Archive for March, 2009

Knowledge Exchange: Galaxy Zoo

March 31, 2009

Another example of harnessing this cognitive surplus is the Galaxy Zoo. The quarter million images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey resulted in a data analysis task too great for just professionals in the field of astronomy. The Galaxy Zoo is a web-based platform that allows anybody to contribute to the enormous mission of gathering multiple classifications for each galaxy. So far more than 150,000 have taken part – and not just astronomy enthusiasts! This example is interesting as not only do the scientists get their data, it has developed in an alternative educational tool that explores a new research method and disseminates open research. Non-scientists have developed their own research topics – commonly adding to the established research as investigating areas too small for the research academics – and are now getting their findings published.



Knowledge Exchange: Cognitive Surplus

March 31, 2009

I was interested by Clay Shirky’s (professor at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program) term cognitive surplus. The technology revolution in the 20th century resulted in increased personal wealth, education attainment, rising life expectancy and the five day week – all resulting in free time. Shirky proposes that the response to the cognitive surplus was crisis – in the form of watching TV! How big is the surplus? Shirky uses Wikipedia as a measure – the whole of wikipedia equates to 100 million hours of human thought. The potential for user-lead consuming, producing and sharing is revealed when compared to the time spent on TV – in the US every year 200 billion hours of TV are watched. When people start experimenting with the surplus it becomes integrated into and transforms society. For example the Brazilian site Vasco Furtado – the website allows people to record instances of crime on a Google map. The information already exists as tacit knowledge but this platform allows its gathering and exchange, and exposing the weakness in the top-down system to disseminate this information.


we20 – the open source G20

March 26, 2009

we20 is “a public initiative to run alongside the G20, creating a bridge between the G20 leaders and you. The current objective for we20 plans is around finding short and long term solutions to the global economic crisis.” So the idea is for individuals to organise groups of 20 friends to come up with plans to fix the economic crisis. An interesting pro-active social tech platform to engage people in real debate at a very timely moment. The organisers of we20 have been talking with the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who will be reviewing them before the London Summit on April 2nd and there is the opportunity for some plans to be posted onto their site.

“The G20 world leaders and their expert teams are making plans to try and fix the global economy. If you think the G20 may need some help, we20 may provide the platform for you to create a plan and build the concensus you need to have an impact and make your ideas a reality.

You may have a burning passion to create a solution to a challenge close to your heart. Perhaps you are curious about where a we20 meeting will lead you.

This challenge may be a local issue, such as raising funds for a local market or sports team; a national issue such as how your government should spend taxpayers money or laws affecting your workforce; or a global issue such as trade protection, global warming, the IMF and World Bank or International Accounting standards.

we20 allows you to communicate and have meetings with your friends, contacts and many others to make that plan.”

Time to step up, engage and put forward a plan if you’re tired of waiting for others to come up with mediocre excuses as to why we should continue on the same old path.


Our Role Architect/Spatial Practitioners & Bootstrap Entrepreneurs

March 22, 2009
Only when we as Architects accept that we build space – in terms of its use value, its relational value and its process value, not objects and that this space is part of a larger ecology of spaces [social capital, mutual theory to market behavior  ] and that what we do is create – accelerators, decelerators & intervention in this ecology of space will architecture once again be mutually reinforcing.

Only once accepted we can then start the serious task of rebuilding our learning system from institute to education framework to make us relevant; and claim our role of being a professional – an independent public value agent

Welcome to the age of Civic Capitalism [The new Darlings]

March 22, 2009

The following article in the FT gives hope – and finally direction – that a new form of capitalism can be born – that works with the principles of everyday democracy – rather than over empowering the “levering few” to create a pusedo autocracy [where leadership defeats accountability]

Don’t get me wrong the current mutual model has its problems – one of the most significant is the ability to socially innovate as the need for accountability often defeats leadership/entrepreneurship.  This to me presents the interesting organisation challenge – in the mutual model – a need to combine everyday legitimacy [in scale] with leadership to deliver the sustainable innovation.

Article attached.

Darling to give backing to mutual model

By George Parker and Jim Pickard

Published: March 20 2009 20:03 | Last updated: March 20 2009 20:03

Alistair Darling will next month signal strong support for mutual savings banks and building societies when he sets out a white paper on strengthening Britain’s financial system.

The chancellor has spoken warmly about the mutual model, embodied in institutions such as Nationwide, which tend to run a less risky business model, based on savings and lending. The Treasury is assessing potential legal or regulatory changes to help mutuals ahead of the white paper.

“That would include mutuals and credit unions. Having institutions which fund themselves using different models is good from the point of view of financial stability.”

Although Mr Darling accepts that some mutuals can be run just as badly as banks such as Northern Rock, he believes they are less likely to use “extreme” funding models or to depend so heavily on wholesale money markets. Building societies have only 20 per cent of the mortgage market, down from 59 per cent before the wave of demutualisations sparked by the Building Societies Act of 1986.

Since then, the number of mutuals has fallen from 110 to 55 – a fraction of the 1,700 that existed in 1900.

Occasionally there have been conversions in the other direction, such as four years ago when Bristol & West was bought from Bank of Ireland by Britannia. Mr Darling is under pressure from within the Labour party to revive the sector. Michael Stephenson, general secretary of the Co-operative party – which numbers 29 Labour MPs among its members – said there was a “unique” opportunity to remutualise parts of the banking industry.

He said the mutual model was the obvious way forward for Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley. The two institutions could be consolidated into a single new building society which would be owned by its members, he said. Alternatively existing mutuals could be given the right of first refusal when the pair were sold.

This idea has won the backing of the influential Compass group of left-leaning MPs, which wants to go further and mutualise other high street banks.

In theory the process would be easy, given that a new building society needs only £1m of funds and at least 10 members. But there could be a large cost – to either the government or members – in setting up a new entity, especially if it has large debts.

Treasury officials have signalled that Mr Darling would prefer to sell Northern Rock back into the private sector at some point for a profit.

Supporters of the mutual model admit that it is not perfect. Four of the weaker brands have been bought by stronger rivals in the past year to prevent their collapse. It has emerged that Dunfermline, Scotland’s biggest building society, is in effect up for sale after becoming loss-making.

But a spokeswoman for the Building Societies Association said that the time was ripe for an expansion of the sector, given that its model tended to lead to cheaper borrowing rates. “Customers are fed up with the plc banking model, this is a good time for alternative models.”

(Don’t) Keep Calm and Carry On

March 20, 2009

3031525215_2e4d3279bb1 An increasingly familiar sight during these credit crunch times, “the pin up for our age” with a dash of  British humour.  The poster was originally made during the Second World War by an anonymous civil servant (no Saatchi & Saatchi back then…) and was the third in a series, the first of which was an encourageful “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory” , with the second “Freedom Is In Peril” having a ring of urgency about it. And so poster number three, “Keep Calm and Carry On” was held back for a time when the threat of invasion was more imminent, and thankfully never quite required. It has made me think – about the scale of our reactions to the current crisis surrounding us. With unemployment hitting the 2million mark (and predictions for more), is the reaction of keeping calm in fact the wrong reaction. I’m not suggesting we run around like headless chickens, but perhaps the current attitude of “Keep Calm and Carry On Spending” is not right.We have been “keeping calm” and ignoring the underlying issues that have gotten us to this state in the first place. Our current crisis is not one of credit. The real crisis is one of value and values in which our homes, high streets and communities have been singularly reduced to the £ factor on top of which we have been attempting to superficially bolt on ideas of community, civic behaviour etc…

Shouldn’t the question we ask ourselves right now be – “Why carry on using a value model which has only resulted in a society that hoovers up more than its fair share of resources and ha(d) a large bank balance, but which is globally ranked in the bottom third on terms of happiness?”.

I suggest that we need an alternative to the Keep Calm slogan. As entertaining as the multitude of mugs, tea towels and T-Shirts that have this graphic emblazoned on it, we are in real crisis and need to recognise this at all levels. This crisis is on our shores – its not an invasion from a foreign country. Its an implosion from within. Time for us to wake up from our stupor.


the software of…sharing software

March 16, 2009

For some time now I have been thinking about the issue of new social techs that allow us to share everyday resources more efficiently – Streetcar being an excellent example: using existing technologies it allows users to approach the logic of Just-In-Time delivery for such a basic parameter of life as private transport, underpinning a much more efficient use of a resource that for most people sits dormant most of the time: the car.

In industry, dormant capital goods represent waste. The same logic applies for many resources, be they consumer goods or business resources, which are merely means to an end – in this case mobility. There are so many examples across many sectors, from books (an obvious one) and gardening / DIY tools (or toys) to office desk space and underprogrammed community halls. If we succeed to intensify their use, we achieve higher living standards whilst minimising waste and therefore, environmental impact. This requires social innovation – the use of social techs to make this possible. The roll-out of public libraries (or public baths, for that matter) in the 19th Century is a good example – a social innovation (clearly not a technical one) which built new institutions in working-class neighbourhoods to improve quality of life. They answered a need in their time by taking an existing concept and creating an organisational and physical infrastructure to create intensified use, enriching the public realm.

I thought that, like Streetcar, the urban bicycle renting schemes of Paris and Barcelona were an excellent example – a new sharing software that combines available technologies to answer a contemporary need, enriching the public realm and laying the basis for a new sharing ethic in our cities, which itself could nurture social capital and underpin a new development cycle in our social-economy, creating new civic institutions …

Yes. But. See last months report on Paris here

They get nicked. Or trashed. Or dumped. Or ‘exported’. The Curse of the Free Rider is everywhere. A New Commons depleted.

So, we have created the institution and the social tech but not found ways to validate and reinforce the collective behaviour norms required to sustain it. The very software of this sharing software failed – (it’s like pissing in the pool, really).

So now what?



March 12, 2009 reports on the story of collective sacrifice among the staff of Beth Israel hospital in order to save their colleagues’ jobs. Bottom-up activity of this sort often comes up against the free rider problem, but this seems to not be a deal-breaker in small, close-knit communities like the employees of a hospital.

Also, How the Crash Will Reshape America is an essay by Richard Florida (known for putting forward the idea of a creative class). It is a lengthy piece, but full of interesting insights about cities, towns, suburbs, and the economies they support.


rewarding civic behaviour

March 9, 2009

This recent article by Catherine Bennett in The Observer on knighthoods and peerages raises some valid points and a timely conversation on recognising civic behaviour.

Bennett begins with asking the question of how to “hurt” Sir Fred Goodwin, the former RBS chairman of exorbitant pension fame, and suggesting that one way might be to “take away that knighthood”. She notes that Knighthoods are “supposed to reward consistently high standards of civic behaviour” with a further requirement that “a knight’s achievements be inspirational and significant nationally”. Further to this – and this is important – she quotes government guidance on honours which explains that “the sovereign may, on the advice of ministers, cancel an award if the holder is considered unworthy to retain it. The object of forfeiture is to preserve the integrity of the honours system.” The article goes on to how the worthiness of Sir Fred is clearly in doubt and is worth reading.

But this topic goes further than just how to hurt Sir Fred and speaks to a far more systemic problem of the importance we as a society place on   civic behaviour. Do we still have a collective understanding of what constitutes a meaningfully contribution to society; what behaviour we as a society promote and celebrate; how champions are selected/elected/promoted etc.

Between the debates on pro-localism, forms of regeneration , the decline of the high street and finger pointing of blame for the current economic crisis and their collective subsequent effects on our communities, are we overlooking the more fundamental concerns of what might underpin sustainable economies and communities in the form of everyday civic-ness.


Sharing Economy: Art Swap and Project Party

March 6, 2009

Another art project that is part of the East festival that explores alternative economic systems is the Art Swap and Project Party, an experiment looking at the value of art. Participants may choose to swap art for art (or something else of value). The aim is for no money to be exchanged, only value for value. The curators are questioning their subscription role by relinquishing it. Artists are being asked directly the question of value, both intrinsic and extrinsic, in choosing to participate (or not) in the exhibition and the art swap. Viewers, too, have their part to play. To acquire an artwork in the swap, they need to assess value without the benefit of gallery endorsement and pricing and determine their own method of payment. The final part of the project is the documentation of the art swap.

“It seems an apt time given the global economic uncertainty, with the acquisition and prices of art falling. Damien Hirst stirred controversy with his statement that “art is only worth what someone will pay for it”. But to those who refute this by saying that art’s value is intrinsic, there is the question of intrinsic to whom? Intrinsic via the institutional subscription process still leads back to the art market, even indirectly through the need for financing. Joseph Beuys said that real capital is not money but people as the sum of creativity of all individuals. This experiment seems one way to test that.”

Art Swap and Project Party, 5 to 12 March 2009, August Art, Wharf Studio, Baldwin Terrace, N1 7RU.