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Posts in category 'Social change'

28 March 2013

Is Open Government working?

opengov

In an insightful blog post, Reboot principal Panthea Lee asks if open government initiatives make citizens more informed and engaged, and make governments more accountable to their people? What impact have open government initiatives had so far?

Reboot is a USA-based service design firm working in the fields of global governance and development.

Four questions, she writes, might be worth considering for those working to measure and achieve impact in this space:

1. Who gains from Open Government?
Which populations have the access and motivation to use these channels? Frequently, programs and platforms privilege certain groups over others.

2. How do we reach “The Other Side”?
There are two sides to the open government coin: citizens and governments. The goal is to facilitate constructive dialogue between the two, but many projects seem to focus on one side or the other.

3. Can we do better than equating scale with success?
Replication and scale are not always appropriate indicators of success. The effectiveness of most open government initiatives will be context dependent. Replication requires programs to standardize as many elements of its models and activities as possible.

4. How do Open Government processes change people?
Open government initiatives seek to mobilize citizens and to motivate governments to respond. But what are the processes through which change occurs?

25 March 2013

Human-centred systems innovation

hcsi

How do we help or support people that live in situations that do not fit into a system’s categories, e.g. by transforming perceptions of what a system can be? This question is constantly reoccurring in the development of our public service systems, writes Jesper Christiansen, anthropologist at MindLab, a Danish cross-ministerial innovation unit, on the NESTA site.

“A very obvious example where this matter is persistent is the area of social care for vulnerable families. This area is increasingly becoming a nightmare scenario for Western nation states across the world. These are often at-risk families, which access many different services and are involved in several case plans at the same time. The challenge is to coordinate and integrate services that are addressing such different issues like child behaviour and education, domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, unemployment or work injury, financial crisis, unstable housing, physical or mental illness or other more or less common hardships of everyday life.

Working with Australian design agency ThinkPlace, MindLab took part in a project that set out to address these issues and transform the service system dealing with vulnerable families in the ACT region of Australia. The purpose was to develop new capabilities and processes to co-design and co-produce services with current service users as part of introducing a new human-centred, systemic approach to improve outcomes for vulnerable families.”

Other recent readings by MindLab:

Co-production (pdf)
How do we ensure collaboration with all the actors who can potentially make a contribution to the challenges we face? Can juvenile first time offenders be sentenced by youths with a criminal record? To see the citizens’ resources and design welfare with them rather than to them – that is what we call co-production. Read cases and useful principles on the subject in this pamphlet. [Video]

Design-Led Innovation in Government
Christian Bason’s reflections on design-led innovation in the public sector and the three challenges it raises.
(Published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review)

24 March 2013

Big Data and personal data for behavioral analysis and behavioral change

logoMTL2

In a broader article on Big Data and privacy, the New York Times writes about the work of Alex Pentland, a computational social scientist, director of the Human Dynamics Lab at the M.I.T., and academic adviser to the World Economic Forum’s initiatives on Big Data and personal data.

His M.I.T. team, writes the New York Times, is also working on living lab projects. One that began recently, the Mobile Territorial Lab, is in the region around Trento, Italy, in cooperation with Telecom Italia and Telefónica, the Spanish mobile carrier. About 100 young families with young children are participating. The goal is to study how much and what kind of information they share on smartphones with one another, and with social and medical services — and their privacy concerns.

The Mobile Territorial Lab (MTL) aims at creating an experimental environment to push forward the research on human-behavior analysis and interaction studies of people while in mobility. MTL has been created by Telecom Italia SKIL Lab, in cooperation with Telefonica I+D, the Human Dynamics group at MIT Media Lab, the Institute for Data Driven Design (ID³) and Fondazione Bruno Kessler, and with contributions from Telecom Italia Future Center.

The data presents a valuable and unique source for investigating personal needs, community roles, phone usage patterns, etc. and for providing benefits to people in terms of personal, economic and social benefits.

MTL aims at exploiting smartphones’ sensing capabilities to unobtrusively and cost-effectively access to previously inaccessible sources of data related to daily social behavior (location, physical proximity of other devices; communication data (phone calls and SMS), movement patterns, and so on. The Mobile Territorial Lab (MTL) in Trentino aims at fostering mobile phone related research activities with real people on a very responsive territory. This include the involvement of a significant number of committed users with the goal of having a continuous and active user base to interact with and cutting down the experimentation setup costs. Not only.
A continued and active user base equipped with smartphones, enabling users to access (from everywhere) online services and to collect personal or contextual information from the integrated sensors, represents a valuable and unique sample for investigating new paradigms in the management of personal data.

21 March 2013

Sustainable living and behavioural change

Houses in Valparaiso, near Santiago, Chile.

A Unilever sponsored sustainability supplement to The Guardian contains a short articles by Dan Lockton that is worth exploring.

Design for sustainability: making green behaviour easy describes how design can enable sustainable behaviour by understanding everyday needs rather than treating people as the problem.

“Design has a massive opportunity: enable more sustainable behaviour through making it easier to do things in a more sustainable way. Lower the barriers to sustainable behaviour – do research with people, in everyday contexts, to find out what the barriers are, and address them directly.”

14 March 2013

Book: Present Shock – When Everything Happens Now

presentshock

Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now
by Douglas Rushkoff
Current Hardcover
March 2013, 216 pages
[Amazon]

Abstract

This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, explains award-winning media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, but we don’t seem to have any time in which to live it. Instead we remain poised and frozen, overwhelmed by an always-on, live-streamed re­ality that our human bodies and minds can never truly in­habit. And our failure to do so has had wide-ranging effects on every aspect of our lives.

People spent the twentieth century obsessed with the future. We created technologies that would help connect us faster, gather news, map the planet, compile knowledge, and con­nect with anyone, at anytime. We strove for an instanta­neous network where time and space could be compressed.

Well, the future’s arrived. We live in a continuous now en­abled by Twitter, email, and a so-called real-time technologi­cal shift. Yet this “now” is an elusive goal that we can never quite reach. And the dissonance between our digital selves and our analog bodies has thrown us into a new state of anxiety: present shock.

Rushkoff weaves together seemingly disparate events and trends into a rich, nuanced portrait of how life in the eter­nal present has affected our biology, behavior, politics, and culture. He explains how the rise of zombie apocalypse fic­tion signals our intense desire for an ending; how the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street form two sides of the same post-narrative coin; how corporate investing in the future has been replaced by futile efforts to game the stock market in real time; why social networks make people anxious and email can feel like an assault. He examines how the tragedy of 9/11 disconnected an entire generation from a sense of history, and delves into why conspiracy theories actually comfort us.

As both individuals and communities, we have a choice. We can struggle through the onslaught of information and play an eternal game of catch-up. Or we can choose to live in the present: favor eye contact over texting; quality over speed; and human quirks over digital perfection. Rushkoff offers hope for anyone seeking to transcend the false now.

Absorbing and thought-provoking, Present Shock is a wide-ranging, deeply thought meditation on what it means to be human in real time.

See also:
- Wall Street Journal excerpt
- New York Times review

7 March 2013

What form of behaviour change does climate change call for?

rowson01

Jonathan Rowson @Jonathan_Rowson, who leads the RSA Social Brain Centre, recently gave a 15 minute presentation on the Social Brain Centre’s emerging ideas relating to behaviour change in the context of Climate Change. The title was: “What kind of behaviour change do we need?” The details will soon be unpacked in a report, grounded in evidence from a national survey, but the idea in outline is as follows:

  • Begin with those people who fully accept the reality of climate challenge, want to do more to deal with it in their own lives, but somehow don’t manage to (‘climate ignorers
  • Focus on practices that have strategic value (changing behaviour in a way that promotes attitudes or values that reinforce rather than undermine related behaviours)
  • Help people change certain social practices(often called “habits”) that are formative of their relationship to climate change.
  • Design this change in a a way that promotes social diffusion to shift social norms and shape political will at a local level.
  • Through a shift in civil society, local government and businesses, change political will at national and international levels.
5 March 2013

Designing the political future

Scout_Front_

After technology received so much attention as a key differentiator for Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, Cooper Managing Director Doug LeMoine asked Scout Addis, the Director of User Experience at Practice Fusion, to discuss his experience working on the campaign and how design and technology worked together to help win the election and change the future of politics.

“I would encourage every designer to apply his or her skills to the political process to help make it better. We need more designers helping with civic engagement. Working on a political campaign is unlike working for any company you can imagine. It’s so fast, so fluid, so data intensive, that you’ll learn more in a day about what works and what doesn’t than you will in a month at most other companies.”

Read the interview

28 February 2013

Future Imperfect: Evgeny Morozov vs. Steven Johnson

 

A couple of weeks ago Evgeny Morozov and Steven Johnson had a very public spat (writers’ favorite kind), prompted by Evgeny’s review of Johnson’s latest book in the New Republic.

The result was predictable: two geeky boys with big egos each hell bent on proving the other wrong. ThIn the end, the big winner was … the New Republic — and the authors’ respective book publishers. Nothing attracts a crowd like a public tussle, and a crowd is precisely what the publishing industry so desperately needs. Notably absent from their nitpicking and clawing, however, was a thoughtful discussion of ideas, specifically the ideas that each one presents in his latest respective book.

David Sasaki offer his own interpretation of what Evgeny and Steven have each contributed to our understanding about our relationship with the Internet.

25 February 2013

The problem with our data obsession

reviewdata

To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism
by Evgeny Morozov
Public Affairs Book, 2013
432 pages
[Amazon]

Abstract
In the very near future, “smart” technologies and “big data” will allow us to make large-scale and sophisticated interventions in politics, culture, and everyday life. Technology will allow us to solve problems in highly original ways and create new incentives to get more people to do the right thing. But how will such “solutionism” affect our society, once deeply political, moral, and irresolvable dilemmas are recast as uncontroversial and easily manageable matters of technological efficiency? What if some such problems are simply vices in disguise? What if some friction in communication is productive and some hypocrisy in politics necessary? The temptation of the digital age is to fix everything—from crime to corruption to pollution to obesity—by digitally quantifying, tracking, or gamifying behavior. But when we change the motivations for our moral, ethical, and civic behavior we may also change the very nature of that behavior. Technology, Evgeny Morozov proposes, can be a force for improvement—but only if we keep solutionism in check and learn to appreciate the imperfections of liberal democracy. Some of those imperfections are not accidental but by design.
Arguing that we badly need a new, post-Internet way to debate the moral consequences of digital technologies, To Save Everything, Click Here warns against a world of seamless efficiency, where everyone is forced to wear Silicon Valley’s digital straitjacket.

Review by Brian Bergstein (MIT Technology Review)

“The quest to gather ever more information can make us value the wrong things and grow overconfident about what we know.”

“Evgeny Morozov worries that we are too often [...] opting to publish more information to increase transparency even if it undermines principles such as privacy or civic involvement. [...]

Transparency is ascending at the expense of other values, Morozov suggests, mainly because it is so cheap and easy to use the Internet to distribute data that might someday prove useful. And because we’re so often told that the Internet has liberated us from the controls that “gatekeepers” had on information, rethinking the availability of information seems retrograde—and the tendency toward openness gathers even more force.”

9 February 2013

UK Report: Notions of identity will be transformed in the next decade

changingidentities

Hyper-connectivity – where people are constantly connected to social networks and streams of information – will have a transforming effect on how we see ourselves and others in the next decade, according to a new report published by the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir John Beddington.

The Foresight study Changing Identities in the UK – the Next Ten Years looks at a range of areas affected by identity including social inclusion and mobility, education and skills, crime and mental health. It shows that traditional ideas of identity will become less meaningful as boundaries between people’s public and private identities disappear, with wide ramifications for policy-makers.

Reading the (long) executive summary, it all seems rather optimistic to me, as the grinding impact of a slow-growth economy in the UK as well as the increasing “under-the-rader” control systems of corporations and governments through the unleashing of algorithms on big data sets, don’t seem to be valued enough in this report.

Key findings (summary)
Rather than having a single identity, people have several overlapping identities, which shift in emphasis in different life stages and environments. These are changing in three important ways:

  • Hyper-connectivity: Sixty per cent of internet users in the UK are now members of a social network site, increasing from only 17% in 2007. The UK is now a virtual environment as well as a real place, and increasingly UK citizens are globally networked individuals. Events which occur elsewhere in the world can have a real and immediate impact in the UK. People have become accustomed to switching seamlessly between the internet and the physical world, and use social media to conduct their lives in a way which dissolves the divide between online and offline identities. The internet has not produced a new kind of identity. Rather, it has been instrumental in raising awareness that identities are more multiple, culturally contingent and contextual than had previously been understood.
     
  • Increasing social plurality: As the large UK post-war cohort reach old-age, the number of over-75 year olds will increase by over a million, from 5.1 million in 2012 to 6.6 million in 2022, a rise of more than 20%. The Report identifies a shift in attitudes, with the emergence of new transitional life stages being defined by attitudes and roles, rather than age. Traditional life stages, for example between adolescence and adulthood, or middle-age and old-age, are being delayed or blurred together.
     
  • Blurring of public and private identities: People are now more willing to place personal information into public domains, such as on the internet, and attitudes towards privacy are changing, especially among younger people. These changes are blurring the boundaries between social and work identities. The widespread use of mobile technology could, in time, allow social media to be linked with spatial tracking and even facial recognition technologies. This would allow people to draw on personal information about a stranger in a public place, changing the nature of what it means to be anonymous in public spaces.

The Report goes on to question what identity means today. It finds that:

  • Identities are controlled both by individuals and by others: People can choose to present certain aspects of their identities, or to disclose particular personal information. Identities can also be imposed by others. Even if a person does not create their own online accounts, their families and friends may discuss them or post photographs online.
     
  • People have many overlapping identities: Understanding which of a person’s identities are most relevant in a given situation depends on the context. Identities are, therefore, culturally contingent and highly contextual, but can also be strongly linked to behaviours.
     
  • People express their identities in different ways: One of the most significant observations of the impact of online identities is the way that some people can feel that they have achieved their ‘true’ identity for first time online. For example, some people may socialise more successfully and express themselves more freely online.
     
  • Identities have value: People’s identities have personal, psychological, social, and commercial value. The growth in the collection and use of personal data can have benefits for individuals, organisations and government, by offering greater insights through data analysis, and the development of more targeted and more effective services. Identities can unify people and can be regarded as a valuable resource for promoting positive social interaction. However, this growth in the amount of available data also has the potential for criminal exploitation or misuse. Trust is fundamental to achieving positive relationships between people and commercial organisations, and between citizens and the state, but surveys show that people are less willing to trust in authority than in the past.

Finally, the Report provides some recommendations for policy makers, particularly in six key areas:

  • Crime prevention and criminal justice: The growing quantity of personal and financial data online, as facial recognition technology, ‘big data’ and social media together begin to connect information about individuals, means that there will be more opportunities for criminal exploitation and cybercrime. However, there are also opportunities for enhanced crime prevention, intelligence gathering, and crime detection. The foundation of English law is a liberal society where social identity is, as far as possible, a personally defined and freely chosen individual possession, and so the legal system will need to continue to ensure that people’s online and offline identities are protected.
     
  • Health, environment and wellbeing: The implications of changing identities for the built environment, transport, infrastructure, and mitigating the effects of climate change will need to be considered by policy makers. The development and application of biomedical technologies, such as drugs to improve memory and cognition, and developments in reproductive technologies, could have the potential to transform the way that people relate to themselves, each other, and their environment. However, there are complex ethical and practical implications for government in regulating and responding to these technologies.
     
  • Skills, employment and education: A critical issue for the future will be to ensure that individuals have the knowledge, understanding, and technological literacy to enable them to take control of their own online identities, and to be aware of their online presence and how it could be used by others.
     
  • Radicalisation and extremism: The trends towards greater social plurality, declining trust in authority, and increasing take-up of new technologies may all pose challenges for policy makers seeking to manage radicalisation and extremism.
     
  • Social mobility: Perceptions of unfairness in access to opportunities, rather than actual inequality, may in turn reinforce certain kinds of social identities and increase the potential for collective action. However, as access to the internet and hyper-connectivity increase, information and education may become more freely available and shared, enhancing life opportunities for many individuals.
     
  • Social integration: Greater social plurality, demographic trends, and the gradual reduction in importance of some traditional aspects of identity, suggest that communities in the UK are likely to become less cohesive over the next 10 years. However, hyper-connectivity can also create or strengthen new group identities. Policy makers will need to consider indirect as well as direct implications of policy for communities and people’s sense of belonging. There are opportunities for policy to support social integration and acknowledge new forms of community as they develop.

(via @urukwavu)

7 February 2013

Small, local, open and connected: resilient systems and sustainable qualities

resilient

How do we design a resilient socio-technical system, asks Ezio Manzini in Design Observer.

“Let’s look to natural systems; their tolerance of breakdowns and their adaptation capacity (that is, their capability of sustaining over time) may give us direction.

As a matter of fact, it is easy to observe that lasting natural systems result from a multiplicity of largely independent systems and are based on a variety of living strategies. In short, they are diverse and complex. These diversities and complexities are the basis of their resilience – that is, of their adaptability to changes in their contexts.

Given that, it should be reasonable to conceive and realize something similar for man-made systems. The socio-technical systems that, integrated with natural ones, constitute our living environment should be made of a variety of interconnected, but (largely) self-standing elements. This mesh of distributed systems, similarly to natural ones, would be intrinsically capable of adapting and lasting through time because even if one of its components breaks, given its multiplicity and diversity, the whole system doesn’t collapse.”

3 February 2013

Nicholas Carr on taking Clay Shirky’s ‘cognitive surplus’ idea to its logical, fascistic extreme

bigdata

Max Levchin [one of the Silicon Valley elite—computer scientist, cofounder of PayPal, buddy of Peter Thiel, Yahoo director, restless entrepreneur, big thinker, venture capitalist, angel] gave the keynote Iat DLD13 in Munich recently, where he argues that “the next big wave of opportunities exists in centralized processing of data gathered from primarily analog systems” (think Über, neighborhood security, therapists, the human mind).

Yes, this approach has risks, but, he says, “as a species, we simply must take these risks, to continue advancing, to use all available resources to their maximum”. “The way to deal with risk is of course some form of insurance. Modeling loss from observed past events is hardly news, but dynamically changing the price of the service to reflect individual risk is a big deal. My expectation is that next decade we will see an explosion of insurance and insurance-like products and services — leveraging those very same network effects of data, providing truly dynamic resource pricing and allocation.”

In conclusion, Levchin believes “that in the next decades we will see huge number of inherently analog processes captured digitally. Opportunities to build businesses that process this data and improve lives will abound.”

The Big Brother consequences of this efficiency madhouse are obvious and Nicholas Carr couldn’t take it anymore:

“Levchin refers to “humans” as “analog resources,” a category we share with “cars, houses, etc.” The tragedy of analog resources is that they’re horribly underutilized. They spend a great deal of their time in idleness. Look out into the analog world, and you see a wasteland of inefficiency. But computers can fix that. If we can place sensors and other data-monitoring devices on all analog resources, including ourselves, then we can begin to track them, analyze them, and “rationalize their use.” [...]

This is Clay Shirky’s “cognitive surplus” idea taken to its logical, fascistic extreme.” [...]

This is the nightmare world of Big Data, where the moment-by-moment behavior of human beings — analog resources — is tracked by sensors and engineered by central authorities to create optimal statistical outcomes. We might dismiss it as a warped science fiction fantasy if it weren’t also the utopian dream of the Max Levchins of the world. They have lots of money and they smell even more. [...]

It’s the ultimate win-win: you get filthy rich by purifying the tribe.”

Evgeny Morozov is worried as well about the marketing dangers of the Big Data craze.

So, asks GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram in his summary of the debate, “is the world of big data one in which information about us allows us to personalize services and benefit from that personalization, or is it one in which our data is used against us by companies and governments?”

“The common thread in both of these dystopian visions is a world in which our data is transmitted without our knowledge, and/or used against us in some way. Where Levchin seems to see an efficient exchange of data between user and service, one with benefits for both — and presumably a level (and secure) playing field in terms of who has access to it — Carr and Morozov see companies and governments misusing this data for their own nefarious purposes, while we remain powerless.

What makes it difficult to argue with either one is that we’ve already seen the building blocks of this potential future emerge, whether it’s Facebook playing fast and loose with the privacy settings of a billion people, or companies aggregating information and creating profiles of us and our activities and desires. What happens when the sensor-filled future that Levchin imagines becomes a reality? Who will be in control of all that information?”

3 February 2013

Redesigning public services so they can actually help people

yamfarmer

Although I don’t agree with the implicit meaning of this Fast Company title (i.e. that public services currently do not help people – whereas the real issue is the degree of impact), I am always excited to hear the latest updates on Reboot, a design agency that focuses on service design in international development, particularly if it is through an interview with Reboot principal Panthea Lee.

“Plenty of thought goes into good industrial design and good interaction design. We do the same for public and social services. In our view, service design is a multidisciplinary approach to creating more useful, effective, and efficient services.

In the space of international development, we find designers particularly well suited to the task of creating good services because they are highly analytical systems thinkers.

Services are more than just pulling a lever to get a result. Services are a complex series of interlocking relationships and institutions, and each one is different. Their design requires deep empathy for users and a nuanced understanding of context. And you’ll never get it right on the first go–they require significant testing and refining until they’re right.”

3 February 2013

Social Innovation Europe Magazine interviews Ezio Manzini

Ezio_Interview

For more than two decades Ezio Manzini has been working in the field of design for sustainability. Recently, he focused his interests on social innovation –he started, and currently coordinates, DESIS, an international network on design for social innovation and sustainability.

Throughout his professional life he worked at the Politecnico di Milano. Parallel to this, he has collaborated with several international schools, such as: Domus Academy (in the 90s), Hong Kong Polytechnic University (in 2000) and, currently, Tongji University (Shanghai), Jiangnan University (Wuxi), COPPE-UFRJ (Rio de Janeiro), and Parsons (New York).

Recent books include:

In 2012 he co-promoted Public & Collaborative NYC — a program of activities, developed by Parsons DESIS Lab and the Public Policy Lab in New York, to explore how public services can be improved by incorporating greater citizen collaboration in service design and implementation.

During the lengthy interview Manzini delves deeper into the essence of social innovation, and specifically what designers can do to support it:

“All the social innovation processes are design processes. And all the involved actors, adopting a design approach, are (consciously or not) designers.

If we take all of that as given, then the question is: if all the social innovation actors—“ordinary people” included—are de-facto designers, what is the role of the design experts and of their design community?

To make a long story short, we could say that the design experts’ role is is to use their expertise (that is, their specific design knowledge) to empower the other social actors’ design capabilities.” [...]

“It comes, in conclusion, that design for social innovation is what the design experts can do to trigger and support a more effective co-design processes.”

Also of interest is Manzini’s reflection on the role of public services, the State, and the European Union.

Luca De Biase alerts us also to an older interview with Manzini on Shareable.

2 February 2013

Dan Hill’s critique of the smart cities movement

fabrica

Dan Hill (of CityofSound, ARUP, Sitra and now Fabrica fame) is not only extremely prolific, but his writing is also very much to the point.

His latest Smart City (or better “Smart Citizen”) manifesto is a case in point. Weighing in at 10,000 words, it is a “cleaned up” and “stitched together” version of two separate pieces he wrote for the London School of Economics and Volume magazine, which he is now sharing on his CityofSound blog as “one single critique of the smart cities movement”.

The goal, he says, is entirely constructive, and to shift the debate in a more meaningful direction, oriented towards the raison d’etre of our cities: citizens, and the way that they can create urban culture with technology.

The essay surveys three types of activities, and scenarios, demonstrating active citizens, noting some issues along the way, and then critiques the opposite—the production of passive citizens—before asking a couple of questions and suggesting some key shifts in attitude required to positively work with the grain of today’s cultures, rather than misinterpret it.

“The promise of smart sustainable cities is predicated on the dynamics of social media alloyed to the Big Data generated by an urban infrastructure strewn with sensors. Feedback loops are supposed to engage citizens and enable behaviour change, just as real-time control systems tune infrastructure to become more energy efficient. Social media dynamics enable both self-organisation and efficient ecosystems, and reduce the need for traditional governance, and its associated costs.

Yet is there a tension between the emergent urbanism of social media and the centralising tendencies of urban control systems? Between the individualist biases inherent within social media and the need for a broader civic empathy to address urban sustainability? Between the primary drivers of urban life and the secondary drivers of infrastructural efficiency?

And in terms of engaging citizens, we can certainly see evidence of increased interest in using social media for urban activism, from crowdfunding platforms to Occupy Everywhere and the Arab Spring. Yet does it produce any more coherence or direction for the new cultures of decision-making required in our cities, or simply side-step the question of urban governance altogether? And what if the smart city vision actually means that governance becomes ever more passive, as it outsources operations to algorithms or is side-stepped by social media, whilst citizens also become passive in response to their infrastructure becoming active? Or might they be too distracted to notice as they’re all trying to crowd-fund a park bench?”

Bruce Sterling’s reaction:

“*After reading this I feel that I understand myself better: I like *other people’s* cities. I like cities where I’m not an eager, engaged, canny urban participant, where I’m not “smart” and certainly not a “citizen,” and where the infrastructures and the policies are mysterious to me. Preferably, even the explanations should be in a language I can’t read.

*So I’m maximizing my “inefficiency.” I do it because it’s so enlivening and stimulating, and I can’t be the only one with that approach to urbanism. Presumably there’s some kind of class of us: flaneuring, deriving, situationist smart-city dropouts. A really “smart city” would probably build zones of some kind for us: the maximum-inefficiency anti-smart bohemias.”

29 January 2013

Uncharted territory: Where digital maps are leading us

map

The way we use maps is evolving fast, and it will change a great deal more than how we navigate, argues Kat Austen, an opinion editor at New Scientist.

“Digital maps offer to enhance and optimise the world, giving us an even richer experience as we navigate through it. But equally, there is the risk that they could make us duller, less questioning and more unadventurous – providing a curated, virtually mediated experience that will make us more reliant on proprietary tools than ever before.”

29 January 2013

Successful public service design must focus on human behaviour

psychology460

David Halpern, director of the Behavioural Insight Team at the UK Cabinet Office (widely known as the “nudge unit”), discusses research on how subtle changes in the way public services communicate with citizens can yield significant results.

“The power of social influence and networks – our social capital – runs very deep. Who we know, and how we feel about them, affects our employment, our health, our educational attainment, the efficacy of our government and even rates of national economic growth; it has been proven that counties and regions with higher levels of “social trust” growth faster.

We need to apply these insights into every aspect of our public services.”

17 January 2013

Living the Quantified Self life

wolcott

Festooned with digital accessories that track everything from his heart rate to his footsteps to his sleep patterns, Vanity Fair writer James Wolcott has plugged into the Quantified Self movement. Farewell to gut instinct, and hello to the “data-driven” life: a new path to personal and social enlightenment.

“Self-tracking—treating your body and brain waves as an info dispenser—exemplifies the irresistible converging of microchips, medical advances, social media, geek fashion, affinity branding, and the hardy American tradition of personal improvement. Benjamin Franklin, with his meticulously kept chart book notating his prog­ress in achieving the 13 virtues—frugality, industry, etc.—was a founding father of self-help programming, exhibiting a recordkeeping punctilio converting daily fluctuations into accounting reports with pen and paper. No need for dusty ledgers today—smart-phone apps can take dictation for us. The goal isn’t a steady uptick of Christian virtue and wise prudence, but a greater transparency of our personal biomechanics in the quest for vitality, mental clarity, sleep quality, pain management, smoother operation, enhanced productivity, Zen tranquillity.”

16 January 2013

Helsinki Design Lab closing in June 2013

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Marco Steinberg, who directs the strategic design efforts of the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, announced last week that Sitra’s Helsinki Design Lab will close in June 2013.

Helsinki Design Lab is an initiative by Sitra to advance strategic design as a way to re-examine, re-think, and re-design the systems we’ve inherited from the past.

According to Steinberg, “design at Sitra is shifting from a strategic to a service role. The current members of the design team (Bryan Boyer, Justin Cook, and myself*) are committed to strategic design and will therefore pursue this interest beyond Sitra. In the spring Sitra will hire for a new role to grow service design within the organization.”

[* The fourth member of the team, Dan Hill, left earlier, and is now the CEO of Fabrica in Treviso, Italy.]

During the next five months Brian, Justin and Marco will be converting the site into an archive of the most recent phase of HDL. The archive will be legible, free, and open, they write, so that the “work and experience of Helsinki Design Lab be useful not just for the next phase of design at Sitra, but for the community as well.”

The team is now compiling the case study research from Helsinki Design Lab 2012 into a forthcoming publication on stewardship, with a tentative publication date of May 2013. This completes the existing publication “Recipes for Systemic Change,” which you can download for free.

We can also expect a public event in Helsinki on June 10th, 2013.

Over the last years, Experientia has worked intensively – and to our great satisfaction – with Sitra and with the team of the Helsinki Design Lab in particular, through our involvement on the Low2No project. We wish Sitra and the HDL team the very best in the coming months and afterwards, and we are sure that we will find many ways to collaborate in the future.

(For more reflection on the closing, check also this post by Bryan Boyer).

15 January 2013

A sustainable building promotes pro-environmental behavior

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A Sustainable Building Promotes Pro-Environmental Behavior: An Observational Study on Food Disposal
by Wu DW, DiGiacomo A, Kingstone A
PLoS ONE 8(1): e53856. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053856 – January 2013

In order to develop a more sustainable society, the wider public will need to increase engagement in pro-environmental behaviors. Psychological research on pro-environmental behaviors has thus far focused on identifying individual factors that promote such behavior, designing interventions based on these factors, and evaluating these interventions. Contextual factors that may also influence behavior at an aggregate level have been largely ignored.

In the current study, we test a novel hypothesis – whether simply being in a sustainable building can elicit environmentally sustainable behavior. We find support for our hypothesis: people are significantly more likely to correctly choose the proper disposal bin (garbage, compost, recycling) in a building designed with sustainability in mind compared to a building that was not.

Questionnaires reveal that these results are not due to self-selection biases. Our study provides empirical support that one’s surroundings can have a profound and positive impact on behavior. It also suggests the opportunity for a new line of research that bridges psychology, design, and policy-making in an attempt to understand how the human environment can be designed and used as a subtle yet powerful tool to encourage and achieve aggregate pro-environmental behavior.