Paris, j’aime votre civictech projets

The French are precious about French. It’s fair enough. Gotta watch that creeping Anglicisation. Courriel, for example, is the officially designated French translation for email. 

So I’d imagined that they wouldn’t go in for ‘civic tech’ so much. But they love it! People instantly knew what I was on about — even folks not in the tech or civic sector. Vive la France.

And there’s a lot of civic tech going on. Paris’ civic tech scene is thriving — and represents only some of what is going on across France. Here’s what I learned, between scoffing baguettes and incredibly good fromage, and pottering around the Canal St Martin.

What’s happening?

Démocratie Ouverte

Démocratie Ouverte creates its own projects, such as Parliament & Citizens, described below, but I think what’s exciting is that they’ve gone meta and positioned themselves as an umbrella membership organisation for every civic tech project happening in France.

Continue reading Paris, j’aime votre civictech projets

On the power of imagery, addictive health behaviours and sustaining life: @designourtomorrow fun in Toronto

I spent last Saturday in the still-leafy, gloriously sun-lit campus of the University of Toronto. We crammed into Convocation Hall for the Design Our Tomorrow Conference.

Remarkably, the conference actually lived up to its billing as being basically like TED, but, well, free. Quite an extraordinary roster of speakers. Three best bits noted below.

#1 Edward Burtynsky (Photographer, TED Prize winner)

His goal is to make stuff more visible. The stuff we use all the time, but never really see. Man’s battle with nature. He’s redefining the sublime with photographs of quarries, of giant rubbish yards, of vast open cast mines, of road systems and, perhaps most amazingly of all, of oil. The picture below is of the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Recommend leafing (?) through his website – lots to look at. This video is from an exhibition of his Oil photos.

#2: Aza Raskin (Co-founder Massive Health and Fast Company ‘Master of Design’ 2011) 

Aza, formerly Creative Lead at Firefox, talked about his new project – making good health behaviours addictive. He talked about the standard behaviour change difficulties with healthy behaviours – most importantly, the lack of instant feedback for good behaviours (as opposed to the  glorious instant rewards of eating a doughnut, for example) – and his thoughts on how to create a feedback loop.

Their first experiment is The Eatery, a smartphone app which abandons all ideas of calorie counts and nutrition guides, insteady relying on peer feedback. With the app, you snap the food you’re eating and rate it on a scale of ‘Fat’ to ‘Fit’. Then everyone else in your network rates it too, providing instant feedback on the healthiness of that food. Call it Dieting 2.0, perhaps. 

#3: Eric Chivian (Nobel laureate and Founder, Center for Health and Global Environment)

Felt a little sorry for the lady from Foursquare who had to follow this guy: the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Harvard Prof who spoke movingly on his next challenge, having already helped avert nuclear war.

As founder of the Center for Health and Global Environment, he’s trying to get us to take biodiversity seriously, given that human life depends on it. He told stories of what science might learn from pregnant polar bears (who don’t get osteroperosis despite not moving for six months), cone snails (who produce toxins we could replicate as perfect painkillers) and gastric breeding frogs (whose stomachs somehow don’t digest their children..absurd). Except we won’t learn anything from the frogs, since they’re now extinct, probably due to climate change. Dammit.

He recited Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot at the end of his lecture, after which anything else seems a little futile. His book is available in handy summary form (pdf).

Mad props to the organisers. Not sure how they did it, but it was, as Canada’s #1 Adjective has it, awesome.

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.
(CC umpcportal.com) 

Mapumental – great digitalmashup where-to-live maps from the brilliant @mysociety and @4ip

Way back in 2007, when mammoths roamed the earth and iPhones were just being invented, the brilliant e-democ/society people at mySociety developed a time-travel map. This was a map that could send you back in time. No. Not really.
 
It was a commute-time map, centred on the place you were trying to commute to, that would snazzily show the length of commutes from different spots on the map. The cooler colours indicate the longer commute. It’s hard to express in words, so here’s a picture: 
 
Unknownname
 
It was great, except that (presumably) because it was all quite hard work and involved mounds of (expensive?) data, they only made a few prototypes, such as the one based on the idea that you wanted to commute to the DfT. Not that many people do.
 
[some years pass]
 
4iP, the digital innovation arm of publicly-funded Channel4, has developed Mapumental. It’s the same idea, but you can put in any destination postcode! And then play with sliders for acceptable length of commute! And average house prices! There’s even a ‘scenicness’ slider, which really does cut your options. It’s a lot of fun, and actually very useful for working out where to live, if ultimately rather depressing for most central London postcodes.
 
0unknownname
 
Mash in the data from Gumtree rental adverts too, and it would be perfect!
 
Sign up for a log-in at http://mapumental.channel4.com/