25 August 2014 

Downes: Beyond Institutions: Personal Learning in a Networked World

Stephen summarises his influential work in a speech at the London School of Economics.

We can have a way of looking at learning where learning is not structured, designed, and set up to create outputs, but rather run, operated, and controlled as an unorganized, unmanaged system by individuals. I say we’re moving beyond institutions in learning, toward a cooperative model, toward a knowing society, based on network knowledge. That’s the [anti-]model of the future.

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21 August 2014 

Paypal will rule

I’m not promoting Paypal, just hazarding a prediction. Many retail shops in Melbourne have signed up to accept payment from walk-in customers with Paypal accounts via its smartphone ‘wallet’ app. The ease of implementation and use, relatively low merchant fees and the high public take-up of Paypal are compelling retailers to sign up. I reckon it will catch on so well that I will soon be able to leave my credit card at home, and just take my mobile to pay for stuff.

But there is a catch: the merchant knows who you are. They can charm you by addressing you by name at the checkout. If they are motivated, they can instigate loyalty based advertising based on your patterns of activity with the shop. This is the secret weapon for Paypal, who will charge merchants for that information.

On the other hand, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin offer the same anonymity in the transaction as cash. So the café you visited last week won’t be profiling you and sending you a follow-up email with a discount offer to entice you back. I’m getting sick of all that from the supermarkets and online retailers.

Unfortunately, only a handful of shops in Melbourne have taken up Bitcoin. This is despite the absence of fees on retail transactions—fees are only charged by exchanges for conversion to and from national currencies. There is no central Bitcoin organisation, which sounds great in theory to those of us who deplore the unaccountable power of financial institutions. But nobody is coordinating the promotion of Bitcoin, and the movement is stalled.

This week, the Australian Tax Office echoed the American IRS in its decree that cryptocurrencies are tangible assets but NOT currencies. This may kill the cryptocurrency golden egg goose, as accounting for them becomes a nightmare. Bitcoin may remain in limbo, continuing only as the underground currency for purchasing psychotropic substances online.

And with Paypal here, there and everywhere, we will descend into perpetual ad bombardment hell.

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19 June 2014 

Play Helps Us Grow at Any Age

I have been a fan of Dr Lois Holzman and her “research and activist” work for several years. In this TEDx talk she presents her concept of “revolutionary play” which I find very compelling as a type of life-wide activity. Many public deliberation facilitators also see their work as playfully guiding processes of co-creation and becoming. Against all expectations, participants often find it as fun and effortless as play.

In play we:

  • go beyond ourselves
  • do things without knowing how
  • relate as who we are and who we are becoming—at the very same time
  • create something new out of what exists (that’s the revolutionary part).


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23 April 2014 

Citizens' Jury recommends policies for nightlife in Sydney

Congratulations to Sydney City Council for convening a beautifully-run Citizens’ Jury, who deliberated on the question “How can we ensure we have a vibrant and safe Sydney nightlife?” and made 25 recommendations. Supported by NewDemocracy and Bang the Table.

This is a terrific example of the kind of public participation we should see more of. But this will only happen if more people know about it, understand the benefits of these new facilitated and co-productive processes, and demand it.

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01 April 2014 

Melbourne Ride to Conquer Cancer 2014 needs riders

Last year I successfully completed the 200 km Ride to Conquer Cancer in Melbourne. Thanks mainly to friends, I was able to raise $6,400 for Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Living with metastatic prostate cancer, I rely on this public hospital.

Although I remain fit enough to ride again this year, I don’t want to press the generosity of my friends further. Instead, I have decided to participate as a crew member.

However, the Ride succeeds by the number of Riders it attracts. Last year we were down a bit on numbers, and I hope this year will see an increase. The Ride is in October. If you were planning to do the Around the Bay in a Day ride, consider doing this Ride instead. It certainly would mean more to me.

Watch the video above to learn more about the Ride to Conquer Cancer. Contact me if you want more information. Then follow this link to sign up!

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29 March 2014 

Igniting a deliberative social movement

This is a discussion that public participation professionals and academics need to have.

…attempts to label the responses – as “civic engagement,” “collaborative governance,” “deliberative democracy,” or “public work” – or to articulate them as one movement or policy agenda under a heading like “civic renewal” or “stronger democracy” – immediately spark debates about substance, strategy, and language…. Though it is clear we have many principles and practices in common, we differ on what we should call this work and where it is headed. In order for “overlapping civic coalitions” to form, the potential partners would have to work through goals, assumptions, and differences.

Frontiers of Democracy 2014 Conference at Tufts University, July 16-18, 2014, Boston, MA

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13 March 2014 

Research as Social Construction: Transformative Inquiry

During my journey towards PhD I attempted to adopt a social constructionist stance. However, since I was not in charge of the overall research agenda, the extent of my engagement as a constructionist communicator and inquirer was limited.

Social construction is not a well-known or accepted research stance. Instead, empiricists tend to adhere to the ‘objective’ prescriptions of the scientific method, discounting alternative methods that explore subjective and emergent aspects of a situation. The interpretive subjectivity and contextual framing that are inevitably invoked in any observation are denied in the quest for ‘evidence-based’ conclusions. Most believe that you have messed up your research if you actually get involved with your subjects. Some who facilitate appreciative inquiry, a well-practised constructionist method, still cling to the need for ‘independent’ research methods about it. But committed social constructionists like me reject this demand.

Furthermore, public deliberation can be seen, following the constructionist stance, as a research method for citizens to determine public policy settings. Yet the academy that invented deliberative democracy as a new form of governance generally continues to privilege the position of researchers over the citizens who are ostensibly handed the decision-making power. This is a contradiction. Our job should be to facilitate the deliberation and trustworthiness of participating citizens as the trustees of public research. Public acceptance of their process and findings is the ultimate evaluation.

Prof Sheila McNamee has written extensively about constructionist approaches, especially in health care practices which address questions about pragmatic and relational concerns.

Her article “Research as Social Construction: Transformative Inquiry” (2010), published in the Brazilian academic journal Saúde & Transformação Social (Health and Social Transformation) provides one of the most accessible and succinct outlines of social constructionist research that I have encountered. Highly recommended reading.

View a copy of her article: http://goo.gl/NtyMqk

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19 December 2013 

'Like' isn't good enough

Facebook only has a ‘Like’ button (it wasn’t introduced to Facebook until 2009). This supports the old adage that “if you have nothing good to say about something, then say nothing at all.” People who like to call others names because they think differently would reduce Facebook to a social hell. And advertisers on Facebook will face more scorn than they’d be willing to put up with. So aside of creating a virtual world that is as angry and unsustainable as the real world we are escaping from, I don’t understand the benefit to Facebook or its users of the introduction of the new ‘unlike’ stickers in their chat facility. This probably won’t get much take-up amongst think-alike friends, but will further fuel the popular demand for post and comment ‘Unlike’ buttons in Facebook.

Several friends agree when I suggest that Facebook needs an “Empathise”, “Acknowledge” or “Respect” button. To ‘Like’ somebody’s sadness or distress is just wrong. And if somebody says something that I don’t happen to agree with, I would want to indicate my tolerance of their right to say it. It would be a progressive thing to do. Maybe the shaka or hang-loose would work \…/

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12 December 2013 

Lyn Carson: Improving Democracy with Deliberation

My PhD supervisor Prof Lyn Carson offers good advice about why introducing deliberation into public policy decision making is worthwhile.

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05 December 2013 

Auto-generated metadata

Metadata are the categories that you and your transactions and online activity (like what you ‘like’ on Facebook) are automatically put into, building an ongoing descriptive profile of you. Your location (e.g. nearest mobile cell) is one such category. Grocery corporations with a loyalty card know exactly what kind of shopper you are.

Today while doing online banking, I find a list of all my credit and debit card transactions in a list categorised by transaction type: groceries, fuel, entertainment, clothing, ‘internet shopping’, etc. Then there is a graph showing how I’ve spent my money this past year. On the surface, this seems like a terrific idea. But upon closer inspection, I find that at least half of the category assignments are wrong. A local take-away restaurant meal purchased online is labelled as ‘rent’. My road toll charges are shown as ‘parking’. And unsurprisingly, bank charges by my own bank are put into the ‘miscellaneous’ category.

After spending an hour correcting the categories, I did end up with a list that informed me about my spending patterns (and I’ll be changing some of my behaviours). I wonder if my corrections were actually informing the system, which must maintain a map of merchants and categories? This service is promoted only to help me. I don’t believe that. The metadata is being generated for all bank customers, including the 98% who don’t even know this service is there for them. To whom is this metadata about me being sold? What are the impacts when so much of it is incorrect?

I’ve just written the bank.

Metadata about my spending

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