Veel herkenbaars in je verhaal Frank. Zelf was ik ook in Utrecht gisteren, en wat me aan de online en tv berichtgeving opviel is vooral hoe het onrust aanwakkert. Terwijl de berichtgeving letterlijk inhoudsloos is, suggereert het format (de hijgerigheid, live, er bovenop) zoals je schrijft, dat er ieder moment iets belangrijks kan gebeuren, en dus blijf je het volgen.

Je hebt in dit soort gevallen alleen iets aan berichtgeving als het van belang is voor je handelingsperspectief in een verder nog chaotische en onzekere situatie. De hijgerigheid suggereert wel dat je iets zou moeten doen, anything, maar geeft je geen suggesties wat dan. Je wordt verteld dat er een stress situatie is maar krijgt geen bruikbare informatie voor je fright, fight or flight reflexen. Want die verslaggevers weten uiteraard helemaal niets. Ze dragen alleen maar hun eigen fight or flight onrust aan jou over omdat zij met hun stress ook nergens heen kunnen. Op dat moment zijn ze niet professioneel genoeg kennelijk om dat te doorbreken en te doorzien dat hun eigen diep menselijke reflexen niet betekenen dat er echt iets te melden valt.

Handelingsinformatie gisteren die in de berichtgeving wel van belang was, zijn dingen als dat de school van je dochter in lock-down was, dat je uit voorzichtigheid beter niet de straat op kon gaan zolang ze die gast nog niet te pakken hadden, dat treinen bussen en trams niet reden, en dat de A2 deels afgesloten was. De eindeloze herhaling van alle overige ruis maakt dat je die handelingsinformatie nog over het hoofd zou kunnen zien ook. Veel had achterwege kunnen blijven, zonder dat dat de ernst van de zaak had gebagatelliseerd en zonder mensen ongeïnformeerd te laten.

Zoals op de radio bijvoorbeeld meer het geval was. Dat format, liedjes draaien, leent zich niet goed voor de hijgerigheid die op tv wel kan. Dus daar was er vooral elk half uur een kort bulletin “we weten nog niets meer, en de burgemeester zegt dat je beter binnen kunt blijven”. Dat was op alle andere kanalen ook ruim voldoende geweest.

(Het doet me denken aan de nieuwsvoorziening na de vuurwerkramp in Enschede in 2000. Niets van wat de tv of pers bracht de eerste 24 uur was bruikbaar. Het enige waar we in de eerste chaotische uren wat aan hadden was handelingsinformatie. Zoals de locatie van gewonden-nesten en triage-plaatsen. Zodat we de verdwaasde mensen die we op straat tegen kwamen naar professionele hulp konden wijzen.)

Replied to De vorm van het nieuws bij #24oktoberplein by Frank Meeuwsen
De dag begon best rustig. Zo’n typische maandag zonder al teveel beslommeringen. Kinderen zijn naar school en ik zit wat vervelend administratief werk te doen. Ineens komt de pushmelding van Nu.nl binnen dat er een schietpartij gaande is in Utrecht, op een plein aan de andere kant van de stad waar...

Aral Balkan talks about how to design tools and find ways around the big social media platforms. He calls for the design and implementation of Small Tech. I fully agree. Technology to provide us with agency needs to be not just small, but smaller than us, i.e. within the scope of control of the group of people deploying a technology or method.

My original fascination with social media, back in the ’00s when it was blogs and wikis mostly, was precisely because it was smaller than us, it pushed publication and sharing in the hands of all of us, allowing distributed conversations. The concentration of our interaction in the big tech platforms made social media ‘bigger than us’ again. We don’t decide what FB shows us, breaking out of your own bubble (vital in healthy networks) becomes harder because sharing is based on pre-existing ‘friendships’ and discoverability has been removed. The erosion has been slow, but very visible. Networked Agency, to me, is only possible with small tech, and small methods. It’s why I find most ‘digital transformation’ efforts disappointing, and feel we need to focus much more on human digital networks, on distributed digital transformation. Based on federated small tech, networks of small tech instances. Where our tools are useful on their own, and more useful in concert with others.

Aral’s posting (and blog in general) is worth a read, and as he is a coder and designer, he acts on those notions too.

Dave Winer writes “we all feel disempowered“:

… people who feel disempowered figure there’s nothing they can do, no one would listen to me anyway, so I’ll just go on doing what I do. I know I feel that way.

He’s talking in the context of the US political landscape, but it applies in general too. Part of the solution he suggests is to

Invest in local news. And btw, I have a lot more to invest than money.

Two things stand out for me.

One is, that we’ve come accustomed to view everything through the lens of individualism. Yes, we’ve gained much from individualism, but by now we’ve also landed in a false dichotomy. The false dichotomy is the presumption that you need to solve something as an individual, or if you individually can’t then all is lost. It puts all responsibility for any change on the individual, while it is clear no-one can change the world on their own. It pitches individuals against society as a whole, but ignores the intermediate level: groups with agency.

The second false dichotomy is the choice between either the (hyper)local or the global. You remove litter from your street, or you set out to save the ozone layer. Here again there’s a bridge possible between those two extremes, the (hyper)local and the global. Where you do something useful locally that also has some impact on a global issue. Or where you translate a global issue to how it manifests locally and solves a local need. You can worry about global fossil fuel use and with a cooperative in your area generate green energy. You can run your own parts of a global infrastructure, while basically only looking to create a local service. It is not either local or global. It can be local action, leveraging the opportunities global connection brings, or to mitigate the fall-out of global issues. It can be global, as scaling of local efforts.

Local / global, individual / society aren’t opposites, they’re layers. Complexity resides in that layeredness. To help deal with complexity the intermediate levels between the individual and the masses, bridging the local and the global (note: the national level is not that bridge) is what counts. The false dichotomies, and the narratives they are used in, obscure that, and create disempowerment that way.

Disempowerment is a kind of despair. The answer to despair isn’t hope but action. Networked agency, looks at groups in context to solve their own issues, in the full awareness of the global networks that surrounds us. Group action in its own context, overlapping into other contexts, layered into global context, like Russian dolls.

Kars Alfrink pointed me to a report on AI Ethics by the Nuffield Foundation, and from it lifts a specific quote, adding:

Good to see people pointing this out: “principles alone are not enough. Instead of representing the outcome of meaningful ethical debate, to a significant degree they are just postponing it”

This postponing of things, is something I encounter all the time. In general I feel that many organisations who claim to be looking at ethics of algorithms, algorithmic fairness etc, currently actually don’t have anything to do with AI, ML or complicated algorithms. To me it seems they just do it to place the issue of ethics well into the future, that as yet unforeseen point they will actually have to deal with AI and ML. That way they prevent having to look at ethics and de-biasing their current work, how they now collect, process data and the governance processes they have.

This is not unique to AI and ML though. I’ve seen it happen with open data strategies too. Where the entire open data strategy of for instance a local authority was based on working with universities and research entities to figure out how decades after now data might play a role. No energy was spent on how open data might be an instrument in dealing with actual current policy issues. Looking at future issues as fig leaf to not deal with current ones.

This is qualitatively different from e.g. what we see in the climate debates, or with smoking, where there is a strong current to deny the very existence of issues. In this case it is more about being seen to solve future issues, so no-one notices you’re not addressing the current ones.

Sinds twee jaar doe ik iets soortgelijks. Bij ieder spreekverzoek op een conferentie kijk ik naar wie nog meer komt, en of er, als er panels zijn, evenwicht in een panel zit. Als ik zelf niet kan, geef ik vrouwen op als alternatieve sprekers. Bij mijn panel deelname op een conferentie in Servië vorig jaar september, was het panel in evenwicht. Een half jaar eerder in Servië was het ook in orde. Mijn optreden bij State of the Net afgelopen jaar vond ik lastiger, in die zin. Te weinig vrouwen als spreker vond ik (3 van de 11), en telkens drie sprekers werden in een panel gezet, waardoor je dus geheel mannelijke panels kreeg. Wel heb ik, ik zit in het adviescomité van dat congres, zelf alleen vrouwelijke sprekers voorgedragen. Uiteindelijk ben ik wel gegaan, enerzijds omdat ik zelf een geheel nieuw verhaal wilde testen op een relevant publiek, anderzijds om een goede vriend die het organiseert niet teleur te stellen. Maar het betekent wel iets voor hoe ik dit jaar mijn adviserende rol in wil vullen.

Als event-organisator weet ik dat het kan, een gebalanceerde sprekerslijst en dito panels. Je moet wel zorgen dat je netwerk bij voorbaat al gebalanceerder is. Zo probeer ik dat bijvoorbeeld al te doen in mijn feedreader bij de weblogs die ik volg. Er is een overvloed aan vakmensen en denkers, als je die niet vindt ligt het niet aan die mensen. Als ik bijvoorbeeld vrouwelijke sprekers wil kunnen aanraden moet ik ze zelf ook eerst kennen: netwerken is gewoon een continue activiteit. Als event-organiser moet je er ook rekening mee houden dat mannen en vrouwen verschillend op een uitnodiging te spreken reageren. Mannen zijn eerder gevleid en gaan er vanuit dat ze wel een relevant verhaal kunnen houden. Vrouwen reageren eerder met reserve t.a.v. match van hun eigen kwalificaties en wat je zegt te zoeken voor je conferentie (er is altijd wel iemand beter), of planningsproblemen. Bij internationale conferenties die ik organiseerde nodigden we dan ook twee vrouwelijke sprekers t.o.v iedere man uit. In de praktijk kwam je dan op het omgekeerde uit, 1 op de 3 vrouwen als spreker. Het had nog een stuk beter gekund met meer vasthoudendheid (en betere planning) van onze kant. In Zweden op technische conferenties waar ik sprak was het altijd keurig 50-50. Ook in de organisatie zelf, en dat is volgens mij al het halve werk.

Replied to Alleen mannen op het podium? Dan kom ik niet. by an author
Prins Constantijn gaat nooit meer in een panel zitten zonder dat er minstens één vrouw in zit. Volgens hem is dat een goede manier om vooroordelen over vrouwelijke ondernemers weg te nemen, ..... Een mooie uitspraak die hopelijk ook in daad word omgezet...

Chris Corrigan last November wrote a posting “Towards the idea that complexity is a theory of change“. Questions about the ‘theory of change’ you intend to use are regular parts of project funding requests for NGO’s, the international development sector and the humanitarian aid sector.

Chris’ posting kept popping up in my mind, “I really should blog about this”. But I didn’t. So for now I just link to it here. Because I think Chris is right, complexity is a theory of change. And in projects I do that concern community stewarding, networked agency and what I call distributed digital transformation, basically anything where people are the main players, it is for me in practice. Articulating it that way is helpful.

Cutting Through Complexity
How not to deal with complexity… Overly reductionist KPMG adverts on Thames river boats

Dries Buytaert, the originator of the Drupal CMS, is pulling the plug on Facebook. Having made the same observations I did, that reducing FB engagement leads to more blogging. A year ago he set out to reclaim his blog as a thinking-out-loud space, and now a year on quits FB.

I’ve seen this in a widening group of people in my network, and I welcome it. Very much so. At the same time though, I realise that mostly we’re returning to the open web. As we were already there for a long time before the silo’s Sirens lured us in, silos started by people who like us knew the open web. For us the open web has always been the default.

Returning to the open web is in that sense not a difficult step to make. Yes, you need to overcome the FOMO induced by the silo’s endless scrolling timeline. But after that withdrawal it is a return to the things still retained in your muscle memory. Dusting off the domain name you never let lapse anyway. Repopulating the feed reader. Finding some old blogging contacts back, and like in the golden era of blogging, triangulate from their blog roll and published feeds to new voices, and subscribe to them. It’s a familiar rhythm that never was truly forgotten. It’s comforting to return, and in some ways privilege rather than a risky break from the mainstream.

It makes me wonder how we can bring others along with us. The people for whom it’s not a return, but striking out into the wilderness outside the walled garden they are familiar with. We say it’s easy to claim your own space, but is it really if you haven’t done it before? And beyond the tech basics of creating that space, what can we do to make the social aspects of that space, the network and communal aspects easier? When was the last time you helped someone get started on the open web? When was the last time I did? Where can we encounter those that want and need help getting started? Outside of education I mean, because people like Greg McVerry have been doing great work there.

The ‘on this day in earlier years‘ plugin I recently installed on this blog is already proving to be useful in the way I hoped: creating somewhat coincidental feedback loops to my earlier blogposts, self serendipity.

Last week I had lunch with Lilia and Robert, and 15 years ago today another lunch with Lilia prompted a posting on lurking in social networks / blog networks. With seventeen comments, many of them pointing to other blogposts it’s a good example of the type of distributed conversations blogging can create. Or could, 15 years ago. Re-reading that posting now, it is still relevant to me. And a timely reminder. I think it would be worth some time to go through more of my postings about information strategies from back then, and see how they compare to now, and how they would translate to now.

Today I’m working at Library Service Fryslan to further document and detail our Networked Agency based library program Impact through Connection. This is a continuation of our work last December.

2019-01-22_03-03-23
The team in skype conversation, which is why all are staring towards the laptop.

We sat down to augment material and write this morning. In the afternoon we spent an hour talking to David Lankes. He’s the director of USC’s library and information science school, and the originator of the term ‘community librarian’. Jeroen de Boer, our team lead, had asked him last month for some reflection on our work. That took the shape of an extended skype confcall this afternoon, which was very helpful.

Trying to make our effort much more tangible in terms of examples and in supporting librarians in their role in Impact through Connections, is one thing that was emphasised. The need for training librarians in the methodological aspects of this, to help them feel more comfortable in the open-ended setting we create for this project, another. It also made us realise that some of the things we already mentioned, or did earlier, but since dropped of our radar somewhat, need to be pulled more into the center again. The suggestion to create multiple parallel propositions for libraries, as a way to better engage in conversation about the level of service provided, involvement of librarians, and the consequences different choices carry, I think was a good practical tip.

A conversation with David Lankes
In conversation with David Lankes

I recognise what Ben Werdmüller says. About the withdrawal creating space to both read more long form, and to write more myself. Also the replacement dopamine cravings, by looking up your blog’s statistics when the Facebook likes fall away, I had. Indeed as Ben suggests, I also removed the statistics from my website (by disabling JetPack, I never used Google Analytics anyway). Different from him, I never stopped using Twitter or LinkedIn, just cut back Facebook which I felt was the real time sink (also as Twitter nor LinkedIn were on my phone to begin with, and because I use Twitter very differently from how I used Facebook.) Going completely ‘dark’ on social media is also about privilege I feel, so the crux is how conscious are we of our information strategies? How the tools we use support those information strategies or not, and most importantly in the case of social media as a time sink: in how much it’s the tools that shape our info diet, instead of the other way around.

Replied to Checking in on my social media fast by Ben WerdmüllerBen Werdmüller
Three weeks ago, I decided to go dark on social media. ... It's one of the best things I've ever done. I thought I'd check in with a quick breakdown: what worked, and what didn't. Here we go.   Wh...

After my initial posting on this yesterday, Greg shares a few more quotes from his students. It reminds me of the things both teachers and students said at the end of my 2008 project at Rotterdam university for applied sciences. There, a group of teachers explored how to use digital technology, blogs and the myriad of social web tools, to both support their own learning and change their teaching. The sentiments expressed are similar, if you look at the quotes in the last two sections (change yourself, change your students) of my 2009 posting about it. What jumps out most for me, is the sense of agency, the power that comes from discovering that agency.

Replied to Some quick quotes on #edu106 and the power of #IndieWeb #creativity #edtechchat #mb by Greg McVerryGreg McVerry
....fun to figure out everything I wanted to do with my website,....gained a sense of voice...,...I’m so tired of all the endless perfection I see on social media......my relationship with technology changed....

As a long time netizen it is easy to forget that for many now online their complete experience of the internet is within the web silos. I frequent silos, but I’ve always kept a place well outside of it for over two decades. When you’ve never ‘played outside’, building your own space beyond the silos can be an eye-opener. Greg McVerry pointed to the blog of one of his students, who described the experience of stepping outside the silos (emphasis mine):

The fact that I now have a place where I can do that, where I can publish my thoughts whenever I want in a place open for people to read and to not be afraid of doing so, is liberating. I’ve always wanted a space online to call my own. I’m so tired of all the endless perfection I see on social media. My space, “Life Chapter by Chapter” is real. It’s me, personified by a website. And though this post is not digitally enhanced in any way, I love it because it’s representative of the bottom line of what I’ve learned in EDU 106. I’m my own person on this site, I’m not defined by Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. I can post what I want, when I want, how I want. It’s a beautiful thing.

That’s a beautiful thing, indeed. Maybe this is the bit that Frank Meeuwsen and I need to take as the key to the story when writing a book, as Elja challenged us today (in Dutch).


There’s a world outside the walled garden. (Photo of the walled garden at Alnwick Garden by Gail Johnson, CC-BY-NC)

This week, like last week, I spent two full days working with the Library Services Fryslan’s Frysklab team. We sat down to in full detail document our work and thinking on the ‘Impact Through Connection’ projects. At the start of 2017 we did a first pilot, of which the design was based on my networked agency framework. Since then several instances of the project have been delivered, and the team noticed a pressure to oversimplify it into something focused solely on the act of digital making. It’s a type of greedy reductionism, to have something novel fit into the existing, and judge it not by impact but by needed effort to deliver the project. This often means it needs to be reduced to a point where it no longer requires change of those doing the projects, and the cheapest form in which it is believed the same results can be claimed on paper. Even if the stated purpose of the project remains to create that change.


Our 8 person team writing sprint in progress (photo Bertus Douwes)

As I said last week it is a luxury to sit down with dedicated people and document all we know and experienced around these projects, so we can build new narratives to help others embrace its core tenets and not oversimplify.
Even though working with Mediawiki is a pain, we’ve put together a strong amount of material. In the coming weeks we will be slowly detailing and shaping that to turn it into useful material for different stakeholders for these projects (our team, our pool of facilitators, library staff, directors, school leaders, teachers, children, their parents and the people in their neighbourhood). Early next year we’ll get together again to reflect with a wider group of stakeholders on whether we need more or different things to add.


Discussing some of our material before getting back to writing. (photo Jeroen de Boer)

It was good to in a sprint like this create a living document we can now take forward at a more calm pace.

Our team every time is in awe of the energy the projects create. During the pilot project we were regularly cheered and applauded when arriving for a session with the class of 10 year olds. In the video below from the end of a project in the past days, our facilitators were sung to each in turn by the participating children.

This week and next week I am working with the Library Services Fryslan team (BSF), the ones who also run Frysklab, a mobile FabLab. We’re taking about 5 full days and two evenings to dive deeply into detailing and shaping the Impact Through Connection projects BSF runs. Those are based on my networked agency framework. Now that BSF has done a number of these projects they find that they need a better way to talk about it to library decision makers, and a better way to keep the pool of facilitators much closer to the original intentions and notions, as well as find ways to better explain the projects to participants.

It’s quite a luxury to take the time with 5 others to spend a lot of time on talking through our experiences, jotting them down, and reworking them into new narratives and potential experiments. It’s also very intensive, as well as challenging to capture what we share, discuss and construct. In the end we want to be able to explain the why, what and how of networked agency to different groups much better, next to improving the way we execute the Impact Through Connection projects.

After doing a braindump on day 1, we used the second day to discuss some of what we gathered, figure out what’s missing, what needs more detail. We’ve now started to bring all that disjointed material into a wiki, so that we can move things around, and tease out the connections between different elements. This will be the basis for further reflection, planning to end up with ‘living documentation’ that allows us remix and select material for different contexts and groups.

Currently I think we are at the stage of having collected a mountain of thoughts and material, without much sight of how we will be able to process it all. But experience tells me we will get through that by just going on. It makes the luxury of having allocated the time to really do that all the more tangible.

20181128_125412

Today I attended the public defense of the PhD thesis of Freddy Veltman-van Vugt, titled ‘Grensverleggend leren’ (roughly translates to ’moving the frontier of learning forward’). She focused on what it takes for teachers to learn and teach skills critical to our highly digitised and interconnected world in a self directed way. Her doctorate already started some 14 years ago (I think she started writing in earnest after her retirement), and I was invited because one of my all time favourite projects, the Homo Zappiens 2008 project, was one of four cases that were the subject of her empirical research. Ten years ago Freddy promised me to invite me to her public defense, and she kept word. This is the third time my work has become the object of study of a PhD thesis, and today I thought it’s a rather fun indicator of whether I’m working on something novel and worthwile. (The other two were my blogging practices and my open data work). Today when asked by one of the learned opponents at the defense, Freddy said she saw our 2008 project as one with the most compelling predictive value. During the reception afterwards she followed that up with the remark that our project from 10 years ago is still a rare and unique approach. She asked me if I had done any more projects like it, and actually there’s only the current project with the Library Service Fryslan ‘Impact through Connection’ that resembles what we tried to do then.

In the Homo Zappiens project about a dozen teachers of the Rotterdam university of applied sciences took a year to informally work together on changing their teaching towards more self-directed learning, while incorporating more of the affordances networked technology gives us. The form of the project was shaped exactly the same, self-directed, action-oriented. We held that you can’t learn to teach differently if that’s being taught the traditional way. The results clustered around authenticity, co-creation, the skills involved in creating that, knowledge transfer to colleagues not involved in the project, and formats for new or altered work forms during teaching to let form follow function. The project meant deep personal change for many of the members of our ‘gang’. Rediscovering the fun of learning, finding the guts to experiment, getting so much closer to students and colleagues. “I came to change my teaching module, I left having changed my world”. It’s a project I’m still very glad about, and I feel I was able to co-create what I think of as a Reboot—like turning point for the participants.

I also picked up a useful new word today from Freddy’s PhD thesis, “agency shyness”. She talked about the critical factors involved in self directed learning, and next to engaging with real intractable problems, then also referenced the guts needed to experiment in a settled working environment. Not all teachers she came across in her cases dared to experiment, to try and do things differently. They were shy to explore new agency.

Agency shyness is very much relevant to my current work with the Library Service Fryslan on networked agency. We encounter it in the teams we work with, in contrast with my own mission behind networked agency, battling feelings of disempowerment.

It was good to see Freddy get her doctorate, and to realise our 2008 project is still standing strong, and would still be novel to most. After ten years it is still an iconic project.