Communication, Knowledge and Information in the Human Ecosystem: p2p Ethnography

[this article originates from our participation to XYLab, in Castrignano de'Greci, Puglia, Italy]

Introduction

Indigenous populations in Universal Exhibits

Indigenous populations in Universal Exhibits

In Universal Exhibitions from the end of the ’800s and beginning of the ’900s, indigenous people were often exposed – under glass houses, in cages or using a variety of media and artefacts – for the entertainment of other people, as if they were objects.

For example Paris’ Exposition Universelle of 1889 featured an entire Negro Village, which was among the Exposition’s main attractions.

These were storytelling exhibits, telling the stories of far-away, “Other”, alien people, by trying to narrate them through images, objects and entire re-created environments, and turning them into an entertainment experience for amused visitors and consumers.

They were often also stories about possibilities: futures and things which we, the colonialists, had imagined for them, the aliens, the Others. In fact the objective was, many times, to highlight the “civilising” influence of colonialist rule, and the supposed ways in which colonialist influence would have been able to bring about new economies and roles for these people (for example: Apache chief Geronimo selling his autograph in the Primates section of the Bronx Zoo).

natives on exhibit at the Chicago World Fair

natives on exhibit at the Chicago World Fair

Much has happened since those times, including the fundamental intuitions and practices coming from Lévi-StraussMalinowski, to Bateson, Mead, Clifford, Geertz, Bhabha and the many more with which ethnography has understood many lessons, including the ones of self-representation, the importance of performance (of all parties involved, and with all parties involved being able to choose the rules of the game, not having to adapt to a scheme decided by the ethnographer, in polyphonic ways, with a number of different voices, evenly distributed between the ethnographers and the people, from their own point of view).

In the Digital Age, the age of Communication, Information and Knowledge, the possibility to capture, express, observe, visualize and understand the patterns for behaviour, emotion, opinion, expression, movement and more, potentially for hundreds of millions of people at a time, has brought the term “ethnography” in the spotlight for both academic and popular crowds.

This is also among the results of the rise of the creative classes, among the leading driving forces for economic development of post-industrial cities. The Creative Class is constantly engaged in a wide variety of design related processes for which certain domains of ethnographic research are of fundamental interest, both at the direct (observation and understanding of user bases)  and meta (understanding of the Creative Class itself) levels.

Also of importance is the need to understand the ways in which the logics of entertainment, in the age of the prosumer can drift towards the logics of self-colonialism: the prosumer often becomes a consumer that consumes itself through acts of creative production whose results contribute to the benefit of large operators, who provide the expressive frameworks and schemes, and who are the only ones able to intercept, harvest, understand, interpret and represent the value being produced.

This, in many cases, results in a state of self-colonialization, in which prosumers act within a set of diverse boundaries (perceptive, identity, cognitive, economic, service) which are perceived as performative public spaces, but which are not, and whose benefits mainly go to the advantage of large operators.

In this frame, we can conceptualise a scenario which is more sustainable, clear, open and free by introducing a series of concepts which refer to ecosystemic logics, which are more polyphonically performative, and which are based on novel definitions of value and on a use of knowledge sharing tools and practices which is more aware and which does not re-enact colonialist logics and, instead, focuses on the possibility and value for self expression, representation and performance, and on the multiple types of economies which can be generated from this.

Human Ecosystems & Ubiquitous Knowledge Ecosystems

We want to address this scenario starting from the opportunities offered by the possibility to study micro-histories, and from the importance of understanding communication, information and knowledge flows in cities.

Micro-history, to leverage the driver of the well-being of any ecosystem: its biodiversity (cultural biodiversity, in this case).

Communication, information and knowledge flows, to be able to perform Digital Urban Acupuncture: a form of relational intervention whose aim is to identify these flows and their interruptions, to discover those localised pressure points which can be engaged to establish new dynamics, create bridges and, possibly most important of all, to enable the emergence of a Communication, Information and Knowledge Commons: a perceivable, accessible, usable environment which is inclusive and free, thus being able to promote the rise of a variety of different, resilient economies.

Through the Human Ecosystems (here, as well, on Art is Open Source) project we have described and implemented a series of open approaches, methodologies, tools and practices whose intent is to enable people, citizens, organisations, administrations and companies to freely observe, use and perform the relational ecosystems of entire territories (wether they are geographic, topic-based, networked…) from the points of view of  emotions, relations, issues, interactions, communication, information and knowledge. This is a radical approach in which the logics of consensus are replaced by the ones of ecosystemic co-existence.

These dynamics integrate the discourse about the possibility to design a Near Future Education scenario (the Near Future Education Lab is also here on the P2P Foundation Wiki , and here are some of the results of a recent global event: http://www.artisopensource.net/network/artisopensource/2014/06/13/summary-of-the-planetary-event-for-the-future-of-education/ ), in which an Ubiquitous Knowledge / Information / Communication Ecosystem forms a Commons which can be used in peer-to-peer modalities to enable novel inclusive, free, mutualistic, sustainable scenarios, developing new economic models and opportunities. In this article we will describe the methodology through which we are defining the concept of P2P Ethnography.

P2P Ethnography, as Ethnography, can be defined as a qualitative research design aimed at exploring cultural phenomena. Different from Ethnography, its aim is not to produce field studies or case reports, but to establish continuously available, accessible, participatory, performative and collaborative processes which allow gaining understandings about the knowledge and the systems of meanings in the lives of a social group, and its interactions with other ones.

P2P Ethnography represents a participatory, performative approach, in which research and understanding require gaining awareness of one’s position within the relational ecosystem (from cultural, emotional, aesthetic, perceptive, cognitive points of view) of the observed social group, and to establish or modify relations and interconnections both within the group, outside of it, and in-between, in fluid, dynamic, possibilistic ways.

P2P Ethnography requires the definition of the concept of Ubiquitous Commons: the availability and accessibility of shared, usable Knowledge, Information and Data Commons which are ubiquitous both in their spatial dissemination and in their capacity to co-exist throughout cultures, divides, media. A protocol for a new definition of Public Space in the Age of Communication, Information and Knowledge.

The Methodology

This, below, is a visual overview of the proposed methodology (click on the image for a larger version):

P2P Ethnography and Ubiquitous Commons

P2P Ethnography and Ubiquitous Commons

As described above, the methodology is laid out as a series of subsequent stages.

The first one, described as “points of view“, is dedicated to the creation of a series of toolkits, methodologies, approaches and protocols using which multiple public points of view can be expressed, performed, captured, transmitted and, in general, observed and used and put together, interconnected.

The second one, described as “toolkits” regards, as the name suggests, the creation of a series of toolkits (and the methodologies for creating such toolkits) to collect multiple points of view, as emerged from the previous stage, represent them (with special care for the possibilities and opportunities of self-representation), understand them and interconnect them, creating new relations in the ecosystem.

The third stage, named “interpretation” describes the methods for acting onto/into the ecosystem through practice, visualisation and performance.

The fourth stage, titled “new politics“, describes a new political scenario, which acts using the ecosystemic logics of co-existence, in which to act politically describes the act of positioning oneself within the ecosystem and in the creation of a series of relations and connections.

The last stage describes the use of the concept of Ubiquitous Commons in this scheme.

Points of View: polyphonic expression, methodological stupor and interconnections

The first stage is dedicated to the expression of the multiple points of view which compose the Human Ecosystem: its cultural biodiversity.

This can be done in multiple ways, which can be combined together: they can be collected from social networks, harvested through interactive systems or opportunities for performance and self-expression and representation, or they can even be the object of education processes through which people understand how to create their own forms of expression and representation in ways which are suitable for inclusion in the Human Ecosystem.

This can be imagined as the Internet: you can use an interactive system, a social network or some social media service to express yourself. But you can also understand how the Internet works to create your own way of expression and representation which uses it, as long as it is possible to transmit it over its protocols.

The prototype protocol which we have imagined is fairly simple in its base version, and it can be expanded as needed.

It is composed of four main parts:

  • perceived organizational models
  • communication / information / knowledge
  • missed opportunities
  • knowledge sharing

For example, we have created a small software using Processing which can visualize these elements using a very basic data structure (implemented through a CSV file) which captures all of these relations. (shown in the image below;  full source code and example data available here for download ).

an example human ecosystem visualization tool

an example human ecosystem visualization tool

Perceived Organizational Models

Who interacts with who? Who is responsible for what? Who is related with who?

perceived organizational model

perceived organizational model

The first objective is to try to understand, from a certain point of view, what is the organizational model of the social group. Points of view can be of individuals, groups, organizations, administrations. Of course, they can vary a lot, and it becomes interesting to overlay them and compare them, to identify discrepancies and differences in perception.

Communication / Information / Knowledge

communication information knowledge model

communication information knowledge model

Who do I communicate with? Who delivers me information and knowledge? To who do I deliver information and knowledge? Where does the information and knowledge that is delivered to me come from? Where is it headed? Am I the man-in-the-middle for information and knowledge of some sort? What are the knowledge references which I use? Are they human? Websites? Texts? Oral? What knowledge do I produce? Are these types of flows unidirectional, bidirectional, a-directional?

These are very interesting models which can be harvested from the actual facts (for example observing social networks) and from the perception of individuals and organizations.

When layered and compared, they can show the origins of information bits and types, their localization within social groups, the sources of knowledge and their re/production. And, in general, they can show how aware the members of the ecosystem are about their roles and scope.

On top of that, they can be compared to the perceived organizational models to understand the strategies and tactics according to which information and knowledge flow in the ecosystem, and where/when/how they are redundant, replicated, interrupted, broken, misled etcetera.

Missed Opportunities

Missed Opportunities Model

Missed Opportunities Model

What interaction/information/knowledge would I like to have? What would I need? Who has this information or knowledge? How/when/where would I like to have it? Through a person, a service, an app, a website, a book, a sign?

This type of model is extremely useful in establishing bridges using information and knowledge which are present in the ecosystem, and to create new ones, by creating opportunities for interaction, communication, information and knowledge which are not currently found in the ecosystem.

It also allows to gain better understandings about the awareness of the possibilities and opportunities which can be generated through the presence and transmission of communication, information and knowledge in a certain ecosystem, and its impacts on the types of economies and dynamics which can be created, for example through a museum, an art exhibit, a cinema, a library, a research center, a laboratory, a musical workshop, or by bringing back traditions and cultures under the form of new jobs, restaurants, education processes, and more.

Knowledge Sharing

knowledge sharing model

knowledge sharing model

What knowledge do I produce? Do I plan to share it, transmit it or make it available/accessible/usable in some way? Using which tools, technologies, media? Dedicated to whom? Interoperable with what? Within which knowledge ecosystems?

This can be among the most surprising models to try to understand. Mostly because the desire and attitude towards producing knowledge is not often matched by the awareness about the efforts which are needed to make that same knowledge available, accessible, usable and interoperable with other sources. This is often one of the largest problems with innovation processes.

Understanding these kinds of perceptions, and the ways in which people and organizations do (or do not) dedicate thoughts and resources to sharing their knowledge can bring into the ecosystems powerful effects: opportunities for the creation of jobs, services, collaborations, interactions, networks and more.

Also, it often happens that people and organizations are not aware about the knowledge which they produce, and of its potential value.

For example, this is among the things we experienced while participating to XY Lab. While the importance of storytelling was very clear (the need to tell the story of what happened in the laboratory), the notion of the fundamental importance of how to share the knowledge that was generated from the lab was not clear at all, at direct (what knowledge was produced in the various projects which took place in the lab?) and meta (what knowledge was generated in creating the lab?) levels.

Toolkits: polyphonic understanding, micro histories, third infoscapes

The first stage is mostly dedicated to describing a methodology to enable capturing the expressions coming from multiple points of view, and to map this methodology onto a protocol, so that the harvesting process can be performed through social networks, interviews, surveys, but also and most important through self-expressive and self-representational processes, in which individuals and organizations establish their own form for expression and representation (and the rules-of-the-game that go with it) and they use them to produce their own representation, in ways that are interoperable with the rest of the observed ecosystem.

This stage, the second, aims at creating readability in the ecosystem.

While stories and histories can be very readable, micro-histories are not. Micro histories are polyphonic and even dissonant. They include conflict (and, in fact, it is one of their fundamental characteristics) and do not focus on the dynamics of consensus (even multiple simultaneous consensus) but, rather, on the ones of co-existence and diasporas.

From the simultaneous co-existence of strategies and tactics (from De Certeau’s framework) derives the possibility that each time, space, context, scenario or situation can (and does) have multiple meanings, according to which set of eyes you look through, different perceived softwares and hardwares: everyone potentially and continuously re-programs everything else.

This is the Third Space, described in anthropologic terms by Homi K. Bhabha, and in sociological terms by Edward Soja. Sociocultural approaches are concerned with the “… constitutive role of culture in mind, i.e., on how mind develops by incorporating the community’s shared artifacts accumulated over generations”. Bhabha applies socioculturalism directly to the postcolonial condition, where there are, “… unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation”. It is a transgressive space for self-expression and self-representation. Third Space Theory suggests that policies of remediation based in models of the Other are likely to be inadequate: an inclusive space/time/context is needed.

Based on the idea of the Third Space, (and its many impacts, such as the Third Landscape, the Third Generation City, the Third Paradise…) we form the idea of the Third Infoscape: the inclusive, possibilistic space of communication, information and knowledge, not based of the concept of Otherness, but on the idea of a multitude of co-existing self-expressions and self-representations. A radically biodiverse information landscape, which finds its value in its biodiversity.

As in the third space, strategies and tactics co-exist in the Third Infoscape, meaning the more structured, administrative, statistical data (the ones coming from administrations, organizations and bureaucracies, for example), and the more emergent ones relative to people’s expressions, emotions, and points of view. They can co-exist thanks to recipes, assemblages of ingredients and procedures through which individuals (be them persons or organizations) can describe their point of view onto the world. Recipes are the base onto which the different economies of the Third Infoscape are founded: reputation, attention and networked economies which are mutualistic, meaning that recipes are in a constant peer-to-peer evaluation process through which other subjects of the ecosystem describe their perceived importance for the well-being of the ecosystem itself.

These evaluation processes can assume multiple forms, such as visualisations, interactive systems, knowledge sharing processes and performative acts, through which recipes can be experienced, remixed and recombined to form new knowledge that takes part to the ecosystem.

Third Infoscape

Third Infoscape

The Human Ecosystems project, for example, can be positioned at this stage: a toolkit composed from software, methodologies and interoperable protocols at cultural, technological and educational levels, which are intended to create a Third-Infoscape-aware environment.

Interpretation: performance, interconnection

Digital Urban Acupuncture is the main methodology for this stage.

As its architectural, analog counterpart, it is a performative practice aiming at gaining better understandings about the communication, information and knowledge flows in the observed ecosystem, and their interruptions and blocks, in order to re-create them or to establish new ones.

Digital Urban Acupuncture is Urban Acupuncture in the age of ubiquitous media.

Digital Urban Acupuncture

Digital Urban Acupuncture

Multiple (potentially all) subjects of the ecosystem can gain understandings about the relational networks which are present in it – from the point of view of topics, approaches, emotions, opinions, interconnections, cultures… –, and they can position themselves in it, find interesting pressure points, establishing relations, bridges, conversations, within the ecosystem and/or interconnecting nodes of the ecosystem to other ones, bringing them to all effects inside it, nourishing interaction, communication, information and knowledge flows, to create opportunities, possibilities and energy: an ubiquitous, performative, inclusive and possibilistic landscape, composed by fragments of interconnected shared knowledge and information.

Digital Urban Acupuncture can be performed in a variety of ways, including education processes, practices, performances, meetings, physical and digital gatherings, participatory decision making processes, shared policy-making activities, actions, and by creating cooperatives, consortiums, citizen groups and more.

New Politics: the roles revolution

This scenario describes a new form of politics, which is participatory, ecosystemic and interconnective.

“The theoretical recognition of the split-space of enunciation may open the way to conceptualising an international culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture’s hybridity. It is the inbetween space that carries the burden of the meaning of culture, and by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves.”
Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture

In this form of politics the first step is to position ourselves in the Human Ecosystems, and to understand the diverse cultures which are part of it, according to the logics of interconnection, co-existence and inclusiveness, in which cultural biodiversity is a value which forms the resilience of the ecosystem.

This is a revolution of the roles of politics.

It is not, anymore, a politics based on delegation and on representation, but one which is based on participation, self-representation and mutuality.

In this scenario, the roles of governments, administrations, organizations and enterprises radically change, becoming the enzymes, the facilitators, the enablers and, sometimes, even the certificators of these ecosystemic logics.

Quoting from Bhabha once again:

Terms of cultural engagement, whether antagonistic or affiliative, are produced performatively. The representation of difference must not be hastily read as the reflection of pre-given ethnic or cultural traits set in the fixed tablet of tradition. The social articulation of difference, from the minority perspective, is a complex, on-going negotiation that seeks to authorize cultural hybridities that emerge in moments of historical transformation.

It is in this sense that the boundary becomes the place from which something begins its presencing in a movement not dissimilar to the ambulant, ambivalent articulation of the beyond that I have drawn out: ‘Always and ever differently the bridge escorts the lingering and hastening ways of men to and fro, so that they may get to other banks….The bridge gathers as a passage that crosses.’

This model of liminality engages culture productively in that it enables a way of rethinking “the realm of the beyond”.

And yet Bhabha’s model also introduces a number of potentially serious problems in its translation to the complicated process of collective social transformation. That is, Bhabha’s formulation of an exilic, liminal space between (rather than supportive of) national constituencies is problematic in that it fails to engage the material conditions of the colonized Third World. Does Bhabha’s liminal space itself become a privileged, textual, discursive space accessible only to academic intellectuals?

From our point of view, these sets of problems and issues can only be confronted by renovating the roles of governments and administrations – by introducing the cultures and understandings of ecosystems and of their models for well-being, based on diversity and hybridity – and making tools and methodologies such as Human Ecosystems (and the many more which we hope will come) strategic instruments to promote techniques such as Digital Urban Acupuncture: a performative, participatory P2P Ethnography, beyond colonialism and self-colonialism, such as in the post-industrial age.

Ubiquitous Commons: a new Public Space

In the end, we need to stress a key requisite for all this scenario to happen.

In the age of digital networks, the concepts of Private and Public Spaces  have radically changed.

On one side, the ubiquitous presence of interconnected devices (from smartphones, to sensors, security cameras and drones, to the ubiquitous Internet of Things) has transformed the possibility to capture data and information about people’s lives, expressions, relations, opinions, collaborations, and more.

This has gone as far as to enter a sub-conscious level: we don’t know (and we don’t have the possibility to know) what information we’re sharing, how it will be used, who will have access to it and more.

Spaces which make all possible efforts to mimic Public Spaces and Private Spaces (those spaces for which we have gained a good understanding, and in which we are sufficiently confident and sure about the privateness/publicness of our data and information) are, in reality, Privatized Spaces which we can access not for free, but by paying with our personal data, our images, texts, videos, messages, comments.

Our legitimate expectation for privacy/publicness is broken, in obscure, opaque, illegible way.

On the other side, the wide movement for Open Data has opened up the perception of the importance (for freedoms, economies, citizen rights…) about the transparency, availability, accessibility and usability of data and information coming from Public Administrations (and, hopefully, also from companies and enterprises).

What Open Data movements still have not managed to do is to work on the dimensions which are ecosystemic and based on desire.

In this time, data and information (wether it is collected on social networks, sensors, biometrics, cameras, drones…) has become a matter of identity and self-representation, not only about statistics and commerce: it expresses the cultural differences in our human ecosystems, not only the levels of pollution or the most suitable market segment for selling a certain pair of shoes.

It is a commons: and as a commons it should be collectively preserved, accessed, used, desired, interpreted, performed.

This is, sadly, not the situation we have now: data and information of these kinds are in the hands of political and economic subjects who harvest, use and expose it according to logics which are limited, opaque and illegible. Facebook has our data. The NSA has our data. Coca-Cola can buy it. We, the citizens, are the only ones who don’t have it, and who cannot use it to create a better human ecosystem, by performing it.

This is the reason why, from our point of view, all of the scenario can be enabled only by creating a new type of Commons, which we’re calling Ubiquitous Commons: a communication, information and knowledge commons in the age of ubiquitous communication.

The Real Time Museum of the City and the Ubiquitous Commons

A public gathering in Rome, uniting administrations, politics, civil society and the cultures of the Italian capital become the occasion to explore the Human Ecosystems, the Real Time Museum of the City and the Ubiquitous Commons: the emergence of a vision of the relational ecosystem of the city and of the transformation of citizenship in the age of ubiquitous information.

This will happen in Rome, on July 7th 2014, from 3pm to 7:30pm at the Palazzo ex Pantanella, piazza Bocca della Verità 16.

You can visit the website http://ripartiamodaifori.it/ to learn more about the event (the website is in italian). You can also Download the Press Release and Download the Program for the event here (both are the official releases, in Italian).

The Real Time Museum of the City

What if there was a museum, in each city, which did not have in display paintings, sculptures or the archives and exhibits which we are all used to imagining when we think about Museums, but the “life of the city”, in real-time?

What if, in this Museum, you could play with the real-time life of the city, exploring the cultures, communities and relations which constantly form and transform in the city, between citizens of all ages, administrations, cultures, companies, organisations?

What if, in this Museum, you could learn how to understand these relationships, and how to use them to create a novel form of citizenship, in which citizens are positive, active, aware agents of their city, organising among themselves and with administrations and companies to promote and support the well-being of the city itself.

The Real Time Museum of the City

The Real Time Museum of the City

This is what we’re exploring with the Human Ecosystems project, starting in Sao Paulo, Rome, Montreal, Toronto, Lecce, Budapest and, really soon, in other major cities across the planet.

Ubiquitous Commons

The Human Ecosystems project is tightly connected with the concept of Ubiquitous Commons (and we will be spending a whole semester at Yale, with a Yale World Fellowship, to explore this concept and publish the first results).

With the idea of the Ubiquitous Commons we wish to highlight that a massive transformation has already happened for human beings.

Ubiquitous Information, mobile technologies, sensors, pervasive digital transaction, content, information and interaction have radically transformed the ways in which we perceive public and private spaces, as well as the ways in we relate, communicate, work, express, consume, share knowledge and information.

The world, today, sits in a grey area in which this radical transformation has already happened (and is constantly continuing to happen), and laws, regulations, social and cultural conventions, critical perceptions have not yet learned how to understand and cope with them, leaving us in a state of continuous, rapid, incomprehensible, opaque revolution of the boundaries of what is public and what is private (and the radical consequences which this has), which is controlled by entities whose interest does not lie in the public well-being.

Affecting everything from privacy, to transparency, to openness, to participatory governance, to shared knowledge, information, and even up to health and personal well-being (just think about all the things you can achieve through biometrics, quantified-self and more).

Ubiquitous Commons

Ubiquitous Commons

Through Ubiquitous Commons we wish to address this domain: to create a common effort through which Ubiquitous Information, of the many kinds which affect our daily lives – wether we realise it or not – becomes open, accessible, usable to us, as citizens and human beings, to perform this transformation which has already happened, and to mutate it into a chance for our expression and freedoms, giving us the chance to create new ecologies and economies, based on openness, accessibility, inclusion and participation.

The two issues (the Real-Time Museum of the City and Ubiquitous Commons) are closely connected, as the Real Time Museum of the City is a sort of iconic presence in the City of the concept of the Ubiquitous Commons: the place of perception and beauty in which one starts to comprehend, learn and use the Relational Ecosystem of the city, to perform this transformation, to perceive a new possibility for citizenship.

A model of relations in Human Ecosystems: Relational Ecosystems

We just published an article on Human Ecosystems in which we describe the ways in which we can model the relationships in the Relational Ecosystems of cities.

The article is titled:

Relations in the Human Ecosystems: Cultures, Communities, Roles and Emergence

and you can read it here: http://human-ecosystems.com/home/relations-in-the-human-ecosystems-cultures-communities-roles-and-emergence/

It is interesting to use these models to gain understandings about how people relate and interact, describing people’s roles in these interactions.

These descriptions, of course, have variations through time and contexts. People participate to different communities and cultures at the same time, with broader or tighter scopes, their roles within them changing all the time, as well as their level of engagement and the layouts and configuration of their participation.

In the article we explore the basics of how we interpret relations in the Human Ecosystems, and use the assumptions to describe various roles which people commonly represent in the Relational Ecosystem: the Expert, the Hub, the Influencer, the Amplifier and the Bridge.

All of these roles allow us to understand how information and knowledge flow across the Relational Ecosystem of cities.

the Influencer

the Influencer

 

The Near Future of Education

 Introduction

With students, designing the future of the education system. A fundamental action towards a shift to a participatory, inclusive knowledge society. This post describes the structure and methodology of our action.

Note: This post is the result of the conversation which we had at CyberResistance in Milan, at the Cantiere.

 The Future does not Exist.

In our approach to Near Future Design we try to create a state of suspension in which it is possible to explore multiple versions of future scenarios and to engage people from different cultures and backgrounds to enable them to become performers, able to express themselves in highlighting not just (technically/technologically) possible futures, but desirable, preferable futures.

Near Future Design: infinite futures

Near Future Design: infinite futures

There are a few steps involved in doing this.

The first step is to create a Future Map.

From our point of view, the building a Future Map involves the combination of a technical/technological activity together with an ethnographical/anthropological one.

The first one involves the comprehension of the current State of the Arts & Technologies: current technological advances, promising research, patents, new products, trends, etcetera. Given proper and reliable information sources, this task is rather simple, in that it requires to keep updated.

The second one is fairly more complex, as it requires the comprehension of the Established Narratives, the Strange Now and the Future Possibilities.

The Established Narratives describe our common understanding of consensual reality. Given a certain topic or domain, the established narratives enclose the forms of consensus which is accepted within relevant communities or cultures: “normal” things within the domain, as they are culturally, traditionally and commonly understood.

The Strange Now describes the emergence of recurring patterns, rituals and other behaviours. Although having become recurrent, these behaviours do not yet benefit from widespread social understanding, comprehension and encoding: they are commonly understood as “strange”, peculiar or curious.

The Future Possibilities describe what people in relevant cultures and communities perceive as possible, feasible and technically/technologically advanced and desirable regardless of their actual technological feasibility, present or future: they describe people’s perception of possibility, in the future.

All these elements are combined into a Design for the New Normal. Its objective is to merge the two types of results into the description of near future designs: the “things” which will be normal a short time from now; the next normality field.

The Near Future Design is represented in a series of ways and it becomes a Simulacrum: a state of suspension of disbelief in which the Design is implemented using a Transmedia Narrative whose objective is to make it as believable and likely as possible, so much that it becomes so entangled in consensual reality that it eventually becomes it.

In particular, this last phase, happens by means of imagination, performance and desire. It is a language-based operation, in which a linguistic landscape is created which allows for the emergence of new imaginaries: people become performers by apprehending new languages, which allow them to imagine new things and concepts and, in turn, to bring them to life, through desire. The performance of the future: people’s perception of what is possible shifts, as they experience a transmedia simulacrum which is so likely that they start using it, eventually making it become true and, in the process, express themselves on what is their desired, preferred future.

This is exactly what we are doing with the education system.

The Near Future of the Education System.

Together with the students at ISIA Design in Florence we are using Near Future Design techniques to design the Near Future of the education system. To do this, we are following the the full Near Future Design methodology outlined above, and we are enacting the transmedia simulacrum in two ways: by enacting a transmedia narrative which will be started shortly, in the following phases of the action, and by adopting the model we’re designing, performing it and using it ourselves, to experiment it on the field according to an agile methodology, by designing it, implementing it, releasing/using it in its beta version, and by redesigning it according to a series of iterations, forks, merges.

Here below is an image which describes the structure of our initial design, further detailed in the next sections.

Near Future of Education structure

Near Future of Education structure

Assumptions

Assumption number 1: decent education has an really high entrance/access barrier.

If you have a lot of money, you don’t have a problem with the current education system. If you can afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars which are needed to attend the best (and not-so-best) schools in the world, you really do not feel the crisis. You have laboratories, personalised courses, a good student/professor ratio, tutoring, mentorship, auditoriums, libraries, equipment, etcetera, you have it all.

Too bad that not many people have all of this money. And even of the ones that do, most of them rely on Debt to obtain access to these schools, and debt – as we have learned – comes with an awful lot of implications.

Assumption number 2: current education models are mostly competitive rather than collaborative.

Competitive models may be adequate for the industrial era, but they are not for the networked, information/knowledge/communication era, which is based on collaboration, universal access and inclusion. All of which are critical to the creation of social capital and the ushering in of a sharing economy.

Assumption number 3: knowledge as a common.

Not only because, as Rifkin puts it, it allows for marginal costs to tend relentlessly towards zero, with all that this implies, but also (and most of all) because, as Bauwens frames it, in the framework defined by Contributory Commons (provided by the Civil Society) and Ethical/Solidary Economy (the Reframed Corporation), an Information & Knowledge Common is enabling and empowering, and should be defended as a strategic asset.

Assumption number 4: perceptive, cognitive, attention and strategic models for education.

The ways in which we learn, collaborate, work, design and relate have radically changed. From a perceptive and cognitive point of view, and from the perspective which sees the emergence of novel modalities in which multiple disciplines converge, different roles become entangled, serendipitous actions become strategic and, in the passage from atoms to bits and back, the production of knowledge and information becomes a performance which is cultural and linguistic, and which is polyphonic, interconnected, emergent in nature.

Assumption number 5: need for a new definition of “value”.

From the P2PValue project page:

Commons-based peer production (CBPP) is a new and increasingly significant model of social innovation based on collaborative production by citizens through the Internet.

In this framework a novel definition of “value” must be found, encompassing the well-being of the ecosystem, and in a mutualistic sense, progressively loosing the definition of “value” determined by the market sale price of products and services, and embracing one which is mutually determined, at a peer-to-peer level.

On top of these 5 initial assumptions, the State of the Arts & Technologies and the Strange Now analyses have provided indications about 11 axes in which we have dimensioned our proposed design. You can read more about the 11 axes of transformation on the NearFuture Education Lab’s blog on Nòva24.

The Foundation

Why create a Foundation to explore the Near Future of Education?

There are multiple answers. Two are the most important ones: to enact a strategic shift, and to host, protect and preserve the Knowledge Common that is at the center of ecosystem.

First: to enact a strategic shift.

a strategic shift

a strategic shift

In the current situation, a hierarchical organisation of things and processes is in place: governments and companies deal with each other to establish policies and strategies which are applied to, in this case, schools and universities and, by them, to students and other participants. This has major political, social and economic implications. And, maybe most important of all, is not flexible, resilient and capable of adapting to the transformation of cultures, societies and the environment, or to take into account people’s and communities’ desires, visions, expectations and emergent behaviours.

The transformation we propose is dedicated to creating an environment, a space.

The environment is the Knowledge Common, which is protected and preserved by the Foundation.

The Foundation itself is open, accessible and permeable: anyone can get in, but it is not necessary to get in to make use of the Knowledge Common.

Multiple forms of interaction and interrelation with this environment are possible, such as contributing to the Common, using the knowledge contained there within, producing recipes to it, a particular form of meta-knowledge (and, thus, that is part of the ecosystem itself) which shows how the various parts of the Common can be used together, combined, assembled together with other relations, elements, or even with other recipes.

These forms of interaction can come from inside/outside/edge of the environment/common.

The Foundation, open and accessible to everyone, preserves the Common.

The Currency

The Knowledge Common has a value, which constantly grows.

This value is measured using K-Coins, Knowledge Coins.

K-Coins are a mutualistic currency, which is used to measure how much a person or organisation contributes to the value (well-being) of the Environment/Common.

K-Coins are mutually assigned: if subject A perceives that subject B contributes to the value of the ecosystem (by participation, contribution, production, meta-production…), A can assign K-Coins to B. In other words, K-Coins are proportional to the Reputation which one has in relation to their active participation to the well-being of the Environment/Common.

(some additional info on the ways in which we are designing the K-Coins may be found here: http://p2pfoundation.net/Near_Future_Education_Lab )

Agile Ecosystem: pull, fork, watch, merge

All the things we have seen so far (and the next to come) represent knowledge, as well.

The Future Map, the definition of the Foundation (its statute and regulations, for example), the K-Coins definition and the software needed to make them work, the collaboration and relation tools… everything that we describe here is part of the Knowledge Common that constitutes the core of the Environment, of the Public Space, that we are describing.

As such, they can be freely accessed and used.

Using the Git metaphor, they can be watched (to know how they’re changing), pulled (to use them), forked (to modify them, creating your own version) and merged (to take the results of multiple contributions and to assemble them into a new version).

If a certain subject grabs and modifies, let’s say, the Future Map, or the statute of the Foundation, they can use it for their own purposes, but the results remain part of the Knowledge Common, together with their relation with the original version.

This fact has enormous cultural, political and practical implications.

First of all determined by the possible co-existence of multiple versions of everything.

This implies, for example, that if I have a certain vision of the Future Map, of how the future of the education system could be, I could just fork the currently adopted Future Map, modify in ways which reflect my point of view, and put it back up for merging. Then other people will be able to make their own decisions: merge it, fork it on their own and use it, or else. In any case, I would be able to use my own Future Map for my own purposes (in this case, to aim at a certain objective in the transformation of the future of the education system).

In all this, K-Coins allow everyone to express (currency as a means of expression) themselves about their perception of my contribution to the Common, contributing to my reputation and, thus, augmenting the value of the environment/common itself.

This possibility for measure also achieves a virtuous effect: since everyone’s reputation is connected to their active contribution to the well-being of the Knowledge Common that constitutes the environment, and since the K-Coins measuring it are mutually assigned, everyone will be engaged into making positive contributions, thus augmenting their value, thus incrementing their reputation and possibilities/opportunities within the ecosystem.

How Does all this Work?

The Foundation will work as a Wirearchy.

In Wirearchy a social network (in our case it will be a combination of a peer-to-peer social network, and of a meta-social network, operating in piggy-back with major social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and in mode physical modalities) hosts conversations, relations and interaction.

From these, the communities of practice emerge: people and organisations interested and involved in certain topics, domains and issues, and making experiments, hypotheses, researches…

Work teams can emerge from all this, eventually including some or all members of the communities of practice as well as participants from the rest of the social network, or even from beyond its (fuzzy) boundaries. Work teams actively work on the domain/theme/issue, eventually arriving at the definition/creation/implementation/deployment of a certain information, knowledge, object, product, service or else.

In this ecosystem, any form of production includes two elements: knowledge and other things (such as objects, products, services…).

All knowledge produced becomes part of the Knowledge Common.

All the rest may be sold, offered, used or else, at the discretion of the producers.

The knowledge produced and put back into the Common defines the “value” of the “project” within the ecosystem, through the number of K-Coins that other people assign to it – from their point of view and if they desire to do so – evaluating how it contributes to the well-being of the ecosystem.

Recipes

Within the ecosystems, a series of subjects produce recipes.

Each project, course, study program, how-to, tutorial… each of these things is a recipe, may contain and use recipes and may be contained in one or more recipes.

Recipes are like the ones for cooking: they contain ingredients, and the instructions on how to combine them to obtain a certain result.

Recipes, as forms of (meta-)knowledge are part of the Knowledge Common.

There can be recipes about what is the education path to become a Designer, an Engineer, a Cultural Anthropologist. Recipes about how to build chairs, drones, particle accelerators. Even recipes about cooking.

A certain recipe may indicate that, before attempting to do something, I should learn something: Recipe to create object X could state that “you can use software tools Y and Z, physical tools K and T, and you have to follow course A, preferably with Mr. B, and it would be better to join Lab C, and you would need the collaboration of at least 1 person who has followed course D and E, and who is proficient in using tool Y”.

Recipes can be produced by multiple subjects: I, for example could produce a recipe about “what you need to learn and do to become a proficient Communication Designer”.

Other people could create similar recipes (starting from scratch, or forking my recipe, for example): other designers, people who think they know what it takes to become a Communication Designer, and more.

One peculiar type of subject which could desire to have its say about this could be, for example, the Italian Ministry for University and Research (the MIUR), or any other governmental institution in other parts of the world. Actually, all of these types of subjects basically occupy their time creating “recipes” – under the form of official study plans, policies, regulations and more. We recognise these plans, rules and regulations as valid and mandatory on the premise that we trust these governmental entities and institutions, and that we acknowledge them the role of the maintainers of the systems in which sciences, humanities and research can thrive and prosper.

It’s a matter of trust, and reputation.

What could, then, happen in the ecosystem which we’re describing?

It may become true that Mr. X’s recipe on “how to become a Robotic Engineer” is valued more (in K-Coins) than the one from the MIUR, other Government Agencies, or even than the one from Stanford, or even MIT. Because…? It can happen for multiple reasons, of course. One of them is that, in the ecosystem, more people have recognised more value (by attributing K-Coins) to Mr. X’s recipe. This would mean that the education ecosystem recognises Mr. X’s recipe more valuable than the one by the Ministry, or by Stanford, or by…

This possibility is disruptive: what could a Ministry of Education, or Stanford, or MIT do in this case? They could produce a better recipe, or adopt Mr. X’s, or fork it or… many more things. Sure is that that they would have to act, in order to bring more well-being to the ecosystem.

Let’s look at some scenarios.

How can I teach in this Ecosystem?

I could offer a course/lab/training-on-the-job/something using the social network, or by participating to a Community of Practice or Work Team (and possibly recognising the need for such an offering), or because I really enjoy teaching a certain subject/practice, or because I have the tools/spaces/conditions to offer it, or else.

In my offering I can use elements from the Knowledge Common, optionally forking them and creating my own versions, which are put back into the Common. I can use recipes, and produce recipes of my own, to be used in the course or outside of it (“my course is needed to learn how to build object X, as described by recipe Y”). The offering can also be included in recipes by other subjects, which deem it as being fundamental for achieving a certain purpose.

These same people may decide to replace a certain element of their recipe with my offering, should they be convinced (and, in this, reputation helps) that mine is better.

Eventually, I will give the course/lab/stage/practice… and the people who have participated (students, recipe-adopters, be that to become an engineer, complete a project, to learn something so that I can then teach it, to learn something for no purpose at all…) may decide to assign me some K-Coins for my positive and active participation to the well-being of the Ecosystem.

From this moment my offering would benefit from increased reputation.

How can I create a project in the Ecosystem?

This scenario works much in the same way like the previous one.

The major difference is in its augmented degree of generality.

To engage a project you have to learn something, use knowledge and information, assemble a certain number of recipes, and more. All to produce, as described, more knowledge and some objects/products/services/other.

Thus, it would work out in the same way.

The social network/communities of practice/work teams scheme could be used to start a project. The project would use elements from the Knowledge Common (be them single elements or recipes…), combining them with courses, laboratories and relations with other people and organisations which would have to have access to knowledge and recipes (either directly or by “going to school”) and, possibly, a certain level of reputation.

In this scenario: the value of reputation in the ecosystem becomes self-evident, as enabler, facilitator, multiplier, accelerator of the action.

How can I learn something in the ecosystem?

You always learn in this ecosystem.

One of the strengths of this approach is the explicitation of this fact: in different moments and contexts of their life subjects will act as “learners”, professors, laboratories, entrepreneurs, producers of recipes, and more.

I could decide to learn in multiple ways: by choosing a certain recipe (based on the reputation of its creator, or for some other reason); by choosing a certain course/lab/other offering; by joining into a project in which I would need to learn a certain thing or adopt a certain recipe.

Or I could even identify that no-one is currently offering a certain course/lab/training/other, and by using the social network/communities of practice/work teams to try to make it available (and this would also be an opportunity for someone to actually create the offering).

If all else fails, I could try to learn by myself in some way, and, maybe, even offer the course myself.

In all this, the usual mechanism applies: of all the contributions which I used (the course, lab, recipe or else) I would be able to assign K-Coins to attribute to them reputation, based on my perception of how they contributed to the well-being of the ecosystem and of the Knowledge Common.

Conclusions

We’re building all of this and, in the next few months, you will see much more happening.

As stated above: this process which we’re building is the first contribution to the Knowledge Common itself.

You all can (and should) contribute to it in any way you can: by participating, designing with us, helping us to communicate, to get in touch with people, groups, organisations, institutions who could be interested in these kinds of developments.

In four words: to make this happen.

More news really soon.

In the meanwhile follow us and join in like this:

Micro Histories of cities and Ubiquitous Commons, at #visualize in Lecce

Join us for #visualize, more than one week of data, in Lecce (Italy) from May 8th to June 18th 2014, in the Palazzo Turrisi-Palumbo (via Marco Basseo 1), for an incredible series of workshops and lectures about visual journalism and data, in which we will create one full project of our own.

Here is the program for #visualize: http://www.gliadditivi.org/visualize/program.php

Visualize, more than a week on data

Visualize, more than a week on data

Speakers include John Grimwade, Leonardo RomeiMartin Foessleitner, Fabio Franchino.

Our talk will be on the 16th of June 2014, and it will be mostly based on the Human Ecosystems project, and on the idea of using the real-time, human-generated infoscape of the city to create a novel form of Public Space, which we call Ubiquitous Commons.

In the workshop, running from  June 16th to June 18th, we will use the Human Ecosystems to build an actual project.

You can use this link to subscribe to the workshop: http://www.gliadditivi.org/visualize/iscriviti.php.

Here below is some info about our intervention at #visualize:

Micro-histories of cities e Ubiquitous Commons

Ubiquitous emergent narratives in cities as novel public spaces.

Introduction

Each day, we generate thousands of information elements through electronic transactions, interactions with digital systems and social networks. Often we don’t realize it.

This mass of information constitutes the millions of micro-histories of our cities, in real-time, manifesting themselves during our everyday lives, while we shop or communicate using social networks.

Micro-histories unite to form macro-histories, the story of the city in which multitudes of people take part to an enormous data-symphony from which citizens’ changes, desires, emotions, vision and expectancies emerge, as well as the ones of organizations and administrations.

Through the Human Ecosystems project we observe in real-time citizens’ public expressions on social networks to describe the relational ecosystem of cities: the emergence of communities, of the themes which they discuss, and of their emotional expressions. This information can be interweaved with other sources of Open and Big Data, and with the flows of news and information, to enact a system in which cities – and their citizens – express themselves, and, most important of all, which can be used as a tool for participation, organization and planning, by everyone. A new common: the Digital Public Space of the city.

Talk:

The millions of micro-histories of cities: Human Ecosystems e Ubiquitous Commons.

During the talk we will introduce the Human Ecosystems project, and the concept of Ubiquitous Commons. We will show how to harvest public information from social networks to describe cities’ relational ecosystem: the emergence of communities, the issues which they discuss and their emotional expressions.

We will confront with the legal, political, conceptual, theoretical, technical and technological scenarios according highlighting the opportunities raised by enacting processes of this kind.

We will introduce the current operative scenarios of the Human Ecosystems, and the ways in which we are using them in the cities of Rome, S. Paulo, Malmö, Montreal, Toronto.

We will show how this information can be published as a form of real-time Open Data, and how it can be used in conjunction with other sources of Open and Big Data to obtain results which are relevant for citizens, administrations, enterprises, artists and designers.

Workshop:

Strategic and narrative usage scenarios for the Relational Ecosystems of cities.

We will start from a practical issue (public transport, pollution, the job market…) to setup a working scenario for the Human Ecosystems, from the point of view of one of the possible subjects involved (citizens, enterprises, administrations…).

We will show how to interweave the data from the relational ecosystem of the city with other data sources to obtain peculiar and relevant information.

For simplicity, we will use the data that has been harvested in a specific city across a 6 month period, without getting into the implementation details needed to create a system for real-time observation and for natural language analysis. Nevertheless, these techniques will be explained and proper references will be given, together with the possibility to use the Human Ecosystems.

The harvested information will be used to obtain the two outcomes of the workshop: an info-aesthetic, complexity-oriented, visualization, and the description of a possible strategy for intervention onto the selected issue, using the Urban Acupuncture technique.

Desired skills for the workshop:

  • basic knowledge of HTML, CSS and JavaScript (we will work in groups, so at least one member of each group should possess these skills )

During the workshop we will use:

Visualize, brand

Visualize, brand

Visualize partners

Visualize partners