Monday, August 13, 2018

On Universities: Thinking Locally, Operating Globally, Caring Humanely

Universities are systems, not marketplaces.  They are also part of bigger systems

The now media-highlighted declining part-time student situation of the UK Open University, and the proposed bill for colleges of the University of London to become universities on their own, seem to go contrary to their systemic nature. 

Letting universities to operate in global markets without considering that not every type of student can afford attending a course or a programme, could continue creating unexpected ripple effects in universities and their communities.  It could result in less local, part-time or single-courses students attending as the Open University knows it too well. 

Many universities in the UK and elsewhere have heavily invested in revamping their facilities to attract more students.  The communities around them could be better involved in using them.  New libraries, theatres or medical schools could also be put to the service of the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled and the unemployed.  

University technology parks could be also directed to host social enterprises.  And university students could be encouraged to work in community projects as part of their courses or their final dissertations. 

Many other universities around the world have to cope with the pressure of getting accredited nationally and internationally whilst operating in very unique environments. For them, there might not be a need to build big infrastructure projects just to ‘catch-up’.  The evidence could come from the small or only slight increases in student satisfaction obtained by those that have embarked in such types of projects.  

With this evidence, and the worrying situation of staff and students in relation to our mental health, universities could then focus their attention in caring for people. An impressive building or laboratory is only as good as the people who work in them.   Investing in people has never been a bad idea neither for universities nor for any other type of organisation.  Perhaps the returns on this sort of investment cannot be clearly identified. I wonder, can those investments in infrastructure be?

We have now learned lessons from having priorities about globalisation, localisation and caring in the wrong order. 

What else do we need to be convinced that universities are systems?

Our relationship to waste and to ourselves

On the 10th of August 2018, I was interviewed on the BBC radio as a recycling 'expert' (you can listen to the last ten minutes of the 3 hour programme on the link).

To prepare for this, I read and thought what could be the best piece of advice to give to people who are unsure of what to recycle from the waste of their households.  

This, in the wake of recent claims from different organisations about the futile efforts of some recycling (saying that not everything that can be recycled becomes recycled), and of some local council proposals to reduce the number of times that waste is collected from households.

So I wanted to raise the issue of our relationship to waste.  My reading took me to consider how waste has become something of value to many organisations, and how social enterprises help them to improve their recycling as well as the design of products to make them easier to recycle or to dispose.  

After my reading, and also getting an email from my thoughtful friend Andy Hix, I started thinking like that as individuals, we often conceive of waste as something that becomes foreign to our homes, to our lives.

With a better and more inclusive view of waste, one in which we establish a kind of acceptance relationship with it, we could start thinking that it is not waste but ourselves with whom we would need to become better friends with. Friends that knowing the good and not so good about each other, work to make their relationship work.  

For myself, in the last few years recycling has become a way of accepting that there are times when I feel anxious and in need of clearing out my mind. Managing waste allows me to get back to what is important for me, to spend time organising my thoughts and my lifestyle.  When anxious, I do lot of recycling.   When not, I let waste sit for a while, so that I also enjoy its company (bit weird I know, but then I can think of what to do for the benefit of both of us). Waste also allows me to have a conversation with my wife about future plans.  

Recycling (which involves classifying waste, taking some of it to recycling centres, and making sure the waste bins are ready for collection) makes me feel in harmony with myself, my loved ones and the rest of the world around me. 

Prior to and after the interview, I have started to become more interested in recycling information and have become a bit more aware of knowledge about it.  It is interesting to see that many products from the supermarket have recycling information, and that this information suggests consulting further with local recycling centres about their capabilities to recycle different parts of products.  

At the interview I was asked what could be recycled. I think I gave a couple of suggestions. I felt though that I couldn't get my views across too much.  Maybe I was not the sort of expert they were expecting.   Or maybe there was little time.  

Anyway,  I finished by saying that anything we can do to help a bigger recycling system in our society could help.t

For me, it is time to continue thinking if and improving my relationship with myself and waste through recycling.  

What about you?  Are you too busy to even taking the waste bins outside?  That might signal you do not have a good relationship with yourself.  Time to review it my friend :)

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Soul of Behaviour

How good is to be alive?  Is a question that Frank Barron reminded us in the late 1960's when speaking about creativity and psychotherapy.  

In the last twenty four months I have been endeavouring to write about creativity and systems thinking.  When re-reading a book of Frank Barron today and when revisiting my diary I then paused to look at this question.  

For myself this question took me again by surprise.  I have tried to be a good person in many respects:  As a father, a husband and as an academic.  Often, I have lost myself in this quest.  It is easy to become trapped in making this quest an impossible one, in particular when I keep being nudged into doing more.  

To make matters more complicated as well as interesting, there is an emerging trend in the UK to use behaviour as a predictor of happiness.  One can just see books like "Happiness by Design" by Paul Dolan (2014) to get a feeling that we could (and should) make better and simpler choices to be happier.  It seems it is possible if we pay attention to what/who gives us a feeling of inner satisfaction.  No need to think too much.  Just do things.  Governments can also be helpful by nudging us in the right direction.  

Barron reminds us however, that the question of how good is to be alive is an important one, not only because we 'could' decide or be nudged on our own happiness, but because there is a history of human kind we need to bear in mind when making decisions.  Those interested in behaviour seem to be in need of be reminded of it.  Creativity has a dark side.  It has led humans to engineer atomic bombs.  Useful knowledge, valuable knowledge can be turned into commercial, political and military weaponry.  

That is why the too good to be true ways to be happy give me a bit of concern.  Being alive should be good for all of us, all of this.  

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sorry is not enough

The cat is out of the bag and our data has been handed in. Any excuse or public apology does not cut it. Those seeking profit by handing our online behaviour might not have fully understood what this meant. But there was intention and with it there needs to be responsibility.

As Alan Watts said a long time ago, the massive uae of technology is just self indulgent. It is not helping us to better live the present. Rather, it is pushing us too much in the direction of having to foresee the future.

The past can be forgotten but not relived. We are tricking ourselves to store memories that are not experiences of the past. We think we can predict the future when we know that if certain rules are followed, something can turn out in some expected ways.

What are our intentions? Are we trying to become immortal by doing the above? What will we gain if we cannot just enjoy the present as it is?

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Enslaving AI and ourselves or something else

Recently I attended an interdisciplinary event on artificial intelligence or AI.  This is a very fashionable topic.  After 2016 (the so-called declared global year of AI), there is still interest also because we can now see how some AI solutions have entered the market.  Robots that can fry burgers and of course self-driving cars are becoming normal examples of life. 

Still, my sense is that both love for and fear of AI is rooted in either we becoming slaves of new forms of intelligence or subverting them to what we think we need help with.  

Being enslaved by AI seems to many the end of the human species.  AI will decide for us and that will include deciding if we are still worth preserving in the human planet or beyond.  

Enslaving AI would mean that AI will do the less interesting tasks of life whilst human beings move onto the more sophisticated ones.  

As I currently research on creativity, the role of technology and AI is not yet fully decided.  Computers could create beautiful things, they could compose music or poems by sieving through lots of old music of poems.  They could even create new language.  But if we conceive of creativity as a social phenomena where audiences have to accept and adopt creations, then possibly technology and AI could have a different role.

And then there is the ethical question of doing good with what you create.  AI could help us build or operate new armaments (more autonomous drones for example).  AI could help us distance themselves from those that we could harm.  So that AI could take the blame for doing harm.  Or for doing good.  

Will we as human beings delegate ethical responsibilities to AI?  And by doing so will we then enslave AI and ourselves?  Or will AI and us be able to work out other ways of advancing our joint future together?  

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Systems thinking in the tools plus...the elephant in the room

Systemic thinking has been made more portable through the use of different online tools.  It is a great achievement for the community in general.  

I have used KUMU to help me work with students.  It was good to help us produce systems models of situations and also explore relationships between issues.  The more we got into it, I was positively surprised to see how students made use of it.  

The portability of tools seems to go in the way of enabling people generate lots of thoughts and ideas, play with scenarios, share what they know and what they see as appearing on their screens.  One could said that a good repository of knowledge can be generated in less time than is the case without tools.

On attending a recent presentation in which another tool was used to facilitate collaboration, I could also notice that there was an elephant in the room...

Despite the potential for electronic data gathering, there did not seem to be a full consideration of a key group of stakeholders being included in the activities of discussion: citizens. 

When it comes to citizen participation, we are still lacking good thinking about how they could be involved in this electronic dialogue.  

Perhaps we need to review our assumptions that technology needs to be used for citizen participation and discussion.  

How could that be done when often the systems problems we tackle as thinkers could involve thousands or millions of citizens?  

Is it that we need powerful electronic engines to help us gather and sieve through citizens' contributions?  

Or could we pay bit more of attention to how we are involving citizens with technologies in looking at situations that are pertinent to us all?  

I have no answer to this 'problem'.   Perhaps this is also a systems problem (how to get citizens involved in discussing citizens problems).  All I can say for now is that we need to look at this elephant in the room if we are to continue making meaningful use of systems thinking and its available tools.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Acropolis is Crumbling...again

Many people who were born after me would regard digital as a natural feature of our world.  They are right in saying this, because they have been born in a new period, one in which we have been invited to live with the Gods in the Acropolis.

This Acropolis has allowed us to see the world from a distance, and keep relationships going.  To me, this world has helped me to keep in touch with people in my home country and regain lost friends.  It has also enabled me to travel several times a day to other parts of the globe.  Email, whatsapp, facebook and other deities living in the Acropolis have helped me feel part of something bigger than the place where I live or work.

However, there are now factions in the Acropolis.  We do not interact or socialise with others whose interests or political views are too different.  In the name of avoiding hatred, the deities have cunningly hidden us from them and hidden them from us.  The deities enable me to block others and enable others to block me. By doing so they make me feel that I am right and others are wrong, and vice-versa.  

This Acropolis is not the real world, nor should it become the only way to relate to others.  Deities might not like this and could decide to incite us to remain here.  We could leave.  We are not leaving others behind, we are leaving their avatars, their virtual statues.  

We are going back to our cities, our communities and our crops. Let the Acropolis crumble again.  Not because we destroy it but because it can be abandoned. 

Let us keep some good memories and the short visit to the deities alive as the ancient Greeks did.  Like them, let us remember we are not Gods, we are mere mortals.  

Time is not in our side.  Let us make the best of it. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Some props please

2017 is to many an uncertain year.

Political landscapes of retreat and nationalism as well as those aiming for inclusivity have to deal with group conflict and misunderstandings.

More than in 2016 there is a need to restablish dialogue and communication, to slow down and listen to others and to oneself. 

We are in need of having some props to communicate.  Not those of a flag or a movement but those which enable us to show our scars and our humanity.

There is bravery in allowing others to see us as we are.  There is fear to show weakness or emotion.  That is why some cultures resort to props.  These are some aids to help us open up.  They are like neutral zones where we could strike a conversation, play, have a bit of banter and pretend to be involved in something.

Like a football match between enemy nations.  Or an improvised comedy over what we fear most.

Let us not take ourselves or the uncertainty too seriously.