Thinking Uncategorized

Five narratives of the UK riots. A round up of links on the what, how, who, why, and what happens next?

I live not far from Gold Command, which as Sky News excitedly informed me on Monday night, is where the planning for the policing of riots or civil disobedience. And I thought it was a car park.

As of this morning, there are still a load of hire vans parked along the streets nearby – presumably used to bus in all those extra bobbies for London. They’ve had a busy week.

I wanted to record some of the bits of writing I’ve found useful in understanding the events of the last week, as well as some of my scattered thoughts. Helpfully, these thematically arranged themselves into the following groups.

The story of what happened

Paul Lewis runs through this well. He writes with a breathlessness which well reflects the way the stories were reported. His technique involved donning a hoodie and biking from incident to incident, but there were so many different reporters (and citizens who picked up camera phones and started tweeting) around London that the news came constantly, including this pretty brave stuff from a Sky reporter in Clapham on Monday night.

At the time, the more you read or watched, the scarier events often seemed. Particularly by Monday night, endless loops of burning buildings on the rolling news channels, rumour as well as trustworthy updates on Twitter and Facebook, live blogs from most of the newspaper websites, as well as texts from friends around London, all added up into a hyped news bubble. By around 10pm on Monday, #prayforlondon was the third highest-used phrase on Twitter, worldwide.

Some of the examples from Storify (timelines of tweets) show how the narrative of the riots developed through both offline and online media, each feeding the other.

The Wikipedia riots page is a good effort at trying to gather all of the events from this strange last week.

The story of how social media affected the riots

Live news reporters were quick to suggest that social networks were somehow involved in organising the riots. ‘The twitter’ was often mentioned by studio hacks who knew not of what they spoke. How else would so many people know to assemble in the same area at the same time, often swiftly changing locations? But urban youth don’t use Twitter, they use Blackberry Messenger, as Mike Butcher showed in this article for TechCrunch.

And so began the fairly tortured narrative around social media and riots.

One of the suggestions has been that the government should gain new controls on social media.  This has been met with predictable disdain from democracy campaigns and technologists.

It seems odd that the vast majority of politicians apparently still don’t grasp social media. Especially since, when MPs were dramatically recalled to debate the riots on Thursday, they then launched into discussions that had already taken place in a more nuanced, advanced fashion online. Twitter itself is a form of parliament. A giant town hall meeting. We sit under the tree of Twitter and debate. MPs should be engaging with their constituents through it. There’s just no need for them all to rush to the same location. And still be late on the uptake.

It’s the people that matter, not the platforms. It allows information, true or false, to spread faster and wider. Except that it also leaves a data trail, in a way that speaking on the phone or in person wouldn’t.

And without social media, communities might have struggled to organise some of the more humane elements in the riots:  #riotwombles cleaning up Clapham, financial assistance for the Malaysian student mugged while seriously injured and to the 89-yr old barber whose shop was trashed, and, as my colleague put it, the ‘digital stocks’ of Whether or not the riot wombles actually did much clearing up (mostly they seemed to wait around for police forensics teams to finish) they helped show that there were two sides to the community – and showed the rioters that there was a large body of people affected by their actions.

More importantly perhaps, social media allowed trusted local bloggers/tweeters to be extremely useful in identifying what was happening in immediate areas – down to individual postcodes – providing much more geographically relevant information than national news could.

How it stopped

This has become another disputed story of the riots – a bit of a spat between police and government over who was responsible for the orders of extra police on to the streets. Top police officers claimed that they would have done so without politician involvement.

But by flying back and giving dramatic speeches, including mention of ‘more robust policing’, politicians created expectations and impressions of gravity, which may have helped changed the mood in the rioters’ communities and networks. Even if it seems unlikely that many youths watched Cameron’s speech, their parents may have done, or at least sensed that repercussions would get more severe, so hauling their children back home on Tuesday night (in London at least).

The story of who was involved

Pictures tell a thousand words. The first images of looters shown on TV seemed to only feature teenagers. It quickly became accepted truth that the looters were urban youth, acting in anarchic fashion. News reporters talked of ‘a child of only [any age between 7-14]’, but when you looked at more of the pictures coming off CCTV, it’s obvious that wasn’t only the case. It was also reported, especially in Manchester, that kids were being organised by older members of the community.

Ideally, the data from the magistrates courts across the country would be pooled and analysed, as the BBC showed with Camberwell Green (but only 55 cases from the 2,000+ arrests). The Guardian datablog post is being updated as I write. It shows a large majority of those charged being between 11-24.

The story of why it happened

And this is the biggie. In positive psychology, you’re sometimes asked to ignore the ‘why’ question – it often doesn’t help the immediate situation. By dwelling on the why, you simply get stuck in the same negative cognitive cycle. For example, ask a young rioter why they did it. They’re not going to have any good answers.

But this has been where some of the most thoughtful writing has come from. One of the best being this article from Peter Oborne. He writes with fury and a passion with which great journalism does. One suspects he will not be invited back to any Kensington dinner parties any time soon. The article has received over 4,000 comments online.

the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society”

The BBC have another ’10 explanations for the riots’ which includes a fairly broad spectrum of theories. Their list includes the ‘check out the price of failing to care’ argument of Camilla Batmanghelidjh, CEO of Kids Company, a London charity for children, as well as arguments ranging from ‘weak’ policing, to American rap music (rioters referred to the police as ‘Feds’).

The other debate this week has been about cuts to policing, youth clubs etc, as opposition politicians try to carefully, or not so carefully (Ken Livingstone), gain political capital. Their cause may have been helped by this prophetic Guardian video, warning of riots due to youth club cuts, which swiftly went viral after events in Tottenham.

And the story of what happens next

The attention span of journalists, editors and ultimately news consumers is notoriously short. While a story as dramatic and visceral as riots is likely to hang around, over time another story will come along, elements of what happened may be forgotten.

News moves on, society must not.

If you want to help prevent this happening again, get involved. Volunteer. Get to know your community by working for it. Mentor a child. This is hugely rewarding and is incredibly valuable to the children involved. Charities that do this include Chance UK, who work in Tower Hamlets, Lambeth and other poor areas around the UK and whose programme I can recommend. The Mayor of London is also promoting a mentoring scheme, and Kids Co, mentioned above, also run mentoring projects.  This stuff is proven to work.

You hope that events like these wake everybody out of ignorance or moral stupor. To change things. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Thursday:

I believe that this is a moment which we must seize, a moment where there is sufficient anger at the breakdown of civic solidarity, sufficient awareness of the resources people have in helping and supporting one another, sufficient hope (in spite of everything) of what can be achieved by the governing institutions of this country, including in Your Lordship’s House, to engage creatively with the possibilities that this moment gives us. And I trust, My Lords, that we shall respond with energy to that moment which could be crucial for the long-term future of our country and our society. 

We’ll see.

Thinking Uncategorized

Do It Yourself Foreign Policy: notes on @SlaughterAM’s talk at the Personal Democracy Forum 2011

Much of what this blog’s going to be about is not actually technology.

The technology isn’t the important bit – it’s what the tech allows us to do. And right now, that’s about social networks. And connections. And everything Anne Marie Slaughter talks about in her Personal Democracy Forum 2011 talk below.

I liked it so much it’s this blog’s first post. Here’s a very quick precis of Anne’s talk:

  • until now it’s essentially been a small clicque of men who drive foreign policy, each representing one nation and fighting for its own separate interests
  • today we don’t start from separation, we can start from connection. Now you define who you are in relation to others.
  • the world of nation states still exists, but there are growing number of charities, social action groups, civil society groups, religious groups, private corporations, trying to get involved at the global level. At the big institutions, these are called non-state actors. As Clay Shirky says: ‘calling these things non-state actors is like calling an automobile a horseless carriage.’
  • women get this better than men. Women have often been defined by their relationships, or define themselves that way, see feminist Carol Gilligan – today there is also a generational gap in this way we perceive ourselves.
  • so now we have governments and a growing set of social actors, connected in ever-changing ways and ever changing identities.
  • Christakis and Fowler showed that you can join up individuals in different ways: connect in a linear fashion = bucket chain, telephone tree = efficient dissemination of information, etc
  • the Mr Y article (full pdf) written by two senior members of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, essentially says the world has moved from a closed system to an open system, and in an open system, having power means having credible influence. We can no longer control by force. The US has to (again) be the most connected and influential nation.

So here’s what we do to address global problems

  • with any global issue the goal is to map the space and connect enough people to mobilise to create the solutions to address those problems. 
  • this happens in these case studies [Ed: not sure these are the big global problems] AirBnB (expensive couchsurfing), Zinch (all US scholarships in one place), Interaction (network of 190 US NGOs), Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves [that’s a global issue], Partners for a New Beginning (US State Dept attempt to encourage public/private partnerships that deepen links between US and ‘local communities abroad’). [Ed: I’d look at things like Ushahidi, Avaaz, maybe charity:water – but more blog posts to follow on these, esp. Avaaz)

“Here’s the bottom line:”

we imagined that we lived in a world of closed opaque orbs – states that pursued national interest – now we live in a world of ‘open system’ foreign policy with infinite possibilities of connecting. Global problems are open problems – we as a world have to grapple with these. By mapping, linking and creating we can create the coalitions to address them.


build local, go global, and change the world

Check against delivery:



Thinking Uncategorized

What the world needs is a another blog. No, really. This one’s about global governance.

More specifically, it’s going to be about technology and global governance. Or how the former affects the latter.

What’s global governance? It’s about massive global problems like climate change. And the current absence of solutions. These ‘problems without passports’ don’t know boundaries. They’re not controlled by national governments. And they affect everyone on the planet, but some more than others. And the ‘some’ aren’t necessarily those who can do anything about it.

The post-1945 state of global governance allowed a small group of nation states to design and sometimes enact global policy. It is inappropriate today. It may have been inappropriate in 1945.

Today there is deadlock on climate change, as nation states are designed to maximise their national interest. This is true with other global problems. There are inefficient and insufficient efforts made towards global security and global health. Global financial and trade regulation is captured by large private sector actors. Democracy does not exist at the global level.

This blog is about what joins all these problems together – global governance, and how technology may influence it.

It’s about the ideal of a global digital participative democracy, formed quite differently from the top-down multilateral or transnational approaches. It borrows from the web concept of ‘2.0’, where things are organised socially through sharing and collaboration. This concept has been applied to government (‘gov2.0’), which suggests that as familiarity with web 2.0 grows, connected citizens can achieve many of the roles of governance themselves. This could include monitoring, research, policy debate, prioritisation, budgeting and decision making – all taking place in an online community, unbounded by location. It is a movement towards participatory democracy, in which government becomes a platform for citizen-led initiatives.

It’s global governance 2.0.

In a global context, cooperative and collaborative solutions could be built from the ground up, sidestepping international deadlock and democratising the governance process. The power of new networks organising themselves with open data and new communication, budgeting and management tools would generate real legitimacy, where every member of a global society has a voice. 

Whereas multilateral institutions struggle to accommodate growing numbers of actors, 2.0 institutions that use co-creative and collaborative processes are strengthened. 

There are over 6bn people on earth. Technology allows for a global conversation to happen about the issues that affect everyone on the planet. Then it enables people to get together to do something about these issues.

This blog is an attempt to document and analyse some of this change. 

Thinking Uncategorized

Dear Nike and Wieden+Kennedy, have you thought about running a school?

Dear sirs,

I do two things that have inspired this post. I mentor a 6 yr old boy, who was recently excluded from school on account of his behaviour. He is sometimes what might be described as hyperactive, and I’ve found that the way to engage him best is by playing sport.


I also work in communication, and I’m a huge fan of W+K’s work for Nike. It’s just brilliant: Grid, Boom (below), What Should I Do?, Write the Future – terrific, inspiring stuff.



So I put the two together. and thought: nike schools.


nike schools


(for kids that can’t sit still)


you’ve got the ethos of the school down already: just do it; the ‘be whatever you want to be’ vibe. Write the Future? How is that not a school motto already?


A lack of aspiration is generally the classic failing in kids from lower income families, kids stuck in the poverty trap – their parents don’t have high hopes for them, their community doesn’t inspire them, they have no aspiration.


And then at school we compel kids to sit still for hours – when they are built to run around (see Sir Ken Robinson on kinetic learning in this TED talk)


There is a generation of young urban males being switched off schools. 

So what do they aspire to? Sports stars. They look up at sports stars as the ultimate achievers – partly because due to the awesome branding that Nike does.


So let’s teach, reward, discipline, guide kids through sport. they’ll lap it up. trajectory and distance of free kicks; the speed of the football is distance over time…


Now I’m guessing Nike aren’t prepared to run a school – but they don’t have to; you find a willing partner running an academy, and you sponsor them with some cash, they design the lessons around sport, or ensure there is vast amounts of sport in the school day.


In return, Nike provide loads of sportswear, which forms rewards for good academic and sporting achievement; and more importantly, Nike or W+K provide all the branding and ethos advice the school can take. 


Imagine a giant orange swoosh on the black perimeter wall of the school – bright orange letters that greet the kids with ‘Just Do It’. The constant association of high sporting achievement with high academic achievement


don’t know if it would be good marketing, but it would be amazing for the kids.


just do it.



joe mitchell


p.s. I’ll stop writing about Nike/W+K for a bit now.


Thinking Uncategorized

Nike and Wieden+Kennedy produce the best digital marketing campaign of the year

Nike is run by marketing geniuses. Or it’s something to do with Wieden+Kennedy, their brilliant ad/creative agency.

In my favourite digital marketing thing of the year, they took over phoneboxes across London, and challenged people to run between them. Faster and further than their neighbours. It was all done by postcode, so it was all hyperlocal. And it happened over a 24hr period – runners got a code that they bashed into every phone box they ran to, and every run was logged online. Badges were awarded for running between postcodes, running furthest, running fastest, and points were tallied live on After 24 hrs, the champion of each postcode was announced. Both on the website, but also on local electronic billboards. 

 (Flickr credit: Birdsigh)

It was genius. It was like being in some weird secret society, where you knew you were up against other people, but didn’t know who they were. They were rivals, but cos you were both doing this faintly underground challenge, they were comrades. It was all managed digitally, but it took place in the real world – racing down London streets rather than sitting in front of a monitor. It’s like one of those massively multi-player online games, but not online.

And now NikeGrid is running again. This time they’ve added the option to run as a team (London university students will lap this up) and instead of 24hrs, it’s 15 days. 

All of the ‘Grid’ stuff is branded and designed beautifully: underground, gritty, urban etc. Check out their hexagonal honeycomb-style map of London below (given out to those who ran last time – keeping the ‘club’ thing going). It’s a pretty long way from the Nike that sponsors giant football teams or puts great cinema ads together. This hits a real active audience in a way that they want to join in. 


The other clever thing is that you have to sign up through Facebook, which of course means “You irrevocably grant NIKE, its group companies and third party commercial partners the right indefinitely and throughout the world, without any expectation of compensation, further permissions or notifications to: (i) use your photograph, video or film portrayal, image, likeness, voice and any other means which identify you”

Ah, good times. Privacy is dead. Long live Facebook.



Why Capitalism is so 1.0

In my general love for social media and the internet, and how they change everything, utterly, I’ve been thinking about markets.

Markets work: they produce vast quantities of things rich people don’t need at huge environmental cost” isn’t what the Buttonwood columnist in The Economist wrote recently.

They wrote, of course, that ‘markets work’ and paraphrased Friedrich Hayek as saying that markets ‘represented the individual decisions of millions – the wisdom of crowds, if you like’. This made me think of all the hype about social media: the combined efforts of millions on Twitter, Facebook etc. Wikipedia as a remarkable product of 100m hours of ‘cognitive surplus‘. The websites that try to harness the ‘wisdom of crowds’ or are platforms for collaborative creation: e.g. Beta CupJovotoHypios

I was taught that economics is about one problem: the allocation of resources, such as capital, land and labour. Who gets what resources, how the resources are used, what is produced, who contributes, how products are distributed; that sort of thing. And the capitalist model, best elucidated by Adam Smith, says that markets provide the best solution, by managing millions of personal decisions about what’s best for an individual. Through the cumulative effects of personal decisions, the market sends signals (mainly in the price of goods/services) about what should be produced and how, where things should be sent, who gets what, etc. The ‘invisible hand’ distributes the resources.

The problem is that this means that you only get a say in the what/who/where if you’ve got money with which to signal your desire. ‘Money votes.’ It’s not particularly revolutionary to suggest that this might not best way to organise things. The reason for listening to you shouldn’t be due to whether you have money or not. No money no voice. Capitalism and democracy aren’t logical partners: an old argument.

So I wonder what Hayek and Smith would have made of the internet.

It seems to me that the internet provides an alternative way of solving the economic problem. Technologies like social media allow management of vast quantities of information, previously unknowable or unmanagable. Rather than market-based information like prices and profits as signals, we can allocate resources based on much deeper, more personal, more real information. We can account for those without capital. Anyone with a digital voice can take part in a global conversation about the what/who/how/where of resources.

What this physically looks like, I’m not sure. But it might be something like NeighborGoods, and similar non-profits or social-goal driven companies, like Kiva, etc. They’re all pretty small-scale at the moment, and deal with things that are tiny in the grand scheme of things. But perhaps it starts with these.

Exciting times.

Thinking Uncategorized

A few notes on digital collaborative health inspired by @cshirky @LSEpublicevents

A quick note of Clay Shirky’s lecture on Cognitive Surplus can be found at DavePress

This is just a point about one of Shirky’s key examples, patientslikeme, cos it’s amazing.

As he pointed out, it completely throws open what we assumed about medical data. And particularly mental health. 

US citizens are voluntarily publishing vast amounts of data about their medical conditionsThe site then aggregates the data, creating some funky charts (e.g. charts of average dosage per drug), and, it claims, revolutionising medical research, treatment and understanding for both suppliers and users.

Plenty will worry about people self-medicating; one comment says

 “PatientsLikeMe is the main reason that I concluded I had been mis-diagnosed depressive, instead of bipolar, and just recently decided to try new medication.” 

Presumably that would worry a lot of doctors – but it’s unstoppable. The medical profession is going to have to change…but how? Will sites like this increase the average knowledge of medicine, enable peer-to-peer practitioning, or simply indulge hypochondriacs? Will a clinician’s role be in moderating sites like these? 

But for champions of transparency and open data, it’s almost a holy grail: people are volunteering what would have been considered their most private data. The strictest rules apply to its release by organisations, so patientslikeme gets the individuals to ‘open’ it. They don’t seem to have to try that hard to convince:

we believe sharing your healthcare experiences and outcomes is good. Why? Because when patients share real-world data, collaboration on a global scale becomes possible…


Currently, most healthcare data is inaccessible due to privacy regulations or proprietary tactics. As a result, research is slowed, and the development of breakthrough treatments takes decades. Patients also can’t get the information they need to make important treatment decisions. 


Furthermore, we believe data belongs to you the patient to share with other patients, caregivers, physicians, researchers, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, and anyone else that can help make patients’ lives better. Will you add to our collective knowledge… and help change the course of healthcare? 

Never mind an online encyclopaedia. Collaborative healthcare is coming to a laptop near you.