The emerging generation is one of hope, awakened and will reboot the way we live – regenerate society as you gain voice, implicitly awakened choices (Professor Lisa Miller).
Yesterday our UK Trustee Louise Sibley and I attended the World Premier of “Lost Histories“, a show based on the family history of Biripi and Gamillaroi musician Troy Russell, created for Musica Viva Australia’s In-Schools Program. Troy, together with Leila Hamilton and Susie Bishop entertained a small group of families from all walks of Australian life as they visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales to celebrate the opening of it’s new Library and Archive as part of the Gallery’s opening of its’ major new development.
This project came about due to Zoë Cobden-Jewitt, now one of our Intersticia Advisors, with whom we started working on our very first Australian project with the Bell Shakespeare Company when they created their Writers’ Fellowship in 2015.
As I sat and listened to Troy, Leila and Susie explore the memory-box holding these Lost History stories I began to think about the stories within Intersticia that we have all created over the past decade. It was at the end of 2012 after Sam, Lock and I had been to the UK in the Summer with my Aunt Joan Doughton (whom our Doughton Scholarship is in memory of) that I first began seriously exploring the concept of creating a family Foundation through which to undertake our philanthropic activities, and the Intersticia Foundation Australia became a reality on 23rd July 2023. Intersticia UK became a Registered Charity on 7th January 2019.
The idea of being able to support younger people as they journey through life began when I was a student at Goodenough College in 1985, but this was further stimulated by a conversation I had with John O’Neil, founder of The Good Life, in 2016. The Good Life evolved from the Aspen Institute, which was created to enable business leaders to take time out to discuss philosophy, ethics and literature as a key part of their own leadership journey. In 2006 two Aspen teachers – John O’Neil (ex AT&T) and Pete Thigpen (ex Levi Strauss) realised that the lessons of Aspen needed to be brought to the tech-leaders and community of Silicon Valley, and so they created Good Life.
When I visited John in Sausalito in 2016 we talked about how important it was for elders with resources to enable and empower emerging stewards and he challenged me to create a Fellowship – a group of people of like mind that I could support in the work that they do to make the world a better place. This is what has guided our thinking throughout the past decade and has informed the people we have chosen and the organisations we work with.
Here is an overview of our major activities in that time.
- We began working with the Web Science Trust and in partnership with them developed Brave Conversations in March 2017.
- We supported our second Rowland Scholar, Hamish Laing.
- We created our first Leadership Scholarship with Negar Tayyar as the first recipient.
- We created Brave Conversations held at the Australian National University in Canberra. From this has evolved into Future Worlds Challenge.
- We continued our partnership with Bell Shakespeare supporting Teresa Jakovich in their Education Programme.
- We supported our fifth Rowland Scholar, Osheen Arora.
- Bel Campbell worked as Intersticia’s Creative Director co-creating Brave Conversations and the development of Future Worlds Challenge and became our third Leadership Fellow.
- We held our first Intersticia Fellowship Retreat at Goodenough College which ten Fellows, both Australian and UK Boards, which was facilitated by Sam Crock and John Urbano.
- We began working with Founders and Coders and Gaza Sky Geeks to create the Founders Programme which supported eight FAC Graduates and fifteen GSG Graduates to work on Tech for Better projects. Our first Founder Fellows being Joe Friel.
- We supported our sixth Rowland Scholar, Timothy Wong.
- We welcomed Nick Byrne as our second Leadership Fellow.
- The Covid 19 Pandemic hit the world severely curtailing travel and all social activities.
- As part of our adaptation forced by the Covid19 Pandemic we created our Digital Gymnasia Series of workshops, initially run through Goodenough College aimed at their Alumni and Student communities, but run out more broadly in 2021.
- The Digital Gymnasia material was integrated in to the Founders and Coders Social Machine curriculum with the help of FAC Graduate Hannah Stewart.
- We held our second Intersticia Fellowship Retreat online with 17 (seventeen) Fellows and 4 (four) advisors (Sam Crock, Marianne Darre, John Urbano, Louise Sibley and Dan Sofer).
- We supported our eighth Rowland Scholar, Sean McDiarmid.
- We supported our third Doughton Scholar, Marco Valerio.
- Louise Sibley replaced Alison Irvine as a Trustee of Intersticia UK.
- We welcomed Marianne Darre and Philip Hayton as Intersticia Advisors.
- Jacquie Crock began working with Intersticia as our first Intern.
- Doughton Fellow Berivan Esen became a Trustee of Intersticia UK.
- For the first time we funded two concurrent Goodenough Scholars, Farahana Cajuste and Sergio Mutis.
- We continued our work with Yalla through creating the Yalla Apprenticeship Programme which supported two GSG Graduates to work full time with Yalla for six months. One is now a full time employee of Yalla.
- We held our first hybrid Intersticia Fellowship Retreat with 8 (eight) UK Fellows and Advisors attending in person at Schumacher College, Devon, and 15 (fifteen) Fellows and Advisors attending via Zoom.
- We began working with Abeer Abu Ghaith, Founder of MENA Alliances.
- Leadership Fellow Nick Byrne joined the Intersticia Foundation Board.
- We supported Gaza’s first Rock Band Osprey V with some funding towards sound and recording equipment.
- We delivered our first Brave Conversations to the Solstrand Leadership Programme, Norway.
- We supported our second Newspeak Scholar, Ardavan Afshar.
- We began supporting the development of a First Nations’ Ensemble through the Musica Viva Australia “In Schools Programme” resulting in “Lost Histories”created by Troy Russell.
- We supported the development of a new theatrical performance “Darkness” with Five Eliza Street, Newtown, Sydney to be premiered in January 2023.
- We supported our eleventh Rowland Scholar, Yujui Li.
- Abeer Abu Ghaith became a Leadership Fellow.
- We welcomed Hannah Stewart as Founder Fellow.
- We welcomed Zöe Cobden-Jewitt as an Intersticia Advisor.
Reflecting on the last ten years it seems fitting that we close the decade by once again working with Zöe on a project in Australia whilst also exploring new initiatives globally as we have always done.
From the beginning our aspirations for Intersticia were always global. Ten years on we have now achieved this working with a range of organisations and supporting a Fellowship of individuals from all walks of life who are all contributing to the crafting of the story of Intersticia.
I would like to thank each and every person who has been a part of this.
An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being (Bertrand Russell).
I was thrilled to be able to participate in the Future Worlds Challenge. On the very first day, I was nervous and excited because I did not know what to expect, but the cheerful and helpful Teachers put me at ease immediately and I was able to follow the class easily and learn the code.
It was super interesting and I was so excited for the next class that I was not able to sleep that night! The next day, we were able to do group work! I was put together with 2 other students from the US (while I live in Singapore) with whom I was able to get along very easily. They were very co-operative and we were able to share ideas about the future with each other with ease.
Thinking about the future has also been really interesting, to be honest here, we should be thinking about the future much more that we do.
The Teachers would always be there for any questions that we would have that helped us a lot.
We collaboratively worked hard on the presentation and did well with it.
Key learnings that I can takeaway from this workshop are:
- teamwork helps greatly brainstorming of diverse ideas and facilitates finding solutions
- some solutions will not require technology but others will and coding using Alexa will be very helpful for those.
This workshop is a great beginning and I am looking forward to more interesting and amazing workshops and classes focusing on problem solving and finding solutions to make the world a better place for us and generations to come in the near future.
It was one of the most amazing workshops that I have attended ever and I would 100% recommend it to anyone else looking to improve their coding and have thought provoking sessions about the Future!
These are the words of Lara, one of the winners of our first Future Worlds Challenge held over the last two weekends of November, 2021.
After years of development and planning we finally launched this event which was conceived as a result of the first Brave Conversations and our commitment to work with young people to help them better develop a Web Science way of thinking about the technologies they use every day.
This first iteration of Future Worlds Challenge was framed around partnering with the Web Science Lab at MIT, specifically the MIT App Inventor team led by PhD Researcher Jessica Van Brummelen. From the outset we determined to work with young people from around the globe aged between 11 – 17 (together with their parents) and craft an experience which aimed at the maximum possible learning for the kids whilst also actively informing and contributing to the MIT Research.
One research paradigm which informed how we approached these events was based on the work of Dr Joseph Henrich and his categorisations of WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialised, Rich and Democratic) verses Non-WEIRD cultural mindsets. Whilst this is a fairly fluid definition as the world becomes increasingly globalised (for instance is Singapore WEIRD or Non-WEIRD?) it was useful for determining the best groupings for our events and also helped determine the time zone categories we used.
Through out networks and promoting through the MIT Research community we had 107 expressions of interest to participate from which we ended up having 45 child-parents ‘teams’ who actually attended. On average the kids were 16 years old with 20 girls and 25 boys coming from Indonesia, the USA, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, India, Iran and Japan.
The event itself comprised two days:
Day One involved a fairly demanding session learning how to programme an Amazon Alexa as one example of a conversational agent.
Day Two was the Challenge itself where we grouped participants in child-parents in to teams of three to four. One of their tasks was to use their newly-minted Alexa programming skills to find out information as well as to work together as a group who had not previously met. This diversity was perfect for getting them all to reflect on the key questions underlying technology and it’s use, particularly those posed by MIT Professor Sherry Turkle.
Technology challenges us to assert our human values which means that first of all we have to know what they are.
The Challenge itself rested on the above model based around three key questions which we held in 30 minute rounds. We asked each team the following and then they had to work to gradually build a concept of their Future World to be presented in the final round.
Round One: How We Think
What are three important mindset changes we could make to ensure the Sustainability of Human Life on Earth? For example: Wealth and Inequality? Population? Lifespan?
Round Two: Our Ecosystem
What are three important environmental changes we could make to ensure the Sustainability of Human Life on Earth? For example: How we use energy? How we feed ourselves? Where we live?
Round Three: The Technologies
What are three important technological changes we could make to ensure the Sustainability of Human Life on Earth? For example: How we build our cities? How we manage information?
Final Round: Future Worlds
Each team had 5 minutes to present their World and we judged each of the presentations on the following:
- Does your world make sense?
- Is it realistic?
- How would Conversational AI support your World?
- Do you believe in it?
We were blown away by what these young people came up with in a very short space of time and some focused thinking. They worked together beautifully, shared ideas and the ability to contribute, and were considered, thoughtful and clear thinking in their approach.
If Lara’s words reflect the experience of other participants then we are thrilled with how this first Challenge inspired them to think and hopefully have ongoing conversations with family and friends.
Our huge thanks to all of our participants, and particularly to Jess Van Brummelen and all of her team at MIT App Inventor. One key researcher, Claire Tian was a real trooper joining Jess at 5 am in the morning and generously gave her time and support to everyone with their coding adventures.
Thanks also to Katrina Meggitt who stepped in as our Event Manager and juggled childcare, new jobs and torrential rain to help us get everyone organised!
We are now planning more Future Worlds Challenge events for 2022. Please spread the word and check out the Brave Conversations website for our next steps.
We created the first Brave Conversations in 2017 but it had a long genesis and followed on from a series of events which we called Meta held between 2008 – 2011. (Funny as I think of how Facebook has now rebranded itself to exactly the same name but for entirely different reasons!)
Our “Meta” events were so named because they focused on metadata, which is essentially, data about data. The objective was to bring people from different perspectives and backgrounds (academia, business and government) together to explore the symbiotic relationship between humanity and technology as digital technologies become increasingly pervasive in everyday life. At these early events we were joined by the early thinkers and practitioners in what we now recognise as the Web Science space, but the conversations were far from mainstream. That has taken time and there’s nothing like a global pandemic, countries in lockdown, and everyday living moving online to kickstart the adoption of new technologies!
So, here we are a decade after our last Meta event and having developed and taken Brave Conversations around the world and online and it’s time for us to create something a little different, something targeted at the emerging leaders in our society and those for whom being online is just taken as given – those born in the 21st Century.
Our early Brave Conversations events attracted a number of young people, sometimes with parents and even grandparents, and Brave Conversations Kingston Jamaica was especially targeted to this demographic. Since that time we have been developing an idea to gamify the process of learning about Web Science and the ‘theory and practice of the Social Machine‘ but it wasn’t until we met MIT researcher Jessica Van Brummelen that it all came together with the result being Future Worlds Challenge.
Jessica is an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science PhD student at MIT researching how conversational agents can empower and teach young learners about AI.
What are conversational agents?
According to IBM:
Conversational AI refers to technologies (chat-bots, virtual agents) which interact with users via speech and uses large volumes of data, machine learning, and natural language processing to help imitate human interactions, recognizing speech and text inputs and translating their meanings across various languages.
Jessica’s research focuses on empowering young learners through helping them develop conversational AI development skills and engaging them in discussions about the ethics of AI. (You can find out more about this work here). Once we met Jessica we knew we had the perfect partner to hold our first Future Worlds Challenge and so we now have two events planned for the end of November, each targeting a different time zone and audience.
Each Future Worlds will comprise the first day of learning to programme an Amazon Alexa using MIT App Inventor and then the second working in teams, each with their own Amazon Alexa, to undertake the Challenge itself.
What is Future Worlds Challenge?
There are so many challenges facing humanity at the moment – climate change, the future of education, health care, governance, work-life balance. The idea of Future Worlds Challenge is to help participants working in teams to think through some of these issues from a systems perspective considering each of the following and how they interact with each other and with the global system as a whole.
- Intrapersonal – What are the systems within ourselves: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual?
- Interpersonal – What are the systems between ourselves and others in our family, community?
- Societal – What are the systems at work within a society?
- Global – What are the systems at work in our relationship with the natural world?
We will combine this thinking with each of the following domains in order to explore the options and choices which are presenting themselves, and then each team, armed with the power of their Conversational AI Alexa, will work towards creating and presenting a Future World which they believe would be the most sustainable and beneficial for humanity.
The winning teams will then be invited to join us (virtually) for our Brave Conversations Barcelona event at the forthcoming ACM Web Science 2022 Conference hosted by Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain.
At this stage we have over 100 people from all around the world who have expressed their interest in participating but there are still places left so if you or someone you know would like to come along please register your interest here.
We began our partnership with Founders and Coders in November 2018 by supporting the Founders Programme. The objective was to give Founders and Coders (FAC) and Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG) Graduates some practical industry experience as well as the opportunity to work on projects which had social impact. Over two years Intersticia funded three cohorts of Founders each comprising two graduates from London over three months who worked with three teams of Gaza (one team per month) from the Gaza Sky Geeks Code Academy on Tech for Better projects.
One outcome of the Founders programme has been the creation of the Yalla Co-Operative, a start-up Web Design and Development Agency formed by Joe Friel, Simon Dupree and Ramy Al Shurafa, with Simon working in Berlin, Ramy in Gaza and Joe in London. Our second Founders cohort, Kristina Jaggard and Oliver Smith-Wellnitz, acted as Class Co-Ordinators of FAC 18 and Kristina has now started working with Yalla in Berlin.
As we reflect on the programme and what we have achieved it is time to move to the next phase.
In London Founders and Coders has recently been granted the status of a UK Registered Apprenticeship Training Organisation which means that in addition to the Coding Bootcamp FAC is in a position to work more closely with employers by providing on the job training as well as coding skills. (FAC has developed guidelines for their programme which can be found here.)
In early 2020 as Yalla were exploring how to further support their Gaza team the idea began to emerge of Yalla itself taking on Apprentices which would provide GSG Graduates with ‘on the job’ experience whilst also helping Yalla to grow as a business.
This very much fits in with Intersticia’s desire to deepening our connection with existing Fellows whist also strengthening our impact on the projects we undertake. By continuing to invest in both the GSG Code Academy graduates as well as Yalla as an young start-up enterprise we can created a prototype programme which demonstrates the ability of a company to work collaboratively from both Europe and Gaza whilst also continuing to give opportunities to Palestinian graduates.
The idea is that Intersticia UK will fund Yalla to create such a programme whilst also drawing on GSG’s mentoring network, FAC’s support through logistics and administration, and Intersticia’s coaching and mentoring expertise. Once developed and tested then Yalla and GSG can take the concept to other partners and employers around the world.
How it will work
As with most things Intersticia we are making it up as we go along – there is no tried and tested model for this, nor are there other examples we can draw lessons from. Yalla is a rare entity in it’s UK-Europe-Gaza partnership structure and this would be no different, but that is why this is the perfect philanthrophic opportunity.
Yalla have crafted a very comprehensive plan for the Apprenticeship Programme which is now being refined and, as we proceed, will evolve as we all learn.
The primary aim of the programme is to provide two recent graduates from the Gaza programme to earn a living wage while also gaining experience in a real life agency and practicing the hard and soft skills that they’ll require for meaningful employment.
Secondary aims are:
- To provide many recent graduates with the experience of applying for their first employment opportunity within the field of Web Development
- To provide the opportunity of permanent employment to new graduates living in Gaza
- To support recent graduates in building the leadership skills that they need to work with clients either as a part of, or independently of, Yalla (soft skills, project management, confidence in spoken and written communication, experience in remote working)
- To support recent graduates in building solid portfolios that showcase their interests and strengths
- To provide recent graduates with a chance to acquaint themselves with the technical skills which are commonly used before moving on to billable work
- To build a sustainable apprenticeship programme that can eventually be promoted to other organisations
Our Founder Fellow Kristina Jaggard will act as the Programme Facilitator and the application and interview process will take place in April 2021 with the programme commencing in May 2021.
As always Intersticia works in the space where things are ill-defined, a bit messy and always challenging – the space where all things are possible. During our conversations with Yalla over the past two years it is apparent that they have sufficient technical skill to give the Apprentices their ongoing technical and business experience but there is much more we can offer in the area of coaching and help with the ‘soft skills’. To this end we will be helping with the Interview process and then working with the Apprentices during the six months of their Apprenticeship. In addition we have engaged Ahmed Elqattawi, an English/Business coach and mentor working with Gaza Sky Geeks and who served as my translator for Brave Conversations Gaza, to join the team as our Gaza based resource and advisor.
It has been an enormous privilege to work with FAC, GSG and Yalla over the past few years – this new initiatives takes our work to the next level truly demonstrating the potential of a small, agile and innovative project to have broader implications whilst enabling and empowering individuals to change the world.
There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. (Vladimir Ilyich Lenin)
“May you live in interesting times” is an English expression that is claimed to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse
2020 has certainly been interesting.
As we have all been hunkered down in our respective homes around the world locked up in various level of Covid tier we have connected as never before, created new ways of supporting our Fellows and others with whom we work, and truly begun to embrace the world of digital media that has been at the core of our beliefs about what is needed for 21st Century Leadership.
Intersticia exists to develop and promote digital fluency and develop smarter humans in terms of how we proactively create, manage, harness and utilise digital technologies.
We do this primarily through the following activities:
- We identify, support, nurture and encourage individuals through our Scholarships and Fellowships
- We work with like-minded partner organisations to support entrepreneurship and innovation
- We hold public events with a specific aim of promoting conversations and building skills in digital literacy and leadership
In the 2019 – 2020 year we built on the foundations that were laid in our first couple of years of existence and, powered by the opportunities afforded by the Pandemic, we have been busier than ever. At the end of 2019 I felt that we were completing the work of our first Horizon, developing our Fellowship; clarifying who we are, what we do and how we do it, and creating our partnerships.
As we embark upon 2021 our second Horizon is becoming clearer.
Identify, support, nurture and encourage individuals through our Scholarships and Fellowships
From the outset Intersticia has sought to identify and support emerging leaders who are a little different, are prepared to take risks, are generous of spirit and have a deeply ingrained need to make the world a better place. I am often asked how we find our Fellows and those we choose to support.
The first filter is through our values which are those of authenticity, integrity, persistence, courage and grace. We look for these in how people approach us, how they present themselves, how they interact with the world and the sorts of things they value in life. These are what drive those of our current Fellowship and manifest in how they demonstrate their individual leadership.
The second is our belief that Intersticia is a community. We are not a leadership development or training organisation, nor are we a Charity that ‘sets and forgets’. Our intention is to recruit and embrace individuals who will contribute to and expand the work that we do both individually and collectively, and as a group collaborate to bring about positive change.
The third is the filter of need. There are many who apply for our support who come with worthy ideas that many other organisations will see merit in, and we often encourage them to find those organisations. As a small organisation our interest is in those people who often fall through the cracks, who often straddle multiple disciplines and who don’t fit neatly in to one category or another. These people provide the hidden connections which we see of great value.
We now have 21 people we have supported through Scholarships and Bursaries and of these 19 have been made Fellows (see https://intersticia.org/fellows/).
However, bringing people in to our Fellowship is just the beginning, and one thing that our work thus far has demonstrated is that it is not broadening our reach which is important, but deepening our connection and strengthening our impact. Of those we support some choose to continue being a part of, and contributing to, our community, others choose not to, which is their choice.
For those who stay with us there are four main areas that we have begun to focus on:
- helping our Fellows develop their own Authenticity as emerging 21st Century Leaders
- creating our Fellowship as a Community that shares experiences and learning
- supporting our Fellows to find their Voice in the stories they tell and work that they do
- harvesting these factors to build a collective Resilience in their work and individual lives
This year we have not been able to come together as a group physically but we held our 2020 Retreat online and appended this with Small Group sessions which continue in to 2021.
We have embarked upon a series of Intersticia Brave Conversations interviews with each of our Fellows produced online and available throughout the community. As a complement to this we have begun working with our Fellow Jess Chambers in her professional capacity as a Voice Coach to give all within our community additional skills in how they present themselves publicly.
Finally we have expanded our group of Advisors with the contribution of key individuals who are willing to help and support our Fellowship group. These people have been incredibly generous with their time, energy and enthusiasm – without them we couldn’t do all that we do.
Work with like-minded partner organisations to support entrepreneurship and innovation
We also could not do the work that we do without leveraging the partnerships that we have, in particular Goodenough College, the Web Science Trust, Founders and Coders (FAC) and Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG). It is through these organisations that we have been able to find new opportunities and innovative projects.
Our support of the Founders Programme began our formal partnership with both FAC and GSG and has resulted in three cohorts of Founders from both London and Palestine, and our first cohort of Founders (Joe Friel, Simon Dupree and Ramy Shufara) has created the first spin out in Yalla, “a Web Design and Development agency which helps non-profits and impact-driven businesses drive positive social change in the tech sphere”.
In 2021 we aim to take this to the next level through the development of a pilot Apprenticeship Programme with Yalla employing two Gaza Code Academy Graduates.
Hold public events with a specific aim of promoting conversations and building skills in digital literacy and leadership
From the outset Intersticia has sought to operate within the interstice between society, culture and technology, the space of the Social Machine.
Our flagship activity is our Brave Conversations events which seek to educate the general public about the Social Machine and act as an Outreach activity for academic research of Web Science. We have now held events around the world, and, with the opportunity afforded by Covid in 2020, online.
Our plan for 2021 is to build on these foundations to further expand the footprint encouraging a greater partnership with the Web Science Trust and its network of Web Science Labs, beginning with our second event hosted by IIIT Bangalore in February 2021. We will also be an integral part of the 2021 Web Science Conference to be held online in June 2021 and intend to integrate content from the Web Science Untangling the Web podcasts in to our activities.
All of our events are listed below and on the Brave Conversations website.
2020 Brave Conversations Kav Mashve
2020 Brave Conversations Arabic/English
2020 Brave Conversations Southampton Online
2020 Brave Conversations Gaza
2020 Brave Conversations Bangalore
2019 Brave Conversations London
2019 Brave Conversations Boston
2019 Brave Conversations Melbourne
2018 Brave Conversations Kingston
2018 Brave Conversations London
2018 Brave Conversations at the World Government Summit Dubai
2017 Brave Conversations Canberra
Digital Gymnasia Series
In a ‘normal’ year we would usually hold a series of workshops at Goodenough College to promote digital literacy and digital skills to current students of the College. Given the restrictions on travel we have instead now developed our Digital Gymnasia Series which has been delivered throughout 2020 to students and Alumni of the College around the world. In 2020 we developed and delivered eight workshops which attracted between 20 – 30 attendees each time. In 2021 we will be delivering an additional four Gymnasia to the Goodenough community in 2021 on the topics of Building Digital Brands, Demystifying AI, Facilitating Online and Digital Governance. All of these are now being recorded to be made available online to the general public, especially the Boards of Charities and Not-for Profit organisations.
2020 has taught us the value of our networks and connections, whether they be IRL (in real life) or via the virtual medium. What I have found is that whilst I have been ‘grounded’ in my physical space here up on Pittwater and have connected more frequently with my local neighbours and community, I have been much more active with a broader range of people around the World and my Global community. I have spoken to my family and friends more often, I have held more meetings and I have been more productive than I have ever been. Through this I believe we have been given the opportunity to deepen our relationships this year, particularly with our Fellows and Advisors, who have all brought their personal experiences and challenges of negotiating and navigating through 2020 and shared without hesitation.
We have been given the opportunity to slow down and consolidate rather than madly race around looking for new adventures and shiny new distractions, and for that I am extremely grateful.
So what comes next? We have talked about our planned 2021 Retreat in Devon and following that we plan to take our Fellows to walk through the Sinai Desert led by our Advisor Louise Sibley. These face to face activities where we don’t have to rely on words but can commune as a group of humans physically together are now more important than ever. As are our ongoing Brave Conversations events where we ask our Fellows to share their thoughts about the work they are doing and perhaps the theme for 2021 may be “Brave Conversations Unplugging” as the World gradually unfreezes from it’s Pandemic state (thanks to Sam Crock for that idea).
More on that to come!
Emergencies fast-forward historical processes. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. (Yuval Noah Harari)
For the past few years I have been delivering Digital Skills workshops to interested students at Goodenough College, but the travel restrictions of Covid 2020 means that I’m stuck in Australia and so, like everyone, we’ve had to come up with new solutions and ways to engage.
The flip side is that Covid has brought about ‘the digital moment’ and we are all now participating in probably the largest global experiment as we harness digital media to remain connected, to craft new ways of staying in business, and to keep the wheels of industry turning.
With this in mind Goodenough College Dean Alan McCormack, Alumni Director Hannah du Gray and I decided that it was the perfect time to reach out beyond the current student body to all of our Goodenough community around the world and offer them the opportunity to more consciously think about the digital tools that they work with, and begin to develop some real digital muscle in order to more safely and securely navigate and negotiate our lives online.
Thus was born our Digital Gymnasia, a series of workshops where the emphasis is on education, play, and skill building through conversation and coaching and where we can explore some of the questions and issues which arise in a safe and non-judgemental space.
The Ancient Greek Gymnasia were places for physical activity but also places for intellectual pursuits and philosophical discussion. The word gymnos comes from the Greek unclothed which implies not just nudity but also a vulnerability and a need to exercise in order to attain skills to better prepare for the world around. The Romans continued the idea of the gymnasia with their Baths and we still use the term for both exercise facilities but also schools.
As I thought of what to name the series of digital literacy workshops that have emerged over the past few months the idea of the gymnasia seemed most appropriate. What we need at this time is not something to cure an illness or seek treatment but a space within which to play and test the equipment around us in order to build our confidence, capacity and capability in using it to live better and more fulfilling lives. In short we need to exercise our digital muscles in order to both safely use the equipment and, even better, successfully compete in the digital games that now surround us.
We have become digital in the last few years (especially with our phones) as well as physical beings. There is nothing in physical experience that can fully equip us with what that really means. (Doc Searls)
The tools of the Digital era have been gradually evolving but pre-Covid the legacy and stickyness of Industrial Age thinking has persisted – just consider the World Economic Forum’s idea of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. I would contend that whilst we still live in an ‘industrialised economy’ ever since the birth of the Internet and the Web we have been moving towards a Network Economy.
The Pandemic has provided both the need and the curiosity for many to explore the digital realm in new and unexpected ways. Up until now we have largely been retro-fitting the way we do things in the physical space in to the online environment – insisting on having conferences and events from 9 am t0 6 pm and not taking account of the affordances of the digital medium and how that impacts our emotional and mental needs or reactions. This is still happening but gradually we are becoming more confident and creative and what has surprised and delighted me is how creative people are becoming at working with the online tools – the democratisation of the digital space is enabling and embodying new creative solutions and expressions.
One example of this is Ruby Wax’s Frazzled Café which provides peer support meetings online. Ruby started her in person meetings at Marks and Spencer cafes but Covid has forced them to go online. When I asked her what she will do then some sort of ‘normality’ returns Ruby told me in no uncertain terms that the online Frazzleds will continue because they are so powerful and can reach so many people.
Ruby, and many like her have found the confidence to go online, to a space that they may not have felt comfortable operating in, but bit by bit they are experimenting and developing their digital muscle.
But as with all new exercises and fancy gym equipment it is often best to start off with an instructor, and that is what we are seeking to do with our Digital Gymnasia.
The format of Digital Gymnasia
Our first Digital Gymnasium focuses on the topic Digital 101, a session designed to explore how the socio-technical systems around us have evolved in order to understand where they are now in 2020 and imagine where they might be going. We focus on a brief history of information technologies coupled with some hands on exercises to determine peoples’ levels of digital literacy and awareness.
The second Digital Gymnasium focuses on The Digital Agora where we explore the world of online community spaces and how they are enabling us to remain connected despite the global lockdowns and quarantines. We begin by considering the affordances of digital interaction technologies and what benefits they provide as well as their limitations and consequences.
The third Digital Gymnasium focuses on Your Digital Brand and how we each craft our presence online. This session is built upon the work I have done over the past 2o years (and resulted in my PhD research, see here and here) which at the core considers how our lives online produce our ‘brand’. Our aim here is to really think about how we are perceived by others online.
The fourth and fifth Digital Gymnasia focus on Protecting Yourself Online and provides an overview of tools and techniques to better deal with online safely and security. Our aim is to get people actively engaged with their online security and more fully begin to understand the idea of digital identity.
The sixth Digital Gymnasium focuses on The Politics of Digital Technologies with an overview of how governments around the world are utilising digital surveillance technologies and systems in the name of Public Health. At the core of this is the concept of Trust which is multi-layered and an expression of our cultural norms and expectations. It is also a clear example of the lack of digital literacy and awareness in the Pubic Sphere.
The seventh Digital Gymnasium focuses on Seeing the World through Data – how data drives everything around us and why this is important. Data has been described as the new oil of the digital economy, but there is a lot more to it than that. In order to build digital muscle we need to understand what digital is made up of (think of how we monitor our diet through exercise) and data is the source. This workshop seeks to demystify the idea of data, information and knowledge to more effectively work with it as our digital systems evolve.
Our final Digital Gymnasium focuses on what being Born Digital means – how digital businesses differ from traditional bricks and mortar ones, but also how they are changing and what this means for the future of work, education, health care and many other aspects of our everyday lives.
These workshops are an opportunity for me and my colleague Leanne Fry (with whom much of this material has been developed and who has lived through the digital transformation of the past two decades with me) to reflect on the work we’ve done and to offer what we’ve learned to others in a way that we hope is useful, empowering and entertaining.
We would love you to join us.
If you are interested please just contact me.