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.
Success with digital media for museums, education and cultural organisations isn't about scrambling to sign up to the latest fads, those teasmades of technology, and more about attitudes of organisations and the individuals within them. What are the handles we can grab hold of to begin or better develop our journeys into digital media use in the world of exhibition, performances or engagement of new audiences?
In 6 minutes 40, the 20 ideas I think will affect educators in a big way in the next couple of years. This appears as part of New Zealand Core Education's EDTalks:
20. QR Codes and other smart mobile means of making the real world expand into the virtual world will become commonplace in the pockets of our students. With Layar you could craft a living history of your school transposed onto existing real-world buildings viewed through a smartphone camera. 19. We will gain a better understanding the hype curve, and what types of behaviour with technology can be spotted along it. 18. This gives us a chance to shorten that lead time to get to the learning quicker 17. Anything 'touch' changes the game, not necessarily because of the device itself but because of the way it affects the design of everything else around us, especially websites. 16. More will leave the desktop and go online, whether it's MIT's Scratch heading online next year thanks to the MacArthur funding we awarded earlier this year, or 15. Making real life products that students can feel, touch and use will be where the best learning takes place. Students will stop "doing" stuff at school and will more likely "make" stuff at school. 14. We'll think about how we build more interaction into our virtual spaces but also our physical spaces. 13. Think how engagement of the senses can do something as simple as encourage people to walk up the stairs rather than take the escalator. 12. The last 30% of our planet will get online in the next year as more of the world, south of the equator, gets powered up and online. This will mean an explosion in connections. 11. These connections will nearly all come from Africa and South America initially - most African countries are at the birth of their internet journey. 10. When we start collaborating with all these new partners at scale, we'll find that the ultrafast broadband of which our schools are so proud will become, rather quickly, slow-feeling. 9. This is especially true thanks to our changing TV habits. We'll be watching more television online than we do on the television, which will contribute to this higher demand for bandwidth. 8. We'll actually watch less television, but all of it online. Television choices will start to be made for us, using algorythmns to work out what we might want to watch based on our friends' and our previous selections. 7. We'll also stop just watching the television, and start interacting even more around it, online more than with the people in the same room as us. Maybe education will have a second chance at getting television use for learning right. 6. Understanding open data will become more important than social media has been in the apst five years. 5. This means, in the next two years, we might actually find ourselves with a teaching population that is more illiterate than the youngsters they are teaching, as this basic skill of understanding complex data is mastered by young people quicker. 4. There will be less money for spending in education, and innovation will start to appear as a result. 3. Open Source technologies will increasingly make us question why we spend so much on corporations' pay-for technology when so much else is available for free from passionate communities of practice. 2. The innovation will start to appear not from big industry making big things that do things for people, but from 'small' people in their bedrooms and startups making things that empower people to do stuff for themselves, and that includes learning. 1. And the people we're empowering will come at all ages, all cultures. The lead time for people to understand how they can become collaborators, makers and doers has decreased from the years and months of the industrial age to hours and minutes for new generations. Just see it in the way my daughter reacted to Skype over four minutes, from horror to fear to curiosity to comfort.
The Byte Night Bedtime Story aims to beat the Guiness World Record for the world's biggest crowdsourced bedtime story in history. It's a great way to get students reading an (ever-longer) story and then adding their own 140 characters' worth, without the need to register for Twitter or another service - this makes it ideal for kids no matter how young or old they are.
What's more, you help raise money for Action for Children’s annual charity sleep-out event that takes place in various locations across the UK, this year on 8th October. There's no reason, in fact, why the sleep-out couldn't take place in other countries around the world, highlighting the plight of homeless children and raising some supporting cash in the process.
As of the time of writing you have 18 days to make your contribution to the story.
A year after the first ever Social Innovation Camp in London, Scotland's bringing the party northwards. From Friday 19th to Sunday 21st June 2009 at the Saltire Centre in Glasgow, SICamp Scotland will bring together some of the best of the UK and Europe’s software developers and designers, together with those at the sharp end of social change. I'm really proud that Channel 4's 4iP has played a central role in bringing one of Europe's top social tech events to Scotland, along with a host of other sponsors.
Until now regulars from the 'down south' tech scene (and those who could make the train/plane/hotel to London) have been able to get together have fun hacking social challenges. This June, developers from across the UK are invited to Glasgow, with just 48 hours to build some web-based solutions to a set of social problems - from back-of-the-envelope idea to working prototype, complete with software.
The Social Innovation Camp takes a set of ideas for web-based tools
that will create social change and develops them over one weekend.
Working with a diverse range of people, participants organise
themselves into teams and help make a back-of-the-envelop idea into a
working prototype - complete with working software - in just two days.
Social Innovation Camp is a
non-profit company formed in late 2007 run by a small team of people based at the
Young Foundation in Bethnal Green, London. They ran the first ever Social
Innovation Camp weekend in April 2008; the second in December 2008. They
also run a series of monthly Meetups for geeks and social innovators to
share knowledge and skills. Further information can be found on the
‘About’ section of their main website: http://www.sicamp.org/?page_id=155
And for a chance to join us at the Social Innovation Camp weekend, you can enter your idea for a web-based tool to create social change through the SICamp Scotland website from Monday 30th March - we’re going to be looking for the most exciting ideas for how the web could change stuff that really matters.
Anyone can get involved: you don’t need to be based in Scotland. SICamp Scotland is supported by Nesta, BIG Lottery, Skills Development Scotland and, of course, 4iP. More on our involvement will be revealed in weeks to come. In the meantime, get your socially innovative caps on.
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.