Archive for the 'Social/Policy' Category

The secret to happiness is low expectations

February 1, 2009


Interesting TED talk by psychologist Barry Schwartz who proposes that the freedom of choice afforded by the modern world produces a more dissatisfied and less happy society:




1929 Crash

January 29, 2009

Good documentary on iplayer at the moment –

Was interesting to see the cultural similarities with now – the idea that everyone could be rich and citizen speculation or debt equaled prosperity or productivity. I wonder how we are going to deal with the transition from a society validated through consumption to a society validated by something else… what might that be? We are going to have to understand the new ‘capitals’ such as community and time we have to draw on in the absence of financial capital and liquidity – and make this a positive cultural shift as opposed to a total collapse its a challenge but potentially a massive opportunity


Hyperlocal initiatives

January 26, 2009

As part of a general interest in the the way online social-networking tools are promoting localism and instigating community action (and the now well-documented adoption of the ‘hyperlocal’ tag to describe the phenomenon), I’d like to draw eveyone’s attention to the following:

This is a great tool from the clever people at mySociety (creators of the vastly popular, and PledgeBank)… Now also available on the iPhone! One of today’s posts regarding gang-related graffiti in London was posted and forwarded to the relevant local authority within 4 min!

Talking about Pledgebank, Justin McKeating has created a great pledge to hire the services of an ex-cabinet minister to convey citizens concerns directly to governement (a little optimistic perhaps, but an interesting thought nonetheless) –

William Perrin last week announced the launch of his ‘Talk about Local’ proposal, in partnership with 4iP… “Talk About Local will train several thousand people in 150 disadvantaged places in England to set up locality/community/neighbourhood based websites”.

If such incentives for applying political pressure can be tied into successful hyperlocal fund-raising models like those employed under PledgeBank (and the brilliant story of MyFootballClub and Ebbsfleet United) then we may see a community action agenda, empowered by ICTs, that comes full circle.


NESTA weBank event | social lending platforms

January 23, 2009

I went to this event on wednesday evening at NESTA, part of a series called weBank to explore whether people can replace institutions.

Some interesting learning about micro credit unions called ROSCA’s – an historic form of micro finance from India (still in practice I understand) “Rotating Savings and Credit Association or ROSCA is a group of individuals who agree to meet for a defined period of time in order to save and borrow together. “ROSCAs are the poor man’s bank, where money is not idle for long but changes hands rapidly, satisfying both consumption and production needs.” [source:wikipedia]

Three P2P finance models were presented : Kubera Money, Zopa and Midpoint & Transfer. Each, in their own ways, are predicated on cutting out the middleman (ie the banks – also termed as Disintermediation) and enabling direct lending and borrowing by harnessing the internet. None of these models call themselves banks, instead using terms such as “social lending platform” and “social finance models”. The interesting thing about these models is that other than cutting out the “unreasonable”, “unnecessary”, “opaque” fees incurred by banks is the elements of fiscal responsibility of the individual (ie what you choose to do with your money and what you area able to do with it) as well as the opportunities for community building. Models such as Zopa, Grameen Bank and Kiva ( show that these models work – though each have a particular context.

There is a challenge to be overcome in how these models might be applied as part of the “institutional revolution”  – an idea raised by a member of the panel, Umair Haque (Havas Media Lab). The models from India and Kenya rely heavily on trust networks and social rules which have a significant value in those cultures where the participants are not economically or socially mobile. Those models have unlocked the 95% unbanked individuals into the money market. The Zopa model is reliant on a different community “There is not a great deal of engagement within Zopa on a community or social level, as the primary aim is to save lenders and borrowers money by ‘cutting out the middleman’, not to create a community of lenders and borrowers.”

Another model that was mentioned was Caja Navarra which is not about P2P lending, but customer rights and is being called Civic Banking. When it first started, the bank had an agenda to invest responsibly, so customers knew their money was being invested into social projects. The next step was customers being able to vote on the amount of investment, then the amount as a ratio to the profit which was being earned by the bank to be invested in social projects. The current evolution includes customer rights on dictating the specific areas to which the money is directed (You Choose You Decide Programme).

What is the potential in creating/strengthening/seeding community using contextual versions of these models? In a country where a majority of the population is “banked” but where community is lacking, is it an inverted model of Kiva/Kubera where the use of an alternative form of lending can be used to enable community building?


Unemployment predictions hit 3.25 m

January 20, 2009

The projected unemployment figures just keep getting bleaker…

‘The Ernst & Young Item Club says the number of those out of work in the UK will pass 3.25 million by the end of 2010, and hit 3.4 million in 2011. “All of the economic statistics are now in free-fall,” it said in its forecast. It warned the next 12 months would see the UK economy suffer its largest contraction since 1946.’

The crucial difference here between the loss of 3 million jobs in the 1980s and now – is that the most grave effects were localised to post industrial communities. The impact of a post credit recession is ubiquitous – there are going to be millions of unemployed people effectively pepperpotted throughout our suburban landscape without adequate access to local centres [given they’ll find it tough to afford petrol for their cars] and without the community capital to forge alternative survival tactics.

This is pretty grave. In addition we don’t have the luxury of a boom in financial services or export trade to keep the national economy afloat. I can see why its going to be as bad as 1946.

We can all understand that the banking bailout has a role [though the extent at which it stops being viable needs to understood…] – and I hear it being talked about as only one part of a raft of interventions – I just want to know a little bit more about what the others might be. Where and into what do we really need government to invest? 3 million depressed, isolated unemployed people compels us to make sure we are making the right response…


Gender & Recession

January 19, 2009

Looking beyond the “gender debate” in this article, there is an interesting element to be understood in terms of the impact of  job losses in the female workforce : the socio-economic affect on the family household, single parent families, spending patterns mentioned in the article.

“In previous recessions, such as the 1980s downturn in the UK, women provided a backstop against male job loss because the sectors in which they typically worked, such as retail, catering and services, were not badly affected, but this time around it is precisely those areas of the economy that are in the front line.”

“Professor Marilyn Davidson of Manchester Business School agrees. “This impact on women is a very new phenomenon that we haven’t faced in this country before. We have far more women in work, far more one-parent families, and far more female breadwinners….The figures suggest that more female managers have been made redundant than male, and that the credit crunch is having an impact on young women leaving university. The predictions are for a sharp drop in recruitment and service industries will be hard hit, which will harm female graduates most.”

Considering the post recession landscape, what are the likely impacts for the future and what vehicles can be built to avoid the inevitable negative social impacts of a female workforce “retired early” in their careers.

“Experts also warn that the financial crisis may have a second wave effect on female pension provision, condemning more older women to poverty. Insurance group Scottish Widows reckons that the “pensions gender gap”, with only 46% of women preparing adequately for retirement, compared with 55% of men, is significant; that could widen if more lose their retirement provision along with their jobs. As Ros Altmann says: “There is already large inequality between men’s and women’s pensions and this will exacerbate it.””

Is there an opportunity within neighbourhoods to utilise the vacuum of time and effort vacated by job loss, and positively use the skills that do exist, complementing them with further skills to firstly prepare a workforce for the future but also to contribute to what that work should be.


Value strikes back –

December 24, 2008

Middle classes help Aldi sales soar 21%; Lidl up by 13%; Sainsbury’s weakest of the big four

A very interesting retail direction which to be honest had been coming for some time – if you watch the customer satisfaction surveys.

With premium providers taking a hit, [M&S food leading the way – down 9%] to be relevant in this economy we are going to have to deliver a whole new set of values & innovations to customers if we want their custom recognising.

I would not say Aldi and Lidl are the future but they certainly point towards a new value model – albeit a very crude first draft – where affordance value is increasingly a critical driver.

By consequence, we believe strategies & designs which innovate and optimise not only the cost but the very affordance value of things, buildings & assets will be holy grail of the coming reformation.

A Many2Many Future

December 24, 2008

If the 1980’s recession was attacked through the atomisation of existing social structures. It is increasingly likely to us and trends we see around us that this time around we shall see a response based not upon the further atomisation of society but instead the harnessing of tactics employed by the web2.0.

Where we will aim to build a whole new set of real-time dynamic institutions that are able to level the affordance, effectiveness and efficiency of a group, a collective, a community and a common.

This trend is starting to redraw boundaries across consumers, producers, investors, designers – that bridge all these positions to create a new community/collective and a new starting position – where the purpose & the community comes first.

Below is a list of key ingredients we have developed/discovered/learnt over the course of the last few years.

10 ingredients to Group Forming:

  • BINDING PRINCIPLE Is there a necessary shared purpose that the group can accomplish together – a method to bind the group. This may be immediate or distant [a distant purpose will require greater visibility and prominence if it is to facilitate group forming.]
  • DOING IDENTITY Does each member have a visible identity? Can we tell who’s who and what they are doing & have done, even if members remain anonymous?
  • APPROPRIATE MEDIUM What is the appropriate medium for sharing information, ideas, learnings or things. When not facilitated by corporate structures – groups rely heavily on informal encounters, transactions and intermediaries to play a critical role in the group value ecology?
  • MACRO TRUST INFRASTRUCTURES How can we actively seed & build trust within the group? What tells us that it’s safe to deal with other people in the community?
  • PERSONAL TRUST INFRASTRUCTURES How do we form reputations [thorough p2p relationship, thorough p2host relationships or thorough a mediating reputation platform ? What lets us build status and how do we do it?
  • GROWTH STRATEGY Have we created ways for small sub-groups/specialities groups to emerge? A growth model that is predicated on fractal behaviour as opposed to pure scaling.
  • GATEKEEPING & GOVERNANCE How do we know who belongs in our community and who doesn’t – and simultaenously how do we keep the community open to prevent it ossifying into an old boys club? What’s our system of governance? How do we regulate behavior so that it supports our shared values whilst keeping it open to change?
  • MEMBERSHIP What is the give-get between the ‘group’ and the members? It is important to seed a “contribution to the commons’ principle if the group is to be sustainable.
  • LEVERAGING Are members able to harness the ‘collective affordance’ of the group.
  • MEMORY & FORGETTING Do we have ways to review our history and to track evolution — and leave behind what’s best forgotten? Forgetting or re-evaluation is a critical behavior – if we are to cater for individual evolution within a group context.

Spending like a drug addiction –

December 24, 2008


If spending is like a drug addiction – then the question is what is the Methadone treatment for our socio-economy. As I fear we need to worry significantly about transition management – if we are not to suffer a social system shock.

The Collapse of the Middle Classes

December 24, 2008

A very critical analysis into the vulnerability of our middle classes. I fear the middle classes may be doomed to significant collapse – as this reformation unwinds – as BMW man returns to becoming Cortina man…