Find meaning through participatory education?

In the spirit of Jane Jacobs and the “In My Lifetime” meme, I thought I would highlight the issue of education. In the last book she published before her death, the cautionary Dark Age Ahead, Jacobs’ points to modern western civilization’s obsession with credentialing and certification, driven by professional aspirations or systems of qualification, at the expense of education. To Jacobs, the decline of broad-minded education is reducing our civilization’s ability to adapt to change, at the same time that change is accelerating and our problems becoming increasingly complex. We would be wise to heed her warnings, as we would have been to heed her warnings about modern/rationalist urban planning in 1961.

I am interested in educational and lifelong learning alternatives that enhance our human capacity for creativity and integrative thinking, which is so sorely lacking and so crucial to our future. Economists and environmentalists must bridge intellectual and dogmatic divides in order to integrate their perspectives on the world and solve some of our most pressing challenges. In a radically globalized “world is flat” economy, any job can be outsourced, not just manufacturing jobs. Value creation increasingly will become contingent on individuals creating unique jobs and new social roles for themselves, rather than following a predesigned career pattern.

Every individual born into this world needs to develop the tools and and skills to navigate this chaos and complexity in order carve out a meaningful and highly individuated path through life. To find meaning. This calls for creativity to be made a central, not marginalized, element of our education system. This student documentary about an open/participatory/experiential/free school is inspirational. (via Boing Boing)

There are interesting parallels to how Open Space unconference practices provide a platform for creativity and inspiration, as evidenced in a community of practice we call BarCamp. And in how Open-Source software projects govern themselves. Participation versus the lecture method; leadership that can come from anywhere; self-organized and self-governing; the close connections between learning, play and the creative moment. Practices such as these are exciting innovations that are gaining increasing attention and momentum. These practices may yet undo the damage of industrial-age education methods and prepare us for a radically altered future and its rapidly accelerating rate of change.

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In My Lifetime

Leila pinged me on this, and I’m taking a moment out to consider the big questions. Free license for idealism…

In my lifetime, I would like to see 3 things happen:

1. A successful transition from the Age of Oil to the Age of Sustainable Development
2. A social, political and economic culture that invests increasingly in community and the creative potential of every individual in society.
3. Technologies used to enable a truly participatory democracy that is both local and global.

My friend Andrew often claims that I am trying to solve the problem of globalization. Hubris? Maybe. But my answer to the skeptics is, “And why shouldn’t I?” My friend Kim often accuses me of being a dirty Malthusian. Not quite, but I see her argument.

We’ve got a few revolutionaries already in the mix: David, Sutha, Ryan, Rob, Tom,
What say you, Deb, Patrick, Brent, Joey and Bryce?


P.S.: Rest in Peace, Jane Jacobs (May 4, 1916 – April 25, 2006). A boundary-crossing intellectual, a true revolutionary, a Torontonian and an inspiration to community-builders everywhere.

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David, Kristin & MarkOriginally uploaded by brycej.

The best part of DemoCamp? The post demo drinks, of course!

DemoCamp5 happened U of T’s Bahen Centre last night, and it was a really good one. I am impressed how this thing keeps on building, getting better with each iteration. DemoCamp newbie Brian has summarized the demos on his blog.

What grabbed my attention and met the threshold of being remarkable?

Blogmatrix and Dabble DB.

Wow. Really. Pay attention to both of these guys. Blogmatrix is integrating an amazing amount of workflow, microformats and mash-able goodness into a blogging platform. Dabble DB rocked my world and made my head spin from the potential applications and its truly disruptive nature.

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Incendiary Accordion Blast

Joey warmed himself up good for a skeptical blast at the ICT Toronto initiative. Leave your comments with him.

I have to agree with Joey, Rob Hyndman and others that it is very curious that an initiative intended in large part to promote Toronto as a tech cluster (to foreign investment, in part) did a launch event before making a reasonable attempt at a web site. With the plethora of cheap/free tools and high quality design talent in this city, you would think that ICT Toronto would have at least setup a nice little WordPress site. Unfortunately, government is even worse than large companies at being agile, adaptable and resourceful.

What we need in this city is meta-innovation: innovations that support innovation. How our public and private sector institutions adapt to a rapidly changing environment will to a great extent determine our collective fate. Agile processes and tools, from OpenSpace to eXtreme Programming, from to wikis, can enable rapid adaptation.

Who is going to lead this? Perhaps instead of BarCamp asking ICT Toronto for support, we should simply offer some help. Could we put together a set of introductory workshops to blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, agile project management, OpenSpace for ICT/innovation/cluster policy people to attend? Probably.

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8 Ideas on the Future of BarCamp Toronto

Tom and I had lunch recently, and conversation quickly turned geeky. (surprised?) We discussed the future of BarCamp/TorCamp/DemoCamp, now known simply as “BarCamp Toronto”. While some of these ideas have been floating around for a while, Tom helpfully summarizes them all in one place for us. I will replicate the list and reconfigure it slightly here:

  1. BarCamp as Talent Well: “Sergey, meet Larry”; “Idea, meet Talent”
  2. Social Microfinance: sub-VC/Angel seed finance; projects identified and validated by the community
  3. DemoCamp Workshop: going deep with critique by self-organized expert panels
  4. X-Prize: awarded for solving a technical problem, or a social/business problem utilizing technology, in a way that creates a public good
  5. Design SlamCamp: a challenge to solve a real-world design problem utilizing a broad set of skills that will find real-world use
  6. Entrepreneurial Accountability: single-minded “garage” entrepreneurs can do amazing things; they can also waste a lot of time and resources on a bad idea
  7. Junior Campers: get ’em young, train ’em and then hire ’em (Bryce would be a great Junior Camp Director)
  8. Do Nothing: don’t mess with success, and let the rest of the world solve these problems

Sign up to attend DemoCamp5 tomorrow (Tuesday, April 25th) to find out what this is all about. If you have a particular interest in the future of the community, come by early or stick around for drinks and join the conversation. Or just leave your comments.

What I find fascinating is how the norms and methods of open-source software development are migrating from the world of code into meatspace and the traditional technology business. Peer-review, open participation and value exchanges for work that go beyond fee/service or employer/employee are characteristics of open-source software projects, and also of BarCamp. Classical economists have difficulty explaining free/open software. They will have similar difficulty explaining free/open community. How do you solve the free rider problem? Why do people invest their social capital? How do individuals get a return on that investment?

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Updated: ICT Toronto Strategy

The ICT Toronto strategy launch event at MaRS marked an important milestone in the development of a vibrant technology community in the city. It wasn’t exactly a barn-burner as far as these events go, but it was great to hear from Mayor David Miller. More of interest to policy wonks and strategy nerds like me than to a broad technology audience, the event brought out a selection of well-suited professionals along with the “dungarees”, i.e. the BarCamp crowd. David, Sutha, Joey, Jay, Bryce and I were noticeably underdressed (Tom always looks good). Joey does a good job summarizing the main elements of the ICT report on the Accordion Guy blog. [Updated]: Rob Hyndman posts some good points here.

The strengths of the Toronto ICT (that’s “Information & Communications Technology” for you non-policy wonks) cluster are formidable. Toronto is the third biggest cluster in North America, next to Silicon Valley and New York. Interestingly, Toronto also has the third biggest entertainment cluster in North America, as well as having a very strong Financial Services cluster. The combination of these assets have the potential to be much greater than the sum of their parts, but there are deep structural barriers to be overcome. During Q&A, I was glad to hear David Ticoll take on one of those structural barriers – the dominance of U.S. transplants in Toronto’s cluster in the context of the acquisition of innovative companies and talent by U.S.-based multinationals.

Retaining and repatriating top tier talent is a theme that keeps appearing in my work, and this to me appears to be one the biggest challenges to be overcome in achieving this strategy’s goals. Companies and talent will go to where the capital, quality of life and the appreciation of their work is. If sources of capital are not sufficiently knowledgeable about emerging technologies and business models, innovative businesses will direct their attention to where they can find that capital. It is natural for innovative firms to look south for the validation and resources they need to realize their commercialization plans. What can the city of Toronto do about this structural barrier? How will the financial community rise to the challenge? How can talent be so embedded into the community that it won’t want to leave?

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A Creative Renaissance?

Excuse my disconnected ramblings, but the many inspirational ideas floating around my mind these days have prompted more questions, and I don’t have the answers. So here they are, in raw form. I hope they spark a conversation.

Community is the framework. BarCamp is a platform. So are mesh, iSummit and NXNE. MaRS is a container. So is Artscape. There is a need for others.

What is the content? Why, it’s the people, of course!

How do these pieces come together? Is some kind of chaotic order emerging from the cacophony of individual voices and organizations with their diverse, and at times conflicting, creative aspirations?

Who will build the superstructure of the Creative City? What is the social infrastructure demanded by creative people of the places where creativity and innovation will arise? How can sustainable investments be made into that social infrastructure in a way that doesn’t try to “manage” these complex and dynamic social systems within a traditional mechanistic industrial- or social-policy approach?

Culture Plan Creativecity

There is a tremendous buzz and a creative vitality building around the city of Toronto. In the future, this period may be seen as the beginning of a renaissance that marked Toronto’s entry into the pantheon of world-class creative cities. Or it may be seen in retrospect as yet another missed opportunity.

Every creative professional owes it to themselves and their community to participate in this renaissance if it is to exist. Create art, teach, start a new business, launch a new product, invest in the creative potential of your community, pass on your wisdom to the next generation, help build something, enter new markets, celebrate our winners, embrace and learn from your failures.

Can we all become city-builders? Can we build our city while at the same time pursuing our individual dreams within it? What is the link between geographic communities and global communities in a World that [may be] Flat? Is creativity a human right? Is there a natural tension between “creativity-as-human-right” and copyright? Can a culture and a society learn to embrace the rebels and the rule-breakers without trying to tame them? Can the creative spark within all of us be looked upon as holy and deserving of respect?

What is the ROI on community-building? Can the economics of open-source software provide some clues?

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The Revolution will be Demo-ized

Go to David Crow’s post to read the good news about a possible future home for BarCampToronto/TorCamp/DemoCamp at MaRS. Leave your comments on David’s post and make your voice heard. And yes, sponsorships are welcome. All the better to keep the conversations going over post-Demo drinks. Contact David or let me know if you would be interested in offering sponsorship. One rule: no exclusivity and no quid pro quo other than your name being attached to the event. The community is not for sale, but all are welcome to contribute what they can.

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Garage Canada, meet Toronto’s Web 2.0 Community

[blogging from What Goes on Behind Closed Doors]

Via David Crow:

Guy Kawasaki’s Garage Technology Ventures lands in Canada. This is a very interesting development for the increasingly vibrant Toronto web startup community, particularly with the links Garage has to Silicon Valley and their strategic focus:

“Typically, we are looking for technologies that are capital-efficient,” he said. “This means they require less than $15-million to get to cash-flow positive.”

Seed stage and a software/web technology focus. I for one welcome this new entry to the Canadian scene. Perhaps somebody from Garage Canada might be interested in attending the next DemoCamp?

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