The Future of Community Informatics: interview by Michael Gurstein

Last year, Michael Gurstein, one of the “founding fathers” of the field of Community Informatics, interviewed me on Skype as part of a series of interviews he held with researchers and practitioners around the world. Here’s part 1:

As the connection was lost, we finished the interview a while later: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AW1-jdLTUfE

Future interactions design: tapping the wisdom of the crowd

Preparing for the future
Preparing for the future

On April 3, I attended the Chi Sparks 2014 conference on human computer interaction, to present my paper on the Kids’ Knowledge Base. I also attended a highly interesting workshop on “Future Interactions”, hosted by Marco Rozendaal of  Delft University of Technology. His group is developing a method to let groups design scenarios of future interactions. As the workshop call stated:

Future Interactions’ focuses on emerging technologies (communication technology, nanotechnology etc.) that enrich our everyday lives and asks how they can be embodied in a meaningful way.

Design explores new horizons. How can design methods address promises and pitfalls of emerging technologies? How may these technologies transform our bodies, perceptions and behaviours?

The workshop participants were split in teams of two people.  We were first asked to select a couple of cardboard cards from a common pool, covering the main categories technologies, applications, and interactions

The cards to the future...
Our cards to the future…

Together with my “future buddy”, John Swarts, I selected the following cards:

  • [Technology: advanced manufacturing)] forever beta – “products that are never finished and always updated”
  • [Applications: professional] working life –  “performance, autonomy, and satisfaction”
  • [Applications: professional] lifelong learning – “lifelong learning, professionalism, and meta-learning”
  • [Interactions: society] politics – forms of political action

We chose these cards, as we believe the forever beta mode is the fundamental mode of the socio-technical design of society, involving all stakeholders as co-creators. That society is shaped by a working life in in which people are always learning from and with one another in networks and communities, without there being any stable knowledge hierarchies anymore. We added the political dimension, as we believe that such an informed, evolutionary, co-creative way of working & learning is not operating in a political vacuum, but should directly help shape the norms, values, and directions of the society of the future.

We then discussed how these cards could be merged into a “future design scenario”. Discussing a concrete case about innovation of elderly care, and inspired by the software design approach of “user-centered design”, we arrived at the idea of “society-centered design“. Such a concept would require much more than currently often the case a holistic multi-stakeholder approach to emergent, knowledge-driven ways of working and learning. This approach should be governed by _and_ frame the political framework in which these productive learning processes ought to take place. An early example of such society-centered design are the increasingly popular multi-stakeholder “living labs” sprouting everywhere, in which working concepts and political governance models for complex societal issues like care and education are being co-created by – ideally – all stakeholders involved.   

Evaluating the future
Evaluating the future

In the next step, all groups positioned their “draft concepts” on a large gameboard, the horizontal axis indicating how quickly a concept could be implemented (from “tomorrow” till the more distant future). Finally, each group made a 1-minute pitch for their concept, after which each participant could position a number of coins on the concepts (or their intersections) which they thought to be the most valuable and feasible (we were thrilled to see our “society-centered design”-concept to turn out to be one of the winners. We’re almost done with our accompanying future bestseller book 🙂 On a serious note: the popularity of this concept is another indicator that the time for the field of community informatics/communities & technologies has come, as they are all about societal sensemaking of the pros and cons of powerful (IC)Ts).

The Future Interaction design method reminds me very much of other pattern-based design methods, such as the Liberating Voices “pattern language for communication revolution” (see Ken Gillgren’s piece on “lifting every voice” for a great application of that language). The beauty of such socio-technical design methods is on the one hand the simplicity of their components and rules, and on the other hand, the endless ways in which these elements can be configured and used for scalable, intricate human sensemaking.  In the end, such methods are just catalysts, all the knowledge is in the heads of the participants. How to get that knowledge out of these heads and into socio-technical designs of politics, business, education, and every-day life & work is what such socio-technical sensemaking & design methods could help us accompish.

Though promising, there are still many open research questions on how to make these methods more effective, such as:

  • How to build rich sets of concepts/patterns/cards that are generic enough to be multi-purpose yet specific enough to trigger creative use?
  • How do such sets differ depending on their use, such as future interactions or “communication revolution” design?
  • What rules of the game help (1) elicit the most powerful configurations of patterns and (2) make sense of what these configurations mean?
  • How to document, share and disseminate the results?
  • How to enrich physical workshop sessions with digital preparatory and follow-up work?
  • How to make such insights actually influence policy-making and research?
To be continued in “future research”…

 

Happy 25th birthday, World Wide Web!

World Wide WebToday, the Web’s been around for 25 years, hip hip hurray! In this excellent interview, founder Tim Berners-Lee makes some remarks that should be particularly close to the hearts of fellow community informatics researchers and practitioners, e.g.:

– “I’ve been very satisfied with the international spirit. It’s wonderful how the Web has taken off as non-national thing. I don’t think of it as international, because that’s nations getting
together.”

– “The control thing — we’ve got big companies and big governments. Now in some countries the corporations and the governments are very hard to tell apart. I’m concerned about that.”

– “what I want to see that I haven’t seen is the Web being used to bridge cultural divides. Every day we get people falling for the temptation to be xenophobic and to throw themselves against other cultures. The Web has gone up without national borders, but when you look at the people that other people support, it tends to be people very much of same culture.”

– “We look at governing the Internet in a multi-stakeholder, non-national way, but the world is still very nation-based and people are still very culture-based. I’d like it if developers on the Web could tackle the question of how to make Web sites that actually make us more friendly to people we don’t know so well”

Enjoy the full article:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57620198-93/tim-berners-lee-25-years-on-the-web-still-needs-work-q-a/

De Tilburgse Spoorzone als “Laboratorium voor de Maatschappij van de Toekomst”

De Tilburgse Spoorzone (zie ook Co-Creatie Kerngebied Spoorzone, De:WerkplaatsSpoorzone site Brabants Dagblad en de Spoorzone Facebook groep) staat in het centrum van de belangstelling. Ruim 2,5 kilometer lang met een oppervlakte van 75 hectare ligt deze voormalige NS werkplaats bijna volledig braak, maar met een geweldige potentie in deze stad van creatievelingen, makers, doeners en denkers.

Spoorzone Tilburg

Het is de bedoeling dat de Spoorzone een “Kennis Plus Profiel” gaat krijgen.  Om dit in te vullen wordt onder meer gedacht aan het realiseren van een bibliotheek van de toekomst, een leer- en kennisomgeving en een “social innovation kenniscampus”. O.a. Fontys Hogescholen, Tilburg University en TiasNimbas worden hierbij betrokken. Fontys heeft onlangs bekend gemaakt over te gaan met haar opleidingen Creative Industries en Journalistiek, op weg naar een “campus 3.0”. Maar ook cultuur ontbreekt niet in deze mix, zo is als voorhoede de Hall of Fame sinds kort in dit gebied gehuisvest en wordt het gerenoveerde Deprez-gebouw al geruime tijd gebruikt als huisvesting voor maatschappelijke organisaties en voor het organiseren van allerlei presentaties, debatten en manifestaties. Koppel hier nog allerlei toekomstige bedrijvigheid van creatieve en  andere ondernemers aan en er is sprake van een uniek gebied dat op allerlei manieren kan gaan bruisen.

Hoewel de potentie enorm is, is de verwarring dat ook. Zoveel betrokkenen, zoveel belangen, zoveel mogelijke invullingen, zoveel tekorten… Hoe zo’n enorm gebied in te richten, zodanig dat het recht doet aan de diversiteit van alle belanghebbenden, maar dat er tegelijkertijd de verbinding tussen zoveel mogelijk bewoners wordt gelegd? Wat is de “eenheid in verscheidenheid”, wat is het “grote verhaal” dat verteld kan worden over dit gebied? Een verhaal wat Tilburg op de kaart zet, niet alleen provinciaal of nationaal, maar internationaal? Een verbindend idee dat ervoor zorgt dat mensen naar Tilburg willen komen om dit gebied met eigen ogen te zien en te beleven, maar ook om mee te doen, of in de taal van vandaag de dag, de Spoorzone te helpen “co-creëren”?

Vorig jaar vond er in Noord-Brabant een bijzonder interessante exercitie plaats, georganiseerd door BrabantBrein, om zoveel mogelijk concrete ideeën te verzamelen om te komen tot een letterlijk betere samenleving. In de hele provincie werden bijeenkomsten georganiseerd, waarin door een groot aantal teams ideeën werden gegenereerd, gepresenteerd, geselecteerd en steeds verder verfijnd. Een van de geselecteerde ideëen betrof het beschouwen van Noord-Brabant als laboratorium van de “Maatschappij van de Toekomst”:

Noord-Brabant als laboratorium van de “Maatschappij van de Toekomst” waarin volop wordt geëxperimenteerd met oplossingen voor complexe, organisatie-overstijgende problemen als vergrijzing, milieuvervuiling, integratie enz. Brabant heeft hiervoor uitstekende “faciliteiten”: een groot aantal verschillende stakeholders met veel verschillende expertise, een zeer gevarieerde economie, een informele cultuur, bereidheid tot samenwerken, enz. Geleerde lessen zouden vervolgens als voorbeeld kunnen dienen voor andere provincies en regio’s in Europa.

Ooit stond het “Huis van de Toekomst” in Rosmalen. Tilburg ligt in het hart van Midden-Brabant. De Spoorzone ligt in het centrum van Tilburg. Wat nu als we de Spoorzone (als “hart van het Hart van Brabant”) maken tot het provinciale “laboratorium voor de Maatschappij van de Toekomst”? Het betreft hier een speciaal soort laboratorium: een “living lab”. Een living lab is een ecosysteem van de private en de publieke sector, waarin het leggen van verbindingen en het aanjagen van innovatie centraal staat. Zo’n living lab gedachte sluit ook uitstekend aan op “social innovation” als het centrale thema van de regio Midden-Brabant, zoals deze reeds uitvoerig gestalte krijgt in het samenwerkingsverband Midpoint Brabant.

Vanuit deze gedachte bezien wordt de Spoorzone een enorm spannend ecosysteem van innovaties waar bedrijfsleven, overheid, onderwijs, culturele instellingen, creatieve ondernemers en burgers samen laten zien hoe onze maatschappij er over zoveel jaar uit zou kunnen en moeten zien. Technische en sociale innovaties, nieuwe kunst-, cultuur-, onderwijs- en onderzoeksconcepten, maatschappelijke scenario’s, een uitdijend web van steeds veranderende  en met elkaar verbonden ideëen waarmee de maatschappij van de toekomst wordt vormgegeven. Allerlei kruisbestuivingen van goede ideëen die plaatsvinden in gebouwen en installaties maar vooral ook door middel van nieuwe media, presentaties en debatten, workshops en conferenties, onderzoeksprojecten,  samenwerkingsverbanden tussen de meest onwaarschijnlijke partners, netwerken van overlappende communities…

Enkele voorbeelden van hoe die kruisbestuivingen eruit zouden kunnen zien:

  • Grote zorginstellingen als De Wever laten (samen met grote verzekeraars als Interpolis of CZ) in een tentoonstellingszaal zien hoe mantelzorgers en professionals om zouden kunnen gaan met mensen met dementie in de Dementie Experience. Ernaast wordt een congres voor verzekeraars en zorgverleners uit heel Europa gehouden in de Koepelhal over hoe deze innovatieve aanpakken een bijdrage zouden kunnen leveren aan het verbeteren van de levenskwaliteit en het terugdringen van de zorgkosten.
  • Studenten Journalistiek van Fontys werken samen met uitgeverijen als Zwijsen o.a. op basis van toekomstscenario’s van het Tilburg Social Innovation Lab aan het vertellen van het “Maatschappij van de Toekomst” verhaal in een digital storytelling project. In dit project worden allerlei crossmediale vormen uitgewerkt, o.a. bestaande uit een groot aantal installaties verspreid over het hele Spoorzone terrein, maar ook met digitale koppelingen naar gerelateerde projecten en discussiefora over de hele wereld. De “buzz” die daardoor ontstaat trekt weer allerlei bezoekers van heinde en verre naar het gebied.
  • Het Science Centre werkt samen met de Bibliotheek van de Toekomst en het Wetenschapsknooppunt Tilburg aan het ontwikkelen van digitale en fysieke leerlijnen om kinderen van de basisschoolleeftijd al te enthousiasmeren voor de wetenschap. Via een online “kinderkennisbank” bereiden kinderen uit de hele regio en zelfs de rest van het land zich voor op een lesthema om dan met het openbaar vervoer af te reizen naar de Spoorzone. Hier zien ze een hele dag wetenschap & techniek in actie in een “Exploratorium“-achtige setting in verschillende gebouwen in de Spoorzone.
  • Een consortium van bedrijven, kennisinstellingen en overheden, omgeven door een web van culturele instellingen en creatieve ZZP-ers gaan met elkaar een langdurig samenwerkingsverband aan om te komen tot een nationaal Master Plan om de vergrijzing in 2040 het hoofd te bieden. Het Master plan bestaat uit creatieve interpretaties van wat de effecten van vergrijzing op het dagelijks leven zullen zijn, maar ook ideëen voor heel praktische zorgproducten, voorstellen voor nieuwe zorgprocessen en innovatieve financieringsmodellen. Elk van deze partijen heeft een “ambassade” in de Spoorzone, variërend van een heel gebouw voor de grote organisaties tot een kamer in een verzamelgebouw voor een “community van senioren” die als ervaringsdeskundigen mee willen denken over wat er nodig is. Een vleugel van een van de (functioneel gerenoveerde) karakteristieke NS-gebouwen wordt door Seats2Meet ingericht als permanente “kruisbestuivingsruimte” waarin prototypes worden getoond, vergaderingen en presentaties worden gehouden en de vertegenwoordigers van alle betrokken partijen elkaar voortdurend op allerlei verrassende, inspirerende en informele wijze tegenkomen.

In ons recent verschenen artikel  “De openbare bibliotheek als stadslab” schetsen Emmeken van der Heijden en ikzelf een scenario voor hoe de bibliotheek van de toekomst eruit zou kunnen zien door het leggen van allerlei slimme verbindingen tussen de fysieke en online wereld. Cruciaal hierbij is dat in eerste instantie gekeken moet worden naar gewenste functies, verbindingen en interacties tussen allerlei (on)mogelijke partijen, samen met die partijen, voordat er geïnvesteerd wordt in fysieke infrastructuur. Voor de Spoorzone als geheel geldt dat zo mogelijk nog meer. Keuzes die nu gemaakt worden bepalen het innovatieve DNA van het gebied voor vele toekomstige generaties. Wordt de Spoorzone een gebied als zoveel andere kwakkelende stedelijke zones, met veel schitterende (en dure) gebouwen, maar veel te weinig leven en “vibe”? Of durven we echt hier met zijn allen samen iets neer te zetten wat Tilburg op de kaart zet bij de provincie, het land en Europa?

Natuurlijk moeten de enorme investeringen gedaan in de aankoop van de Spoorzone worden terugverdiend, zeker gezien de zware financiële tijden die de stad nu doormaakt. Het een hoeft het ander echter niet uit te sluiten. Een simpele voetgangerstunnel onder het station moet als “deur naar het gebied” zo spoedig mogelijk en tegen geringe kosten kunnen worden aangelegd. Veel bestaande gebouwen kunnen op sobere wijze worden gerenoveerd, zodat deze voldoen aan minimale functionele en veiligheidseisen.  Als ze zich nieuwbouw (nog) niet kunnen veroorloven, kunnen speciale contractvormen mogelijke bewoners (van ZZP-ers tot grote organisaties) aantrekken om in die gebouwen een tijdelijke “innovatie-ambassade” te openen. Op deze manier begint ongebruikt terrein al op korte termijn inkomsten te genereren voor de gemeente en kunnen de pioniers per direct beginnen het living lab ecosysteem te ontwikkelen. Tevens wordt zo tijd gewonnen om tot goed afgewogen plannen te komen in een transparent proces van consultatie, samen met huidige en toekomstige belanghebbenden en bewoners van het gebied, met projectontwikkelaars en gemeente, met mee- en tegendenkers, offline en online.

Tilburg heeft zichzelf al vele malen opnieuw uitgevonden. We hebben nu nog de  kans om iets groots te realiseren. Laten we die kans grijpen.

PS: Oorspronkelijk heette deze blog “De Tilburgse Spoorzone als “Living Lab voor de Maatschappij van de Toekomst”. “Living lab” is echter jargon dat gebruikt kan (en moet) worden in beleidsstukken, omdat het een specifiek soort (sociaal-maatschappelijk i.p.v. een technisch) laboratorium betreft. Om het idee duidelijk te maken aan de gemiddelde leek, is het naar mijn mening beter om gewoon de term “laboratorium” te gebruiken. Zo kan het verhaal beter verteld worden en blijven hangen.

Research consultancy: taking the plunge?

research_consultantOn February 18, SIKS, the Netherlands Research School for Information and Knowledge Systems, organized a career day for Ph.D. students, with the goal of making Ph.D. students think about what are the career opportunities after they finish. It was a very inspiring day, with many interesting presentations and interactions.

I was asked to present my perspective on how to set up and survive as a small (i.e. one-man) research consultancy company. In this post, a quick summary of the points I made in my talk.

As an (academic) research consultant, you are a linking pin between science and society. On the one hand, you translate academic ideas into concrete applications, such as projects, tools, systems, and procedures. However, just as important, you should feed back real-world insights into the scientific process. This way, combining rigor with relevance, you can help build bridges between the two worlds which, unfortunately, are often still so parallel instead of connected.

Pros and Cons

Some of the pros of being an independent research consultant instead of working at an academic institution include:

+ More freedom & control Being your own boss you are, well, your own boss. You have much more freedom and control about who you work for, when you work, and how you work (and even why you work). Of course, bills still need to be paid, boring tasks still need to be done, and annoying people cannot always be avoided, but in general, you can be much more selective. This sense of purpose, control, and fulfillment (and, sometimes, even a free weekend) is exhilirating and nourishing, especially for those who have been under many years of intense Ph.D., tenure track, or postdoc pressure.

+ More relevant research One of the curses of the academic system is the publish-or-perish culture. The pressure is enormous to focus on top journal publications, at the expense of research relevant to, say, society. In my own field, community informatics. hands-on testing of ideas through lots of trial and error is inevitable for getting meaningful results (and, I strongly believe, in the end good science). However, in academia spending too much time on this messy practice is discouraged, as it distracts from the Holy Grail of “The A Publication”. Having been relieved of the publication burden, you have more freedom as an independent researcher to focus on empirical, more relevant research.

+ More own research agenda Rather than having to adhere to an institutional research agenda, you can set and follow your own, personal research agenda, which you pursue in the context of your total portfolio of self-selected projects. This allows you to focus, for as long as you want and in many different settings, on the main research questions that fascinate you. In my case, one overarching question is the activation of online collaborative communities.

+ More diversity Being an advisor to many different organizations, networks, and communities on a very wide range of topics makes you grow, both intellectually and personally. You need to quickly analyze a rich set of practical problems, all somehow related to your expertise. It is very rewarding to try and see the patterns in initially seemingly very different real-world contexts and to formulate and apply lessons learnt. This theoretical sanity check sometimes leads to profound changes in your thinking, which can be most stimulating.

+ More satisfaction Your company is your baby. You still have to work very hard, and inevitably experience frustrating situations, but all of the above  can give a deep feeling of satisfaction when you see the ideas, connections, and impact of your work grow.

Of course, like everything in life, there are cons to being on your own as well:

– More risk Working by and for yourself exposes you to many more risks. You are no longer protected by an organization. No contracts means no income. Being in bed with the flu means no income. And, of course, there is nobody else in the organization to blame for errors and underperformance but yourself.

– Less (rigorous) research As your attention is scattered among more, shorter-term projects, and since you focus more on relevance instead of rigor, the research you do tends to be more case-based instead of methodologically deep. Also, in the general busi-ness associated with running your own company, it is easy to postpone doing and reflecting on your research. On the other hand, this situation is not really so different from the average  academic position where meetings, supervising, teaching, and travel also causes most serious research work to be postponed to evenings, weekends, and holidays…

– More goodbyes One of the nice aspects of working in an academic group for many years is that a real “sense of community” between its members develops. When being a consultant, you are literally “all over the place” and working more on a short-term contract basis. This often means that by the time you start to really like (some of) your colleagues, you have to move on again.

– Less beaches Probably the best perk of academia is the ability to go, and often stay and work for longer periods of time, in really amazing places. My academic life has taken me to many corners of the globe, resulting in many unforgettable impressions and experiences.

Do’s and Don’ts

So, how to go about starting your own one-(wo)man show? Following are some of my own lessons learnt.

– Be ready: PhD + postdoc is ideal It may seem that I discount the value of academia. Far from it, I think it’s the world’s greatest connector in terms of people and ideas (and largest travel agency!) Despite all its downsides, I have had a marvellous time, and it has shaped me professionally and personally in so many ways. So, I would not advise recent graduates to immediately start their own research consultancy. Ideally, you would have a PhD and at least a few years of postdoc experience. During your PhD, you learn the ropes, define your main ideas, and create your initial network. A postdoc is invaluable, as you learn project managament skills and (hopefully) how to descend a bit from the Ivory Tower. A postdoc forces you to learn the all-important skills of translating your Great Ideas that Will Change the World (but that, I know it hurts, nobody outside a tiny part of academia is interested in) into a more practical form that at least some members of the rest of the human race might be willing to pay for.

– Have (and keep!) a financial buffer (>1 yr) Continuing this point, one of the hardest things to do when starting your own research consultancy, is to prove that you have something practically valuable to offer. It is no use to advertise in the Yellow Pages and it may take a long time before you have enough paying contracts to break even. So, before you start, make sure to have enough savings for at least a year. This means you will not have to accept unacceptable offers and allows you to negotiate your contracts from a position of strength, not panic. Also, once you are finallly in business, make sure to refill the buffer as quickly as possible. Contracts never come at regular intervals, and you must be able to weather the next storm.

– Logo, website, blog Before you go public, make sure to have a professional logo and a well-designed and informative website. First impressions matter and the very first thing potential clients will do is to check out your site. The way you shape, structure and fill it with content says a lot about what you expertise is all about, so make sure to invest in this at the very beginning. Also, if you can, try to keep a blog. It doesn’t have to be a daily chore, but post at least once in a while so that potential clients can get a better idea about who you are and how you think and work.

– Network, network (and network!) Contrary to what many outsiders think, research is all about meeting people: fellow researchers, problem owners, potential clients, and just interesting fellow human beings. Networking is all-important, especially in our line of business. Go to anything that may seem remotely interesting: conferences and seminars, of course, but also meetings of the Chamber of Commerce, public lectures, etc. Also, start meeting up with contacts you haven’t seen in a long time and tell them about your ideas. A warning: don’t network and expect something to come out of it immediately. Don’t try to pressure people into giving you a contract, it won’t work. Just try to go and genuinely meet people for the fun of it. In fact, I find this one of the most interesting and rewarding parts of my work. Everybody has a story or two to tell. Listen and learn!

– Be pro-active Gone are the days that there was a professor or supervisor to tell you what to do (if those days were ever there). When running your own company, NOTHING happens by itself. You are your own boss, employee and secretary. Scan your environment for opportunities and go for them. Don’t wait for the world to come to you. It won’t.

– Don’t underestimate acquisition Acquiring a contract is hard work and can (and will) generally take a much longer time than you expect. Try to not put your research darlings first but represent the interest of your clients. What is their problem they want to have solved? Make a list of ten words that capture the key concepts and techniques of your research approach. Now can you formulate a solution without using any of these terms in the first 5 minutes of your presentation? If so, you may have a chance of landing a contract!  This advice is exaggerated, of course, but only just. Try to think and talk in terms of the client’s language, at home and in your publications you can wallow in all the scientific jargon that you want. Besides being able to frame the problem and solution in the client’s terms, be patient. Acquisition can sometimes take a very long time from the very first conversation to the actual signing of the contract. As stated above, you must have the financial capacity to afford the wait.

– Don’t set rates too low Coming straight out of academia, hourly consultancy rates seem sky-high. Clients know this, and may try to take advantage of it. However, don’t set your rates too low. Being a research consultant, you have many more unbillable hours than others as you have to invest in your research: the time to read the literature, scan the Web, attend conferences, travel, etc. Then there are the hours other freelancers also can’t charge: doing the administration, acquisition, travel to and from clients,  set up your office, and so on. There’s the investments: office, equipment, travel expenses, and so on. You have the full taxes and social insurance to cover, pension to take care of, risks to take. Taking all that into account, your average income may actually be less than what you earned before, definitely in the beginning. So, don’t set your rates too low initially. You may offer an introduction rate for a limited amount of time, but make sure to know and show your worth.

– Plan and track time Even more so than in academia, there is an overwhelming amount of short-term and long-term things-to-be-done. Establishing and running your company, keeping track of numerous projects and clients, and, oh yes, do some research reflection once in a while, forces you to be systematic. Your calendar and to do-list become your best friends. Also, meticulously keep track of time, assigned to specific activities. This is not only useful for billing purposes, but also for getting a feeling of where your time goes, and how to improve your ways of working. There are many different systems. I prefer them Web-based, using Google Calendar as my calendar, Remember The Milk for my to do-s (using Getting Things Done as the organizing methodology), and SlimTimer for keeping track of my time.

– Stay connected to research community One of the joys of academia is the continuous meeting of minds, the sharing of ideas, passions, and good times with kindred spirits. From a more down-to-earth point of view, being an active member of one or more research communities is essential for keeping on top of the state-of-the-art, of growing your ideas and building your reputation. Being a research consultant does not mean you should sever these all-important ties. Keep in touch, remain active in the field by visiting colleagues, attending seminars and conferences, participating on mailing lists, reviewing papers, and publishing.

– Invest in research time and places Set aside a minimum number of hours a week, and the occassional longer period of time for writing a paper or fundamental reflection. Don’t just do this from home, but travel as well, to meet up with research colleagues and friends. If possible, try to get invited as a speaker, which lets them take care of travel and accommodation and reconfirms your reputation as an active member of the field.

– Enjoy it! Last but not least, enjoy it! Setting up your own company, besides being hard work and somewhat risky, should be fun. It can provide you with a priceless sense of freedom, direction, and self-realization, getting yourself very high on Maslow’s pyramid…

Mr. Community President

[The text of an e-mail I just sent to the Community Informatics Researchers-mailing list]

What a wonderful moment in  emancipatory history we have just experienced! No need to add here to the deluge of analyses of the profound impact Obama’s election is going to have on all levels of U.S. and global society. At any rate, congratulations to all American and international colleagues on this list who are so very much in need of a change of societal paradigm.

One thing some of us discussed at the conference in Prato (another great event in the series, it was, as always, good to be back) was what Obama’s election could mean in terms of boosting community informatics research and practice.  His is very much a way of community (informatics) thinking and working, both in philosophical outlook by putting community first and in practical approach, see, for instance:

http://fairsay.com/blog/obamas-win-and-the-power-of-networking

In particular, community informatics researchers and practitioners have a great wealth of experience, contacts, and lessons learnt at their disposal which could become much more visible and widely applicable now that new winds are going to blow. In particular, if Obama is going to live up to at least part of the sky-high expectations, our community (through its conferences, CIRN, individual contacts, projects, etc.) might be of use for him and his team in order not to waste precious time and seize this unique moment to make the paradigm shift lasting.

We were wondering if anybody would have any idea how we as a community of social change catalysts could practically link up with the now permanent campaign for social change forming around the Obama nucleus? This could – and should – be our moment too, but we have to get our act together…

Aldo

Meeting The Hub

It’s been a busy time with my projects, too busy to keep up my blog. Of course, that is no excuse as very useful finally-get-into-and-stick-to-that-writing-habit sites  like Write to Done try to tell us all the time. Well, us lesser mortals will have to keep practicing to get more disciplined, I guess.

On August 11, I attended a very inspiring lunch meeting at The Hub Rotterdam. Guest speaker was Maria Glauser, a host and co-director of The Hub London.  We all shared stories about what we do and aspire as the “social entrepreneurs” of the present or near future.  In their own words:

The Hub’s business is social innovation. Our core product is flexible membership of inspirational and highly resourced habitats in the world’s major cities for social innovators to work, meet, learn, connect and realise progressive ideas. The Hub is currently located in London, Bristol, Johannesburg, Berlin, Cairo, Sao Paulo and Rotterdam. Hubs are being started in Amsterdam, Brussels, Halifax, Madrid, Mumbai and Tel Aviv/Jaffa

I particularly like the summary of their essence, as described on The Hub’s main site:

People who see and do things differently

Places for working, meeting, innovating, learning and relaxing

Ideas that might just change the world a little

The Hub is pioneering concepts, methods, and techniques for enlightened social entrepreneurship. They should be watched as a creative catalyst, linking the worlds of high ideals with practical business. Although small in size, their ideas could and should influence more traditional innovation initiatives and networks, so their impact can spread more rapidly. It will therefore be interesting to find out how all these initiatives best connect with and mutually benefit one another.