The life long kindergarten

October 9th, 2011

Mitchel Resnick, Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab, develops new technologies and activities to engage people (especially children) in creative learning experiences. His ultimate goal: to help people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, work collaboratively, and learn continuously.

His Lifelong Kindergarten research group developed ideas and technologies underlying the LEGO Mindstorms robotics kits and Scratch programming software, used by millions of young people around the world. He also co-founded the Computer Clubhouse project, an international network of 100 after-school learning centers where youth from low-income communities learn to express themselves creatively with new technologies.

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A suitable placement: Juveniles In Justice

October 7th, 2011

In 1990 or thereabouts I met a guy called Richard Ross (American) in Vienna. He was part of a photographic show that a friend of mine had curated called Reinventing the American Dream. At the time I had no idea that he and I would become great lifelong friends. I had no idea how much I would end up respecting this man – respecting his craft as a photographer, respecting his sharp intelligence, respecting him as a human being and ultimately respecting him for the work he has tirelessly undertaken over the last 5 years.

Because what Ross has done in that time is travel the length and breadth of the United States, photographing and documenting the life of juveniles in “Juuvie”. Juvenile prison. This work builds upon his last project called The Architecture of Authority.

I think its an important piece of work, its a very political piece of work, and it is a very powerful piece of work. Ross annotates one of his photographs, a picture of a boy with a massive head scar that covers the entire side of his head, The scar is from a traumatic brain injury. Many of the youth in the system have been the victims of violence, on the streets and at home, resulting in TBI and PTSD. Scars like this, while not common, are not infrequent.

What's the worse thing you can do to a human being? Solitary

Harpers Magazine have run a story on Ross’s epic journey which you can read (here) and (here).

Ross himself writes on his website,

Juvenile In Justice documents the placement and treatment of American juveniles housed by law in facilities that treat, confine, punish, assist and, occasionally, harm them. My medium is a conscience.

For the past five years, I have interviewed and photographed both pre-adjudicated and committed youth in the juvenile justice system. To date, I have interviewed and photographed over 1,000 juveniles and administrators at 300+ facilities in 30 states in the U.S. I have made sure to keep the children’s identities unknown, by either photographing them from behind or obscuring their faces.

I have photographed group homes, police departments, youth correctional facilities, juvenile courtrooms, high schools, shelters, Montessori classrooms, CPS interview rooms, and maximum security lock-down and non-lock-down shelters, to name a few. Earl Dunlap, the Director of Cooke County Detention Center, welcomed me to his facility with the words: “Welcome to the gates of hell.”

In the past I have photographed for major magazines, newspapers and institutions. At this phase in my career I am turning my lens towards the juvenile justice system and using what I have learned in 40+ years of photography to create a database of compelling images to instigate policy reform. My products are unbiased photographic and textual evidence of a system that houses more than 100,000 kids every day.

In the US all prisons are privatised – when you run a ‘for profit’ organisation, you need to input raw material to extract value – cash. In this instance the raw materials are juveniles from whose incarceration cash is extracted via the tax payer. So here’s a simple game plan one invests in prisons, and then lobbies to ensure the law accommodates easier sentencing and longer jail terms – because the more raw material one inputs the more value is extracted. Some Senators are in jail today for doing precisely that.

Ross tells me another story of a young boy, who has mental health problems, and is under 14. He shot his father with a gun. Why? Because his father had systematically raped his son since he could remember, then he started on the boys younger sister – so to protect her he shot his father dead. The boy is in Juuvie. As Ross would say, ‘Go figure’.

In a New York Times article from 2010

Gladys Carrión, New York’s reform-minded commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, has been calling on the state to close many of its remote, prison-style juvenile facilities and shift resources and children to therapeutic programs located in their communities. Her efforts have met fierce and predictably self-interested resistance from the unions representing workers in juvenile prisons and their allies in Albany. A recent series of damning reports have underscored the flaws in New York’s juvenile justice system and the urgent need to shut down these facilities.

Not surprisingly, these institutions do a terrible job of rehabilitation. According to a study of children released from custody between 1991 and 1995, 89 percent of the boys and 81 percent of the girls were eventually rearrested. New York’s facilities are so disastrous and inhumane that state officials recently asked the courts to refrain from sending children to them, except in cases in which they presented a clear danger to the public.

We don’t think about the system of prison, or at least very few of us do.  But in talking to Ross, and watching him work you can see the unfairness, greed, and a great inhumanity oozing out of every pore of this system. And this work profoundly resonates with me, and with the work I have been doing with No Straight Lines. This for me is an indicator of the fact that we live at the edge of the adaptive range of our industrial society, where we are deconstructing humanity almost to the point of deconstruction.

We must ask ourselves the question, what role does any organisation play in our society? Is it there to serve humanity and society, or is it there to create power? To generate huge revenues for a few at the cost of the many? And we then have to go on and ask and why do we stand for it? Will our conscience stand for it? Is this really the American Dream or is it time to reinvent it?

Juvenile In Justice will be on view at the Nevada Museum of Art in Fall of 2012 and Feldman Gallery in 2013.



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Grow VC Launches Community Partner Program – 70 Campuses in the US

September 28th, 2011

At GrowVC  for whom I work as Head of Vision we have been working on some very interesting and I would say ground breaking projects and initiatives. And wanted to share some interesting developments.

Today ‘Virtual Silicon Valley’ platform creator Grow VC has launched a national university program in the US to ignite student entrepreneurs with the entrepreneurial spark. The online venture community and micro funding network has grown to over 10,000 entrepreneurs, investors and experts from 200 different countries.

“We see the student demographic as a cornerstone in building the future of entrepreneurship and venture capital”, says Grow VC Chairman Jouko Ahvenainen. “It’s the students that are going to lead value creation in the new era, it’s them that have to point us in the right direction and lead the change. It all starts at the grassroots,” Ahvenainen continues.

The Community Partner program covers 70 campuses from California to New York, from Washington State to Florida. The program activates undergraduates, graduate students and other academic professionals from schools such as Berkeley, University of Southern California, University of Colorado Boulder, Georgetown, the University of Texas and dozens more. The network has a reach of over potentially 10 000 entrepreneurs, which represents the programs short term goal.

“Students have a pragmatic attitude, applying trial and error to business can serve as a valuable business instinct for building ventures for the future,” points out Grow VC CEO Valto Loikkanen. “Grow VC has always been about democratizing startup funding for when the ‘Facebook generation’ grows up, which makes students and student demographic a clear focus for building the future of investing and startups. It’s with the students that we want to build the future step by step,” Loikkanen emphasizes.

The Community Partners will be incentivized to grow their own personal network, within campuses but also with partners in the startup ecosystem. “The program aims to weave together a net of entrepreneurial campuses, to further boost getting the right initiatives and startups off the ground in the US for more job growth”, elaborates Mr. Ahvenainen. For student entrepreneurs the program offers tools to advance their own ventures and activities, but also engage in building a support infrastructure for student entrepreneurs.

“We are looking forward to seeing the drive and talent of this entrepreneurial group,” states Mr. Loikkanen. “For those that exceed, they can earn a good position within a growing entrepreneurial organization in the future.”

More SMLXL posts on Grow Venture Community (GrowVC) and the crisis of venture funding

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Africans helping Africa

September 20th, 2011

I picked up this link from a conversation that was going on in the GrowVC community. So thank you David.

In one part of Ethiopia, communities are putting the world’s governments and many aid agencies to shame.

You can read the full blog post here

NHS reforms based on industrial age thinking

September 6th, 2011

Chatting last night to a clinician friend – we were discussing the No Straight Lines project, in the context of healthcare.

We can see that things could be done better – but the question is how. Is it right to use free market thinking as an invasive form of ideology into all aspects of the fabric of British Society? My view is that its a form of toxic creep. Cameron stated he would, and I quote verbatim, ‘that his government would ring-fence the NHS’. It hardly looks like that to me. Also, because of the research conducted over the last 7 years on No Straight Lines, we can see that people like Andrew Lansley and this government, are struggling with complexity, and trying to take an old model which has failed and attempting to apply that to a new paradigm. The fact is there are enough great answers to these problems which in fact are far superior in the service they deliver, at a fraction of the cost but are in Lansley’s view unorthodox, so therefore cannot be looked at seriously. As John Berger wrote in Ways of Seeing, “what you see is defined by what you know.”

Not far from where Andrew Lansley lives is Cambridge, there is some very interesting innovation happening in healthcare in Cambridge. For example Patients Know Best enables people managing long term chronic healthcare to engage in a more meaningful dialogue with clinicians, which can deliver far better, for far less, and avoid wastage in unnecessary hospital visits which happen for a whole host of reasons. in Ontario, through a Participatory Leadership programme, the entire community and healthcare system are engaged as participants in working on evolving a more relevant form of healthcare service – without the need for consultants, with their flip charts and powerpoint decks. (more on this in the No Straight Lines book). This is an entirely different form of innovation, that has an entirely different though common sense approach to solving wicked problems.

In No Straight Lines we look at the problems of a US led style healthcare system, its unfairness and its entire design based upon procedures done to patients (which is how private companies make their money). More procedures = more money. This is what Lansley does see – its machine age thinking, its linear, its not networked, nor design led. Its not human centric, its money centric, and as my Grandfather used to say, “when ready money changes hands some always sticks”.

In a paper I received yesterday entitled: Liberating the NHS: source and destination of the Lansley reform

The authors write, The Financial Times Public Policy Editor has noted of the current NHS reform: 

“what is still missing is a narrative that explains how these changes, carried out in this way at this time, will help the NHS to address its central task – making £20bn of efficiency savings over the next four years in order to meet rising demand within a budget that is flat in real terms. Instead, the opposite is more likely.”

 A narrative for this reform, far more transparent than the double-speak of the White Paper, can indeed be located. It is described in the following pages. It maps a move away from the tax-funded NHS based on the principles of contribution according to ability to pay, and use according to medical need. It takes the NHS towards a US-style arrangement of individual health insurance with access to care based on payment of health insurers at a level based on the insuree’s state of health. In other words it removes the pooling of risk which underlies the post-war social solidarity compact, involving subsidy of health care for poorer and less healthy citizens by richer and healthier compatriots. A plan for the end-state system to be jointly funded by the state and the individual solves the perplexing riddle of how the new system could generate £20 billion of savings, given that it involves more providers, fragmented procurement, more complex administration, the marketing costs involved in market competition, and multiple layers of profit extraction from the NHS budget,. Cost reductions will be achieved through de-skilling and poorer employment terms for medical professionals as the NHS hospitals which employ them are shifted into the private sector.

You can read the rest here – and share it with those that you believe should be reading it.

Liberating the NHS: source and destination of the Lansley reform

Education, technology, and craftsmanship

September 1st, 2011

John Naughton is I believe one of the UK’s finest writers and thinkers on technology and its gravitational pull on media/culture/business and education.

In his article about technology and education in last Sunday’s Observer I smiled a wry smile, as Naughton gave his perspective on how out-of-step current education is with the modern world, as we currently know it. Having just taken my dyslexic son out of state education, because the systemic way it wanted to school my child was too painful to watch from the sidelines any longer. I nodded along with his assessment, whilst reaching once again for my credit card, rather than reaching for the phone to the deputy head (the big head wont see me I am not important enough).

Reading the article I also reflected on the work of Henry Jenkins, and report he authored for the MacArthur Foundation in which he argued that to be real contributors to our world. Children needed some real skills and competencies. these are listed below

* Play – the capacity to experiment with your surroundings as a form of problem-solving

* Performance – the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery

* Simulation – the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real world processes

* Appropriation – the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content

* Multitasking – the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.

* Distributed cognition – the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities

* Collective intelligence – the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal

* Judgment – the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources

* Transmedia navigation – the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities

* Networking -the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information

* Negotiation – the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

I thought of these because what Naughton is touching on is extremely important especially the idea of what Johan Huizinga described as the felt fingering space of play – this is where we learn to become craftsmen and women. We English like to talk about tinkering,

When utility rules adults lose something essential in the capacity to think, they lose the free curiosity that occurs in the open, felt fingering space of play.

Naughton writes,

What is happening is that the national curriculum’s worthy aspirations to educate pupils about ICT are transmuted at the chalkface into teaching kids to use Microsoft software. Our children are mostly getting ICT training rather than ICT education. And if you can’t see the difference, try this simple thought-experiment: replace “ICT” with “sex” and see which you’d prefer in that context: education or training?

he goes on

The current curriculum undermines the authority of the education system by revealing to tech-savvy children how antediluvian it is. But, more importantly, the curriculum is disabling rather than enabling for most kids, because it is preparing them for a technological world that is vanishing before their eyes. Training children to use Microsoft Office is the contemporary equivalent of the touch-typing courses that secretarial colleges used to run for girls in the 1940s and 1950s – useful for a limited role in the workplace, perhaps, but not much good for life in the modern world.

Right on, just ask my son. And he points to the fact that we are being still, still trained to be passive consumers rather that active engaged learners and citizens. Sadly, less Enlightenment, more factory ready. And so Naughton celebrates the Raspberry Pi (pi blog) project that it is hoped, will once again provide, as Naughton describes it as, a “licence to tinker”. In No Straight Lines, I argue for the principle of Craftsmanship, the ability to learn through trial and error, to perfect acts of creation, Huizinga’s most artful description of the ‘felt fingering space of play.’

Why Craftsmanship? It is Social Philosopher Richard Sennett’s contention that “nearly anyone can become a good craftsman” and that “learning to work well enables people to govern themselves and so become good citizens.” This line of thought depends, among other things, upon the Enlightenment assumption that craft abilities are innate and widely distributed, and that, when rightly stimulated and trained, they allow craftsmen to become knowledgeable public persons.” Tinkering might have more to it thaan meets the eye?

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The success and failure of startups

August 30th, 2011

In my forthcoming project No Straight Lines I argue that we have reached the nadir of the adaptive range of an industrialised world, in fact we are now faced with a trilemma of social, organisational and economic complexity, tensions and questions. And therefore face a design problem. No Straight Lines presents a new logic and describes an entirely new way for true social, economic and organisational innovation to happen.

So I was excited to hear of the Startup Genome Report that will be of real value to entrepreneurs as they navigate their way through the ups and downs of success. So what’s it all about?

The Startup Genome is an initiative of blackbox, a seed accelerator co-founded by techVenture and other organizations that have a track record of working with 100+ startups, including 15 exits (such as Bebo, Tapulous & Lala),

Now Blackbox will be releasing the first comprehensive benchmarking application for startups based on the Startup Genome framework.

Three months ago they released the first Startup Genome Report and it went viral throughout the startup ecosystem. To date it’s been covered in more than 150 publications in more than 15 languages, and the report has been downloaded more than 15,000 times. More than 50 Universities and accelerators have adopted the report into their curriculum. The report was a 67-page in depth analysis on what makes startups successful created in collaboration with researchers from Stanford and Berkeley and thought leaders like Steve Blank, Alex Osterwalder and Janice Fraser. Over the last three months the dataset of high growth technology startups has grown to more than 3200 and it is now the largest rich dataset on technology startups. The Startup Genome Compass now allows every founder to receive a personalized monthly report based on the Genome research.

The key problem that this new application, the Startup Genome Compass, is tackling is premature scaling. The Startup Genome Compass is a benchmarking tool that automatically classifies a startup by type and stage, generates a personalized Startup Genome Report and diagnoses them for premature scaling.

The Genome project hopes to help entrepreneurs from scaling prematurely by supporting their decision making with data about the expected values for the core metrics across Customer, Product, Team, Business Model and Financials dimensions.

Based on analysis of about 3200 high growth internet startups 94% of these fail, and premature scaling is responsible for about 74% of these failures.

More SMLXL posts on innovation

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A free ride to nowhere?

August 25th, 2011

I opened my analogue copy of The Observer at the weekend, and as is my habit I found myself in the culture section and looking a book reviews. My eye caught Evgeny Morozov’s review of Robert Levine’s book Free Ride, another the internet is killing culture book.

In fact the question is: Is online piracy and ubiquitous free content killing our culture? I believe we must always be open to divergent and different perspectives of the world. We must be prepared to see the world from anothers’ perspective. I do think this is at times a good question to ask.

Morozov writes: Levine’s call to arms – “it’s time to ask, seriously, whether the culture business as we know it can survive the digital age”

But then one has to ask the question for example is Fox News culture? meaningful culture, worthwhile culture. Rupert Mordoch famously said he would make Sky News in the UK more like Fox if he had his way. Just have a read about the delightful Roger Ailes that runs Fox. The mainstream media that presents information as truth that plays a key and important role in shaping the debate about our world, has been found wanting. Is this system worth preserving?

But I persisted with the review – some good points raised. However,

In a chapter subtitled “How the internet could kill Mad Men”, Levine frets about the future of cable television, seemingly unaware of the fact that, back in the 1960s, American broadcast networks did their best to wipe out the nascent cable industry, which survived only thanks to a ruling by the US supreme court. Had the judges followed Levine’s conservative logic, a more fitting subtitle would be “How the networks aborted the parents of Mad Men”.

And how many times have incumbents fought bitterly and viciously to stop others. The telegraph versus the telephone for example. Morozov goes on…

Are new technologies really that much of a threat to the culture industry? Google TV – one of the projects Levine lists among the greatest threats to cable television – seems dead on arrival; at the moment, product returns outnumber sales. According to a recent survey by BookStats, in 2011 the publishing industry earned nearly 6% more revenue than in 2008, while selling 4% more books – in part, thanks to ebooks. The global march of streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify has made piracy less appealing.

None of this excites Levine, who complains that the internet has not encouraged innovation. “Like TV, the internet is only as good as what’s on,” he writes. Statements like this underscore the danger of setting internet policy based on the interests of the content industry alone. For those in this group, the internet is merely TV on steroids – its impact on the Arab spring, economic and human development and the future of learning be damned.

I arrived at the conclusion that Levine is representative of a certain form of market fundamentalism – and this fundamentalism is dangerous. Born out of not understanding, not wanting to understand. An arrogance about what is “culture” and who has the right to create it. He sees markets not as cultural but purely economic, he sees people only as consumers. Culture in his view, and people that he represents, see “culture” as a means to extract money from people. Simple. As the economist John Kay wrote,

“Capitalists are capitalism’s worst enemy, and particularly the market fundamentalist tendency which has been in the ascendant for the last 20 years”

For me, and Morozov saves it for last, is that in “Levines opinion James Murdoch was a saviour of Journalism.” The same James Murdoch who may have perjured himself, who along with his father owned a newspaper that in its quest for monetary gain, hacked into the voice mails of dead children, to get “the edge” on their rivals in the tabloid newspaper wars. If that is what Levine thinks is culture, then God help us all.

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August 18th, 2011

With the evolution of the No Straight Lines project – the notion of literacy, words and language seems to be part of the gravitational pull of the project. “A gentleman can only mean what he says, if he can say what he means.” A line from the Last Emperor that is beautifully succinct. Or, that we need to speak a language that embraces a blended reality of both online and off. Without the right words, we cannot explain the world around us or get things done, how we use words shapes how we take action in this world. Steve Balmer said “the production of shared software is Communism”, whereas Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the Guardian believes that, “Mutuality” is the business strategy of the Guardian. In 18th Century pre-Revolutionary France it was the language used by pamphleteers, and journalists as the rhetoric of public action that gave the bloody aftermath its structure and organisational direction. Words!? WTF!

WORDS from Everynone on Vimeo.

Dial M for Murdoch, C for corruption, but who ya gonna call?

July 22nd, 2011

I found this image at the Wooster Collective – a great piece of visual satire. But the question is “who are you going to call?” And it may well be that the Ghostbusters might be our best option, because as Seamus Milne wrote,

But the real frenzy isn’t the exposure of the scandal – it’s the scale of corruption, collusion and cover-up between News International, politicians and police that the scandal has revealed. As the cast of hacking victims, blaggers and blackmailers has lengthened, and the details of the incestuous payments and job-swapping between News International, government and Scotland Yard become more complex, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture that is now emerging.

If it were not for the uncovering of this cesspit, the Cameron government would be preparing to nod through the outright takeover of BSkyB by News International, taking its dominance of Britain’s media and political world into Silvio Berlusconi territory. But what has been exposed now goes well beyond the hacking of murder victims and dead soldiers’ families – or even the media itself. The scandal has lifted the lid on how power is really exercised in 21st-century Britain – in which the unreformed City and its bankers play a central part.

What concerns Milne is the moral lassitude that seems to pervade all parts of the systems that are supposed to be edifices of British Life. Read: Barclays Bank The Real Indoor Pirates, or The Problem with Murdoch’s Media.

Is it time to truly Reboot Britain, which is different to playing lip service to it? A far too many people and organisations have done and are doing.  A people will only be free when they can control their own communications. And that fact has been drawn into sharp focus.

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