London Founders Dylan Almano and Kate O’Brien
Our third Cohort of Founders have now finished their three projects with their six Palestinian counterparts.
We would especially like to thank Richard Evans and the Artemis Charitable Trust for their support of our third cohort.
Our London Founders are:
Dylan is born and raised in South Africa and sees the world from two perspectives. He sets his ambitions high and his goals even higher, and is committed to making a positive change in all he does through the use of emerging technologies working on socially focused projects.
Kate is a dyslexic queer woman who was a doctor prior to her education in coding, and with a particular focus on gaining cyber security skills in order to make cyber security more accessible generally. Kate hails from the wilderness of rural Ireland so is “tough as old boots”.
Dylan and Kate worked with six Palestinian Founders on three projects: The Nova Foundation’s app for families dealing with pregnancy and baby loss; The Esmée Foundation’s Quiz App, and and Move, Dance Feel.
Nova Foundation: The first project is for the Nova Foundation, an organisation that seeks to ensure that families at all stages of pregnancy and baby loss, of a child up to 12 months old receive immediate, adaptive, long-term and practical therapeutic trauma and bereavement support. Our Founders sought to work with the Foundation to develop an App that would help with this.
Team: Kate O’Brien Dylan Almano Israa Sulaiman Shorouq Saad
Esmée Foundation: development of a Quiz App to assist individuals applying for funding from the Foundation.
Team: Kate O’Brien, Dylan Almano, Sallam Tanna, Abdallah Ammar
Move Dance Feel: the development of a website to help the organisation appear more ‘professional’ in order to attract more funding and support, as well as facilitate more effective and efficient information management.
Team: Kate O’Brien, Dylan Almano, Nareman Hilles, Ahmed Abdellatif
Our Gaza Sky Geeks Founders are:
Israa has a BA in English Literature. After graduation she worked as a translation and content writing freelancer for a few months, started learning graphic design, then marketing and during my work as SEO specialist in a company in Gaza, she used several tools for analysis and tracking, such as google analytics, facebook insights, and google keyword planner, facebook ads which introduced her to programming. Her curiosity about technology inspired her to learn web development and she applied for GSG’s Code Academy from which she graduated.
Sharouq has a B.Eng. degree in Computer System Engineering, from Al-Azhar University, Gaza. She has a lot of knowledge about computer science, system analysis, programming languages and after graduation in 2018, she joined One million Arab Coders on a Python.
After that she joined the Code Academy cohort 6 in the Gaza Sky Geeks to become a Full Stack developer in order to develop her soft skills such as communication skills, English language, working in teams and using agile methodology.
Abdallah has a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering and shifted to web development after a friend got him excited about games and the products that could be built. He learned the basics of web development himself in order to be eligible for GSG’s Code Academy program and has now graduated from GSG.
Sallam graduated from IUG from Computer Engineering department and after graduation undertook a course in UI design. After finishing that she joined the Code Academy of GSG and is now a full-stack developer.
Ahmed is studying Software Engineering at Al-Azhar University, Gaza and joined the Code Academy in order to improve his skills and knowledge. He loves programming.
Nareman is a graduate of Communications Engineering at Al-Azhar University, Gaza and undertook Java programming. She attended Gaza Sky Geeks Code Academy to further develop her skills which she found a struggle as she was not as proficient as others, but she caught up. She is now a Full-Stack Developer seeking employment and keen to use this opportunity to work with international clients.
The Founders 3 Project reports can be found at:
In July last year, before we had Intersticia UK properly set up, I wrote this post.
We are about to take Brave Conversations to the next level with events in Melbourne, Boston and London.
If we know that alternative futures are possible then we can start thinking about better ones. (Cory Doctorow, What should we do about democracy?)
In my last post I referred to Psychohistory, Isaac Azimov’s fictional science which combines history, sociology and the mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behaviour of very large groups of people – in other words to explore alternative future.
It has been said that the World Wide Web is a portent of precisely such a thing which is why those who invented it created the interdisciplinary field of Web Science.
“Research tries to anticipate time. If you’re reading the Economist it’s interesting facts.” (Luciano Floridi)
Since its public release in to human society the Web has evolved from being a small academically orientated Read Only (push information out) information community to a global publishing Read-Write infrastructure upon which almost 50% of humans interact with each other facilitated by the largest companies of the modern era.
The Web is changing the World, and the World is changing the Web
(see 10th anniversary video).
Not only do we communicate via the Web but increasingly it is becoming an environment where we actually live (Luciano Floridi) and as with all social ecosystems our ability to co-habit as a bunch of evolved apes is dependent on the rules and norms which govern how we act and treat each other.
“Civilization is but a thin veneer stretched across the passions of the human heart. And civilization doesn’t just happen; we have to make it happen.” (Bill Moyers)
In previous eras the relative rates of technical and societal change have been roughly equivalent. In the digital age this is not the case, which is why we created Brave Conversations in 2017.
Brave Conversations is the first non-academic but publicly focused Web Science event to provide people from all walks of life – industry, government, academia, and the community sectors – with the opportunity to sit back, reflect and respectfully explore the socio-technical issues beginning to arise as a result of digital information technologies. It carries on from MetaLounge, our first attempts from 2008 – 2011 to create these types of event, and has now had four iterations around the world; 2017 in Canberra; Dubai as part of the 2018 World Government Summit; London 2018 in partnership with SoapBox Islington, and Kingston, Jamaica in July 2018 hosted by the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission.
At each event I have been humbled and privileged to help facilitate and encourage people to be truly brave in addressing issues which have been both confronting and uncomfortable, but most importantly to feel that at the end of each session they have left slightly more educate and enabled, but most of all empowered, to more proactively navigate and negotiate their digital lives.
Throughout we have continually been asked “what is a ‘brave’ conversation“?
As we were designing the programme it struck us that the most valuable thing we could contribute to the global dialogue would be to intentionally confront people with ideas, concepts and suggestions that they may intuitively be aware of but were unable to explore, understand or articulate in a public space.
Our Canberra event taught us the importance of actively listening to, and integrating the voice of young people. It also demonstrated the benefit of having a diversity of voices in the room, sometimes creating discomfort and tension when language was a barrier, by which I mean those comfortable with technical language and those not. This is why we chose to partner with SoapBox Islington and a huge thanks to James Dellow, Nick Crivello and all the team there for their wonderful hospitality and terrific group of young people who joined us. Thank you also to Tris Lumley, Lydia Hascott and Jo Wolfe for their incredible support and amazing organisational skills in supporting Leanne Fry, Bel Campbell and me throughout.
Brave Conversations London in partnership with SoapBox Islington
“Technology challenges us to assert our human values which means that first of all we have to know what they are.” (Sherry Turkle)
As we were framing Brave Conversations London we reflected on the 2018 Data breach scandals and the calls for ethics to be more proactively integrated in to the development of digital technologies. But which ‘ethics’? Ethics, from my understanding, is relative and is based on how you see the world, what matters and how things fit together. As we explored this we determined that what was more important was to help people focus on and articulate their values as a foundation piece in order to have brave conversations, particularly as the group was quite diverse having a good mix of sexes, around a third under the age of 35, together with a number in their 70s, and one family of three generations.
In understanding the difference I found this to be a very useful overview:
- Values are the basic beliefs that an individual thinks to be true. Every individual has a set of values through which he looks at all things and also at the world.
- Ethics are guidelines or rules that are set for a society or an organization rather than for an individual.
- Values can be said to be the guiding principles in one’s life. ‘Value’ can be defined as a bridge by which an individual makes a decision regarding good and bad, right or wrong, and most important or less important.
- Ethics can be defined as set of rules formulated by a country or a company or some institutions. Ethics is mainly based on the moral values.
We crafted our values framework based on both an interpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs combined with Moore and Khagran’s Strategic Triangle for Creating Public Value. Not only did we frame our questions around the questions of ‘what Can we do‘ (logos, the technology) and ‘what Should we do‘ (ethos, culture) but we also highlighted the need to ask ‘what May we do‘ (pathos, authority).
In addition we created a very simple, but quite informative, algorithm to poll the group about their feelings towards technology asking four questions to elicit their confidence that five potential technology innovations would improve their lives.
This graphic shows the results - a score of -0.18, in other words they were not confident at all.
Whilst the exercise was both crude and we did not have a lot of time to explain it in detail, it was indicative in terms of the general feeling in the room over the two days and the flavour of the discussions that were held.
What we learned in London then informed how we framed the conversations for Jamaica.
“We need to ensure that future citizens have the human capacity to operate in the digital world.” (Dr Andrew Wheatley, MP, Jamaica)
I met Cordel Green at the Harvard Kennedy School and our mutual interest in digital literacy and the need to empower people in the digital world resulted in his very kind invitation to travel to Kingston to hold Brave Conversations.
Not only was I welcomed with open arms but I was almost overwhelmed by the hospitality I was given and a huge thanks to Cordel, Karlene Salmon, Don Dobson and all at Broadcom for giving me such a privileged insight in to Jamaica. Thank you also to Kemal Brown and his wonderful team who recorded it all.
Broadcom is the communications regulator in Jamaica, but not only is it doing that it is taking the lead in educating the Jamaican community about the world of information and both their rights and responsibilities in it. We kicked off with an interview on Smile Jamaica, the opening of the Jamaican Teachers’ Federation Conference, and a radio interview, all of which gave me some initial insights in to this wonderful country.
Many of the conversations I heard in Jamaica were similar to those I hear elsewhere, but with their own unique twist. Jamaica’s history, geography, climate and demographics have created an island paradise from which individuals have always shone on the world stage and of course writers such as Ian Fleming have been at their creative best.
Jamaica’s most pressing challenge is its crime rate. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018 the most problematic factors for doing business in the country are Crime and Theft, Taxes and Corruption. But this links to so many other factors, and what resonated deeply for me was the determination to help young people develop the resources and resilience through both education and opportunity to help change this and determine a different future. This was coupled by the high level of religious affiliation which was proudly displayed and acknowledged.
When I was crafting Brave Conversations Jamaica I wondered what impact this would have particularly as one of the key thinkers we reference is Yuval Noah Harari, whose Homo Deus and interviews directly challenge traditional religions comparing them to the “playing of virtual reality games in order to give humans meaning and purpose”.
It proved to be a core part of the conversations, and an opportunity to push both boundaries and ideas.
Fear and love
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” (Nelson Mandela)
We chose the word brave because any discussion around technology forces us as human beings to confront our deepest beliefs, aspirations and above all fears – how we see and make sense of the world and above all the things we are afraid of losing – from the basics of safety and security, to the intimacy of love.
At each of our Brave Conversations a mini-community evolved within which there was a degree of discomfort, people did have to explore and listen to different, and often challenging, viewpoints, but there began to emanate both a sense of trust and the preparedness to be brave.
“The real existential risk is a loss of the ability to make sense of the world around us: what is worth doing, and what the likely effects of things will be.” (Daniel Schmachtenberger)
Having now run Brave Conversations in numerous countries, and with other invitations in the pipeline, we are keen to do whatever we can to help people better understand and appreciate the new digital space within which they are living.
What I have learned is that if we can provide the framework, the information and safe space for people to take a risk, present themselves as truly curious and smart humans, they will be brave and they willingly embrace the opportunity.
The real question of course is that armed with the insights of research, coupled with the power and communication afforded by our technologies, and with Humanity’s future at stake, can we afford not to be brave?
When everyone agrees on where the future is headed – especially when that destination is so far from our current reality – that’s not a sign of inevitability; it’s a sign that people have stopped thinking. A good time, perhaps, to hike out to some awkward, sideways headland where we can look things over from a contrary angle. (Lee Simons, Wired)
Last week I was hugely privileged to attend the Harvard Kennedy School to participate in their Leadership for the 21st Century programme, Chaos, Conflict and Courage.
I have long wanted to attend a Kennedy School course, particularly as ANZSOG (with whom I taught and researched for a number of years) follows the Harvard pedagogy, with the intimate format, case-based analysis, and working groups. The course was facilitated by Dr Tim O’Brien, himself a Harvard Alumni, who very ably crafted a safe learning space within which the 77 of us were able to both get to know each other as individuals, as well as to understand ourselves a little better.
The course builds on the Adaptive Leadership model developed by Professor Ronald Heifetz which articulates the difference between technical problems and adaptive challenges, and from there describes a set of strategies, tools and tactics to address each. It also incorporates numerous elements of the Tavistock Institute’s Group Relations to enable individuals to understand their respective roles within the a broader organisational system, both in smaller teams and the plenary.
Four external presenters were brought in, each with their own unique perspectives drawn from the world of experience: Farayi Chipungu described her consulting experience with McKinsey; Dr Donna Hicks shared her work based on leading with dignity; Shannon McAuliffe told the story of her work with Roca Inc, and Hugh O’Doherty took us on a journey through the work he has done in peace negotiations globally.
I went to Harvard to soak up the experience of attending one of the world’s leading academic institutions, but also to learn as much as I could from every source that presented itself – the facilitators and presenters, my fellow classmates (one of who was Negar Tayyar, our first Intersticia Leadership Scholar), and of course, myself.
There was much I found extremely familiar about the course – how it was taught, the framing of exercises, the use of cases, and the exploration of individual as well as broader human issues. What made the Harvard experience special were two things: firstly, the calibre of highly intelligent, self-motivated and senior people from all walks of life and virtually every continent around the world; and, secondly the very safe container that Tim O’Brien created and held for us all to work in over the course of the five days.
As we explored the concept of Adaptive Leadership people gradually disconnected from their daily work roles and began to more reflectively explore themselves as leaders – they began to move from the dance to the balcony – one of my favourite coaching phrases! With this came the ability to unpack and more fully understand both the context and any personal stuck issues.
Each person had their own Aha! moment last week, some more profound than others, but regardless of how far along the personal learning journey each of us were, there were salient lessons for everyone as a 21C Leader.
Most people were from the public sector, but there were a number from the Third Sector, which, as I have written in numerous posts, I believe to crucial in championing the human in the world at the moment. Regardless, everyone was struggling with the complexity of the world around them, and the need for adaptability, agility and improvisation. This is where Adaptive Leadership comes in to its own, and where the skills taught at courses like this will be invaluable to all leaders.
However, as with so much of any education in the leadership space, and particularly for senior people, there was only a passing mention of technology (including data and digital) in its own right, let alone the socio-technical challenges which underpin so much of what is happening in the digital age.
As I found at ANZSOG this seems to stem from two things:
- there seems to be a tendency to regard technology issues as separate from the human and social issues, or at least secondary in some way; and
- many academics who teach leadership (and indeed most of the social-sciences) are ill equipped to address the socio-technical issues because they do not themselves understand them, at least this has been my experience up to date.
This is not a criticism, in fact it is a challenge, but one that needs to be addressed immediately.
Whilst we are focusing on giving the next generation the skills for tomorrow it is just as, if not more important, to help the leaders of today who are too often focusing on industrial age problems, often missing, or neglecting, the techtonic shifts that are happening underneath them. All industries, businesses and enterprises are changing, but we don’t necessarily know what that change will mean, and the more we take time out to sit in some awkward sideways headland and reflect and think, the better equipped we will be to meet what is coming at us.
This is the core of our Web Science challenge and why Web Science, in itself, is crucially important, but also unique. It is precisely because in Web Science we understand that
the Web is changing the World, and the World is changing the Web – we live in the age of the Social Machine where there are no boundaries between humans and our technologies.
As Marshall McLuhan said, way before the days of the ubiquitous internet and the Web,
We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.
Our tools and technologies are extensions of who and what we are, but most importantly
as the boundaries between our physical and digital existence increasingly blur, the need to understand, analyse and address the socio-technical challenges will be at the heart of the work of all leaders.
Therefore I believe that the first step for every 21C Leader – regardless of age or stage – is to much more proactively take it upon themselves to study the technologies which are now all around us, to understand where they have come from, and begin to articulate, or at least, explore, where they might be taking us. I had hoped that Harvard might be a little more advanced in this, but sadly not. They are not on their own however.
The second step for every 21C Leader follows on from what I wrote about in my last blog, and that is to figure out how to lead in new and different ways. Much of this is about standing aside and allowing the Web Generation to take the lead, whilst mentoring, coaching and moderating with the benefit of wisdom and experience, and maintaining the authority that is so important. In this they need to hold the space within which the important work needs to happen.
This is where I believe that Adaptive Leadership is ideally suited precisely because
- it sees leadership as a practice not a position
- it recognises that ongoing nature of the challenge of leading, not the problem
- it differentiates between leadership and authority
- it stresses the need to observe and interpret before any intervention
- it recognises the fluidity and ongoing evolution of the systems within which it exists
- it connects with purpose.
It also links to Robert Greenleaf’s ideas around moral authority and Servant Leadership.
Moral authority is another way to define servant leadership because it represents a reciprocal choice between leader and follower. If the leader is principle centered, he or she will develop moral authority. If the follower is principle centered, he or she will follow the leader. In this sense, both leaders and followers are followers. Why? They follow truth. They follow natural law. They follow principles. They follow a common, agreed-upon vision. They share values. They grow to trust one another.
The Leadership for the 21C programme went a long way towards articulating how this moral authority can flow from the Adaptive Leadership framework, and the course was of great value in many other ways.
I would like to challenge the Harvard Kennedy School to itself take the lead and by stepping in to their own authority recognise and integrate the Social Machine into all of their leadership courses, particularly this one.
In a world where we are continually being forced to assert our human values whilst we are bombarded by our screens the most important thing that any leader can do is to protect them with all of the moral authority they can muster, for all of our sakes.
Last week in an article in the Financial Review renown businessman David Gonski talked about the commoditisation of the professions.
Let’s be professional and fight artificial intelligence. (David Gonski)
Gonski is right on a number of fronts, but very wrong on others. He is totally right in that the humans in the workplace need to be human, and deliver ideas with humanity. However, he is wrong about fighting artificial intelligence.
It is too late.
AI may well be the best chance humanity has got to survive. It may be our only hope.
We have extended both our minds and bodies with technology since we walked from the savannah. Our latest invention, artificial intelligence, is set to revolutionise many of the socio-technical systems we rely on every day, and in all likelihood we underestimate the impact that it is already having, and the speed with which it is progressing. It is not the AGI (artificial general intelligence or Strong AI) that is disrupting our world, it is the many and various Weak or narrow AI that is good at doing specific things, and upon which we increasingly rely and daily feed as the Social Machine.
It is the humans that are changing how the world works, not the machines.
This is one reason why we are having our Brave Conversations conference in Canberra in April.
We do need to talk, we need to talk openly and honestly, and we need to talk now.
Why? Because …
AI and robots, like Climate Change, aren’t waiting for us humans to get our heads around the world that is changing, they are marching ahead regardless.
Let’s get a sense of what is going on.
Intelligence has always underpinned human progress and driven our curiosity and ingenuity, and it has been as much a force for good as for evil. With the assistance of our clever intelligence systems – computers and the data we are feeding them – these are just a few of the things that are becoming real in the twenty first century:
All of this is happening because we have developed information systems which enable us to work with data, information and knowledge in new and more powerful ways.
Whilst these things are not yet a part of everyday life they are coming.
As William Gibson said
The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed. (The Economist, December 4, 2003)
That distribution is what is going to determine the future of humanity, because it is going to be those with access to the smartest and most powerful technologies who have the power. We are already seeing that with Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon.
I am listening to many of these conversations as I travel around the world, and it is time that we Australians actively engaged in it, bravely, with courage, and a little bit of daring. We need to consider what we can bring to the table that is different, that is uniquely ours, and not something that we are trying to emulate from elsewhere.
What do we do differently? Here is a short list to start off with:
- we have the tyranny of distance – our distance from the Northern Hemisphere, the US and Europe means that we often watch what is going on via our screens, rather than experience it directly. This both mediates our response but also gives us the opportunity to be less reactive and more objective;
- this distance also means that we are often little more than a sales channel for the multinationals who do very little research here, but we are a great test market;
- we can be innovative, but I believe that most of all we are fast followers – we see how others have done things and we quickly embrace new ideas, adopt new technologies, and then we play with them, alter and amend them, and apply them to new problems;
- we are a young country which is also an island – as a white nation we have never been invaded, however we have built this by invading the lands of others. This gives us a juxtaposition of security versus insecurity,;
- we have amongst us the original custodians of this land, who have, over the last 60,000 years. accumulated wisdom, knowledge and experience about the natural world and the place of humanity in it;
- we have a resilient and robust economy, which seems to be able to weather global crises;
- we have a stable system of government (despite the instability in our politics, and an appalling lack of leadership) built upon the foundations of the Westminster system which itself has endured for centuries;
- we have a strident multi-culturalism and a determination to embrace and accept ideas, cultures and creeds of all kinds;
- we have a young mindset which sits on a very old, ancient and fragile land;
- we inhabit the fringes of our continent, clinging to the edges and are often at the mercy of nature at her harshest with fire, floods and storms. Through this we have a respect for nature which I think other places are gradually losing.
These are the things that I believe we can contribute to the global conversation because they impact on each and every one of us in our day to day lives.
People have asked me what the outcomes of our Brave Conversations will be.
To be honest, I have no idea. But, nor should I. That is not my role. My role is to get the right people in the room together and then let them toss ideas around in a safe and respectful manner, to explore connections and gain insights that they might not otherwise do.
But there are a number of themes that will emerge:
- what is the role of government in the digital age? At present governments around the world are struggling just to keep up, let along provide a framework within which the Social Machine is developing. This is what Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt saw when they went to Gordon Brown and created Web Science.
- what is the economic value of a human as capitalism declines and democracy is in question?
- what is the importance of Web Science, which, as a multi-disciplinary field bringing together the Social and the Machine together, is needed, now more than ever. Whether it is Asimov’s PsychoHistory or something else, the Web has changed the world, and the world has changed the Web. The world and the Web are symbiotic. Web Science considers all actors – human and technical, individuals, governments and enterprise – it is humanity in motion.
I asked Professor Susan Halford about the importance of Web Science and she responded thus:
Finding ourselves in this position raises questions that are both profoundly important and difficult to answer.
- How do we ensure that the Web benefits everyone?
- And what are the business and governance models that would underpin this?
- How do we deal with conflicts of interest, for example between openness and intellectual property, the right to anonymity and policing cybercrime, data based business models and ownership of our own data?
- Artificial intelligence and human accountability?
- As the Web continues evolve in networks of social, technical, legal, political and economic relations we find that none of the existing areas of academic research are able to fully address the profound questions that are raised.
- Whilst computer scientists understand the technologies, psychologists how they impact on human thinking, lawyers understand the legal challenges that arise and sociologists the ways that family life, communities and social identities are changing, any one discipline can only provide a partial answer.
Web Science was established for this reason: to ask the difficult questions, and establish the interdisciplinary capacity to answer them fully.
In these times of rapid change we need leaders who do bring the human skills as Gonski has said, but more importantly, we need leaders who are watching the horizon, who understand the implications of these powerful technologies and appreciate both the risks and the benefits, who can anticipate some of the potential consequences, and who are open to explore humans and society in new ways.
Our technologies are redefining who and what we are. There is no stopping that and, thanks to AI and all that it enables, the humans who walk this planet in 100 years will be very different from those of us who are here now. We have a responsibility to at least try to comprehend what is going on, and to proactively make choices that will benefit future generations, not stick our fingers in the dyke and hope that it will just go away.
Some may doubt that all of this is happening, and many may want to put their heads in the sand. But, as with Pascal’s Wager, it would be foolish to not at least make provision, just in case.
Come join us and make your own adventure (to quote Pia Waugh).
Come and be brave!