thoughts in a structured format and to try and imagine how others might understand your meaning. Having said that, I feel that the most important thing is to get out from behind the keyboard and monitor and to speak with a whole range of different people to gain inspiration whenever possible. That’s where you find opportunities to grow as an individual and as a member of several wider communities.

    I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?

My favourite recent post was an interview with an Obama supporter on London bridge – I took a quick photo of him with my camera phone and it came out so well – really capturing the enthusiasm and spirit of the moment. I was affected by the belief of an individual that genuine change can come from those at the top rather than the cynicism that is often expressed towards decision makers in the UK.

    What do you do in order to keep up your communication with other bloggers?

I use RSS feeds to keep up to date – attempt to keep my netvibes page which pulls all of those feeds together in good order. Then of course, I read and comment when I have some spare time.

    What do you think is the most exciting or most innovative use of technology in politics right now?

In politics, it has to be the Obama campaign in terms of excitement and the interplay between online connection and offline action. This was a very powerful mix and am very glad to see this strong emphasis on online tools continuing. See obamacto for an interesting take on what should happen next!

    Do you think that these new technologies are effective in making people more responsive?

I do think that new technology can make people feel more personally connected than ever before, and more able to respond quickly and easily to causes or issues that they are interested in. Not only this, I think that it can supplement our existing networks in new ways which are only just beginning to be realised.

    What do you think sets Your site apart from others?

It focuses on public participation and involvement from a personal perspective. I work for an organistion called http://www.involve.org.uk which is based in the UK – this enables me to look at public engagement and participation from a more analytical viewpoint during the day – then my blog covers the aspect I feel is often not covered so well – what do these ideas and projects mean for real people in their working and home lives?

    If you could choose one characteristic you have that brought you success in life, what would it be?

Critical optimism!

What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?

I’m not sure on this one – life is a journey and I’m usually looking forwards not back!

    If you could pick a travel destination, anywhere in the world, with no worries about how it’s paid for – what would your top 3 choices be?

I like this question – I’d go to Tierra del Fuego to see lava pouring into the sea, then drop by Venezuela to see the Angel Falls, and then maybe to Dongtan to see the eco city… in a year or two.

   What is your favorite book and why?

I don’t have a favourite – I love reading and lots of books have strong meaning for me – one would be ….read the rest here

Enjoy the holidays! 

(Yes, I know the life is a journey line is a bit Forest Gump –  is tough not to be able to edit your words after you write them…!)

Us Now: Ebbsfleet and Ed Miliband

I went to see Us Now at the RSA last night… a documentary by Ivo Gormley and Banyak film that looks at web collaboration type stuff through some real stories about online/offline communities, and a few interviews. It got me thinking:

People right across the world are connecting in all kinds of ways on the web right now without any great institution or medium to support this in a traditional top-down sense. What is more, they are then getting things done – whether that’s about big online projects that use collective wisdom like Wikipedia or Linux, or whether its facilitating personal meetings and connections like mumsnet coffee mornings or couchsurfing.

This is useful, and interaction with a larger whole means something to individuals who take part. Big-little, global-local, public-personal. This is an important landscape feature of online collaboration.

Wikipedia is now my first point of reference when I want to know something, its part of my personal web toolkit, and through it I’m tapping into the  thoughts and knowledge of people from across the world who feel confident enough and who have time to contribute to building that vast resource for free. A wise collective.

The couchsurfer‘s story in UsNow illustrated a more personal side of connectedness – for the surfer, the experience served to put a friendly face onto a blank and unknown cityscape, a way of providing a connection through shared affirmation and a sense of trust induced in part through online reputational systems. Basically, a guy he’d never met cooked him dinner and let him sleep on the couch – and this was all OK.

We know this right? But then, the film takes us to the story of Ebbsfleet football club, and into the world of Ed Miliband and this is where it gets interesting. At Ebbsfleet we see the story of players being picked online by fans, photos are dropped into position online by various enthusiastic supporters. The manager, the expert, then has to pick the team that the fans choose for him. In the film – Ebbsfleet wins the match – they’re all going to Wembley – and fans speak of being part of that victory – ‘we’ did it, ‘we’re going to Wembley etc. But Ebbsfleet don’t do this anymore – they’ve gone back to being expert-controlled with the manager, the expert, taking the decisions for the good of the team and the fans.

Then we see an image of Ed Miliband’s head being gently dropped onto a ‘pick your cabinet’ webpage…hmmmm. Not a great way to construct a cabinet I think… This is followed by a wicked moment of confusion captured on the film that shows a much more human side of an MP – for once, the ‘answers’ aren’t all there… but of course, this was then followed up with an official statement of ‘solution’. I’d much rather it wasn’t.*

When those with traditional expertise don’t know what to do, when a public mandate for change is required, when decisions are at stake that can be based on the real, lived experience of people who know the area, service, attitudes best – those kind of situations are crying out for a more participatory approach. This is going to happen with or without government going along with it – but it would be so much better to have radical system change happen willingly and with optimism rather than reluctantly, through backlash and disenchantment, cynicism, loss of trust in decision makers etc.

Ed’s head in hands moment of bewilderment illustrates the institutional tensions and personal, inner conflict that go to work when we start transposing user generated participatory ideas onto existing, top down ‘representative’ (failing) democratic systems. Yes, there will be leading participatory disruptors that impact on the way government takes decisions, but the question is whether it would be better to transform and decentralise current systems of governance to enable a more equitable distribution of power. I reckon that more votes were made on disgruntled feelings, hairstyle and humour in the London mayoral elections than on policy issues. There’s potential to make a bad system worse…

In Us Now Paul Miller points that there is a misconception that decision makers and those with power make – that people are thick, therefore they shouldn’t be involved in making decision on important things. This problem of perception works at a number levels – decision makers don’t give enough credit to public wisdom and intelligence, the press consistently portray the public as being respondent, passive and powerless rather than active and influential, and people themselves do not feel able to influence decisions in their communities. These three have worked together to ensure that many citizens remain as passive consumers. Now, take the mass media image out of the picture, and instead put in place a new kind of reflection of a citizen – that seen through web 2.0 collaboration and connectedness – a far more attractive and empowering form of citizenship emerges, and its one that does not fit with current outmoded democratic systems.

It is clear that there is a place for two broad based kinds of expertise in this participatory future and for Ebbsfleet as much as Parliament. One form of which taps into public wisdom, one which uses the skills of learned specialist individuals. We need to work out how the two interconnect – where the system needs to change, (pretty much everywhere, especially in terms of repersentative politics), where power ought to lie, and what people everywhere will do for themselves next.

Now, I’m not sure how that’ll all pan out – so might go and ask someone else what they think…

 *see comment below

**Update: Check out what someone else thought at confusedofcalcutta where JP Rangaswami, who chaired the event writes it up.

Time for a change : US Election, unprecedented turnouts

The US Presidential race is making history – and its not just about Obama believe it or not! Across the US we’re seeing unprecedented turnouts at the polling stations, which buck the historic trends across Western democracy of declining turnout at the ballot box.

CNN have reported  that the early voting figures suggest overall turnout across the US could surpass 64 percent attained in 1960’s Kennedy vs. Nixon election. In fact, experts estimate that a record 213 million voters are eligible to vote this year- voter registration drives by both parties, particularly the democrats, have played a significant role in boosting this figure. No matter which candidate they’re all voting for [though the Obama effect does seem to be boosting the turnout ;) ] this has to be good for reviving democracy.

Gallup estimates a 60% turnout – check out the graph below from OpenLeft to see what a strong trend that would actually be. (I’m hoping for something higher than this!):

voter-turnout-graph

But of course, unprecedented turnout equals unprecedented queues. Interesting to see how the system copes (or doesn’t) with significant numbers of people actually showing up to exercise their democratic right to vote… and that’s happening on an astonishing scale right now.

Whether in Long Island, Missouri, or Washington DC. people are turning up to be part of history – to play their own role in this grand occasion. They are standing in the winding queues, waiting there in good faith that their personal participation will count for something far bigger and more significant than any one individual’s action. That very fact is in itself a real change already being delivered by the candidates’ campaigns. Somehow, this contest has made voting suddenly seem attractive again.

Let’s see if Cameron or Brown can make me want to queue in the rain for six hours or so … hm, or maybe I’ll just do postal next year.

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