Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Creating civic & cultural change through collaboration

I was out with my geekerati brethren last night at a lecture by Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus.

His basic premise is that technology (i.e the internet) has created a global stage for group belonging and action, of which much good can come if we all watch a teeny bit less tv and do something more positive to contribute to society with that time. 

He's right to claim that in reality, nothing's changed at heart. All that technology has given us is a new tool that we can put to good (or bad) effect. My favourite quote was "behaviour is just motivation filtered through opportunity". People have always grouped together to do good, the internet has just expanded the scale and global reach of that basic human quest for improvement and evolution.

He talked about the ever growing opportunities to participate, ways to get involved be it ride share or just posting videos, photos, review or tips, and the gulf between doing something and doing nothing."Generation g" (for generosity) now has greater opportunity than ever before to colloborate and participate to create public or civic value and cultural change.

He cited LOLcats (possibly the first time that's been mentioned at the usually more intellectual stage of the RSA!) as an example of an easy entry-point to participation, it spreads smiles (which in relation to a metric of gross domestic happiness is no bad thing);  then moving on to Wikipedia, which whilst relatively few actually people curate and contribute, has enormously broad public value, and then moved on to talk about an interesting real-time, data aggregation site for people with acute or chronic medical conditions called PatientsLikeMe where real people, can share real information, of real benefit to drug companies etc for the greater good of improvements in the health and wellbeing of society, in so doing creating genuine civic value.

Yet he warned against over-ambition and scale - a bigger project carved up into smaller tasks that people feel that they can meaningfully contribute to might roll up into something bigger yet isn't so daunting to get involved with - it's that age old premise of sticky ideas, that if you can make people feel relevant and that their individual contribution can really make a difference they are less likely to shrug and leave it to someone else.

The talented chaps over at Made by Many have done this rather lovely cartoon that encapsulates the lecture (if only I could draw... damn that missing synapse in my elbow), or you can watch it here:

As always at a gathering of geeks it was fun to watch the twitter feed soundbites, complete with a prank claim that there were free iPad;s under the seats,  - view the whole thing by looking the #rsashirky on Twitter but here's a small excerpt for posterity.

Equally amusing was the friction we all felt between buying the book at the end or not. Here was a real thing (and a hardback at that) not a digital e-book. Hardback - eek, digital version - geek, but signed copy from the great man himself?  Rude not to :-)

Interesting lecture, interesting food for thought, interesting challenges to work out how and where and in what ways any of the clients / brands I work with can facilitate this sort of greater good crowdsourcing stuff.

The Pepsi Refresh project is probably the best example that springs to mind of attempts in this area, although Orange(as was) Rockcorps project was also attempting to embrace this space, as does Vodafone, with their world of difference project.  Interesting value exchanges in all of those examples.

Thinking cap on.

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