Network Society course (XI). Ethan Zuckerman: Innovation in the Network Society (II)

Notes from the course Network Society: Social Changes, Organizations and Citizens, Barcelona, 15-17 October, 2008.

How do social change organizations innovate?
Ethan Zuckerman, Harvard Berkman Center

Social organizations do not innovate, do it badly, or just do it slowly. Quite usually, the assumption is to be unrealistic about the power of technology to enable social change.

Facing a blank canvas gives you the idea that everything is possible. But good art is about constraint. And if you don’t know your constraints, figure them out.

  • Innovation comes from constraint

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail saying does not apply to innovation: innovation is about hacking the hammer and making it better.

Von Hipple (see “more info” below): Lead user theory: users innovate all over the time.

Learning from extreme uses, hostile environments. Africa is a good place to test technology, as the environment is roughest. What works in Africa, works everywhere (AfriGadget, about African innovation).

Some examples of innovation from constraints: the Zeer Pot, the Solar Stove. The problem sometimes is not innovation in processes, but innovation in culture. Then innovation has to be reinvented, hence the solar stove becomes the Jiko:

  • Don’t fight culture
  • Embrace market mechanisms
  • Innovate on existing platforms

Innovation is using the ordinary in extraordinary ways: the Malawi Windmill. Innovation is about hacking existing technology. And the technology that now is spread on Africa is mobile phones: technological innovation in Africa will necessarily be related with hacking mobile phones. Mobile phones have already changed the way sub-Saharan Africans see and do things: TradeNet, to get agricultural information; M-Pesa, to transfer money and make payments; Ushahidi, crowdsourcing crisis information; reporting the 2008 Zimbabwe presidential election to report electoral rigging.

Incremental infrastructure: e.g. a mobile phone antenna that also is a vertical axis power windmill.

  • Problems are not always obvious from afar
  • What you have matters more that what you lack
  • Infrastructure can beget infrastructure

Ethan Zuckerman’s ICT4D Innovation test
  1. Does the innovation comes from constraint?
  2. Does it fight culture?
  3. Does it embrace market mechanisms?
  4. Does it innovate on existing platforms?
  5. Does it come from close observation of the target environment?
  6. Does it focus more on what you have more that what you lack?
  7. Is it based on a “infrastructure begets infrastructure” basis?

Example 1: the OLPC project fails on 1, 3, 5, 6 and maybe 7, only passing on 2 and 4.

Example 2: Kiva passes on 1-4, fails on 5, and not sure whether it passes or fails on 6-7

Example 3: Gobal Voices passes on 1, 4 and 7; fails on 5-6; not sure about 2-3.

Social innovation never comes from a blank canvas. Comes from understanding the needs of all parties. Caveat: sometimes constraints leverage innovation, but are also a limitation for an innovation to go beyond itself.

Q&A

Ricard Ruiz de Querol: How to adapt the innovation based on constraints scheme to e.g. the digital divide in Spain? A: We should be aware whether there is a real digital divide or just a geeky will (unselfish, indeed) for everyone to be a digital native, when those people maybe already got what they needed. So, pushing people towards forced uses might be dysfunctional.

Carlos Domingo: But do we always have to bend to culture and stick to the past? A: It depends whether you’re talking short run or long run. In the long run, you want to figure out how to make culture smoothly evolve; in the short run, fighting culture just will enact an opposition reaction.

Personal reflections

Innovation as a darwinist evolution: no mutations, but adaptive non-disruptive changes based on what best performs on a specific environment.

More info

Von Hippel, E. (2005). Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge: MIT Press

Network Society: Social Changes, Organizations and Citizens (2008)

Course: Network Society: Social changes, organizations and citizens – Definitive programme

A couple of months ago we already announced the course Network Society: Social changes, organizations and citizens.

Finally, we have been able to set up the definitive programme for the course and all the details concerning its organization. The making of both the programme and the sponsorships has been quite an issue, but we believe that we, at last, succeeded in creating a valuable proposal for all those interested in the analysis of the changes that our society faces and the role of technology and culture in the whole set.

There are circa 200 people attending the course and we hope it will become an opportunity to create (and shift towards the Net) an open and critical conversation about the so-called “network society”. Registration closes on Monday October 6th.

The sessions will take place at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), c/ Montalegre 5. We’ve uploaded a wiki (multilingual) where the attendees can introduce themselves, share information and coordinate things like accommodation (the organization has not any agreement with any hotel) transportation or possible parallel activities that anyone might be willing to promote.

The programme is, hence, as follows:

NETWORK SOCIETY:
SOCIAL CHANGES, ORGANIZATIONS AND CITIZENS


Day 1 – Wednesday 15 October

Introduction
09h00 – 09h30 : Opening
09h30 – 10h30 : Juan Freire – Presentation of the course

State of development of the Network Society
Chairs: Ismael Peña-López
11h00 – 12h30 : Irene Mia

Organizations in the Network Society
Chairs: Genís Roca
12h30 – 14h00 : Enrique Dans
16h00 – 17h00 : Santiago Ortiz

Citizenship in the Network Society (I)
Chairs: Marc López
17h30 – 19h00 : Carol Darr


Day 2 – Thursday 16 October

09h00 – 09h30 : Juan Freire – Presentation of the day

Citizenship in the Network Society (II)
Chairs: Marc López
09h30 – 11h00 : Tom Steinberg

Communication in the Network Society
Chairs: Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí
11h30 – 13h30 : Diálogo Josu Jon Imaz y Miquel Iceta
16h00 – 17h30 : Andrew Rasiej
17h30 – 19h00 : Gumersindo Lafuente


Day 3 – Viernes 17 October

Innovation in the Network Society
Chairs: Ismael Peña-López
09h00 – 10h30 : Carlos Domingo
10h30 – 12h00 : Ethan Zuckerman

Closing
Chairs: Juan Freire
12h30 – 14h30 : Round Table
14h30 – 15h00 : Closing

Some more info about the course:

Announcement. Course: Network Society: Social changes, organizations and citizens

I’m pleased to announce an event of which I’m part of the organizing committee, the course Network Society: Social changes, organizations and citizens, to take place in Barcelona, Spain, from 15 to 17 October de 2008.

Some info about the course:

PROGRAMME: NETWORK SOCIETY: SOCIAL CHANGES, ORGANIZATIONS AND CITIZENS


Day 1 – Wednesday 15 October

Introduction
09h00 – 09h30 : Opening
09h30 – 10h30 : Juan Freire – Presentation of the course
10h30 – 11h00 : Café

Citizenship in the Network Society
Chairs: Marc López
11h00 – 12h30 : Carol Darr
12h30 – 14h00 : Tom Steinberg
14h00 – 16h00 : Lunch

Organizations in the Network Society
Chairs: Genís Roca
16h00 – 17h30 : Miguel Cereceda
17h30 – 19h00 : David Weinberger


Day 2 – Thursday 16 October

09h00 – 09h30 : Juan Freire – Presentation of the day

Communication in the Network Society
Chairs: Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí
09h30 – 11h00 : Andrew Rasiej
11h00 – 11h30 : Café
11h30 – 13h30 : Diálogo Josu Jon Imaz & Miquel Iceta
13h30 – 16h00 : Lunch
16h00 – 17h30 : Enrique Dans
17h30 – 19h00 : Gumersindo Lafuente


Day 3 – Viernes 17 October

Innovation in the Network Society
Chairs: Ismael Peña-López
09h00 – 10h30 : Carlos Domingo
10h30 – 12h00 : Ethan Zuckerman
12h00 – 12h30 : Coffee break

Closing
12h30 – 14h30 : Round Table: Freire, Darr, Steinberg, Weinberger, Lafuente, Domingo, Zuckerman, Dans
14h30 – 15h00 : Closing