Month: November 2010

Why more aid is not the starting point to solve poverty.

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Alan Kay and the prototype of Dynabook, pt. 5 ...
Alan Kay. Known in association with $100 Laptop.

Alan Kay is a genius. Here in this video he is speaking on “Why does computer-based teaching fail?”

Does this have anything to do with poverty? Not directly, but the idea is relevant. In fact, I would argue that through this argument we can see why aid is not the starting point to solve extreme poverty.

This is not the same as to argue for or against aid. It is a question of design. “We should design in order to think”, so says Tim Brown from IDEO. This is a similar argument that Kay presents here.

We should start with the idea, and then use aid as necessary to address the problem leveraging the idea. Ideas should be the start point. Not aid.

In the process of gathering 24,000 of ‘human bridge’ photographs during the 10 City Bridge Run, might it be possible to stumble across a few good ideas that could better leverage aid? Let’s hope so.

Complexity and Simplicity: Avoiding the ‘Too Simple’

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Alan C. Kay
Image via Wikipedia

The problem with ‘poverty porn’ is not that it is actually ‘porn’. If that were the case it would be the most appalling failure of care meaning that aid agencies would be distributing inappropriate pictures of the vulnerable in order to pull heart-strings to make money.

So what is the problem with ‘poverty porn’? I think Alan Kay, with his brilliant scientific mind, presents this idea clearly in this TED Talk A Powerful Idea About Teaching Ideas. He is not talking about poverty, he is talking about how we might better educate young minds.

When we reduce the complex to an over-simplified explanation it is just as unhelpful as making it unnecessarily over-complex. Much of the discourse of reduction of extreme poverty has been reduced to sound bites that make a good pitch for fund raising events. Einstein said:

Things should be a simple as possible, but not simpler.

Thinking like a child is an important skill that Kay presents as benefitting understanding. Creating a pictorial petition through the 10 City Bridge Run of 24,000 images using the human bridges people themselves capture on photograph is an attempt to present our ability to intervene into poverty into a pragmatic and meaningful form. Please join us on this journey.

Children are the future we send to the future… Children need mentors.

Small Change? “Why the revolution will not be tweeted”

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Malcolm Gladwell speaks at PopTech! 2008 confe...
Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell’s recent The New Yorker article Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted argues we have lost a true sense of activism through a hyper-networked digital world. Thanks to my friend Kim who recommended this article.

Gladwell doesn’t really provide an alternative. That is not his point. Instead he is arguing against the assumption that a world with greater participation through social media such as Facebook will not bring the same radical flavour in activism in the ‘rights-based’ movements of past decades.

Is Gladwell onto something?… and why does this matter? Does this have anything to do with the reduction of extreme poverty?

Gladwell argues that hierarchy and organisation, not just an extensive network enabling participation, is needed to effective activism to bring about change. He favours the term “…with military precision” as though the military has somehow magically already secured all of the right answers. Having spent close to two decades in the Australian Army myself, I am hesitant to just accept that statement but I do understand the point he is making.

Have advocacy organisations lost the art and ability to be true activists? Has this inadvertently become a PR and brand war instead? Gladwell might say that it misses the mark because none of it is ‘new’, for all of the glossy brochures distributed and talks we attend, all the websites we click onto and the campaigns that engage our attention.

He uses an example illustrated earlier by Clay Shirky about the recovery of a mobile phone lost in a taxi in New York (read the article). Gladwell highlights the lameness of modern day faux-activism:

What happens next is more of the same. A networked, weak-tie world is good at things like helping Wall Streeters get phones back from teen-age girls.

How do we know we are really making a difference? A good question to ask.

Think Big!

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IDEO
IDEO

Tim Brown from IDEO presents a new approach to design thinking in this TED Talk. He argues that through design, we can and should now be addressing new kinds of problems, not just ‘things’.

Brown suggests that we are moving away from a primary objective of consumption, and toward participation. The design of a participatory system is at the heart of the 10 City Bridge Run. Difficult in some ways because it is more an emergent and self-selecting involvement. How might we use this opportunity, this short space of time, to model what is needed to address extreme poverty? Of course, already there is a lot of great activity out there- Buckminster Fuller and Acumen are two examples that readily spring to mind.

Brown says there are a couple of characteristics which ought to shape how we view design thinking, and these also why ‘human bridges’ are an important device in shaping how the 10 City Bridge Run is defined:

  • Design is human centred.
  • It requires an understanding of culture and context.
  • Prototypes are important. We should build in order to think.
  • We need to take a divergent approach leading to new choices.

Since commencing this project, the start of the run has been delayed six times for different reasons. At first, I was a little embarrassed because of the delays, and still would have preferred to have started earlier, but when I look at them less as failures and more as prototypes it strengthens what the 10 City Bridge Run is about.

The big characteristic which Brown suggests is important is asking what is the question we want to address. This might appear self-evident, but is actually an important reason to pause and reflect.

Where the hell is Matt?

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A picture of Matt Harding at Yoyogi Park in Sh...
Matt Harding

Another great example of how an idea can spread. I can’t stand the expression ‘viral’- I think it is overused and abused. But think about what Matt Harding achieved through hus global jig. It is achieving more than over 32 million hits. It is the optimism that flows that connections are meaningful and possible.

I think this just happens. It is not something you can manufacture. This is not what I am referring to when I refer to a ‘design challenge’.

Training Log: Injuries and Shin Splints

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Muscles of the front of the leg.
Muscles of the front of the leg.

Over the last three weeks I have developed a pain on the lower inner shin of my left leg, close to the ankle. The pain developed to the point where running wasn’t possible- too painful. What was it?

I couldn’t work out of it was just overtraining (this might have contributed, but wasn’t the injury), sore muscle or tendon (difficult to isolate the pain to a discrete area or movement- it does relate more to the stepping up and off when running), or ‘shin splints’ which is an expression used for small damage on the calf muscles when they start to pull away from the shin bone due to overuse.

I rested, iced, applied massage and acupuncture…

Stretching and strengthening seemed to have the best result, although not an immediate or quick fix to the injury. It is awesome to feel your body responding to exercise or stretching as you feel the muscles loosen and fill with blood.

It feels as though there is some congealed gunk from a past injury hiding inside the leg which is wanting to escape. I don’t think I have fully recovered yet, but am developing clear signs of healing.

Shin splints are best avoided, rather than treated. They are both treated and avoided by strengthening the muscles on the front of the lower leg through exercises like walking on your toes and walking on your heels.

Consequently, because of the injury I have decided to postpone (again) the start of the running until 24 November. That will see me finish in Seoul before 23 November.

So what about the G20 and the petition…how does that all work in with this delay?

Actually, it becomes more important, as it should be. The focus always ought to have been on what ‘we’ are doing as individuals, with the run as a symbolic act for the event.

The design challenge which frames the petition is being pushed out now. Looking back, to try and ramp up the petition and design challenge while I was running would have been too much to ask. The G20 remains pivotal, next to the role individual’s play. As a collection of global citizens, the question remains: is there anything we can do aside from sublimate ourselves through an organisation? can we bring any meaningful pressure to bear on the G20 itself?

Starting running 12 days after the G20 ends gives time to analyse the decisions made by the G20 leaders. It gives a focus to what is being asked for in the petition.

Each delay is not a failure. It is a prototype. This is a necessary step in moving forward.

In the meantime, I am doing everything to help my leg heal and be fully fit to run on 24 November.

Design: Connecting to People

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Image representing Ze Frank as depicted in Cru...
Ze Frank

Ze Frank illustrates his sense of play and how he uses the “interwebs” to connect to people in this TED Talk. At its core, I think this is a design challenge. The ideas might appear spontaneous, but I think there is some craft or thought which is behind it all.

It takes people to connect to people. Watch the audiences enjoyment of watching the performance from Ze Frank. The art Ze Frank produces is first online with people connecting with people. It is wonderful that he can then connect this directly with people through this presentation.

What I really like is that is goes from the seemingly without function (dressing up vacuum cleaners) to addressing real human needs (reconciliation, love, support). Genius.