Adventuring Uncategorized


It’s quite mild at the moment – these photos are from last month. A little taster of what’s to come, perhaps…

Damn kids with their bikes

Frosty frosty

Not entirely sure where those towers are. Look nice though.

Reading Thinking Uncategorized

How do you solve a massive mapping problem in Somalia? With massive 2.0 solutions of course. @refugees

This story about UNHCR crowdsourcing is pretty damn awesome. Found via Firetail’s weekly briefing.

UNHCR – the UN’s refugee agency – wanted to know the location of informal settlements in a corridor of land in Somalia. With this information they could better plan for large movements of people. But, not surprisingly, access to Somalia isn’t easy. So they look to satellite imagery.

They partnered with a range of techie types to crowdsource a solution for analysing a vast quantity of imagery provided by DigitalGlobe.

Using a tech platform already realised, a volunteer geography professor got his undergraduate class to carry out the human work – tagging the images where they saw settlements.

Eventually they ended up with 168 volunteers who took 5 days to process nearly 4,000 satellite images – tagging 250,000 settlements. 

This is a great example of global public service delivery managed by the global public. Talk about participatory global governance. Or about 2.0. Or about a revolution.

The project is detailed here, and information on the technology behind the human work here, from Patrick Meier at iRevolution.

I’d love to hear from UNHCR staffers on the results of this work.


Adventuring Uncategorized

Buffalo, NY

For one weekend only, canadajoe was unitedstatesjoe. A quick trip* down to Buffalo to see little sis!  *not at all quick. 

Some suggested that there would be nothing worth seeing in Buffalo. Not at all true! Go Buff! ‘The City of No Illusions’. Haha.

The Albright-Knox Gallery was excellent. Currently hosting this amazing American topographical landscape photography exhibition by Victoria Sambunaris.

Somebody got their canoes all tangled up. Annoying when that happens.

And what’s this? Is it America’s third best neighborhood [sic]? Yes, it must be Elmwood, Buff!

The Feds

Frank Lloyd Wright loved Buff. He thought it was the best. Probably cos it was swimming in cash at the time he was designing houses for very rich people. Here’s his Martin House Complex. Not bad for 1904, but no Falling Water.

Where’s the front door? 

And then it took nine hours to get home. It’s not even that far away. And, even more crazily, the US immigration man was nicer than the Canadian immigration woman. Who’d have thought?

Thinking Uncategorized

The global #occupy movement seeks a cosmopolitan democracy. Here’s why they should read David Held CC VBlessNYC

On 17 September, around one hundred people set up a camp in a small private park a block away from the 9/11 memorial site in New York. Their example has swiftly grown and spread around the world. Mainstream media has been confused by the fact that Occupy activists make no single demand and have no spokesman. This is an example of new networked leadership. The protestors are united in a sense that their democratic system is broken.

In Europe, Germans cannot believe that those in Greece were able to put themselves in such a precarious financial position, and Greeks are angry about having to take severe welfare cuts perceived as orders from the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank.

 CC mkhalili

Earlier this year the UK public, whose trust in politicians is extremely low, rejected voting reform that could have changed the system, perhaps because they no longer believe that national electoral system is the problem. 

The link between these groups is the feeling of powerlessness in the face of forces they cannot control.

David Held’s book, Democracy and the Global Order, published in 1995, to some extent foresaw this. There is now, particularly following the global economic crisis, a deep underlying public understanding of the subject on which scholars such as Held have been writing for decades.

Democracy in its current form is being deeply tested by globalisation. How we respond to this should be the greatest debate of our time. Though they cannot yet articulate it, the occupiers of Wall Street, Bay Street, Paternoster Square and the Puerta del Sol are partly appealing for a new cosmopolitan democracy in Held’s model.

Democracy and the Global Order

Essentially the book is a call for a renewed form of democracy, a form that can cope with the complexities of a modern global life and its economic, political, social and cultural facets. Held argues that the Westphalian model of state sovereignty and autonomy is outdated, in both a real and normative sense. In this model sovereignty is granted both internally, by those in a territory of a state, and externally, through recognition by other states. Autonomy is the power and freedom of a state, and the state alone, to set rules for its territory.

Held argues that the UN Charter model has altered the Westphalian model of states somewhat, introducing the concept of the legitimacy of a state, granted by respecting democratic values and human rights [i.e. the ‘international community’ intervenes in Afghanistan, Libya etc.]

Held further demonstrates that the autonomy of states is constantly being reduced by environmental governance, world economic forces, the increase in international organisations, the growing power of civil society associations and changing political and cultural identities. These converge to radically change the governance environment in which the modern state finds itself.

His question, ultimately, is how can democracy be achieved in this interconnected, overlapping world, in which there are so many centres of power?

His answer is to start from the guarantee of individual autonomy. Autonomy is the the ability to take self-conscious, reasoned decisions on the matters that affect you. It requires legal delimitation of various sites of power (be they economic, biological, cultural etc) to ensure the possibility of political participation.

From this, Held develops the concept of a cosmopolitan democratic law. Since any global force can affect individual autonomy regardless of location or state membership, laws to protect autonomy must be realised globally. They must also guarantee autonomy in the various bodies politic and the various sites of power, which are multifaceted: from local to global, from cities to states, from corporations and entire economic markets.

From 1995 to 2011

Until now, the world has lacked the mechanical solutions for organising polities around the issues that affect them. But social media, and a little Arab Spring inspiration, can connect people (like Google+ circles!) around the issues they care about, regardless of national borders. The occupy movements are trying to give some physical presence to global online movements. The banking industry globalised long ago – that’s why they run the show. It’s time global democratic governance stepped up too. 

Below is the manifesto from the ‘United for #globaldemocracy movement’, though movement may be too strong a word, published in the Guardian on Friday. (Geeky spot: note how they list New York as though it were a country)

United for #GlobalDemocracy
On 15 October 2011, united in our diversity, united for global change, we demand global democracy: global governance by the people, for the people. Inspired by our sisters and brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, New York, Palestine-Israel, Spain and Greece, we too call for a regime change: a global regime change.

In the words of Vandana Shiva, the Indian activist, today we demand replacing the G8 with the whole of humanity – the G7,000,000,000.

Undemocratic international institutions are our global Mubarak, our global Assad, our global Gaddafi. These include: the IMF, the WTO, global markets, multinational banks, the G8/G20, the European Central Bank and the UN security council. Like Mubarak and Assad, these institutions must not be allowed to run people’s lives without their consent. We are all born equal, rich or poor, woman or man. Every African and Asian is equal to every European and American. Our global institutions must reflect this, or be overturned.

Today, more than ever before, global forces shape people’s lives. Our jobs, health, housing, education and pensions are controlled by global banks, markets, tax-havens, corporations and financial crises. Our environment is being destroyed by pollution in other continents. Our safety is determined by international wars and international trade in arms, drugs and natural resources. We are losing control over our lives. This must stop. This will stop. The citizens of the world must get control over the decisions that influence them in all levels – from global to local. That is global democracy. That is what we demand today.

Today, like the Mexican Zapatistas, we say “¡Ya basta! Aquí el pueblo manda y el gobierno obedece“: Enough! Here the people command and global institutions obey! Like the Spanish Tomalaplaza we say “Democracia Real Ya”: True global democracy now!” Today we call the citizens of the world: let us globalise Tahrir Square! Let us globalise Puerta del Sol!

Thinking Uncategorized

Keep calm and carrying on tweeting from the chamber (on @UKparliament approval of electronic device use)

Slightly surreal debate on use of smartphones/tablets etc in the chamber of the UK House of Commons last week. Happily, among much argument of who was the first to use Twitter / iPad / take Hipstamatics of PMQs etc, they decided that they can continue to use them.

Some of the arguments made in favour concerned: instant access to information, communication with sources, the ability to update speeches easily as debates move on and to get work done while waiting to be called by the Speaker – so a mix of improving the accuracy and effectiveness of debate, and simple productivity improvements. No mention of Angry Birds, oddly. 

What’s really interesting is when a MP will rely on a constituent for his or her argument and essentially will become a channel for, rather than a representative of, their views. The MP for Liverpool, Wavertree, Luciana Berger (@lucianaberger) actually read out tweets from the public to the chamber in this debate and ended up largely holding a debate by herself. 

There was extensive use of Twitter at the readings of the controversial Digital Economy Bill too – seem to remember constituents explaining issues via Twitter to their MPs. 

Digital participative democracy. It grows and grows. Why even meet to parler in a physical location at all?

  Not for this.
Thinking Uncategorized

Mini-briefing on the Open Government Partnership

The OGP was launched at last month’s UN General Assembly to a good deal of buzz in the gov 2.0 world. It seems to be part of, or hosted by, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, another Soros venture.

Essentially, it’s a well-meaning anti-corruption, pro-openness platform between some of the nations leading on open government: publishing data (not just numbers) and doing innovative things with it. Or allowing citizens to do interesting things with it. Brazil and the US led the project.

Here’s an explanation in splendid socialmedialand format:

The Open Government Declaration that nations can sign up to is just that, a declaration, but by promoting examples like these….

We commit to increasing our efforts to systematically collect and publish data…We commit to pro-actively provide high-value information, including raw data, in a timely manner, in formats that the public can easily locate, understand and use, and in formats that facilitate reuse.

We commit to maintaining or establishing a legal framework to make public information on the income and assets of national, high ranking public officials.

We commit to making policy formulation and decision making more transparent, creating and using channels to solicit public feedback, and deepening public participation in developing, monitoring and evaluating government activities.

…the founding nations hope to cajole plenty more into joining them. It’s an interesting start. The examples above are just a few lines from a fairly vast, all-encompassing list that reads a little bit like somebody put together in one place all the government transparency ideas they could find. Which might not be a bad thing.

Now, how about more of the same, but for the United Nations itself?

In the blogosphere:

David Eaves has argued that this ‘openness’ idea could be a sign of ‘open’ states raising the bar in governance:

It abandons the now outdated free-market/democratic vs. state-controlled/communist axis in favour of a more subtle, but more appropriate, open vs. closed…I like the idea of world in which states compete to be more open. We could do worse.

The Economist blogged a response:

The problem with Mr Eaves’ argument isn’t that it’s necessarily wrong as such. The OGP would definitely be in line with an overall strategy to promote Western democratic values and provoke people in other countries to demand more of them…

No, the problem is that this is really nothing new or major…

Countries can join the list if they demonstrate that they meet certain “minimum standards of open government”—”minimum” clearly being the operative word.

The Economist also included a broad overview of the whole project, including strengths and weaknesses, in their print edition.

One simple test of effectiveness: is anybody still talking about this in a year’s time?

Adventuring Uncategorized

Happy Canadian thanksgiving

To celebrate, here’s a picture of a barn.

Apparently, Canadian thanksgiving commemorates an English chap who went exploring in 1578, lost most of his team, somehow made it back alive and was fed vast quantities of turkey until he regained his strenth. Sort of.

More importantly, it’s ridiculously sunny. 25c. Outdoors smells like the South of France. 

And I saw a chipmunk today. Like a stretched out mouse with a tail and go-faster stripes. Move too quickly to photograph…