At Thingscon last month in Rotterdam, I sampled various talks and sessions. I ended up somewhere halfway in a contribution by Sarah Kiden (currently a research fellow at University of Dundee). She mentioned the ‘radio in a bucket’ project in Uganda, as illustration how to bring technology into the hands of more people by removing some of the thresholds and fears. Radio in a bucket is precisely that: it’s everything you need to create a local radio station, packaged in a bucket. The bucket serves as a way to appear familiar to those who normally don’t interact with (high) tech devices. The familiarity of the bucket as everyday object removes some of the apprehension of using the technological devices in the bucket.

Hide Tech as it were, not High Tech.
I liked this example for the balance it was trying to find. Regularly when technological complexity is hidden from someone using the technology, it takes away agency. I cannot even change the lights on my car these days, because the entire front is integrated into a single object. Nor can I access all the sensors and software in my car. It renders me helpless whenever something needs fixing on the car.
The Ugandan examples is about hiding some of the technological complexity to stimulate agency. To take away initial apprehension, do I dare touch the device, so curiosity can take root (what happens if I flip this switch?).

What tech should be packaged in a ‘bucket’ for your to adopt it more easily. For instance distributed alternatives to social media platforms. What Hide Tech would encourage you to do more?

For the 12th year in a row I’ve send out Kiva Cards as Christmas gifts to clients. As many of the people I and our company work with are civil servants, it isn’t acceptable to give them anything of value. That’s why in the first year I worked independently I decided on a Christmas gift to business relations that doesn’t carry any risk of challenging the receiver’s integrity, nor mine as the giver.

That gift is a Kiva Card, a voucher for 25 USD. They’re perfect for my purpose. The gift can only be accepted by giving it away again. Kiva is a microcredit platform, where you can lend small amounts to entrepreneurs and others in developing countries. To use the card you have to apply it to a microcredit. Over time you get repaid and then you can lend it out again. If you do not use the card, it will become a charitable donation automatically after a year. In each case someone else will benefit, not the receiver or the giver.

My work is in open data mostly, and my interest in technology is about enabling more (networked) agency. In both those cases freely sharing is the starting point to create the potential benefits. Kiva Cards only can be used by sharing them again too, and turn into a donation if you don’t use them.

So these Kiva Cards are perfectly aligned with the spirit of my work, can’t call my or the receiver’s integrity into question, yet the joy of a gift remains.

Over time I’ve made over 300 microcredit contributions myself, forever re-using the funds I put in. I’ve especially tried to make meaningful loans in countries and regions where I’ve worked, in Central Asia, and non-EU Eastern Europe for instance, and most if not all to women.

It’s easy to join Kiva and start supporting an entrepreneur somewhere around the world

Screenshot of some of the people with Kiva microcredits I’ve contributed to

Cornucopia
Abundance isn’t shipping containers full of stuff. (image by me, CC BY NC SA)

Last month I was at the Scifi Economics Lab, and Cory Doctorow
was one of the speakers. There was much to unpack in his talk, and he has a style of delivery that makes you want to quote a lot of things. I won’t give in to that urge, but will highlight one expression.

At some point he talked about abundance. It’s a term I’ve struggled with over the years because it’s so easy to interpret as having mountains of stuff, as per the image above. Or have everything free. A Dutch expression or rather admonition “we don’t live in the land where chickens fly into your mouth already fried” is probably an image our Calvinist culture associates with abundance: no work, but all the fruits of it. I have a sense of the meaning of abundance other than that, but never felt I had the right words to express that other perspective on abundance.

Doctorow’s metaphor for abundance was useful for me. He described back packers always having to carry a roll of toilet paper with them and that if not used it would desintegrate in your backpak, and therefore regularly needs replacement. Backpackers spent resources on replacing their toilet paper and spent mental energy on keeping an eye on still having it with them. A constant worry, and an inefficient use of resources (as you don’t use much of the toilet paper for its intended purpose, due to degradation).
Abundance then is being certain there is toilet paper when and where you need it. This is a qualitative metaphor that adds location, timing and actual need as dimensions of relevance. Abundance here is also more efficient, reduces worry, and is always there when needed. But it’s not limitless, free, or available anywhere for anything at any whim. It’s about qualitative abundance not quantitative abundance (‘heaps of free stuff’).

Hotel Room Toilet Paper Roll FoldMetaphorical Practical abundance, image by Tony Webster, license CC BY

This makes a vast number of things abundant in the society I live in, because it is there when I need it, without worry. Water, food, energy, clothing, transport, and everything else including toilet paper. (I once had a Central-Asian colleague who told me she thought, having visited, the Netherlands was totally boring because of that predictable abundance: no need to improvise anytime/anywhere.) Especially in the context of the six ways to die, abundance is an important notion, also because that abundance is often acquired by increasing the complexity of our systems. That complexity can break down.

Time, location and the context of an existing need are qualitative dimensions interesting to consider as design factors. What do you do when one or more of them are not to be counted on? Or can be counted upon, but at specific intervals? This is dealing with and designing for intermittence, as building block of both resilience and agency. That’s for another time.

Through a posting of Roel I came across Rick Klau again, someone who like me was blogging about knowledge management in the early ’00s. These days his writing is on Medium it seems.

Browsing through his latest posts, I came across this one about homebrew contact management.

Contact management is one area where until now I mostly stayed away from automating anything.
First and foremost because of the by definition poor initial data quality that you use to set it up (I still have 11 yr old contact info on my phone because it is hard to delete, and then gets put back due to some odd feedback loop in syncing).
Second, because of the risk of instrumentalising the relationships to others, instead of interacting for its own sake.
Third, because most systems I encountered depend on letting all your mail etc flow through it, which is a type of centralisation / single point of failure I want to avoid.

There’s much in Rick’s post to like (even though I doubt I’d want to shell out $1k/yr to do the same), and there are things in there I definitely think useful. He’s right when he says that being able to have a better overview of your network in terms of gender, location, diversity, background etc. is valuable. Not just in terms of contacts, but in terms of information filtering when you follow your contacts in several platforms etc.

Bookmarked to come up with an experiment. Timely also because I just decided to create a simple tool for my company as well, to start mapping stakeholders we encounter. In Copenhagen last September I noticed someone using a 4 question page on her phone to quickly capture she met me, the context and my organisation. When I asked she said it was to have an overview of the types of organisations and roles of people she encountered in her work, building a map as it were of the ecosystem. Definitely something I see the use of.

HandShakeHandshakes and conversations is what I’m interested in, not marketing instruments. Image Handshake by Elisha Project, license CC BY SA

UntitledProbably the top left gives the most realistic information. Image by Brooke Novak, license CC BY

An organisation that says it wants to work data driven as well as sees ethics as a key design ingredient, needs to take a very close look imho at how they set KPI’s and other indicators. I recently came across an organisation that says those first two things, but whose process of setting indicators looks to have been left as a naive exercise to internal teams.

To begin with, indicators easily become their own goals, and people will start gaming the measurement system to attain the set targets. (Think of call centers picking up the phone and then disconnecting, because they are scored on the number of calls answered within 3 rings, but the length of calls isn’t checked for those picked up)

Measurement also isn’t neutral. It’s an expression of values, regardless of whether you articulated your values. When you measure the number of traffic deaths for instance as an indicator for road safety, but not wounded or accidents as such, nor their location, you’ll end up minimising traffic deaths but not maximising road safety. Because the absence of deaths isn’t the presence of road safety. Deaths is just one, albeit the most irreparable one, expression of the consequences of unsafety. Different measurements lead to different real life actions and outcomes.

Gauges‘Gauges’ by Adam Kent, license CC BY

When you set indicators it is needed to evaluate what they cover, and more importantly what they don’t cover. To check if the overall set of indicators is balanced, where some indicators by definition deteriorate when others improve (so balance needs to be sought). To check if assumptions behind indicators have been expressed and when needed dealt with.

Otherwise you are bound to end up with blind spots, lack of balance, and potential injustices. Defined indicators also determine what data gets collected, and thus what your playing field is when you have a ‘data driven’ way of working. That way any blind spot, lack of balance and injustice will end up even more profoundly in your decisions. Because where indicators mostly look back in time at output, data driven use of the data underlying those indicators actively determines actions and thus (part of) future output, turning your indicators in a much more direct and sometimes even automated feedback loop.

CompassOnly if you’ve deliberately defined your true north, can you use your measurements to determine direction of your next steps. ‘Compass’ by Anthony, license CC BY ND