Last week the 2nd annual Techfestival took place in Copenhagen. As part of this there was a 48 hour think tank of 150 people (the ‘Copenhagen 150‘), looking to build the Copenhagen Catalogue, as a follow-up of last year’s Copenhagen Letter of which I am a signee. Thomas, initiator of the Techfestival had invited me to join the CPH150 but I had to decline the invitation, because of previous commitments I could not reschedule. I’d have loved to contribute however, as the event’s and even more the think tank’s concerns are right at the heart of my own. My concept of networked agency and the way I think about how we should shape technology to empower people in different ways runs in parallel to how Thomas described the purpose of the CPH150 48 hour think tank at its start last week.

For me the unit of agency is the individual and a group of meaningful relationships in a specific context, a networked agency. The power to act towards meaningful results and change lies in that group, not in the individual. The technology and methods that such a group deploys need to be chosen deliberately. And those tools need to be fully within scope of the group itself. To control, alter, extend, tinker, maintain, share etc. Such tools therefore need very low adoption thresholds. Tools also need to be useful on their own, but great when federated with other instances of those tools. So that knowledge and information, learning and experimentation can flow freely, yet still can take place locally in the (temporary) absence of such wider (global) connections. Our current internet silos such as Facebook and Twitter clearly do not match this description. But most other technologies aren’t shaped along those lines either.

As Heinz remarked earlier musing about our unconference, effective practices cannot be separated from the relationships in which you live. I added that the tools (both technology and methods) likewise cannot be meaningfully separated from the practices. Just like in the relationships you cannot fully separate between the hyperlocal, the local, regional and global, due to the many interdependencies and complexity involved: what you do has wider impact, what others do and global issues express themselves in your local context too.

So the CPH150 think tank effort to create a list of principles that takes a human and her relationships as the starting point to think about how to design tools, how to create structures, institutions, networks fits right with that.

Our friend Lee Bryant has a good description of how he perceived the CPH150 think tank, and what he shared there. Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile the results are up: 150 principles called the Copenhagen Catalogue, beautifully presented. You can become signatory to those principles you deem most valuable to stick to.

Elmine says this about the difficulty to describe her feelings about having almost 70 guests, friends, family, clients, peers, neighbours, spend two days in our home. Where the youngest was 8 weeks, the oldest 80 years. Where the shortest trip made was from right next door, and the furthest from Canada and Indonesia, and the rest from somewhere in between:

I try to find words to describe what happened the past few days, but everything I write down feels incomplete and abstract. How do you put into words how much it means to you that friends travel across the world to attend your birthday party? That you can celebrate a new year in life with friends you haven’t been able to meet for four years (or longer)? Who’s lives have changed so drastically in those years, including my own, but still pick up where you left the conversation all those years before? How can I describe how much it means to me to be able to connect all those people Ton and I collected in our lives, bring them together in the same space and for all of them to hit it off? That they all openly exchanged life stories, inspired each other, geeked out together, built robots together?

It was an experience beyond words. It was, yet again, an epic birthday party.

It also extends to the interaction we had with those who could not attend, because the invitation and response also trigger conversations about how other people are doing and what is going on in their lives.

I completely share Elmine’s sense of awe.

Some people have blogged about their experiences at our birthday unconference “Smart Stuff That Matters” and bbq in honour of Elmine’s birthday.

Peter wrote about the session his son organised, and about (re)connecting to the other participants in a way that describes the richness of the interaction well: “All the friends I’ve not yet met“, in reference to a sentence uttered at the event.

Frank described his day, and how he came to give a presentation himself in “The unconference is still the best format“. Original is in Dutch, here’s a machine translation to English.

Elja wrote a great post about the ‘oh sh*t’ moment where you think no-one will be interested in your story. The original is in Dutch too, so you may want to use the machine translation.

Iskander mentions how he adapted a workshop he regularly organises to facilitate a group to make a robot with the help of the mobile FabLab, Frysklab parked in the courtyard.

Heinz wrote a great essay describing and reflecting on the event. There’s a lot to unpack in his posting, which he also ties to the history and character of my connection with Heinz.

Elmine, the host and birthday girl herself, is still reeling from all the interaction, and in awe of all the efforts people made to attend. A feeling I completely share.

I wrote a few things myself as well. Do you have any diodes? about the day, and some notes on the process in Anecdote circles lite. And the video of the closing ceremony, made by Jeroen de Boer, of course! All my postings concerning the event are tagged STM18

When more postings appear online I will add them here.

Do You Have Any Diodes? ….. …. Is probably the most unlikely question I got ever asked out of the blue at a birthday party. However the answer turned out to be yes, I did have two diodes. I didn’t think I did, but taking a look in the one box I suspected might have some electronic components in them, proved me wrong.

The diodes were needed to increase the strength of the scary noises an evil robot was emitting. This evil robot was being created just outside our front door where the enormous Frysklab truck, containing a mobile FabLab, was completely filling the courtyard. Representing everything that is wrong and evil about some of the devices that are marketed as necessary for a ‘smart home’, the evil robot then got ritually smashed into pieces by Elmine, wielding a gigantic hammer, named ‘The Unmaker’ that a colleague brought with him. That was the official closing act of our unconference “Smart Stuff That Matters“.

Around all this our 40 or so guests, friends, family members, clients, colleagues, peers, were weaving a rich tapestry of conversations and deepening connections. Something that our friend Peter put into words extremely well. Elmine and I are in awe of the effort and time all who joined us have put into coming to our home and participate in our slightly peculiar way of celebrating birthdays. Birthday parties where evil robots, a hyperloop to send messages from the courtyard to the garden, mythical German bbq-sausages, friendship, philosophy, web technology, new encounters and yes diodes, are all key ingredients to help create a heady mix of fun, inspiration, connection, and lasting memories.

Thank you all so much for making it so.

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Dave Winer, one of, if not the, earliest bloggers asks what became of the blogosphere? It was a topic of the conversations in Trieste 2 weeks ago at State of the Net, where we both were on the program.

I get what he says about losing the center, and seeing that center as a corporation back then. This much in the way Tantek Celik talked about the silos first being friendly and made by the people we knew, but then got sold, which I wrote about yesterday. Creating a new center, or centers, is worthwile I concur with Dave, and if it can’t be a company at the center, then maybe it should be a network or an organisational manifestation thereof, such as a cooperative. An expression of networked agency.

Because of that I wonder about Dave’s last point “There used to be a communication network among bloggers, but that’s gone now.”

I asked (on Facebook), “What to you was that previous communications network, and what was it built on? What type of communications would you like to see re-emerge?” The answer is about being able to discover other bloggers, like Dave’s Weblogs.com platform used to do (and still does, but most updates are spam).

Blogs to me are distributed conversations. Look at the unbridled enthusiasm I expressed 11 years ago when I wrote about 5 years of blogging in this space, and the list of people I then regarded as my regular group of people I had blogged conversations with. It is currently harder to create those, and it has become harder for me to notice when something I write is reacted to as well. Much of the IndieWeb discussion is about at least being able to discover all online facets of someone from their own domain, and pulling responses to it back there too. Something I need to explore more how to do in a way that fits me.

In terms of communication and connecting, it would be great if I could explore the blogosphere much as in the picture below. Created by Anjo Anjewierden and presented at the AOIR conference in Chicago in 2005 by Lilia Efimova, it shows a representation of my blog network based on text analysis of my and other people’s blogs. It’s a pretty good picture of what my blog ‘neighbourhood’ looked like then.

Or this one also by Anjo Anjewierden from 2008, titled “the big one”. It shows conversations between my and other’s blogs. Grey boxes are conversations across blogs (the bigger the box, the more blogpostings), the other dots are postings that refer to such a conversation but aren’t part of it. Top-left a box is ‘opened up’ to show there are different postings (colored dots) inside it.

Makes me want to have a personal crawler that maps out connections between blogs! Are there any ‘personalised’ crawlers out there?

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.

Stay tuned!

#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)

I’ve disengaged from Facebook (FB) last October, mostly because I wanted to create more space for paying attention, and for active, not merely responsive, reflection and writing, and realised that the balance between the beneficial and destructive aspects of FB had tilted too much to the destructive side.

My intention was to keep my FB account, as it serves as a primary channel to some professional contacts and groups. Also FB Messenger is the primary channel for some. However I wanted to get rid of my FB history, all the likes, birthday wishes etc. Deleting material is possible but the implementation of it is completely impractical: every element needs to be deleted separately. Every like needs to be unliked, every comment deleted, every posting on your own wall or someone else’s wall not just deleted but also the deletion confirmed as well. There’s no bulk deletion option. I tried to use a Chrome plugin that promised to go through the activity log and ‘click’ all those separate delete buttons, but it didn’t work. The result is that deleting your data from Facebook means deleting every single thing you ever wrote or clicked. Which can easily take 30 to 45 mins to just do for a single month worth of likes and comments. Now aggregate that over the number of years you actively used FB (about 5 years in my case, after 7 years of passive usage).

The only viable path to delete your FB data therefore is currently to delete the account entirely. I wonder if it will be different after May, when the GDPR is fully enforced.

Not that deletion of your account is easy either. You don’t have full control over deletion. The link to do so is not available in your settings interface, but only through the help pages, and it is presented as submitting a request. After you confirm deletion, you receive an e-mail that deletion of your data will commence after 14 days. Logging back in in that period stops the clock. I suspect this will no longer be enough when the GDPR enters into force, but it is what it currently is.

Being away from FB for a longer time, with the account deactivated, had the effect that when I did log back in (to attempt to delete more of my FB history), the FB timeline felt very bland. Much like how watching tv was once not to be missed, and then it wasn’t missed at all. This made me realise that saying FB was the primary channel for some contacts which I wouldn’t want to throw away, might actually be a cop-out, the last stand of FOMO. So FB, by making it hard to delete data while keeping the account, made it easy to decide to delete my account altogether.

Once the data has been deleted (which can take up to 90 days according to FB after the 14 day grace period), I might create a new account, with which to pursue the benefits of FB, but avoid the destructive side and with 12 years of Facebook history wiped. Be seeing you!


FB’s mail confirming they’ll delete my account by the end of April.

At the edge of our neighbourhood, on a section of grassland, there are plans to create a solar farm. This is a temporary set-up as the land will eventually be used to build houses. Those living in the houses overlooking those fields started a petition as they fear it diminishes their view. There’s a whiff of nimby here, but it’s also justified resistance as it flies in the face of an earlier two year long participatory project by the city to determine with those who live here how to use those fields.

The petition I think didn’t gather a lot of signatures (just over 1100 now). I somewhat tongue in cheek asked the initiators online if there was also a petition I could sign in favour of the solar fields. The Netherlands after all is running far behind its own goals concerning renewables so I feel action on a wider scale is needed.

This led to forming a small group of people looking into what can be done towards more solar using existing roofs in our neighbourhood. A constructive outcome I think, even if I have little real time to contribute. In conversation with the group I offered to look into what data might be helpful, to both determine the actual potential of solar energy in our location (how much irradience hits the surface here, and what yield does that make possible), and the latent potential (based on the current energy usage at household level in our part of town.

Data on irradience is available. As is household electricity usage on postcode level, which means more or less to block level. What I haven’t really looked at if there is open data concerning roof space. The base register for buildings and addresses contains the shapes of buildings for every building in the Netherlands, but that is only in 2D, so it doesn’t provide the shape of non-flat roofs. Getting the roof shapes would require combining the BAG with AHN, the lidar scan of the Netherlands that contains all heights (trees, buildings and whatnot). The AHN however is created as snapshots. Our area is actively being developed, and houses are continuously being added. The latest AHN scan of our area was in 2010, so is heavily outdated. Luckily the new AHN3 (the 3rd AHN) scans for this region are scheduled for this year, and will be made available as open data. So at least we’ll have recent data to work with.

I intend to play around with this data to see if something can be said about potential and latent demand for solar energy in our area.

Last month 27 year old Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak was murdered, together with his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. As an investigative journalist, collaborating with the OCCRP, he regularly submits freedom of information requests (FOI). Recent work concerned organized crime and corruption, specifically Italian organised crime infiltrating Slovak society. His colleagues now suspect that his name and details of what he was researching have been leaked to those he was researching by way of his FOI requests, and that that made him a target. The murder of Kuciak has led to protests in Slovakia, and the Interior Minister resigned last week because of it, and [update] this afternoon the Slovakian Prime Minister resigned as well. (The PM late 2016 referred to journalists as ‘dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes‘ in the context of anti-corruption journalism and activism)

There is no EU, or wider European, standard approach to FOI. The EU regulations for re-use of government information (open data) for instance merely say they build on the local FOI regime. In some countries stating your name and stating your interest (the reason you’re asking) is mandatory, in others one or both aren’t. In the Netherlands it isn’t necessary to state an interest, and not mandatory to disclose who you are (although for obvious reasons you do need to provide contact details to receive an answer). In practice it can be helpful, in order to get a positive decision more quickly to do state your own name and explain why you’re after certain information. That also seems to be what Jan Kuciak did. Which may have allowed his investigative targets to find out about him. In various instances, especially where a FOI request concerns someone else, those others may be contacted to get consent for publication. Dutch FOI law contains such a provision, as does e.g. Serbian law concerning the anticorruption agency. Norway has a tit-for-tat mechanism built in their public income and tax database. You can find out the income and tax of any Norwegian but only by allowing your interest being disclosed to the person whose tax filings you’re looking at.

I agree with Helen Darbishire who heads Access Info Europe who says the EU should set a standard that prevents requesters being forced to disclose their identity as it potentially undermines a fundamental right, and that requester’s identities are safeguarded by governments processing those requests. Access Info called upon European Parliament to act, in an open letter signed by many other organisations.

Last week saw an end of an era. The program manager for open data of the Flemish government retired. While parts of the work will go on, no direct successor will be named to the role. At the annual conference of Information Flanders (#tiv2017), Noël van Herreweghe after 6 years of being the driving force behind Flanders’ open data team, said his goodbye during the opening plenary. His main and clearly heard message was that much is still to be done, and we’ve barely started on the path towards open by design. I hope the Flemish government and civil service will take this to heart. Now is not the time to reduce efforts, as the transition is only just in motion.


Noël telling us and the Flemish government to stay the course (Tweet and photo by @toon, Toon Vanagt)

In the past 6 years Flanders has taken several steps that I think the Netherlands should follow. Based on the underlying legal framework, the Flemish government has taken pre-emptive decisions for all government entities within their scope about in what ways data can and should be published. It is no longer up to the individual agencies, if you decide to publish you must follow the established principles. In the Netherlands that is all still voluntary, and the principles are put forward as guidelines, not as must-follow rules. Similarly the Flemish government has adopted a URI strategy, using both machine and human readable URI conventions, which in the Netherlands is lacking.

It’s been a pleasure to work with Noël and his team in these past 6 years. Whether it was in helping decide on which local and regional open data projects to fund from the Flemish government, translating research on the economic impact of open data to the Flemish and Belgian context, providing scenario’s to the Flemish Chancellary for opening up Flemish consolidated laws and regulations as open data, or providing open data training together with Noel to a joint session of the Dutch and Belgian/Flemish supreme audit authorities.

For each of those 6 years my colleague Paul, representing the Dutch government open data team, and I participated in the Flemish open government days, and its successor the annual Information Flanders Meet-up. It gave us the opportunity to keep comparing Dutch and Flemish open data efforts, to learn from each other as well as laugh about the differences. A fixed feature on the agenda was eating a Portuguese fish soup the evening before the event in Brussels with Noël and his colleagues.

Portuguese Fish Soup Open data dag Vlaanderen
A ‘small bowl’ of fish soup, 2012 and 2015 editions

As Noël said, the work isn’t remotely done, and judging from the conversations we had with Noël last week, he isn’t likely to stop being active either. So I trust we will find ways of working together again in a different setting in the near future.

In the coming weeks I will be working with a Dutch school class (group 7, so 10/11 yr olds), in collaboration with the Provincial Library Friesland and their FryskLab team (a mobile FabLab).

Last summer I wrote a series of postings on how I see a path to significantly increase agency for various group in various contexts, if we succeed in lowering the adoption threshold for existing technologies and techniques. Then any group can recombine those technologies and techniques to create a desired impact in their own contexts and environment.

With a little bit of funding from the Dutch Royal Library, the Provincial Library Friesland and me will work with a school class of the Dr. Algraschool and later with people in a neighborhood to put that model to the test.

In collaboration with the NHL, a university for applied sciences, we will use the results of the experiment to propose a follow-up project as part of the NHL’s lectorate on ‘agile craftsmanship’.

The first session is Wednesday, where we will start with the class to discuss the type of things they would like to change or improve around themselves, and what capabilities they feel they themselves and classmates have. In a follow-up session we will combine those ideas and their talents with the facilities of FryskLab, and then work with the children to build their own prototypes, solutions and projects.

I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a long time since I worked with primary school kids. Back in 2007 I worked with 12 primary schools to integrate digital literacies in their regular lessons, where we explored what children were already doing online, and how schools could help guide that, and build on it in their lessons. And it will definitely be a pleasure to work with the FryskLab crew (who were such a great addition to our 2014 Make Stuff That Matters birthday unconference)

Frysklab in da house!
The FryskLab mobile FabLab, parked in front of our home, 2014

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.

'Last Lecture' Deluxe @shakingtree #fakkeldragers
400 people in the audience

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.

'Last Lecture' Deluxe @shakingtree #fakkeldragers
The Shakingtree Award Statue, a tree of touching hands

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.

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Every day I save a bunch of links from my explorations over the interwebs. Stuff that passes my radar, may become fodder for my writing at some point, but often gets piled and forgotten.I thought maybe it is good to share some of the unsought links I encounter, and some of the notions why I bookmarked it. Blogging of course used to be linklogging, sharing links to your blog neighbourhood, so let’s say it’s returning to a respected tradition. Here are a fistful of links from this week.

    Distributed web

  • IPFS, a distributed way of delivering webpages and files. Pointed out to me in the context of my postings on distributedness and agency. Napsterizing/torrenting everything. Also seems to want to preserve everything on the web better.
  • Steem is a blockchain based social media platform. Aims to ‘pay’ you for contributing, and do the bookkeeping in a blockchain ledger. Not sure that may work, nor that permanent records of each social media utterance are desirable. Like with IPFS mentioned above, ’not forgetting’ may not be a feature but a very concerning social bug. My friend Boris Mann is trying it out, looking forward to reading more of his reflections. I may not understand, I never understood the purpose of Medium either, which superficially seems to be the same thing but without the bookkeeping.
  • Anil Dash reflects on the lost infrastructure of social media. This resonates strongly with me in terms of what made blogging so exciting 10-15 years ago, as well as with my recent writings about agency. Part of the picture is weaving a tapestry of functionality across different services and tools that together are a potent mix. It needs plumbing like RSS, trackback and discoverability over the lines of conversations distributed over the individual blogs of the participants. My friend Lilia did her Phd on those distributed conversations. And as Hoder wrote seeing the web again after six years in an Iranian prison: much of our web now, such as Facebook, is just TV, not coffee house interaction.
    Governance

  • Free private cities. Sign up to live in one, so you have an ‘equal’ position based on contracted service provision. Because tinkering with democracy and the fact that others have different needs is bothersome, or such. Apparantly the social contract isn’t good enough. This has high overtones of Snowcrash Burbclaves, and the micro-democracy states (100.000 people each, and with every election there is freedom of movement globally to pick the government (corporate, value or ethnicity based) of your choice in the very entertaining near-future SF book Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older. These private city contracts don’t seem to account for the cost of leaving if you cancel your contract, as it is still territory bound, so finding a new service provider means physically moving. With all the social and monetary cost of doing that. Also seems to me that the Principality of Monaco held up as a good practice example, incorporated US towns, or the City of London for that matter provide ample demonstration of why this may not be the way forward to a more inclusive global society.
    Effectiveness

  • The Ribbon Farm, a blog by Venkatesh Rao, newly added to my feed-reader. His recent newsletter edition on premature synchronization as a cause of problems, chimes with a lot of my experience. Converging too early (because there are just 10 minutes left in the meeting), or forcing convergence in a group doesn’t help much usually. The leading example in the link being military reminds me of an anecdote I once heard about “the world championship of armies” where the US military units were failing because they waited or tried to confirm orders continuously, and the Dutch fared better because they upon receiving others did what seemed worth doing based on context and observation, not seeking further orders and disregarding the literal meaning of orders in the process. Desyncing, as a practice seems valuable advice, and similar to making stuff distributed by design, or probe-based evolution. Seek out new perspectives and let yourself be challenged as part of your routines.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. ‘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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Agency by Ton Zylstra

We are spending a month in Lucca, with some days before and after in Switzerland.

Fully settled in
By now we have fully settled into a daily rhythm here in Lucca. Coffee in the morning, either at Momus (most days, closer and have great pastries) or Il Bernino. I also have figured out the street pattern and confidently navigate the inner city. What first seemed a medieval maze, is now a pretty clear grid.
Mornings, except for coffee are usually given over for a stroll around town, and to do some shopping, or like I did this week, get a haircut. During the heat of the day we withdraw to the apartment, to come out again towards evening for another stroll and dinner.

The afternoons are perfect for some work and reading. I haven’t read all that much compared to other summers, but amongst the books I did read, I enjoy the new Neal Stephenson, SevenEves. I spent time on editing the Serbian open data readiness assessment report, incorporating the feedback I received from colleagues. I also worked several afternoons on the open data barometer research (ODBM) for the WWW Consortium. But with the not so great internet bandwith available, that is slow going. So I am betting on speeding up once I get back to our 1 gigabit connection back home.

Evenings were for strolls (either through the city streets, or up on the city walls), and with the Lucca Summer Festival taking place we were treated to the performances of Mark Knopfler, Robbie Williams and Lenny Kravitz as we walked around. I thought Knopfler’s rendering of Sultans of Swing had slowed down quite a lot from 35 years ago!

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Lucca streets at evening, sipping wine after a walk

Our daily rhythm now feels like something we could easily enjoy another month, or more.

Siena
This week we took a day to visit Siena, about 2 hours away from Lucca. It was nice to stroll through the historical center that is built across several hills. After lunch we wanted to withdraw from the heat and the other tourists. For that we went to the botanical garden where there was plenty shade, and the entrance fee kept everybody else out. We were the only two visitors.

The search for the new(er)
Last week I mentioned that finding the old in Lucca was easy, but finding signs of newer initiatives and activism is harder. There are a few places where a more active and younger scene seems to meet-up. One is a vegetarian place called Soup in Town, where we had lunch a few times. It is owned by the friendly and distinct character Daniele. The other is Ciclo DiVino, which is the focal point of a community of wine drinking cyclists, that hang out on the streets in front of the shop several nights per week. My open calls for local people involved in open data or making went mostly unanswered, but two people did get in touch.

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Finding serendipity and hipsters in Lucca

One was Andrea, who lives further south, and whom we met in Pisa on Tuesday early evening. We met in a beer shop / bar, run by a former colleague of Andrea, where a growing range of artisanal Italian beers can be tasted and bought. Andrea has been involved in open geo data and mapping for a long time, and currently is part of a project mapping the ‘loss of the night‘ due to light pollution. He grew up and lived in Milano for a long time, and a few years ago returned to the house and land of his grand parents in rural southern Tuscany. There he is trying to find new ways of making the country side more resilient, finding multiple revenue streams, and break the cycle of debt and investment that tourism has brought while making assets less productive (is it useful to take on debt to build a swimming pool to better attract tourists to your farm yard for 10 weeks per year?). Some other guests in the Birreria told us little bit more about how Lucca is different from the surrounding cities like Pisa. It has alwasy been more affluent, and in the last century much less communist that its surroundings. Which may explain why in Pisa spray painted slogans and protest are much easier to spot than in Lucca.

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cycling community sipping wine, bicycle

Sunday evening I met up with Davide, a self employed open source software builder, who has recently embarked on a new venture. His focus is on building an architecture that allows everyone to much better describe knowledge and metadata for data objects, and do this in a less centralized way than e.g. semantic web frameworks seem to assume. We walked, starting at Ciclo Divino, for an hour and a half, through the streets of Lucca while chatting about open data, and the adoption of new tools and other topics that came to mind.

WTF is wrong with my leg?
On Thursday I suddenly noticed what seemed like a pretty nasty rash on my left leg. At first I thought it might be eczema caused by heat. But it hurt more over time and it grew worse as well, with lots of blisters. So the last part of the week I wasn’t very mobile, and kept my rest.

Vincero! Vincero!

Puccini, Torre del Lago

For one thing I did get up though, and that was for us to visit the open air theater at Torre del Lago, for the opening night in this year’s Puccini Festival of Turandot, the last opera by Puccini. It was a beautiful summer evening, and we both enjoyed Turandot a lot. The production started of great, and even though we thought the middle part lacked creativity in its production which the final part could not really make up for, the overall experience was very good. Tenor Rudy Park, in the role of Calaf, we thought, carried most of the show with his quality. His rendering of Nessun Dorma during this premiere got a huge applause interrupting the performance. So much so, that he sang it a second time in its entirety to pick up the show again.

Puccini, Torre del Lago

We are now entering our final week already here in Lucca!