Submitted by Jon on Fri, 10/21/2011 - 08:57
Let me be clear - I have a difficult relationship with the Occupy movement.
On the one hand - it's about damned time. Finally we have a large, sustained protest movement nation-wide and even globally that's rightfully upset about some core problems. It's not politically aligned, it's well-spoken, and it has been resilient enough to overcome being ignored by the media and has crafted its own story. That it has been inspired in part by the Arab Spring and Tahrir Square in particular, which were inspired in part themselves by MLK's non-violent protests gives a heart-warming feeling of global solidarity and social justice.
Further, it's very exciting that Occupy comes at a turning point in history where our social constructs and technologies make it possible to really manage a movement through collaboration instead of by a hierarchy, and a world where people have a powerful online voice and the ability to shake things up if they get out of hand (not without challenges in the realm of privacy and government censorship ).
Don't just Occupy
Submitted by Jon on Tue, 10/04/2011 - 10:42
Dakar. It's hot. Lots of goats. In 2-5 years, it could be a major tech hub -- sooner with some policy and infrastructure changes, but the core is there, from VC4Africa hosting meetups at co-working/social change hubs like JokkoLabs to a budding online community of drupal hackers. The infrastructure seems to remain a daunting challenge, with mobile internet lagging behind, banks not being innovative, and a fragile power system reliant on imported oil.
I spent just under two weeks working with Ashoka fellow Hamadou Tidiane SY, who was elected in 2009 to the News and Knowledge program of the fellowship. He has grown Ouestaf, a small independent news site to almost a household word in francophone Africa through amazing dedication to professionalism in journalistic standards and solid coverage of core issues, avoiding sensationalism. News and Knowledge director Keith Hammonds has a blog post on the model.
How to Build a News Website in Seven Days
Submitted by Jon on Tue, 10/04/2011 - 10:40
Alexa and I have another article up at FastCompany on social entrepreneurs and bots, and their roles in thriving in complex environments -- and how that's critical in saving the world:
However, bots can also act as good agents for systems governance as long as two principles are in place: transparency and trust. First, if we are to depend on bots to manage these complex systems then this management must be transparent for anyone to inspect, challenge, and improve. Secondly, the trust in the system must similarly be distributed. We are long past the days where any one entity could simply say “trust me.” The bots must act within a trust framework, where any agent in the system can begin to assign trust values to other agents. Add back in transparency, and you get a web of trust which scales rapidly without the need for any central trusted-by-default agent.
But robots aren't the only things that can disrupt the system with a new kind of logic. There is already one agent of systems-change that’s working outside the traditional methodology in a way that can effect drastic change: social entrepreneurs.
The social entrepreneur is, like a robot, another type of actor accustomed to operating in complex environments. Social entrepreneurs tackle major social issues and offer new, innovative ideas for wide-scale change. They seek out what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps. In this way they are both the destabilizing element and the control system.
Submitted by Jon on Fri, 09/23/2011 - 05:26
A colleague and I have the first of two articles posted on FastCompany - discussing the role of automation in job creation -- and destruction:
Look deeply into the beady little electronic eye of your vacuum-cleaning robot, and you’ll see a machine bent on world domination. For now, it focuses on finding and eradicating dirt, but every time it gets into a particularly extracted fight with a wall, your feet, or a house pet--you know it has larger ambitions. More concerning than the Roomba’s aggressive policy stance against furniture legs is what it as a product means for labor, job creation, and automation.
We’re used to a well-worn path in manufacturing, and business in general. An extra bright cave-dweller figures out how to use a round object to help move large things, early adopters begin to share the practice, and then pretty soon everyone is using wheels. Eventually, artisan wheel-makers find themselves out of a job when factories start pumping out robot-manufactured wheels, and we move on as a society--wheels are now a given commodity.
The thing is, those robots have taken over the factory floor, and are moving upstairs.
Submitted by Jon on Sat, 08/27/2011 - 09:26
Social change takes trust. You trust the thought leaders of the movement, you trust some set of information around the issue, you trust those who work with you to support you and not to expose anyone to undue risk.
Social change also takes privacy. If you are really pushing boundaries, you are at risk - of physical violence, imprisonment, or worse. There's value in being very public in this space as well, but that doesn't mean there's not a stage where protecting yourself through some layer of privacy is a better plan.
Social change also takes voice - citizen media platforms, and use of existing social networking sites which already have global scale and the ability to amplify a message.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of bickering around privacy, pseudonymity, and social networks - Facebook naturally, but even Google Plus is blocking pseudonyms from using the site reliably. I got tired of re-hashing the very valuable differences between using one's own name, being completely anonymous, and using a pen name - a well-storied way of getting an idea out while saving one's own neck:
Submitted by Jon on Fri, 08/19/2011 - 14:21
It's not to early to start making sure that your SXSW 2012 experience is fully awesome. How you ask? Why, by voting for awesome panels to attend.
To start off with some absolutely shameless self-promotion, I will be presenting with the my colleagues at Ashoka Changemakers on "Open Growth" and systems change. Create an account and vote for us here: http://bit.ly/ripcrowd .
Changemakers has a blog post on all our panels.
Some more panels worth voting for:
Care about there actually being some interesting tech talks at SXSW? Vote for Brandon Wiley's panel here: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/13647 on launching your startup completely in the cloud.
Want to talk pirates and innovation? This might be your ticket: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/12602
Is it just your content strategy? Hear some real content horror stories: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/11034
Just unhappy in general? Work with happiness to make your business better: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/9647
Submitted by Jon on Tue, 08/16/2011 - 16:17
One of the sad truths that emerged at the Technology Salon on ICTs and M&E was that failure in development is rarely about the project performance, but about winning the next contract. This means that monitoring and evaluation is less about tracking and improving progress towards social change and more about weaving an advertising pitch.
This is not for a lack of frameworks, tools, mapping measurements against a theory of change, or even the need for more real-time data in development. It is about incentives. What is incentivized at the macro level is getting big numbers on the board and nice clean upwardly-trending graph lines. Micro-level incentives for filing reports to fill out the monitoring side of things focus on report filing as a requirement for salary payments or other basic carrot/stick-driven models. Neither of these actually encourage accurate, honest data, yet only with that accurate data can we remotely hope to tweak models and make improvements.
So, let's break monitoring apart from evaluation.
Submitted by Jon on Wed, 08/10/2011 - 15:46
The events in London over the past few days have been deeply interesting in the wake of last month's conversation on mobile and online activism during and after #ArabSpring. In this case, the actors are different, but the response patterns are similar - the embattled government pushing on technology providers to share private data or turn off mobile messaging services. In this case, it's RIM/Blackberry in the middle, with calls from MPs to "curfew" Blackberry messaging, and RIM itself offering to help policy by sharing message contents. This promptly led to the Blackberry site being hacked, with the hacker posting:
"We have access to your database which includes your employees information; e.g - Addresses, Names, Phone Numbers etc. - now if u assist the police, we _WILL_ make this information public and pass it onto rioters ... do you really want a bunch of angry youths on your employees doorsteps?"
Obviously, that's not a very nice thing to do, particularly considering it's unlikely any of these employees had much to do with this decision in the first place.
The lines are not quite as clear as one would like, though. All protests are messy, and it's rarely clear who is in the right. Many countries claim to be representative democracies of one flavor or another. If youth were protesting a regime in yet another Middle East/North African country, we would be globally shaming RIM/Blackberry for cavorting with the government. Of course, in the case of London, it seems to be more a gang of thugs and looters than a political statement.
The challenge, of course, is that the technology vulnerabilities might be useful to authorities during a riot, but are also useful to authoritarian governments in squelching a revolution. Not unlike wikileaks, you don't get to pick and choose who benefits from the technology, or who is made vulnerable by it.
Ashoka Changemakers is hosting a competition supported by Google to source innovative ideas in the Citizen Media space solving some of this tension around privacy, speech, and trust. There's some amazing thoughtwork in the space getting recorded at the Ashoka News and Knowledge blog.
All of that is a long introduction to the better-late-than-never summary of the July ICT4D Meetup. You know that it's a good technology discussion when it turns into a people discussion, and so went our conversation around Online Activism after #ArabSpring : What's Next?.
Our panelists discussed the strange role of being an Egyptian following along from abroad via social media, the roles of traditional and new media in civic engagement, and examples of online activism around the world, from Azerbaijan to Spain.
The core topic we kept coming back to was that the excitement around new technologies was justified, social media is a tool, not a movement. So while a cat-and-mouse game around technology will likely continue, the core of any social change is the people involved, not whatever tools they are using. Check out the twitter stream here.
Submitted by Jon on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 09:29
Thanks to amazing work by eBay's TOP team and Gray Productions, we have not one, but two fab widgets to help you vote for innovative market-based solutions that create economic opportunity! Vote on Facebook here: apps.facebook.com/changemakers/TOP, or check out the embedded widget here:
Submitted by Jon on Thu, 07/14/2011 - 08:00
If May 3rd gets to be World Press Freedom Day, then after today's events, July 14 (in addition to already being Bastille Day) should be Citizen Media Day.
The "celebrations" really started yesterday, with Ashoka Changemakers (with the support of Google) launching a global competition (fully supported in nine languages, no less) to source innovative ideas in citizen media. I've got to say, I love how the timeline goes "backwards" in Right-to-Left languages like Arabic. Many thanks to our work with Ashoka Israel in launching Kikar (loosely, "Market square") in Hebrew.
Later in the day, at 5:30pm, I will be moderating a panel on "Online Activism after #ArabSpring : What's Next?" - there are a few seats still available, more information and RSVP at http://www.meetup.com/intlrel-76/events/23103221/ . Follow along on twitter with the hashtag #AAS, and there's a remote possibility we may be able to livestream the event.
Finally, we get to wind down at Circa Bistro with a happy hour co-hosted with ICTWorks - information and RSVP here: http://ict4drinks-july14.eventbrite.com/.