FRAMEN sulkeminen – jotain mät(t)ää ministeriössä

FRAME:n ennenaikainen sulkeminen on vahva ykkösehdokas vuoden typerimmän kulttuuripoliittisen päätöksen tittelin saajaksi. Sulkeminen on ennenaikainen siinä mielessä, että FRAME:n tilalla jatkavaa uutta säätiötä ei ole vielä edes perustettu. On ilmiselvää että ensi vuonna toimintaan tulee useamman kuukauden tauko, jonka mielekkyyttä on hankala perustella.

Yksi FRAME:n uudistamiseen olennaisesti liittyvä dokumentti on äskettäin ilmestynyt Suomen kulttuuriviennin kehittämisohjelman 2007-2011 loppuraportti. Raportissa puhutaan paljon ‘brändäykseen liittyvistä tarpeista’ ja ‘kulttuuripalvelutoiminnan kehittämisestä’. Jostain ihmeellisesti syystä ministeriössä ei olla tajuttu että FRAME on brändi sekä kotimaisesti ja kansainvälisesti merkittävä palvelu. Tämän palvelun katkaiseminen epämääräiseksi ajaksi ei tee hyvää FRAME:n, Suomen tai kenenkään muunkaan brändille. Kaikkien osapuolien kannalta olisi ollut parasta, jos nykyinen FRAME olisi voinut jatkaa niin kauan että uuden säätiön toiminta on saatu konkreettisesti käyntiin.

Laura Köönikkä & co ovat saaneet vuoden aikana FRAME:n hienosti uudestaan jaloilleen ja kuvittelisi että tällaisen positiivisen, ammattitaitoisen toiminnan merkitystä osattaisiin ministeriössä arvostaa. Näin ei ilmeisesti kuitenkaan ole.

Toisaalta, en tiedä pitäisikö olla enemmän huolissaan ministeriön sähläämisestä vai siitä, että taidekenttä tuntuu hyväksyvän tämän päätöksen varsin hiljaisesti. Jos mitään vastalauseita ei kuulu niin päätöksentekijät jäävät siihen uskoon että kaikki menee ihan hyvin.

Kaikki, joita FRAME:n toiminnan katkeaminen tulee suoraan koskemaan, voisivat ilmaista huolensa asiasta vastaaville henkilöille eli selvitysmies Rauno Anttilalle (rauno.anttila (at), ylijohtaja Riitta Kaivosojalle (riitta.kaivosoja (at) ja viime kädessä ministeri Paavo Arhinmäelle. Ehkä tällä tavalla uudistamisprosessi saisi ministeriössä sen ansaitseman huomion.

Will data gathering make the world a better place? (IBM Thinks so)

During the Mobilityshifts week in NYC, I also has a chance to check out the IBM Think exhibit at Lincoln Center. The reason why I went there was that I had heard about visualizations for the massive Data Wall which Casey Reas & co had created. The wall was indeed impressive and children seemed to enjoy playing with it.

IBM Think exhibit / Data Wall

It turned out that the simple information boards opposite to the Data Wall had some quite intriguing content. These boards contained a vision of a Happy Future, with all the improvements that sensors, surveillance and data analysis will bring to our societies. Reading the promises felt like taking a time trip back back to the days 1939 New York World’s Fair that introduced many wonders of consumer devices (including IBM’s electric typewriter).

In context of ‘Healthier rivers’, the Hudson River was chosen as the example. In collaboration with IBM, Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries and Clarkson University are in the process of creating a real-time sensor network all along the Hudson River.

Coincidentally, Hudson River was also one of the sites where citizen science projects are taking place (see my previous posting). The goal of these two projects is essentially the same – to get better information about the state of the river in order to improve its condition. But in the approach there are drastic differences:

  • IBM & co use complex and expensive technologies, tools are free or very cheap
  • Based on a recent press release, IBM & co aim to ‘advance commercialization of emerging real-time river monitoring sensor technology’. tools are free and open source

In addition to these rather obvious differences, an important issue is what kind of opportunities are lost if river monitoring is left to the hands of big institutions. In case of, the tools offer people a concrete way to learn more about their own surroundings and to take an initiative to improve the conditions. Who is more likely to make noise about the companies that pollute Gowanus Canal, the local activists or IBM & co?

In terms of design, the question is whether there is a standardized solution with centralized monitoring or a general instruction which is modified be the local people to suit the local context.

A striking example of the difference between these two approaches that was often discussed during Mobilityshifts were the Adequate Yearly Progress tests that all children in public schools in US have to take. This test was introduced as a part of the No Child Left Behind Act during George W Bush administration. The goal ‘No Child Left Behind’ sounds great, but trying to achieve this goal via standardized tests has been a disaster.

Based on the presentations at mobilityshifts, everyone (teachers, children, parents, school administrators) seems to agree that these tests have not increased the quality of education, on the contrary they have added unnecessary stress to those who are doing well and been discouraging for those students and schools with problems. The points that were emphasised during mobilityshifts over and over again was that people learn in different ways. Good teachers adapt their teaching methods to suit the needs, and luckily here in Finland this is still possible (see Dianne Ravitch’s blog posting about this, her view is a bit too positive, but the main facts are correct).

Unfortunately in many other areas (public institutions, university education, etc) the idea of improving quality via standard tests has been pushed through here in Finland as well, with unhappy results (less efficiency, less creativity, less everything else except suspicion and bureocracy).


Citizen science: healthier trees and more confident citizens

Pollution in Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn (Liz Barry / PLOTS)

The Rigorously Unprofessional session at Mobilityshifts featured two really impressive projects, Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) and Treekit.

Activists are using the tools and methods developed by PLOTS to find out more about the sources of pollution that is constantly accumulating in Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. One of the key tools is balloon mapping, which is used during different seasons of the year to shoot high resolution aerial images of the area. There is also a tool for shooting infrared imagery. By comparing various images, activists have been able to identify a large number of pipelines which are not monitored by any authorities, in fact no one seems to knows what they are and what is coming out from them. Liz Barry spoke of ‘environmental headhunting’ – that these images could be used as legal evidence against corporations and other polluters.

Liz also wanted to emphasise that there is a difference between crowd-sourcing projects that have been initiated by companies and public authorities, and citizen science projects in which the agenda is set by people themselves. The tools created by PLOTS can be used for all kinds of purposes, even to purposes that the creators of these tools would not want to support. This was discussed often during Mobilityshifts conference – how citizen efforts can be re-appropriated to work against them.

Suspected pipelines found by activists in Govanus Canal. The one marked with red colour is the only one that the city authorities have information about.

The Treekit project has created tools for mapping the exact locations and gathering other useful information about trees that grow in cities. In New York these tools have been used by local people and the resulting dataset is much more comprehensive and accurate than what the park authorities themselves had before. The point of this activity is not just to gather information – the main point is that trees in urban context need nurturing, that someone has to take care of them. In certain areas of NYC there is a lot of pollution in the air and the trees are struggling. Giving them water on a regular basis already helps, some people have started doing this by using big buckets. Healthier trees means healthier air for people to breath.

Treekit is also connected to the ongoing milliontreesNYC project, with currently 499 517 donated, planted or adopted trees.

Treekit – The red squares are the exact locations and sizes of the trees, measured with Treekit tools. The round items are the locations of the same trees in a database used by the city park authorities. (Phil Silva / Treekit)

An interesting discussion followed, related to the transformation that happens when people start using these tools. One could say that these tools allow ‘non-experts’ or ‘common people’ to become ‘experts’, ‘researchers’ or ‘designers’, but the whole idea of a ‘non-expert’ does not seem to make much sense. Phil Silva (Treekit) emphasised the importance of being allowed to make mistakes, that people can start doing things before they have learned all the details.

To me it seems that instead of learning specific knowledge and expertise, the important thing that these projects can give people is a sense of confidence, a sense of authority, a belief that they can change their everyday surroundings. I guess this is what expertise in practice often is – confidence and authority.

Just another day in the park

Zuccotti Park, 14 Oct 2011, 7 AM

During my visit to NYC this week, I had a chance to visit the Zuccotti Park a couple of times. I was impressed by the way discussions and decision-making were arranged. The mood was friendly and jubilant.

It’s unfortunate that the recent discussion related to Occupy Wall Street has focused on the question WHO are the people in the park, or more precisely WHO has the right to be there. To me this question seems rather irrelevant – if Occupy Wall Street is a forum for political discussion then everyone should have the right, even a duty, to be there. Public square as a political tool is a very old invention, it was probably invented before the wheel.

As a my little contribution to the on-going discussion about the Occupy Wall Street movement, I wanted to shortly refer to some thoughts of political theorist / activist Hannah Arendt. I take the liberty to interpret her thoughts quite freely here:

In her most well-known book ‘The Human Condition’, she argues that we should make a distinction between three terms: labor, work and action. LABOR is related to our basic survival as species – we have physical bodies we need to take care of, we need to find food to eat, we need to copulate to produce new human beings. WORK is the way we modify our surroundings, how we create tools, products and services – how we act in our professional occupation. ACTION is the domain where we act as free citizens – the domain where we express our thoughts, the domain where by default we do NOT agree about things.

In the discussion related to Occupy Wall Street movement, these three perspectives tend to get confused. Related to LABOR, the argument is that the people on the square are too well-off: they are not the poorest, they are not the starving ones, so they should shut up and go home. Related to WORK, the ‘WE ARE THE 99%’ slogan has perhaps been more counter-productive than useful for the discussion: it creates a far too simplified idea of ‘us’ versus ‘them’.

Despite your position in the context of LABOR or WORK, you have the right and duty to be part of ACTION, to act as a citizen and participate in the political debate. EVERYONE should have the right to be at the square.

* * *

I visited the park this week on Wednesday evening, when there was a discussion about buying new equipment to handle the live internet transmissions. It was dark, cold, rainy and windy, but direct democracy was still functioning. A decision was made to spend $25 740 for new equipment.

The ‘stack’, ‘blocks’, various hand signals, the live transcript on a screen and foremostly the people’s mic – issues are discussed through a slow, detailed process (see Generally Assembled at #OccupyWallStreet). Some of the hand signals were in used in General Assemblies in Spain and other countries in Europe this summer.

This is NOT how decisions are usually made in everyday life – in schools, in companies, in politics. Occupy Wall Street is an important demonstration of how complex issues can be discussed and decided collectively. Many people have learned this lesson now and hopefully this will have a concrete influence in many big and small institutions where these people are based. I’m not saying that exactly these methods should be copied everywhere – there are also many other methods for implementing direct democracy.

* * *

In her book ‘On Revolution’, Arendt admires the way the constitution of United States was originally written through an elaborate, slow process that involved a large amount of citizens in all the different states. This is the ACTION that Arendt is talking about. It would be great if the constitution would be completely re-written on regular intervals, so that every generation could participate in this important process.

In the same book, she also writes about the ‘lost treasure’ of revolution. It is the exceptional spirit that arises during revolutionary times, the change in one’s being when one gets involved in a movement that wants to fundamentally change things. There is a lot of that spirit in the air at Zuccotti Park and a strong tendency towards ‘unity’ and ‘consensus’. In this sense the event is also a carnival – and it should be so. But if there is only ‘unity’ and ‘consensus’ then the event is just a carnival and no longer a political event. The important political issues are the ones in which there is no clear agreement.

Zuccotti Park, 14 Oct 2011, 7 AM


Alternative Design Capital – the first steps

The first ADC meeting

The first ADC meeting / Photo: Antti Ahonen

Some time ago I wrote a critical blog posting about the upcoming Helsinki World Design Capital year. This posting generated a lot of public discussion and now for some weeks there has been an on-going process to set up an Alternative Design Capital.

What will this Alternative Design Capital aim for and how will it function? We don’t know yet, the discussion about this has only begun. And it’s even unclear how decisions are made. The challenge is to find a healthy ratio between talking and doing, to keep the process open for new ideas but also to fix some key points that can help the project to focus and develop. ADC as an organisation strives to be open and democratic but in contrast to this, in context of design, democracy is most often not the best way to make decisions – this often leads to boring and safe solutions.

There was good energy and great discussions in the first meeting, please join us the second one on Wednesday 19 October 18:00 at HUB Helsinki.

Alternative Design Capital planning wiki can be found here.