Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Tuttle Club. Lloyd Davis and Temporary School of Thought

The Tuttle Club is a great place to meet (on a Friday, in Central London, details of where and when). I went there for the first time last week, having invited several people I knew to be there so I could make some introductions. It is a friendly and interesting place to meet up with contacts old and new.

The Tuttle Club is run by Lloyd Davis who I first met at the Temporary_School_of_Thought during a one week programme of events (I had gone to a presentation by Vinay Gupta). Lloyd has written more about that week here. The Temporary School of Thought is now temporarily closed but hopes to re-open in a new location.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Hacking the Recession

Tomorrow I'm planning to be at "Hacking the Recession"

Theme - If we can have a Web 2.0, why can't we have a Recession 2.0 — a collaborative effort to make this downturn different – better — than the last one? How can we band together as a community to survive and thrive until the next boom and beyond?

Birkbeck College (WC1E 7HX), entrance off Torrington Square. Room 540.

Tracks so far are looking like follows:

  1. PHP hacking on Elgg modules for the Social Media vs the Recession project
  2. Python hacking on the Django based website being built for We20 project
  3. Collaborate with other hackers on developing your own crunch-busting and/or social change ideas
  • 9am Welcome and Housekeeping (please arrive early if you need a wifi key):
  • 9.00-10.00: Opening/Introductions/Brainstorming
  • 10.00-12.30: Break up into tracks and groups for hacking
  • 12.30-13.00: Touching base.
  • 13.00-14:00: LUNCH BREAK <- In George Birkbeck Bar on 4th floor (covered by dev8D)
  • 14.00-16.30: More hacking
  • 16.30-17.00: Closing
  • 17.00-onwards: Finding a suitable watering hole and possibly some food.
http://code.google.com/p/developerhappinessdays/wiki/HackingTheRecession for sign up details

Glen at Fantsuam - a Canadian view of Nigeria

I met Glen in September 2008 when I was at Fantsuam. He was there with VSO and is a Canadian.

He was writing a great blog about his placement with Fantsuam Foundation, so I asked him to do a session on blogs and blogging for my Self Directed Learners group. As well as teaching the basics of blogging, that session brought up all kinds of interesting issues in my mind about who communicates what and why. Glen was a Canadian blogging to Canadians back home about his experiences at Fantsaum - in distant unfamiliar rural Nigeria. To my Self Directed Learners there is nothing unfamiliar about rural Nigeria - for many it is the only reality they have ever know. They were interested to see Glen's photos simply to find out what he was doing when he was away from the main campus. They were also very interested to find out about blogs and the possibility of writing comments on them, and having one of your own.

This blog entry (batauri-bye-bye.) is what Glen wrote on leaving Fantsuam. It give an excellent balanced account of rural realities, cutting through the images of starvation, desperation and corruption that many of us see most of the time through the media. Earlier entries include photos and are a good resource for anyone wanting to know about real life in rural Nigeria.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Yoghurt and the bull - long term planning

This is a story of how ideas spread and get adapted.

Last year when I traveled out to work with John Dada at Fantsuam I took copies of Mohammed Yunus' book "Creating a World Without Poverty" (given by Chris Macrae).

One of the chapters that particularly appealed to John was the chapter about Danone Yoghurt's social business. In his voluntary role within Fantsuam Foundation John is involved with orphans and vulnerable children, and one thing he tries to do is supplement their diet.

It so happened that during my trip we were visited by one of John's friends who is at a senior level in a Nigerian company which produces yoghurt. We gave him two copies of the book - one to keep and one to share. We suggested he might persuade his company to follow in the social business footsteps of Danone. We could provide lots of the things that Danone had needed
  • Vulnerable children
  • Poor rual area
  • Large distribution network through the field officers of the Fantsuam Foundation micro-credit programme
  • Local cows
We didn't succeed in persuading him to set up a new business - but he did help us to take a step along the way. He is going to help us improve the quality of milk given by local cows. He is providing a bull from a herd whose milk is used for yoghurt production.

Obvioulsy it will take a while to get from the arrival of bull, to the arrival of better quality calves, to their growth into mature adults producing milk for yoghurt - but then Fantsuam Foundation is fimrly rooted in the local community, and is used to making progress through small steps. Those small steps have brought it a long way over the years. It has the patience and perseverance to embrace long term plans.

Yesterday there was exciting news during our (Skyped) Dadamac UK-Nigeria team meeting. John suddenly interrupted our discussions by typing


Fortunately we had just about reached AOB on the agenda - so the meeting closed in haste as the team in Nigeria shot out to welcome the bull - leaving Nikki and me, back here in UK, looking forward to photos.

Happy Birthday Jibrin Perry - Dadamac SDL

Today I got a great email from Jibrin Perry which I share below (with his permission). Perry is a head teacher in rural Nigeria. In September 2009 he was a participant on the Dadamac Self Directed Learners course that I ran at the Fantsuam Foundation Knowledge Resource Centre (KRC). Since then he has been a regular visitor to the KRC, and we keep in contact.
Hi Everybdy,
I am 52yrs today and I feel like 20.Knowing and becoming part of Fantsuam hyas made younger than my age.
It is now that I am beginning to have knowledge.
It is now that my aspirations are higher.
It is now that my vision is clear.
It is is now that I make real friends.
At this age I will continue to explore the world to the fullest, I will struggle to see that my dreams come true. After all life begins at 70

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

CDE & GlueSniffers - Two perspectives on sharing knowledge

Yesterday I was in two contrasting cultural settings, both connected with ICT and education, and both looking towards the future.

I started the day with the London University Centre for Distance Education at the 2008/9 CDE conference held at the Brunei Centre. The theme was Research in Distance Education: from present findings to future agendas. London University last year celebrated 150 years of working in distance education.

I don't belong in any university, but I am pleased to find myself connecting with them. I am a practitioner, not an academic – but I am a reflective practitioner, and I strongly believe that theory and practice should be interconnected and of benefit to each other. Sometimes I am disappointed when I try to make this connection between theory and practice, but yesterday surpassed my hopes and expectations.

I was delighted to find that the research presented was relevant to my interests as a practitioner and related to what is going on now. Perhaps this is because the CDE is researching areas of its own work - relevant to its own practice - so in a way it is both researcher and practitioner. The discussions stimulated my thinking, and as I hurried away from the CDE conference and on towards my evening meeting I was aware of taking new ideas and insights with me.

I was due in Bermondsey at 5.30 to meet with Vinay Gupta, Mark Charmer and others at the initial meeting of GlueSniffers which is about appropriate technology and sharing knowledge.
(The glue refers to joining pieces to form a bigger whole than the component parts). Vinay and Mark had attracted a rich mix of people, so the component parts are looking promising.

The meeting gradually got too large for the small conference room where we first met, so people spilled out into the larger office spaces. By then people had introduced themselves, and got some feeling for how the group connected, so we could usefully circulate, investigating shared areas of interest more deeply.

As well as the people who arrived in person, we had a young American student who joined us on Skype - video. (I assumed he was talking from the USA, until he happened to mention something local, in Peru.) I now realise I didn't learn the name of the Skyping student, I think it may have been Robert, (so that is the name I will use for now - if I learn better I can edit it later).

I'm intrigued by the dynamics and social niceties of online meetings. Robert had been included in the group meeting and Mark had suggested that Robert and I should have a one-to-one discussion later. When people started to break into smaller groups, I asked Mark to give Robert and me some pointers for our conversation, so we would know what interests to start exploring, and I was very glad to have the opportunity to meet him.

Of course, Robert was in Peru (or from my vantage point, he was stuck behind the laptop screen). This made it "difficult for him to circulate". After we had talked for a while I asked him how much longer he could stay with us, and he reckoned about 15 minutes. Everyone else had moved away from the conference room towards the beer and nibbles, so I called a couple of people back to talk to Robert while I went to circulate on his behalf. I went around letting people know that he would have to be leaving soon, so they could choose to go and chat or at least say goodbye before he left. When I looked into the conference room some time after he should have left, he was still chatting, so I was glad I hadn't just said good bye to him and left him “trapped in the laptop on the table”.

There will be another meeting in March (and with any luck that information will be updated in future so it will always help you to track down the next GlueSniffers meetup).

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Retraining after redundancy in the 21st century

The quotes from emails below relate to a proposed course to assist businesses through the economic downturn. There is a request for ideas and my suggestions in reply. My understanding is that the course would be mainly for people facing unemployment.

The request:
................. Meanwhile what I should like to receive help from you is a check list say 5-7 Bullet points of the kind of training/development/ re-skilling/business support programmes that could in your experience be of most definite benefit to this sector....and of course what in specifics a University Business School can and should do to help, support, move on and change the direction of the economy.
The reply:
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Pamela McLean
Date: 2009/2/7
Subject: Re: Help Please

Hi David

An interesting challenge. I decided to think about your course - and came up with the collection of ideas below. It's a bit more than bullet points, but fits your 5-7 items request. I have no idea how long the courses are that you are planning, but the structure I suggest could be adapted for length.

The philosophy behind this course plan is that you must help the participants see that the 21st century really is a "new place to live". The time we are living in is in not "the familiar 20th century - but with more mobile phones and Internet applications added to it". The participants probably can't go back to where they came from. Therefore they must learn something different - and not be given training/re-skilling for a world that doesn't exist any more.

1 - Welcome them to the 21st century and reassure them. (If they have lost their jobs they will be feeling insecure, angry and frightened, rather like people on a journey who have crash landed in a foreign land.) Let them know that this new environment, although it is unfamiliar is an okay place to be - they may even grow to like it.

2 - Help them to see why they are probably not going back - the organisations and organisational structures they came from will be changing form. Help them to analyse what they did and did not like about their previous work situation, and what their ideal world and work situations would be. Help them to look forward in a realistic and positive way to building their futures, recognising that their new lives could be improvements on their old ones, even if they have to make major adjustments.

3 - Get very real - Help them to generate lists of precisely what building blocks would be needed to build the kind of ideal work/life situation they would like in the 21st century for themselves and their children and grandchildren. Then show them how many of those building blocks are already in place - or nearly in place. Encourage them to think of themselves as contributors and collaborators in building this better world. (NB They can start to collaborate on building it even while they are on their course, through their project work)

4 - The 21st century is largely about short term teams collaborating for a purpose. Help the course participants to analyse their own strengths and weaknesses and interests. Do this in the context of seeing what kind of teams they want to join, for what purpose, and then recognising what skills training they need. (This is where the practical skills training comes in. They may well have useful skills that can re-emerge quite quickly if they can find the right collaborative team to join, and are willing to be adaptable.)

5 - Make it practical - get them working in teams, and using a mixture of F2F and Internet based communication methods for their collaboration, so they get confident about working in virtual environments. This is not just a matter of knowing how to "make the technology work" it also has to do with the human factors and understanding some of the subtleties of Internet based inter-actions and collaborations. In this project work you will be training them in the culture of 21st century working practices . They will be learning by doing. It will be a great morale booster if, while they are learning the skills of 21st century collaboration they are also producing something they consider worth while. If the course is long enough some participants may find themselves contributing to "real projects" in collaboration with people who are not part of the training course, but who recognise your participants as potentially valuable to them. This kind of collaboration would be like combined work-experience/extended interview, and could lead to recommendations to join later paid collaborations. (NB "collaboration" is one way of seeing the relationship between customers and suppliers in 21st century - good information flows enable customers to influence what supplier supply, thus collaborating on what is delivered).

6 - Introduce participants to key ideas of 21st century "work for wealth creation". I could give you a list of ones I think important, and why, but you did only ask for bullet points. The key points are valid for people setting up new businesses as well as people working on an individual basis.

7 - Let them know that they are definitely not alone. Show them how they fit in and can continue to collaborate, and communicate and contribute, and continue their own skill development in a meaningful and valuable way, even before they see clearly how their paid work future is going to work out. This collaboration to build the future will be of genuine value in what it creates and will also ensure that people keep their confidence and social networks and have a good ongoing CV. (You may need to explore aspects of unemployment benefit entitlements to make sure your participants do not cause themselves financial hardship by using their time productively after formally completing their course. They may need to lobby for changes in the law regarding what unemployed people are/are not allowed to do. I am not sure of current details, but I know it has been an issue in the past.). By the time the course ends it should be natural for the participants to continue collaborating and supporting each other through the Internet. They should also be confident members of various communities of interest/purpose external to the course.

Hope that helps.

(Dadamac - Knowledge Brokers).

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Recession - learning from last time

People are comparing the present situation with the 1990s and 1930s to see if there are lessons to learn. I think there are. For that reason I offer my own experience of unemployment, and consider how it can be different this time around thanks to the Internet.

I won't write about my experiences first. They are offered more as a post-script - to demonstrate that I write from the heart and from experience, not from theory. I'll start with a statement of what I believe.

I believe that being out of work can be different (less horrible) this time around because one of the worst things about losing your job is the isolation and the Internet overcomes many isolation issues. I don't know how many social networking sites are now focusing on job loss and how to deal with it, but I would guess it is emerging as a major topic.

There are increasing numbers of people, at all skill levels, who will be using the Internet to exchange experiences and information. This networking could be put to good purpose. Yesterday I was writing an email about this in more detail in response to a question about re-training
(copied to my blog here) I have more thoughts but have not yet started to write them.

I believe lots of people will be giving opinions about unemployment, some with little idea of the realities. For this reason I share my unemployment credentials below. I genuinely believe that if the Internet had been around when unemployment was hurting me and my family then the hurt would have been less. I do know about unemployment. (That is one reason I went on a returners course when they were offered in 1999 so I could return to teaching. Then I got involved with Africa which pushed out teaching as a full-time day job.)

Looking back to how things were in the 1990s. I have relevant experience of unemployment and its impact. I remarried in 1990. During the first six months of our marriage my husband and I lost three jobs between us and we then lost our home. (The 1990s were similar to now - lots of job losses, lots of repossessions.)

I have other experiences too.

My first marriage was affected by unemployment. My young children were raised in a rural area and my husband left because of lack of work locally, and was not able to take us with him.

My own work history is varied, influenced by family responsibilities and other issues. I have never had "a career path". I know all too well the dreadful feeling when a job you are depending on is taken from you. I have known it at different levels of job security. My experiences of losing jobs range from seasonal work in the tourist industry to three months notice in a large company - and others in between.

In one training job I had the manager told me he was worried about a phone call he was expecting. If it was bad news we would both be affected. At lunch time he got the phone call he had been fearing. A planned project had been cancelled. He, I, and one other were about to lose our jobs. It was only my second day at work in a new post.

In my first experience of job loss I had been working all season in a local hotel. I was a young Mum and we really needed the extra money I was bringing in. I knew the job would wind down, but I was totally unprepared for the casual comment from the manageress during my tea break "I won't be needing you tomorrow dear." (I was hourly paid - end of story.)

The details of all my job-losing experiences were very different - but the feeling of shock, and unreality, were the same - an almost tangible feeling of blackness closing in, a sensation of separateness, of feeling I was on "automatic pilot" and just observing myself responding. In my memory it is like the memory of being in a car crash - an awful kind of slow motion, unreality, heightened experience, the dreadful feeling of sudden lack of control over what is about to happen.

Then there are the money problems.

There are also questions of identity. Without a job - who are you? What do you say when people ask what you do? Where do you fit in? Who do you mix with? What are you "worth" now that no employer can be found who thinks you are worth anything at all? The person you used to be is no longer of any value in the job market (and we have been taught to values ourselves by our place in the job market).

This is even worse for people who have no family commitments. At least if you are a Mum you can welcome the opportunity to be a full-time Mum for a while, and even make it look like a considered choice on your CV - but of course then there are more people in the family to suffer.

What if you try to re-package yourself, in endless application letters, and no-one wants the re-packaged version either. (In the 1990s I remember reading that on average it took 100 letters of application to land an interview. Employers were said to whittle down the pile of applications by some random rule such as "Reject all typed envelopes (or all handwritten envelopes, or whatever)" - confident that the smaller remaining pile would still have more than enough good people for a short list.

At a time when I was in work and my husband wasn't we would have rows because we'd be invited out as a couple and he wouldn't want to go. Even if it was something we could afford he wouldn't want to go. It was mainly because of the inevitable early question "So.. what do you do?"

Personally I think that question should be turned around, so no-one replies by giving their paid job. After all, it is only an opening conversational gambit (which is a fairly safe one for people who assume everyone is in work). I think it would be better if people always replied by saying what they do in their own time - not by saying what they do in their paid time. Of course that interpretation of "What to you do?" is potentially awkward and embarrassing for people who only have a "paid time" identity - which is arguably as sad as having no job - but that is another issue.

How do you remain employable when you know that "The best way to get a job is to have a job"? It is hard when your main task (other than making ends meet) must be finding work, and your main pre-occupation and identity is that "I have no job, but I must not look like a loser, or I will never get one". I remember going to an employment agency where I thought I was being "positive in my job search but not desperate". The interviewer told me I came over as angry and so she would not be able to place me anywhere. Gradually I developed a life style where I didn't have to rely on one single employer, so I would feel less vulnerable.

Becoming unemployed can be a terrible emotional and financial shock. Isolation and "uselessness" can follow. Using the Internet is the key to it being better this time around. "Rubbing minds" is the first step to using all the unemployed new talent to help create a better post credit crunch lifestyle. Let's actively seek out this influx of newly time-rich people and enable them to share their skills freely for a while and help to create a better tomorrow.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Marcus, Ecoshelter, Ecodome and Attachab

Quick facts and links (at the end) about Marcus/Ecoshelter, Dadamac, Fantsuam Foundation, and Attachab ecovillage.
  • Marcus and I met at PRADSA (Practical Design for Social Action) in March 2008.
  • Made plans for him to come to Attachab through Dadamac (I'm the "mac" half of Dadamac - Knowledge Brokers)
  • Discussed ideas and plans by phone and through the Internet
  • Marcus joined some of the online Dadamac UK-Nigeria team meetings (held weekly using Skype conferencing - typed).
  • September 2008 Marcus came with me to Nigeria, and worked with Dadamac, Fantsuam Foundation and local people to build an experimental eco-dome at Attachab Eco-village.
  • Arrived Abuja early morning Tuesday September 23rd
  • Met by John Dada (who is the "Dada" half of Dadamac - and director of Fantsuam Foundation - an unpaid role).
  • Thanks to the early preparation Marcus hit the ground running - a few hours after arriving he was at the local timber yard, with Dadamac/Fantsuam Foundation team, choosing the wood he needed for his work.
  • Marcus and local "trainee team" successfully constructed small demonstration eco-dome.
  • Local carpenter made straw bale maker under Marcus direction.
  • Straw bale making was demonstrated.
  • Marcus visited other contacts in Kaduna State interested in eco-development.
  • Marcus' contacts from Lagos visited to learn about eco-domes, straw bale buildings, and permaculture.
  • Marcus did a training session on photography and photo-editing, for some of the students at the Knowledge Resource Centre.
  • Marcus was able to do a presentation at the Fantsuam Foundation Knowledge Resource Centre, showing the Attachab eco-dome construction and the bale maker, plus larger ecodomes and straw bale buildings from around the world. (Marcus spoke in English, the photos spoke for themselves, and afterwards John chaired questions and answers and discussion, often in Hausa. Answers came not just from Marcus, but also from the local team who had helped him, so language was not an issue.)
On Sunday October 12th we drove back to Abuja, ready for an early flight home on Monday, just under three weeks after we had arrived. Much useful learning done on all sides. All sides keen to continue the collaboration.

Outcomes and continuing story. Eco-dome will need some final weather proofing (plastering, and perhaps some thatch matting laid over the "roof area") - before the rainy season. Needs more money for that. Eco-dome is popular. It is cool and people feel confident about constucting others. Various people want to have eco-domes, when they can afford them (much cheaper than alternatives). Plans for larger eco-dome and straw bale building when funds allow.

See Cecily's blog dreams-will-come-true for wider view of Attachab and eco-dome.
See videos by Vinay Gupta ref Ecoshelter http://blip.tv/file/1672098, and Ecod0me with Dadamac http://blip.tv/file/1678638