I'm working on an advisory project at the moment where the team in charge is largely remote: we're all spread around the world and the people organising things spend too much time in front of Word, PowerPoint and Outlook. The result? Lots of text gets sent back and forth and that text is festooned with bullet points, numbers and linear thinking.
I first came across the antithesis to this from the creator of "the learning organisation" concept Arie de Geus' The Living Company: hexagonal thinking. Hexagonal thinking involves writing down key components of knowledge, observation and understanding on hexagons, not in lists, and then placing them in patterns that show the connections between ideas, and the connections between clusters of those ideas and other clusters. It is complexity made simple.
De Geus had found that when he and executives were trying to help insurance people better understand their complex products, the expensive computer simulations they had developed were not doing the job: staff were too busy trying to "win" the simulation that the more significant, and complex, information about the products was lost. With the introduction of hexagonal thinking those complex connections were made swiftly and deeply.
It's an oldie that I've only just unearthed. Nearly two years ago I spoke to 500 'creative agents', people from the creative industries working in schools, at their national conference in Birmingham on how to manage creativity in education.
20 years ago if you wanted to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix race, you got yourself a good car and a good driver. Today, you need a team of scores of computer scientists, engineers and mathematicians, analysing your car's computer eveyr millisecond of every lap: without this data harvesting and analysis you will not win a race.
Today's cities, says, Ratti are heading the same way, and many are getting there already. Having placed billions of data connections in our cities over the past few years, cities are beginning to talk back to us, as the artefacts in MoMa's Talk To Me Exhibition show. And it's important that we harness this. Cities currently take up:
2% world surface
50% world population
75% of energy communication
80% of CO2 emissions
Managing cities based on cell phone use
During the World Cup final Ratti's team at MIT's Senseable City Lab saw how cell phone use matched the to and fro of people around the match itself and in cafés and homes around a city. How could this data be used to provide better information to public transport, buses and taxis?
We spend so much energy in our cities and corporations sourcing the goods that make our products, but we know very little about where the waste from our products ends up. Here, harnessing data from pervasive geo-location-aware tags on 3000 products, Ratti's team were able to see the extent to which our waste travels around the world and back. Using this data, could our city fathers and corporations design better waste solutions, not just better sourcing solutions?
Planning a great response to great (and pervasive) data
Analysing data reveals stories - in a telecoms example in the United Kingdom Ratti's team looked at the two connections made with every network communication. This helped redraw the map of Great Britain, with Scotland the first, most clearly marked out communicative community, but with countries like Wales split in two, north and south, and the epic-centre of the echo chamber that is London-London communication clearly marked out:
This analysis of data can therefore suggest to us several things, and reveal the communities around which we might want to build specific services, which often don't match the "official" boundaries marked out by politicians. Something for Scotland will, naturally, be very different for something based around the communication habits of someone in London or Wales. More on the analysis process can be seen in this video and the research paper:
The Copenhagen Wheel - helping individuals to help the community
And how can data be harnessed on a level much more "on the ground", by citizens? The Copenhagen Wheel was a creation from the MIT Senseable City Lab, which makes life easier for the cyclist but uses their efforts to provide information about the city that can be used to help everyone:
It transforms ordinary bicycles quickly into hybrid e-bikes that also function as mobile sensing units. The Copenhagen Wheel allows you to capture the energy dissipated while cycling and braking and save it for when you need a bit of a boost. It also maps pollution levels, traffic congestion, and road conditions in real-time.
Conclusions (and questions that remain!)
How can we make data more useful in other contexts than it currently is?
What is there we can do to make the collection of data from one person actually helpful to them, while beneficial to the wider community, not just the political or adminstrative élites?
What innovations in data collection for the common good are there to be found in education? But also in parenting, transport, food and drink, energy consumption and creation?
This talk was the opening keynote at Smart City Expo in Barcelona, Spain, where I'm giving a talk on how we can harness design thinking to better involve our communities, and our children, in building better cities.
Well, only partially true. While researching out a seminar on digital stories I thought I'd plug into Google's ngram viewer, looking at how vocabulary has evolved in the millions of books digitised by Google since the 1800s.
My first search was on ICT. Surprisingly, ICT is not a new phrase, and the C in ICT may not have been added as late as the 1990s but as far back as 1800. My question: "what did ICT mean back in 1800?"
Another interesting search, suggested by Tom, was "teaching,learning". Isn't it fascinating to see how learning has always been more important to authors than teaching. You can even see the industrial revolution kicking in, where teaching streaks ahead. Finally, the progressive movements of the 60s bring learning back to the fore. I wonder what the next 20 years hold for the balance of learning and teaching.
Paula Cohen, from Los Angeles, has the kernel of an art project idea for her class. When she told me about it, it felt like an augmented reality twist might make it come true. I can see the concept, but lack the technology skills to see how to pull it off. I'm hoping someone reading this blog might be able to share their expertise and ideas on how to make a living graffiti project come alive. Here is Paula's original email, published with her permission:
I have this project I have been wanting to get off the ground with my students. I was visiting SPARC this summer and it came up of how there is a current ban on murals in Los Angeles going back to some signage legislation that was intended for corporations.
A local drive entails passing a multitude of billboards, many digital, flashing distractive messages and sales. That is when I got this idea to help young people reimagine their communities.
What if they could take a series of digital photos of their communities and through a program like photoshop and deep conversation, they could transform their communities on screen into what they imagined.
For example: lawns could turn into food gardens, billboards could become PSA's and murals, each corner could have a youth center, etc. (Ok, that's my imagination!) Do you have any ideas?
Thank you, Paula
In my mind it's something with Layar that could work best, and I've shared my small selection of AR links with Paula in the hope there's some inspiration in there. But what would you do?
Colour swatches Use the metaphor from pantone cards from the painters' shop, or military ribbon bands, to transfer new information. Example: Military ribbons as a means to explore the debauchery of rock bands, Information is Beautiful book.
Map overlays Countries are not all given equal status in the learning we do/did at school. Map overlays show this. Examples: Take several of the world's richest and most prominent countries and see how many you can fit into an outline of Africa:
Take four of the world's four richest economies and see how many you can fit inside the richest of all: the United States. (Information is Beautiful, pp.61, 142-3, 202)
Everyone thinks their own country is bigger than it really is. The Brits are as guilty as anyone else. Just listen to the oohs and ahs at these proportionate maps, courtesy of Sheffield-based Alisdair Rae:
The BBC's How Big Really helps people understand the scale of issues around environmental disasters, the war on terror, disease and other global issues, but showing their extent atop the town or city where that person lives:
Real maps, abstract stories Take a map whose coloration or name markings tell a different story. The master of this was CS Lewis with the maps for the Chronicles of Narnia:
Proportionate Maps A wonderful collection of maps from the University of Sheffield, UK, show the world map through different lenses to explore global issues. For example, population density as a map is amongst other concepts on WorldMapper:
Mind maps / Organised Mind Maps Favoured by the Guardian for its coverage of large, complex economy issues, these give a lot of information and show how it relates:
Proportionate Images More complex than a proportionate box, and even more so than a circle, see if students can make proportionate shapes to illustrate facts. Examples: Relative child poverty by nation Relative costs of insuring parts of your body (Information is Beautiful, pp26, 60, 151) Sensitivity of body by nerve endings:
Boxes and Bar Charts Potentially the most boring of all graphing, these can be really entertaining, shocking or thought-provoking. Or all three. Seek the greatest differences in data to make maximum impact. Seek to overlay boxes where relativity is important, or to lay them side to side where you want to compare like for like. Example: Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus explained in a picture Debtris UK or Debtris USA versions:
Proportionate Circles Lining up or superimposing circles of proportionately varying size helps emphasise the parts that make up any whole. Examples: How you spend your life and The shocking truth of conviction rates for rape in England and Wales (overlapping circles): Information is Beautiful pp.196-199. The Sunday Times' News roundup of 2010:
Snake Oil? Are natural remedies all they're cracked up to be?
Gapminder This is a free-to-download application that amasses some of the most authoritative (but dense) information in the world, and helps you spot trends amongst countries and within continents. Look at how Hans Rosling manipulates data to tell stories, in the BBC Clip below, for example, and then set students the challenge of finding their own 'shocking truths' within the available axis:
Contrast image and (in words) story Images can be used to make us smile, while words portray the deep, shocking truth. Example: Murderous dictators by facial hair (Information is Beautiful, p.172)
Calligram Write a text that takes the shape of the thing you are describing, adding proportionality or geography to add another level of meaning. Example: The Great Chinese Firewall as shown through websites that are blocked from coming into China and searches that are forbidden within it, in the form of a verbal map.
Proportionate Words The data cliché of Wordle stops being a cliché when it makes a point. Try Tagcrowd if you want to delimit the words and have a more accurate representation of the words that matter (i.e. by automatically getting rid of pronouns, articles etc). Example: Compare political bias in newspapers by TagCrowding the same story across tabloids, right and leftist papers. Copy and paste speeches by politicians who speak about the same issues, and see what really interests them: Obama's vision for education:
versus that of English Education Secretary, Michael Gove:
Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.
His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.
Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?
In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.