From fiscal cliffhangers and precarious political unions to regulatory capture and endemic corruption, it’s difficult to find almost anyone these days that thinks our governance systems are in good shape. On April 26-27, the Governance Futures Lab at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) hosted social inventors from around the world to tackle some very thorny issues and begin to reinvent the practice of governance for the 21st century.
The ReConstitutional Convention was held simultaneously at IFTF headquarters in Palo Alto and at ten global nodes in countries including Singapore, Myanmar and the UK. The gathering of world-class activists, scholars, government officials and futures thinkers systematically reconsidered the underlying frameworks of governance: How should resources be managed? Who has a voice? How do people make decisions together to secure their individual and collective well-being?
The event brought together a star-studded cast of leading experts in social and political change, including Alissa Black,Jane McGonigal, Chris McKay, Samidh Chakrabarti, Gabriella Gomez-Mont, Sanford Levinson, Micah Sifry, Stephen Duncombe, David Sasaki, James Fishkin, James Dator, and many others.
Using IFTF’s design toolkit for reinventing governance, they investigated the core challenges that lead many to believe today’s government institutions are failing. They then worked in teams to rethink the foundational frameworks for new governance systems, create new designs for governance, and prototype ways to make governance work. The results of the event will be shared over the coming weeks on theReConstitutional Convention website.
An example of a prototype is App4Gov, a project of the Governance Futures Lab. It’s a prototype of a free and open-source tool that allows elected officials to systematically delegate decision-making to constituents through a suite of online participatory democracy tools:
App4Gov Registration Process
Users register online and receive a postcard at their address.
How It Works
App4Gov users vote regularly on all sorts off issues through direct communications with their elected representatives. Users can delegate their votes to organizations or individuals.
10 May 2013 / 0 notes
I had a fun correspondence with new friend and neighbor, Annalee Newitz, about Kopimism, my favorite new religion. My pontifications made it into into a post on io9: We Come from the Future. Love it! Thanks to Nic Weidinger for turning me on to Kopimism in the first place…
Quoted from One of the first religions inspired by the internet:
It makes perfect sense that the Kopimist symbol lurks in hackerspaces. The faith grows out of Free Culture activism, or copyright reform movements that favor a loosening of intellectual property laws to foster greater freedom of expression. David Evan Harris, a social movements expert with the Institute for the Future, has followed the religion since its inception. He told io9 via email:
In Sweden and elsewhere, Kopimism and the Free Culture movement are tied closely to the Pirate Party—which was itself borne out of Swedes being appalled by the US MPAA efforts to force a raid on the headquarters of the Pirate Bay file sharing website.
Kopimism founder Gerson and many other members of the Kopimist Church are strongly in favor of changing laws that prevent file-sharing of copyrighted works. Indeed, Gerson has said that he wants most copyright laws to be eliminated.
But is Kopimism a true religion, or more of a stunt along the lines of a humorous political party? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. Harris elaborated:
Now, obviously, there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor going on too. Given that Sweden is one of the most atheist-leaningcountries in the world, one can only assume that most Swedish Kopimists are not jumping from being bible-thumping Christians straight to Kopimism. By establishing both a political party (with two seats in the European Parliament!) and a religion to buttress the broader Free Culture Movement, these activists are deftly managing to inscribe their movement and beliefs in core social institutions, affording themselves broader visibility, legitimacy and important legal rights.
One of the most fascinating parts for me will be seeing how freedom of religion laws in Sweden and other countries (Idaho now has an official Kopimist Church too) may be used to protect file-sharers in legal proceedings where Kopimist file sharers are being prosecuted… or should I say persecuted?
Now that Kopimism has been recognized as an official religion in Sweden, is it possible that somebody could use religious freedom as a defense when the RIAA sues them for torrenting Metallica albums? It’s not likely, given that there are a number of religious practices — such as bigamy and smoking pot — that are still forbidden under US law.
25 Apr 2013 / 0 notes
Thrilled to be highlighted in this article from NEA Arts Magazine:
Of course, making art meaningful for the people who create it is equally important. This is one reason why Harris so values funding from both the NEA and Kickstarter: both allow an artist’s work to be judged on its merits alone, the artistic excellence of the project determining its funding. Harris, whose videos aim to cultivate empathy across cultures and are free for public use, saw a contradiction if he were to depend on selling art to wealthy patrons. “Using the traditional arts business models of painters or sculptors,” he said, “I don’t think that I could express the kinds of things I’m trying to express through Global Lives.”
I hung out with Aaron Swartz and Elizabeth Stark for an evening in Brazil at the World Social Forum in the Brazilian Amazon back in 2009. I only just now realized that he wrote a beautiful blog post just after we met, chronicling elegantly the evening’s happenings:
Discussions of tactics and theory stretch long into the night, across rooms and cars and hotels and restaurants. And then there are the parties.
An airplane hanger, filled with kids, all dancing. Row upon row of them, covered in sweat and caked with mud, still carrying their bags, moving with abandon. They stretch for what seems like forever. And at the end is a huge stage, with dancing girls, a rocking band, and lights so powerful that when they rotate forward they illuminate the entire crowd. As the set ends, it feels like the whole building is about to explode.
The following is an excerpt from Marina Gorbis’s new book, The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World, coming out in April 2013 from Simon & Schuster. Published here with permission from the author.
Chapter 1: Putting the Social Back into Our Economy
Building a Collaborative Video Library of Human Experience
In 2002 David Evan Harris, like so many other college students, was spending his junior year abroad, traveling through Tanzania, India, the Philippines, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. In each of these places he lived with local families, sharing their intimate spaces and daily lives. He stayed in a bamboo house in the Philippines, a former squatter settlement in Mexico City, and a mansion in New Delhi. As with many young people having their first overseas adventure, the experience left an indelible mark on David. “I went from thinking of those countries as nations of abstract numbers of millions of people to thinking of them as individuals,”12 he says. Unlike many college students who return from abroad and go back to their regular lives, however, David parlayed his experience into a global social enterprise—part art project, part anthropological resource, part social movement.
The Global Lives Project is a collaboratively built video library of human life experience. For its first major undertaking, the Global Lives team captured twenty-four continuous hours in the lives of ten people in different parts of the world. How were the ten people selected? In the early 2000s, David saw an email asking what the world would look like if it had only one hundred people. Based on proportional distribution, only one person would have a computer, only one would have a college degree, thirty-three would not have access to clean drinking water, and so on. When reading the emails, David was struck by the contrast between what he was reading and the demographics of his social network, mostly college-educated middle class Americans. It inspired him to select ten people who would be representative of the global population.
For its first shoot, of James Bullock, a cable car operator in San Francisco, David’s collaborator was Daniel Jones of Kalamazoo, Michigan, someone David had met during his days as a climate change activist. Daniel had studied film and had gone on to get his first documentary production gig after college. The company he was working for went bankrupt, though, and instead of getting a severance paycheck he got a package of video production equipment. Daniel offered to fly to San Francisco to do the first shoot, and he and David split the cost of the airplane ticket plus gasoline and food expenses for the day. When the film was shot, Daniel edited it for the first DVD to be distributed to potential supporters. One of his friends, who worked at AOL at the time, created a website so they could show the film to people in other countries and invite them to participate.
The next shoot took a while to organize, as David moved to Brazil to do graduate study in sociology. Not far from his apartment he stumbled upon the Museum of the Person, a museum of people’s life stories, with more than seven thousand stories captured on video, ranging from stories of rural farmers to stories of most of the recent presidents of Brazil. One of the directors of the museum, Jose Santos, became David’s mentor and supporter, along with others on the museum’s staff. The Museum of the Person not only agreed to coproduce a second Global Lives shoot in Brazil; the staff also connected David with partners in Japan and the United States.
But Global Lives as a sustainable project did not become a reality until two other shoots took place, one in Malawi and one in Japan. David himself did not go to either of these locations, and this is where the model came together: self-organized teams of volunteers using the platform of Global Lives to create something independently that fits into the larger narrative of the project. Helio Ishii, a Japanese Brazilian filmmaker whom David had met through his university in Brazil, asked David if he could try to organize a shoot in Japan. So David emailed everyone he knew who had ever been to Japan and asked if anyone knew a filmmaker or a photographer there interested in social change. Remarkably he got twenty responses from people in Japan who wanted to help, including one at the United Nations University and one at Temple University’s Japan campus. Right around the same time, Jason Price, an American anthropology graduate student whom David had met briefly and who had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, offered to do a shoot in Malawi. So the two shoots happened without David’s on-site participation. The filmmakers were far more skilled than he was and had much better video equipment than he had. “All of a sudden, I was working with all of these people who were way out of my league and who were really interested in it and wanted to do it. At that point, I had my first sensation of, ‘Oh, my! It will really happen. We will get the ten done.’”
Since that time the Global Lives Collective has completed shoots in ten countries and has organized a number of exhibits around the world. Global Lives videos have been displayed as art installations in various museums, art spaces, and festivals, with footage of people’s lives around the globe playing simultaneously, inviting audiences to “confer close attention onto other worlds and simultaneously reflect upon their own.” The exhibits provide powerful immersive experiences for audiences, but what is equally instructive is how the videos themselves are created.
For its first three years of operation, the Global Lives Project had no paid staff.14 Instead, hundreds of volunteers from around the world, who make up the Global Lives Collective, organized themselves to create the videos. These volunteers include filmmakers, photographers, programmers, engineers, architects, designers, students, and scholars. Collectively they have donated thousands of hours to bring this project into being. Online volunteers have subtitled all 240 hours of footage and translated them into English and other languages.
Today Global Lives is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a shared office and only one full-time staff member, but it has a huge network of contributors creating an amazing archive of human life experiences globally. With the motto “Step out of your world” and a mission “to collaboratively build a video library of human life experience that reshapes how we as both producers and viewers conceive of cultures, nations and people outside of our own communities,” the project continues to attract more and more eager contributors.
23 Dec 2012 / 0 notes
It’s the International Year of Cooperatives and I just saw Shift Change, a great new documentary that’s got me more jazzed about them than ever. I actually used to live in one and was amazed at how much I didn’t know. Fantastic information especially about the Mondragon Coops in Spain that make industrial machines, have created their own banks, and are on a much more massive scale than I had ever imagined.
I wish they had gone further into the differences especially in how each coop deals with seniority, shares of ownership, boards of directors, and other governance issues. From what I could tell, there’s a significant diversity of approaches there. Was also great to learn more about my neighborhood bakery, Arizmendi.
At a time when many are disillusioned with big banks and big business, the economic crisis and growing inequality in our country, employee ownership offers a real solution for workers and communities. Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work is a new documentary (to be released in fall 2012) that highlights worker-owned enterprises in North America and in Mondragon, Spain. The film couldn’t be more timely, as 2012 has been declared by the U.N. as the “International Year of the Cooperative.” [Film website]
It was truly a spectacular gathering of minds and organizations, and I’m looking forward to bringing the results to life at Liisa Välikangas’ and my course, Beyond Development, at Aalto University in September!
On July 30-31, the Institute for the Future, in collaboration with Aalto University in Finland, invited a dozen practical visionaries to reveal the design principles that have made their “outlier” innovations a success. The talkoot—a traditional Finnish gathering of friends to address a common concern—is part of an ongoing program to design more inclusive futures worldwide and learn from exceptional organizations. The result was a set of five epic challenges, a collection of design principles and a close look at the many ways that very small innovations can add up to a very big change in global equity and equality.