Sunday, December 13, 2009

Open Source is more than free software

The open source movement has been popularised by the geeks, who benefited immensely from the collaborative power of the internet. The notion of open source has been around for centuries albeit in small communities where knowledge sharing was a way of life. The concept of bartering and peer production was given shape in the late 19th century. And in 2003, collaborative projects like Wikipedia emerged and have proven to be quite successful.

Yochai Benkler points out in his TED talk, that "social production" is the long term disprutive force that will challenge the players in the commercial market place. Benkler's book "The Wealth of Networks" is made available as a source for open discussion using Yale's annotation platform.

So as the Internet continues its growth, the notion of an open source is moving to other domains. Like the Open Architecture Network that provides solutions to a wider audience. Peer production is here to stay... and a key question is to figure how commercial players and the public sector would respond to this disruption.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Consumer Centered Service Development - First Tuesday 23rd may 2006

As social media technologies build for interoperability, interesting things can happen. This presentation is 3 1/2 years old, but posted to slideshare 3 weeks ago. And now being linked to my blog.

Am just curious to see how this works in pratice.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Designing public services

I have earlier blogged about service design and last week at the 1st Nordic conference on Service Design and Service Innovation conference I met a number of very skilled people from different domains. It just reinforced my thinking about the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to address the challenges of designing services.

My own contribution on Day 2 was during the workshop on "Designing public services" was enlightening. My role was not as an expert in service design, but as a consumer-citizen; a c-c trying to make a case for participatory design. I am even more convinced that consumer-centered design is critical in the design of services and even more so in the design of public services. This blog was taglined "citizen-driven design. Shaping the agenda for Society 2.0" some years ago and my search for methods and practices for citizen involvement continues. It's not a question of "getting there" -- but more on evolving democratic processes to capture the "requirements" from citizens.

My presentation - that focused on scenarios for health care and wellness - was actually making a point around "capture of requirements". I used scenarios as a means to convey "requirements -- while making the point that we need to be more intention-oriented in understanding services. I view intentions as an abstraction above needs and requirements and suspect intention-orientation will open for citizen participation while also providing a means to "manage" the design process using conventional practices like "requirements management". Besides citizen participation, intention-orientation will also help unify practices from the different disciplines involved in service design.
So it is with some expectations I will be attending Dugnadssamfunnet 2.0 (Norwegian) arranged by the Ministry of Government Administration and Reform.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Education as a basic right - how can we make grassroot innovation scale up and out?

I am fortunate to live in a country where basic education is compulsory and higher education is a basic right. This means, as a parent, I am punished if I prevent my children for going to school (grades 1-10) and the government are obliged to provide my children with higher education opportunities (within certain parameters).

I have earlier blogged a bit on topics around education and my visit to Mumbai this July coincided with Hilary Clinton's talk at St. Xavier, my alma mater. So, after reading Sagarika Ghose's recent post on education in India and BBC's coverage of Babar Ali I felt I had capture this in a blogpost. I hope the coverage brings support for Babar Ali to improve his efforts and more importantly energizes more people to get involved in grassroot activities to make a difference. India has earlier witnessed grassroots innovations like Abhyanand's work in coaching poor students enter IIT.

We need such inspiration and excitement to drive the hard work that goes with making things happen. We have films like Taare Zameen Par that have sensitized the public and driven a sense of civic action. And then there is the OLPC project (Uruguay was recently reported as the first country to go all out with OLPC) and innovative technology efforts like WiHood. These solutions have an ability to scale very rapidly and can replicate the innovations from Babar Ali or Abhayanand.

However, scaling this up is hard for many reasons. Based on my work with alumni from my childhood school I have reduced them to two hurdles (1) the obvious hurdle is government lethargy and corrupt practices (2) the inaction from established educational institutions. I consider (2) to be the bigger hurdle. A hurdle that, if addressed collaboratively, can transform society rapidly -- particularly rural communities that need small efforts to bring about huge change. I believe that most of the established institutions do not know how to exploit the mass-collaboration that Internet technology is making possible. This is not a technology challenge, it is about educating and education policy -- it is about practices to teach, to create learning content -- and to train teachers to be mentors in a networked world where sharing is "a givers gain". This inability and subsequent inaction -- deliberate or accidental --- is something a country like India cannot afford. The inaction almost tends to justify government lethargy, instead of egging governments to go aggresively forward in providing local infrastructure.

I have earlier blogged on the Knowledge Commission and am hopeful that the current government will provide policy change and gradually drive infrastructural development. But I am more concerned about the other hurdle. I am an impatient soul and sense from other bloggers that we cannot wait too long for development and equal opportunity to come to the masses who need it so badly. This is not missionary work -- it is about not letting the world explode because we forgot to bring along the less fortunate on this journey to the future.

PS! I have not forgotten the role of the family in the education process nor the business potential -- I've just not reflected long enough on my experiences in the parent-teacher association. Some time soon...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel prize for Obama - Why I think it is a good thing.

Friday's announcement of the 2009 Nobel peace prize award to Obama has drawn much comment around the globe The comments are driving introspection and reflection at mulitple levels -- as witnessed by blogposts and Facebook conversations. The notion of peace is being examined and dissected and I suspect weekend conversations are going to be really interesting. In itself, this is a success for the Nobel committee!

Rambling through the blogosphere, I see my own reflections from different perspectives - starting from from the banal "what has he done to deserve this" to the business consultant in me "how do we measure success" and to the digital citizen in me "the role of new media technologies in generating debate and participation" .

What has he done: In the short time he has been in office, he has shut down the Guantanamo prison, as the first US president to chair a UN Summit he has secured a unanimous resolution on nuclear disarmament, he has supported dialogue with Iran and the discussion table, addressing the Muslim world from Cairo, challenging the situation in the Middle East -- just to name a few. These are good enough for me.

How do we measure success: After the immediate WTF and knee-jerk "the award is premature"-reaction, I was embarrassed. Embarassed, because as a planning and strategy consultant I expound the values of setting direction and thinking tactically in a strategic manner -- beyond just focussing on what is delivered. Delivery and execution are critical, but recently strategy thinking has been reduced to glossy-talk that is devoid of vision (like slow food, I hope we get "slow strategy" :-)). I now see the Nobel committee's award in that light; taking a bold step to interpret Nobel's intentions for the 21st century. They were rewarding Obama for the direction he set, for the vision he creates by small actions. One man alone cannot do but one can certainly envision. Ultimately they are rewarding a vision that is open and can be adopted by anyone. And that is the real value of the award for me -- "placing a responsibility" not only Obama, but on every head of state and every citizen of the world who shares that vision. A vision of a more equitable world, a world where conflict is resolved by dialogue and non-violence, a world where people are energized so that they can make a difference. If nothing else, the award has reenergized the world in a "Yes, we can" attitude. (Aside: I wish I had statistics on how many countries and communities have been energized by the Obama presidential campaign). So Yes, the Nobel committee have acted in a very strategic manner.

New media technologies in generating participation: After my first post to the BBC-website, when this award was announced. I have been reading blogs, newspaper sites, TV programs and Facebook comments. I was struck by how little attention I paid to mainstream networks. I googled using Google's Fastflip and got the gist of what they were saying and got a lot more background. But then, it was the blogs, tweets and Facebook conversations that caught my eye. Social media technologies are engaging people more than ever and Friday's award tells me that all that is needed is something really visionary to generate a debate and to involve and include. Society 2.0 is here and going global every day (Yeah, I know I said I would not use the 2.0 term, it now evokes new-thinking and I'm happy :-))

A note on the Nobel peace prize would not be complete if I did not mention my disappointment that the Nobel committee failed to a true innovator in peace -- Mahatma Gandhi. See this article for some context. Speaking of the Mahatma, Albert Einstein puts it best “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

Friday, October 09, 2009

A big problem with laws and other technical material produced for bureacratic use is that it is - for all practical purposes - limited to those who are well-versed in the jargon or those with an immense capacity to read through technical documentation. (This is not unlike similar practices where for eg only priests could read holy scripture). Opening up content, not only by putting it on the web, but also providing tools to review and comment it is a good idea.

Therefore, Sharedbook is a very welcome technology that encourages people to collaboratively comment and annotate content. This form of collaborative action is useful in growing communities and creating a more engaging electorate (or an enterprise workforce for that matter). As a champion of more direct and participatory democracy, this move has a lot of potential of driving transparency.

I mention Sharedbook, because this is being used by some in the current health care debate in the US. See Congressman John Culberson's effort to get his constituents to engage themselves in the debate. There are similar technologies for co-creation of content (collaboratively creating content) -- and hopefully we will see the electorate actually collaborating on creating content that can become law. NB! I am not advocating that untrained people replace laywers or other experts, but that people are encouraged to participate in shaping policy and help lawyers and the experts.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Over the last few days, I've been trend-hunting -- political trends and technology trends. And picked up Arianna Huffington's note on the "All for good" initiative. To me, the potential impact of this site is huge, not only is it a demonstrator of how the grassroots can serve and be served. But, it also shapes how the governed and the governors interact.

As our notion of goverment and governance transforms, the concept of community widens in scope and participatory democracy becomes more practical. I also wonder what the concept of the nation-state will be like in 2020. Anyway, what is also fascinating at this point in time is watching technology develop against the backdrop of business and political challenges -- we are witnessing continuous innovation. This innovation seems to be backed up political will in the US, consider a recent remark by the newly appointed US Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra “My job is to serve as the innovation platform champion in addressing private market opportunities in support of public priorities” (see this link and my Norwegian language post on my own aspirations for the Norwegian context).

Switching tracks for just a second: I picked up this TEDtalks speech by the prolific and eclectic Ray Kurzweil, as he presented the background for establishing the Singularity University. The university, captures my own sense for the need for inter-disciplinary thinking and the need for our leaders - public service and commerce - to prepare for the digital society. And we need to expect more from our leaders (for the politicians I still these that I posed at the end of this post) . To get a sense of the rate of development watch V Ramachandran's mind-boggling lecture of the abilities of the brain (the last 5 mins will surprise you). Research like this is well on its way to removing barriers of prejudice and of what is possible and what is not.

And as technology and science provide a basis for a digital society, we must educate at all levels of society -- and I hope our effort is strong for the grassroots. Afterall, it is at the grassroots where the problems and opportunities are experienced. It is at the grassroots we can hope to harness the mental and physical abilities in large numbers. Where also these large numbers can bring about the change and stimulate innovation. If crowdsourcing can work for Innocentive, why can't it work for communities? Which is why I am optimistic of what "All for good" and similar sites can inspire.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The browser is the new desktop! Last september, I commented Google's launch of Chrome with thoughts along those lines. Having watched the demo of Google Wave yesterday, I am even more convinced that the browser is the new desktop (screenshots from 7:40 into the video)

For our digital society, this development brings the power of the web and computing closer to the masses - consumers at all levels of society. The ubiquity of the mobile phone with built-in browsers paves the way for broadbased access to the masses. Admittedly, it will be a while before the phones morph to mobile internet devices (MIDs), but the potential is definitely there. And soon the MID will be the new PC.

It is tempting to view Wave as Google's "reply" to Microsoft's Bing and Vine services. And while its a bit hard to nail these Microsoft services, I suspect Wave will catalyse Redmond in "bringing it together".

Aside: Interestingly Google is copying Microsoft's market approach - i.e. targetting the developer community. But with a big difference, they are making this product Open Source. In my mind, I can see that this competition is going to benefit everyone... except probably the manipulators and lobbyist. Transparency and mass-participation are getting powerful tools!

I'm confident that the difficult challenges with technology will be solved as the masses put these technologies to use in regular tasks at work and in social contexts -- to support their work and improve their lives. The developments in Wave and Vine definitely encourage sharing of knowledge and co-creation. Thus promoting crowdsourcing as a means of value-creation and
innovation. I revisted the Harvard Business review article "Disruptive innovation for social change" by Clayton Christensen that I blogged here.

I am reminded once again that disruption is continuous -- happening as we speak; that there is no such thing as a revolution, just rapid evolution.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Just not had enough time to blog -- with so much happening on different fronts. I suspect my posts in the future will be something between micro-blogging and long blogposts. My Twitter feed can fill in the blanks (see right-hand-side column of this blog for Twitter updates).

As I make yet another attempt to scope a research proposal on the Digital Society, I am drawn by Larry Lessig's work and highlight two articles (1) lecture on new media is great because of great content on a relevant theme (2) post on citizen-funding vs public-funding. I find both these posts relevant for the discussion around "deep democracy" --- one where the grassroots are more involved; and where the role of a societal infrastruture is critical.

"Us Now" the film on grassroots democracy had a global webcast last week. The film touched on many topics, the most fascinating was about Ebbfleets United football club where owners can actually choose the team before each match. Interesting use of technology from MyFootball club. Hopefully the message of the film spreads to all corners of the world. What would be cool, is if the film could be sub-titled in a crowdsourced manner. (My tweet).

Just learned that Shashi Tharoor (ex under Secretary General of the UN) has won his seat in the Indian parliament. Last week he wrote and interesting article on the nature of "soft power". Definitely worth the read. The next few months in Indian politics look to be very interesting!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The glut of information and social networking tools is not exactly strengthening our ability for critical thinking. On the contrary. Unfortunately it is often being exploited by bigots who continue to play on humans’ base instincts and polarize rather than clarify.

This post came to be as I was preparing an email note to my good friend Tommy Fernandes. What started as a conversation over a nice dinner has continued by email. It centered around the lack of critical journalism to bring key issues to the foreground. I think that when discussing any issue today there are 3 forces we need to deal with:
  1. high inherent complexity of the subject matter
  2. increased volume of information and
  3. Lack of time and/or knowledge
The combination of these forces makes it difficult for us (citizens) to relate to real issues. We need to rethink how we consume information and we must work to raise our standards and those of the media institutions we have. Not everyone can be an analyst, and hence we must push our elected officials to promote transparency and inclusion, so that we (who they represent) can make better decisions. We must not allow them to induce (artificial) complexity in the issues, that confuses.

Technology can help by providing easy-to-use tools for search, structure and visualization – but it can never replace context and critical thinking. I recall my January post on Nicholas Carr's article and my comments on EPIC and am happy to post a link to an updated version of EPIC (for 2015)

More than ever before, our increasingly digitalised society needs critical thinking!!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Us Now is definitely a film to watch for those of us interested in the way grassroots movements are exploiting collaborative technologies. Director Ivo Gomley has manged to capture many aspects and examples in the documentary. Also thanks to Sermo for making this happen.

After nearly 4 years of blogging on the topic of the Digital Society -- often times meandering out on to my technology-jaunts -- I have for the first time got a sense of this phenomenon -- Society 2.0 or "deep democracy" -- taking root. I could hardly contain my excitement watching the different examples. Was also busy tweeting to capture my thoughts for later blogging (some tweets in Norwegian).

The debate that followed the screening was not really a debate -- the speakers were more or less in agreement on most issues. Which is just fine. We got some "confirmation to proceed"; what is needed now is to sustain the level of discussion and find ways to uncover the real issues in making Society 2.0 happen. The general election in Sept this year is very tempting to try out some ideas to get the issue up on the table. Anyone out there with ideas?

In earlier posts, I talked about the need to get law-makers and businesses to get together. Watching the film today, I am convinced we must hurry if we are to give ourselves time to evolve our societies and influence the global world order over the next 10-20 years. I would like to see a multi-discplinary think-tank (TT) formed; comprising political scientists, social scientists, computer scientists and business organisations to name a few players. This TT should take no more than 6-9 months to propose a long-term approach (say 4-5 years) to revise some laws and policies for eg in areas like education, healthcare, civil law, welfare and employment. Make changes that are more favourable to this "deep democracy" we want to happen. This will not be a revolution, but a very fast evolution.

In earlier posts I talked about Norway as a test-bed for creating services for the digital world. I'm not quite sure right now. It appears that maybe Norway does not have "enough pain" to want to stretch itself to experiment with participative decision-making. I guess the old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" holds true. However, I'm not giving up the thought completely. Two areas I'd love to see more work is in Education adn Health care.

Watch this space...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Over the last few weeks I have been revisiting the role of entertainment and new media technology in the context of the digital society and I am struck by how far we have come in creating virtual arenas. Not just to entertain but also educate and engage through simulation and virtual reality technologies. Gaming technologies are growing in leaps and bounds, so is information visualisation; as we look for better ways to manage the deluge of information.

We are pushing the development in technology but also in policy and business and, in doing so, creating this digital experience that impacts all aspects of our society and all walks of life. Our challenge, however, is to ensure it reaches all levels of society, particularly those at the bottom-of-the-pyramid.

In my very first post to this blog, I mentioned I wanted to avoid the term Society 2.0, as I was sceptical to terms with 2.0 suffixes. However, on further reflection I sense that we are witnessing a rapid transformation of societal behaviour. And clich├ęs like global village and John Lennon's Imagine suddenly show potential to have real representations. The possibility to create a "new version" of our society is very real. A society developed by principles of "consumer-citizen"-centered design and increased self-determination. A society where democracy changes from shallow to deep, where the notion of representation is challenged. We still have a long way ahead and a lot of hard work along -- but quite reachable.

Which is why I'm excited about the "Us Now" documentary that will be screened in Oslo next week (link in Norwegian)-- and the panel session that follows the screening. I see it as the debate of the digital society entering the mainstream. Financial Times did an interesting review (link) of the film that sets the context for what "Us Now" represents. Good to note that it is less about technology and more about policy and society. And I hope the balance and interdependency between policy, technology and business is brought out during this session.

In some ways, my sense of excitement is tinged with a sense of apprehension. To see how this event pans out - will it be relegated to the yawns and hype? or will it energize to raise the discussion to a new level of debate. Will it raise awareness for the pressing need to study and examine the phenomenon closer - so we can better manage this transformation.

For now: I'm just hopeful of meeting like-minded individuals who may be able to progress the discussion to a level of seriousness that the topic really deserves.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I just read Nicholas Carr's note on the Web-Wikipedia-Google connection. It got me thinking about the way society in general perceives content from the Web as the sole truth (I too quote from Wikipedia, mainly definitions). The line of thinking in Carr's article got me digging into my mailbox for an email I wrote to friends on the EPIC video made by Matt Thomson and Robin Sloan.

Well, Googlezon is not here .... at least not as yet. However, since publishing the EPIC video, we have seen the rise of Facebook and the Huffington Post, YouTube is now a Google company and Amazon and Google are priming their products and services for cloud computing. The technology building blocks are taking shape (see my comments on Chrome and Web 2.0) and media ownership is changing rapidly. EPIC could be a reality pretty soon.

I'm hopeful that, as a society, we will push back the homogenisation and group-think that technology brings -- but it will not come easily. Developing our sense of critical thinking will be crucial. Besides, will our politicans and lawmakers resist the temptation to quote irresponsibly? We must evolve the governance structures of the hierarchical, atom-world to also address the networked, bit-world.

Sure, its not going to come easily and its definitely not going to be done overnight. Patience and diligence needed.

PS! Unless Britannica can be as easy to use as Wikipedia, I'm afraid Wikipedia will still be the preferred source of quotes. I tried quoting from Britannica for this article and it was far from easy.