Yesterday we celebrated Y’s birthday, turning 2 years old. A fun day with lots of family and friends enjoying the beautiful weather in the garden. We did not finish the big birthday cake….
Elmine and I are happy to ‘officially’ announce the Smart Stuff That Matters (STM18) unconference!
Friday August 31st (conference), and Saturday September 1st (BBQ party) are the dates. Our home in Amersfoort is the location.
This 4th ‘Stuff That Matters’ conference will be in honor of Elmine’s 40th birthday. Let’s throw her and yourself a party to remember. It’s the smart thing to do 😉
Smart Stuff That Matters will be about us, the things we care about, and the tools and behaviour we think we need to shape our lives in a complex world and to respond locally to global challenges.
Smartness isn’t limited to technology, or to your ‘smart home’ filled with gadgets. What is smart in the context of your community, your family, and how you relate to your city, or the country you live in? What is the smartest way to tap into the global networks and knowledge we now have access to? Yet shield yourself against some of the cascading problems too?
What provides you and the people around you with meaningful ways to decide, learn, act and organise together? (the thing I call networked agency) What skills and digital literacies are needed for you to consider yourself a ‘smart citizen’?
How do we need to (re-)shape tools so they become active extensions of ourselves, within our own scope of control?
Some of the smartest technologies are actually ‘dumb’ in the sense that they are passive technologies. Other technologies billed as smart aren’t so much in practice, such as the eternal internet-connected fridge or sticking Amazon dash buttons all over your house.
The stuff that matters is not just technology but how we ourselves take action, as part of our communities and networks. Technology and different ways of doing things can help us and make us smarter.
Invitations will be coming soon
Smart Stuff That Matters is a by invitation only event. There is no attendance fee, but a donation box will be present. We will start sending out invitations in the coming week, so watch your inboxes! If you’d like to receive an invitation feel free to get in touch and let me know.
Find more info in the menu above under STM18.
Although objectively speaking we were just in an overcrowded family home,
it felt like we were in a huge and spacious conference centre. …
The buzz of all those exciting and excited people
expressing and comparing their multitude of opinions,
made us literally forget where we were.
(Aldo about the 2010 event)
Last night at my birthday party one of the guests was Sam. He had just finished his Masters in 2009, when I invited him to Reboot in Copenhagen. A conference I first visited in 2005, which became a turning point in my professional life. In 2009 I was a main sponsor, and one of the perks was bringing people to the conference for free. Sam was one of them. At my birthday party he told me how that had been a pivotal point for him, an eye opening experience so shortly after his masters. He went on to create similarly inspiring events in the Netherlands with others, and remarked how spoilt he was with being able to do that. Awesome how paying the spirit of Reboot forward has influenced people till this day.
Got this amazing sculpture as a birthday gift today. “Strange Bird Totem” (nr 83 of 125) by Jacqueline Schäfer, a Dutch artist (1961). The object is made out of artificial resins. Her work is described as “showing a positive vibe for life in a complex modern society“, which fits me I guess. I had come across it a year or so ago, and liked it a lot. Elmine remembered. Thank you.
Over Christmas, and later this week for New Year we will have family, friends and neighbours coming over. Cooking, eating, drinking, conversing, laughing. I cooked from cook books Elmine gave me recently. The results included a 6 dish vegan dinner on the second Christmas day, a first for me. Earlier this month we had a lot of our new neighbours over for a ‘meet and greet’, and all of Elmine’s family for St. Nicholas (celebrated around Dec 5th in the Netherlands). It feels good to be able to open up our home and welcome everyone. This morning over breakfast tea with the two of us, Elmine remarked how inviting people helps turn this house, that we moved into 6 months ago, into a real home. Where memories are made, where time and food is shared, with people we care about. She’s right.
After the first wave of different groups of guests for Christmas, we are now cleaning and preparing for the next wave.
Seven years ago I started writing end-of-year blogposts listing the things that happened that year that gave me a feeling of accomplishment. Borrowing from Ernst, from whom I copied this habit in 2010, I call them the annual Tadaa!-list (see the 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 editions). I am always looking forward to doing the next thing, and that often means I forget to celebrate or even acknowledge things during a year. Sometimes I forget things completely (I once forgot I organized a national conference, because I left for an extended period of travel the next day). Although I have worked on improving that sense of awareness this year, it is still a good way to reflect on the past 12 months. So, a bit shorter and more personal than earlier years, and in no particular order, here’s this year’s Tadaa!-list:
- Ten years ago, just before Christmas, I handed in my resignation and started my own business. It feels both longer and shorter. I’ve never looked back, it is the air that I breathe. I’m looking back on a decade of freedom. Even if always being the one committed to make things succeed and ends meet, especially when you hire people, is a relentless responsibility. There have been one or two short-lived rough patches (like when in 2010 three big contracts fell through at the same time). It brought the freedom to follow interests and emerging topics, to work with whom I choose, to travel extensively (with Elmine) and work anywhere, to continuously make up my own job. It, at least as importantly, brought the freedom to follow emotional needs, to stay at home for four months when our daughter was born, to spend time with my parents in the last weeks of their lives. Thank you to all who shared part of that journey with me this last decade. Looking forward to the next ones!
Me sending in my resignation, December 2007
- Early this year I designed and helped (with the Frisian library and Frysklab team) run an experimental collaborative ‘design and make’ process with a primary school class, based on my Agency model. It was a great experience, and the children involved got inspired and changed by the experience. (By coincidence I met one of the children and his parents on a campground in Austria during the summer, he was still very much inspired by it)
Group pic at the end of the ‘Impact through connection: at school’ project
- I continued my coaching sessions that I started last year. The coaching brought focus and awareness by providing a sense of calm, made me kinder to myself, and improved my effectiveness.
- We moved house in April from Enschede on the German border, to Amersfoort in the middle of the country, reducing a lot of trips with 80 minutes one way. Extra time I can spend at home with the family, and the reduced commutes also make it possible to stay in closer touch with family, friends, peers, clients and go to events. I really enjoy our new spacious home, although leaving a city I’ve lived in for almost 30 years means a lot of routines need to be re-established. Exploring our new surroundings, by going out for lunch for instance, is now a standard part of our week. The move was the timely culmination of a goal set in 2013 to be ready to move by the end of 2016.
Farewell party for our Enschede friends and neighbours.
Building activity in our new home, and hanging out on the waterside terrace below the garden
- Opened up our new home to friends and family. This bodes well for a new ‘Stuff that Matters’ unconference in 2018.
Ready for the first party in our new home, a garden party for Yfke’s 1st birthday
- Evaluated the relevance, effectiveness and impact of an NGO over the past 5-6 years. In the process I’ve used several complexity management and narrative inquiry methods with good results, and involving the NGO’s staff in a meaningful way. They not only changed focus as a result but also want to continue to use the evaluation and reflection methods for themselves. Doing the evaluation was useful for my own reflection as well, in terms of the strategic issues emerging for my own company.
- I spent every Friday at home to be with our daughter. A joy to watch her develop.
- Got to be there for friends, and friends got to be there for me. Thank you.
- Helped create and launch a unique collaborative open data portal, the Frisian regional data platform. Initiated by the Province of Fryslan and the city of Leeuwarden who share the initial costs, the Province ensures its existence, and local governments can participate through a subscription. From the start the regional historic center and archive Tresoar participates on this basis. The unique aspect is that the Province ensures a base line service provision, so that the many small local governments can easily participate, who otherwise would see the need for data publishing infrastructure as too big a hurdle to start publishing open data. At the same time, data from any participant makes the data of the others more useful as it becomes easier to correlate or cover a wider area. This increases the likelihood of people using the data.
Launching the Frisian data platform during the Connect.FRL conference
- Presented the results of the national open data readiness assessment to the Malaysian government (in May) and helped launch the Malaysian open data user group (bringing together government entities, citizens, civil society, business and academia. In November). Now discussing an 18 month collaboration to help move the Malaysian open data efforts forward.
Supporting Malaysian open data efforts
- For the first time discussed a licensing deal, opening up the perspective of passive income.
- Spent a day in London in April and September meeting with old friends. In remembrance of Tim who suddenly passed away early in the year, and as a consequence of our grief in recognition of how valuable it is to just spend time together sharing experiences and stories from our lives and our companies, discussing plans, doubts, and having a laugh with peers. Looking forward to a repeat in 2018. Thank you Patrick, Tony, Johnnie, Matt. Thank you Tim.
- Started taking steps to reduce my Facebook usage in favor of blogging more (resulting in 28 posts the last 3 months, versus 8 the preceding 9).
I’ve worked 1727 hours this year (in 46 weeks, 2 weeks of illness, 4 of vacationing, averaging about 38hrs/wk), which is more or less the same as last year. It is a significant reduction from the over 2400 hours a few years ago, but still about 200 hours above target, given I’ve spend a day per week at home with our daughter. The average should get closer to 32 hours per week in the next year. Being better equipped to choose, focus and say no, will help reach that goal.
Over the year I succeeded in keeping a good pace of reading fiction, 55 books in total. This is a good sign, as usually if I feel stressed I drop (and severely miss) my reading. I tried to find new (to me at least) authors to read. The books by Nnedi Okorafor, Chimamanda Adichie, Linda Nagata (the Nanotech Succession) and Tricia Sullivan I especially enjoyed, while the Bobiverse books, with AI Von Neumann probes going off script, were a lot of fun with its wide variety of storylines and angles to explore.
As per usual we will spend the last days of the year with dear friends, this time not in Switzerland as we often do, but in our new home in Amersfoort.
For 2018 a few exciting plans are already lined up, partly on new topics, in new countries and with some new clients and partners. Onwards!
Fifteen years ago (on 4 November) I started blogging. This as a result of a discussion with and encouragement from David Gurteen, Lilia Efimova and Seb Paquet. First using Blogger, but quickly self-hosted on my own domain, using Movable Type for a long time before switching to WordPress.
My blogging frequency has been much lower in recent years, than at the start, also because of additional channels that became available, such as Facebook and Twitter in 2006.
The web has changed mightily in those 15 years, as is clearly visible to those who were away for a number of years, such as Hoder in an Iranian jail. It hasn’t changed for the better in my view. By design and definition the internet is distributed, but for most everyday usage it is anything but. It could be, but it would mean many more people taking the tools into their own hands. Until then ease of use has huge silos and you and your data being the product as a consequence.
Every now and then there’s been a call to go ‘back to the blog’, e.g. in discussion with Stephanie Booth and others. Fact is I never stopped blogging, just that over time more and more postings became longer texts, and that meant the frequency of postings diminished as writing time increased. Now that my own unease with what Facebook et al are doing to my information diet has become increasingly unbearable, I started following the example of Peter Rukavina and Elmine to bring back more of the casual sharing of small observations to this site, foregoing the likes of Facebook as primary channel. Peter has left Facebook entirely, I’m not nearly at that point.
When I started blogging it was the source of a tremendous proliferation of new connections, a whole new peer network emerged practically overnight. Distributed conversations became face to face meetings and brought us to places like the Blogtalk and Reboot conferences. Many of the people I regard as a major source of learning, inspiration I met because of this blog. Many over time have become dear friends. That alone is enough to keep blogging.
As every year it is time to post the list of things that gave me a feeling of accomplishment, that made me go ‘tadaa!’. I am always very much forward focussed, which leads me to easily overlook or even forget the things I did, or missing how those things form a bigger whole. I’m usually more aware of what is still left to do, unfinished or needs to be prepared. The consequence is I can think back on a year as if nothing much happened, even if the opposite is true. As a reminder to myself I post this yearly list, triggered by my friend Ernst in 2010 (read the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 editions)
Personal events marked 2015 and that was just as true for 2016, although this time the personal events were about new beginnings instead of loss. As a result I had to make different choices, which I think worked out well mostly.
So in no particular order (except for the first few items), here’s my Tadaa-list for 2016:
- End of May our daughter Yfke was born. I can spend long times just watching her explore the world around her.
- With my sisters we liquidated my parents household, and I executed my parents wills. We also scattered my parents ashes in the places they chose for themselves. I am grateful for how well we worked together as siblings to finish this rather intensive effort, each of us finding our natural and complemental roles in that process.
- In between my parents death and my daughters birth, I took a deep dive in my notes from my depression over 20 years ago (over 200 pages). Allowing me to tie up some left-over loose ends as a consequence, but also seeing a range of still existing patterns which made me realise I’ve been keeping myself back out of caution for not “going through the ice again”.
- Hired a coach to help deal with those still present patterns in how they influence my personal and professional routines.
- Found a unifying formulation for my work in general, agency in a networked world
- Formulated a unifying framework for all my open data work, that addresses various building blocks and all levels of maturity
- Got to be there for friends, friends got to be there for me. Thank you.
- Outsourced more, and hired people, in ways that really freed me up and multiplied my agency. The learning curve to do that effectively is all mine, and I failed in previous years. Slowly getting the hang of it. I am now an employer.
- Focused on fewer things, said “no” more often, had a great business year as a result
- Turned down gigs in Indonesia, Italy, and the Middle East as part of saying “no” more often
- Enjoyed providing open data implementation support in Serbia. It is always inpsiring to work with people who are out to change things
- Spent two weeks in Malaysia on a national open data readiness assessment. Such a future-focused country, and such a pleasure to work with my team and all government counterparts.
- Spent 4 months at home around the birth of our daughter. Her falling asleep on my belly, while conference calling around the world.
- Enjoying giving a key-note at the global FOSS4Geo conference, as first ‘outing’ after those four months, speaking about ethics and impact in open data
Me speaking in former German parliament plenary in Bonn at FOSS4G (photo by Jo Hempel)
- Realized the goal we set in 2013, to be ready to move to the center of the Netherlands by the end of 2016. Sold our house in a week this December, and bought a house in Amersfoort
- Landed two small experimental projects, to test the usability of my agency model, that unifies the work I’ve done over the past 18 years or so
- Seeing and feeling the beauty that resides in the layeredness of loss, joy, grief and happinness
- Slowly but steadily redesigning my digital information processes to much better mirror the distributed design of the internet itself, leaving silos like Google, taking out single points of failure (and speaking about it at the Koppelting conference)
- Thoroughly enjoyed working in Fryslân on open data, as a steady commitment throughout the year
- Researched in depth what it takes to build a national data infrastructure (pdf) with Swiss colleagues and the Bern university of applied sciences (this work also helped give rise to my unified framework for my open data work)
- Worked in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Serbia and Malaysia, enjoying and learning from the diversity of perspectives that yields
Dinner al fresco in Kuala Lumpur, planning open data in Fruska Gora national park in Serbia
- Designed and provided an open data master course to some 50 archivists, on behalf of the Dutch national archive, where real interventions were part of the program. As a result data got published, awareness was raised, data quality improved and Dutch archives are now opener than they were a year ago.
working with groups of archivists in different locations
This year I traveled much less than in previous years (26 days, down 70-75%, in 5 countries). I also worked less than previous years, 1779 hours in total (down from 1940 last year, and over 2400 in 2011). Both mostly because of staying home for 4 months, and spending 2 days a week at home taking care of our daughter. The travel I did do, made me realize that I do need such change of perspective regularly, and that travel is very much, as Bryan Alexander said to me, a habit. As for the number of hours, I have been aiming to bring the total hours down over the last 5 years (now a 28% reduction over 5 years), and hopefully will be able to keep it at least stable in 2017. Reading was one thing I did less of than I hoped, reading 42 books, in bursts more really, than evenly spread out at a consistent pace.
The last days of the year, and the first few of 2017, we’ll be spending with dear friends in Switzerland. Yfke’s first international trip (disregarding the short cuts through Germany to visit the north of the Netherlands).
My friend Niels is dying and is celebrating life. Today he gave his ‘Last Lecture’ (viewable here in Dutch, Niels’ lecture starts at 42:00), following the example of Randy Pausch in 2008, in front of 400 people. He made us laugh, he made us think. He made us connect. So we can continue on after he’s no longer here. He turned us into his torch bearers, fakkeldragers in Dutch. That #fakkeldragers was the number 1 trending topic on Twitter in the Netherlands this morning, even as a major storm passed over and we like nothing more than discussing the weather, tells you a little something about Niels.
I met Niels 10 years ago. He reached out to me online to ask me a question. Today he said to realize your dreams you have to start by asking a question. He asked me about learning online. He was a student then, and despite assurances to the contrary he could not access the univ’s buildings with his electric wheelchair and fully participate in the curriculum (Niels has spasticity and requires daily care). Undeterred he set out to arrange his own education online. We explored Second Life together, and we hung out in knowledge management fora, on blogs and social media. Only some 3 years later we finally met face to face, on a Mobile Monday meet-up in Amsterdam. Later we were both active in the topic of complexity management, and worked together to help build up a new company around participatory narrative inquiry. He married, and became a father, and despite every Kafkaesk requirement the ‘system’ threw at him he cut out his own path and became an entrepreneur. “He does not think it is impossible he’ll hold a regular job” someone wrote in his case file once. Another that he was a difficult patient to work with as “he keeps insisting on creating his own plans”.
His sense of humor not only keeps him sane, but also is his primary ‘weapon’ to create a space to be heard in health care and social care discussions and systems that are mostly accustomed to deciding or talking over him. “My case file never mentions the happinness of our family or the joy I find in my work” as key to personal wellbeing. That also drives him as an entrepreneur, where ever he goes he brings together those stakeholders that normally don’t enter into a proper conversation, and in those conversations plants the seeds to make the social and health care system work better. To replace faceless bureaucracy with a human face. To align the sometimes bewildering logic of the system with the logic of actual life. To make the system more efficient as well as more effective that way. Niels his last name roughly translates into English as Shaking Tree, and that became his brand. Shakingtree Interventions shakes things up. All trees in the Netherlands shook today, because of the mentioned storm, and it seems a fitting tribute.
A testament to him shaking things up is that the Secretary General of the Ministry of Health Care was an opening speaker today. He launched the annual ‘Shakingtree Award’ and presented the first one to Niels himself. At the same time he asked Niels, as he is wont to do anyway, to set the criteria for the Shaking Tree Award. Those criteria center around having experience with the health care system, being able to shake things up, and having a sense of humor.
Even if this maybe, hopefully, isn’t his real last lecture, “I hope I will have cancer for a very long time”, it was a great day to call upon 400 friends, colleagues and strangers to step up and be a torch bearer, a #fakkeldrager. That message, even without his personal shout-out to me to ‘fix this already’ (to use maker spaces to create cheaper tools and adptations), was loud and clear to all I think. Niels wants us to learn how to “dance with the system“, that was his lesson for us today. He is launching a ‘social domain lab’ to continue teaching that.
Today was a good and a fun day, despite the reason why it was organized. Or as Niels quoted Pema Chödrön “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” Over the past 18 months in my personal life I’ve learned (again) that to me beauty resides in that space where such layeredness is allowed to exist. Today reinforced it once more. Thank you Niels.
Now that I’ve formulated my overall perspective on Agency (part 1 on distributedness, part 2 on defining networked agency, part 3 on technology needs), this is a summary of the key points and their consequences. Half of these are general insights, condensed from what I’ve been exposed to and absorbed in the past 10-15 years or so. These points are why it matters. The novel combinations I think I contribute (marked in bold) provide the ‘how’ to that ‘why’ by delivering the agency towards increasing our agency. These points form my manifesto to act upon.
The key points in summary are:
- The agency deficit and potential.
There are many issues where many people recognize they need or should find different solutions, because existing structures are failing, but do not see a viable path towards action for themselves. This is the current agency deficit. At the same time many existing tools and instruments are underused because of barriers to entry or the form in which they are currently available. This is the agency potential.
- The potential of distributedness.
Distributed digital networks are similarly structured to human networks. Hierarchies and hubs superimposed on a distributed network are rigid edge cases that don’t fully use the flexibility distributed networks can provide. Human networks can more successfully use technology when the same type of flexibility and fluidity is present in the technology used. This is the path to agency.
- The relevant unit of agency is a person plus related group in context
The unit of agency to consider is not the individual on her own, nor a general ‘target’ group, but the combination of a person and the subset of meaningful relationships for a real and given context. Agency is networked. That way both the individual’s capabilities and perspectives as well as those of the relationships involved can be leveraged. This means that to discuss agency it needs to be done for specific contexts, and with knowledge of the relationships involved. No generic answers are possible, although examples are.
- Networked agency is the sum of striking power, resilience and agility
Because your context does not exist in a vacuum but in a global network of other contexts and connections, agency is not merely about what you can do in your context (striking power), but also how you can mitigate (resilience) or leverage (agility) the consequences of things propagating to you from outside of it
- ‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ technology need to be always used in combination
Methods and processes that take human networks as a given in how we act, organize and learn (community building, networking, complexity management etc), in combination with distributed hard technology / science is the relevant scope of technology to consider. Not just ‘real’ tech. This combination is how you create the needed bridge and conduit between the digital and us humans, out of the combinations agency emerges.
- Technologies need to be ‘smaller‘ than us, barriers lowered
We need to seek out, recombine, or create expressions of that technology that allows the context specific user group involved to deploy, alter, and trust or control it, without barriers to entry based on money, expert knowledge, or time consumption. This often means making the technology truly distributed, such that local expressions of it are independently possible in an interdependent global network. There is a range of promising technologies on this path that however need an extra push.
- Reasoning from a desired specific impact, not from technology features
It is necessary to reason from the desired impact. Issues that cannot be solved by a single individual, nor on a general level by a group or mass, but only with the active involvement of the group of people it concerns are the ones to focus on. Issues are context specific, so is impact.
- Making it specific creates a design aid
Putting a (list of) specific contexts (person plus meaningful relations) at one end, and a (list of possibly) desired impact on a specific issue at the other, with the lists of potential hard and soft technologies in between, such as in the image below, can be used as thinking aid and design aid.
It allows you to explore possibilities based on selecting varying combinations of certain technologies, or specific combinations of technologies already available in the involved context, to see how to provide agency to contexts/groups towards desired impacts. This provides agency towards creating agency.