Category Archives: e-democracy

Youth Voices Forum

I had the privilege yesterday of listening to the presentations made at the Youth Voices Challenge here in Christchurch. The event was jointly organised by the NZ UNESCO Sub commission in conjunction with the WE SPEAK 2011 event run by the White Elephant Trust and Otautahi Youth Council.

The event sought to bring together 25 young leaders from ‘generation Y‘ to ensure that the voices of young people are heard in the process of visioning the future of Christchurch after the earthquakes here. They’d worked together from 6pm on the Friday evening through to lunchtime on Saturday to pull together a range of ideas and possible projects that may be pursued.The initial outcome from this event was the development of a capability statement that will collated and presented as part of a briefing to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and the Christchurch City Council as they plan the way forward.

Key points made by the group in their presentations yesterday (which included a group of local MPs and other city officials) were:

  • an holistic approach to the rebuild (sustainable, inclusive, community engagement)
  • don’t simply do a rebuild of what was there already
  • provide a model that can underpin efforts internationally, at sites of other disasters

There was strong support for keeping creativity and innovation to the fore, promoting risk taking in the way ideas are adopted in terms of the architecture of the city, including an emphasis on green technology. The group certainly had an eye on the long term future, and thinking through the  impact that any decisions made in the immediate term for economic and social reasons may have in the longer term.

A  quote from one of the city leaders in the audience at the meeting that resonated with me was:

“If we lose this generation because they’re more mobile and not as asset rich, if we don’t keep them in the city and involve them in the process of rebuilding, then this city has no future”

There was certainly no doubting the optimism and sense of energy and enthusiasm in the room. The overall sense was that we have been presented with an opportunity that we need to take seriously, and there were plenty of minds in this room ready and willing to contribute to that. As MP Ruth Dyson said: “We’re certainly going to get there, we just don’t know where ‘there’ is yet.”



Data, data, data…

There’s certainly a lot being written at the moment about the significance of data in our lives. With the advent of advanced networks, virtualisation and cloud computing, massive (and cheap) storage etc., together with the ever increasing demands for storing large, multimedia files, we’re beginning to see a completely different perspective on data stemming from concerns such as..

  • what data do we need to store and manage?
  • how long do we need to keep it for?
  • where will it be stored?
  • what format(s) will it be stored in?
  • who can access it?
  • what about backup, support, failover etc.?
  • what can we do with it (combinations, mash-ups, visualisation etc.)?

The recent earthquakes in Christchurch have brought many of these issues sharply into focus with several schools and businesses losing access to their data when their servers were lost or damaged in buildings. This infographic showing physical storage vs. digital storage illustrates a number of the ideas and issues that we need to be thinking about in this regard

Mashable’s 5 predictions for online data in 2011 paint something of the bigger picture in this regard, illustrating why businesses – including schools – should be thinking about their data storage and management at an enterprise level, and not simply as an ‘in-house’ extra. As they say in their last prediction, “You’ll be sick of hearing about data (if you’re not already).

Of course concerns about the storage and protection of data are just one part of the picture. There’s also an enormous amount that we can do with data now, thanks to the sophisticated (and fast) processing engines available. A favourite example of mine at the moment is a video from the BBC Four’s “The Joy of Stats” that illustrates how data can be used very effectively to help visualise broader concepts, in this case 200 Countries over 200 Years in 4 Minutes from Hans Rosling, illustrating the dramatic changes that have occurred, and offering a glimpse of what the future might be like based on the extrapolation of these trends.

On an international scale there’s a move towards making all data ‘open’ and available. The controversy around Wikileaks earlier this year illustrated the great debate that is to be had about this as philosophy, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that there’s an up-side to making data available for wider interrogation and use. Several countries are now making data gathered by their governments (e.g census data, building consents data etc.) available for citizens to access, in the hope that as it is used and manipulated, new trends and patterns of thinking about it may emerge. Examples can be found at the US Centre for Public Education – Data First, and in Open data initiatives from England, USA and New Zealand. Schools should be considering ways of using these sites to enable students to work from authentic data sources.

Happy birthday Wikipedia

Wikipedia is celebrating its 10th anniversary today! Back on January 15, 2001, after a failed attempt to launch a conventional online encyclopedia called Nupedia, Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia with few expectations. Today, Wikipedia is available in more than 250 languages, includes some 26 million entries, is read by over 400,000,000 people per month! And all of the content is uploaded, edited and kept fresh by those users of the site, or the ‘wikipedians’ as I’ve seen them referred to.

Sue Gardiner, current CEO of Wikipedia, is quoted in a recent Yahoo News article as saying, “”Wikipedia turned out to be more successful than anybody ever imagined or ever even aspired for it to be. It took on a life of its own and became this hugely popular thing.

For me, Wikipedia provides an insight into the profound change that is occurring in our world of business, education, politics – anything you can think of really. It’s a message presented to us by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams in their 2007 book, Wikinomics, in which they explore how some companies in the early 21st century have used mass collaboration (also called peer production) and open-source technology, such as wikis, to be successful. (I’ve recently been sent a copy of their latest book, Macrowikinomics which I’m almost finished reading now, and will review in an upcoming blog.)

The issue will be that, like Wales back in 2001, we have little idea of what the future may actually evolve to be. Right now, many of the institutions that have served us well for decades—even centuries—seem frozen and unable to move forward (including our schools and education institutions). They are ripe for reinvention by mass collaboration. Wikipedia has provided us with an insight into what is possible. The exciting thing is that we all now have the opportunity to participate in imagining and creating that future, through the use of social participation tools and environments such as wikis. This is Wales’ call to action as he asks for even more people to be actively involved in contributing to the Wikipedia knowledge base (as opposed to simply reading it).

So… happy birthday Wikipedia! Here’s to the next ten years when I’m sure we’ll see the manifestation of what Tapscott and others are talking about.

Journalism in the age of data

Here’s a great clip to spend 50 minutes watching over the weekend, particularly if you teach media studies, journalism or English – titled Journalism in the Age of Data from Geoff Mcghee on Vimeo. (I can’t get the embed code to work in my blog at present, so you’ll  have to link to it :-))

This clip explains and illustrates so clearly why we need to be thinking a lot more about the visualisation of data in our school curriculum. As one of the commentators says, “the best way to learn about visualisations is to make them“m and… “making visualisations should be more like art or writing” (as opposed to being the domain primarily of computer ‘geeks’ which it seems to be currently).

They point to the Many Eyes project, a free site where you can upload data and turn it into a visualisation to help engage with it and understand it more. They also point to the ED Data Express web site that was launched recently, making a huge amount of data currently held by the US government available for people to download and manipulate as they will, including creating visualisations. The creators of the site say it is designed to improve the public’s ability to access and explore high-value state-level education data collected by the U.S. Department of Education. This site is designed to be interactive and to present the data in a clear, easy-to-use manner, with options to download information into Excel or manipulate the data within the Web site.

As the title of the talk suggests, there is quite a lot said here about the impact of data visualisation on journalism, and the various speakers provide some useful illustrations of where things are heading.

I’d be interested to hear from any teachers doing this with students, and to see examples of what is being produced.

What’s next for newspapers?

I’m now back in NZ, getting used to the time zone differences 🙂

Over recent months I’ve read an increasing number of stories, articles and comments on the future of newspapers that I’ve been storing away to make comment on, as I see the whole debate as being indicative of the paradigm shift in the “knowledge economy” we’re all a part of. As a blogger this thinking has been percolating in my mind for some years now as i think about how I access the news, how I filter it, engage with it and report it.

The interactive map above is part of a recent initiative of the Independent newspaper in the UK, titled “what’s next for newspapers?” Prompted by the impact of the global recession on the newspaper industry, the Independent is using the opportunity to prompt a richer debate about impact of digital technologies on the newspaper industry, the implications of these changes for the newspaper industry, for journalism, and for society. The team at the Independent say that…

The aim with interactive collaborative maps of this kind is to weave together all of the salient issues, positions and arguments dispersed through the community into a single rich, transparent structure – in which each idea and argument is expressed just once – so that it’s possible to explore all perspectives quickly and gain a good sense of the scope and perceived merits of the different arguments

I see a great topic here for high school media studies students, or social studies classes for that matter. And it’s great to see the Independent actively using the debategraph tool as a means of engaging people in this debate – I’m a fan of this tool as I love the way it dynamically represents the changing perspectives in the debate, and enables large scale participation.

The Independent article refers to the thoughts of Clay Shirky, who’s post on Newspapers and thinking the unthinkable got me thinking about this a lot more just a few weeks ago. Shirky traverses the issues of ownership, control, quality, economics and impact of digital technologies in his article – focusing in on his argument that…

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

Not everyone agree that newspapers are under threat, however.  John Hartigan, CEO of News Limited in Australia claims that the future of newspapers is bright. He is critical of the traditional ‘knowing a little about a lot‘ approach of newspapers to reporting the news, and sees the future involving teams of highly educated people with specialist knowledge providing more in depth news and analysis. He is not a fan at all of the notion of “citizen journalists” and dismisses claims often made by bloggers that theirs is a fresh, more democratic medium, by saying “Amateur journalism trivialises and corrupts serious debate“.

If you’re looking for some perspectives and themes to fire up your students’ thinking, then I’d recommend Ryan Scholin’s post on 10 obvious things about the future of newspapers (it would also pay to read his original post from 2007 to get an idea of what has changed.)

I’d love to hear stories of classes that participate in this debate, and the usefulness of the debategraph map as a focus for this.

Social Democratic Participation

Imagine this in New Zealand! A feed from the ReadWriteWeb blog this morning drew my attention to the latest innovation from the US White House. President Obama’s team have launched a new web site where anyone can submit and vote for their most important questions abut the economy and its impact on education, health, retirement, jobs etc. Obama is promising to read these submissions and respond in person in a regular broadcast each Thursday. As ReadWriteWeb point out – the White House has a Digg clone!

In New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has made a start with a website presence that includes YouTube presentations and Flickr photos, while his Facebook account does provide opportunities for personal interaction. But what about following the Obama example, and upping the ante on social participation with our own Digg clone??

I’m a fan of using the internet for social participation, and see great value in this sort of e-democracy. In Christchurch I’ve been following discussions in an e-democracy forum for some time now since my friend Dan Randow started it up as part of his work with A recent focus on the issue of boy racers in the city illustrates how citizens were able to engage in discussion on the topic, exposing a wide range of perspectives that included input from local politicians. The Christchurch group is part of a growing e-democracy network that includes groups in the UK and the US also.

Now imagine at the school level how we could create greater engagement in social issues if we managed to incorporate these sorts of opportunities – would certainly go a long way towards achieving the curriculum goal of developing young people who are confident, connected, actively involved, life-long learners!