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Zooming can be fun, as well as more democratic 9 May 2020

Posted by cooperatoby in EU.
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I’ve just taken part in AEIDL’s first online AGM, and I have to say it worked very well. We used Zoom, of course, with the added polling feature. As far as I can see, surprisingly it made the meeting more, not less democratic.

First, it made our democracy more accessible: people attended who normally cannot, and we had 24 of our 31 members there. This is probably a result of it being so much quicker (2 hours) and cheaper, as there are no travelling and no travelling expenses.

Secondly, the discussion was more organised: there was very little interruption – most members muted themselves by default, and you can ‘put your hand up’ on the screen if you want to speak. At the same time the chat feature allows you to comment in real time when the oral debate continues. During our AGM, 4 big ideas cropped up, which Luca harvested and reported back on at the end. In this way, I think it actually increased interactivity, by allowing us to intervene more often, but without having to interrupt the current speaker. In a physical meeting, you have to postpone your comment, and by that time the moment has often passed. In future we could use breakout rooms, to allow small groups to discuss an issue in parallel.

Quick votes

We found the polling feature worked very well when we had to vote: it was more-or-less instantaneous as well as being transparent (though anonymous), with the result clearly displayed as a percentage bar-graph of yesses, nos and abstentions.

On the negative side, you undoubtedly lose the excitement of having a day out of the office, foreign travel, meeting people socially, eating together, and serendipitous learning and ideas.

And our success relied on meticulous preparation (thanks Jean). Even with the agenda and slides on the shared screen, participants have to take care to download and study the necessary documents beforehand.


When the ESF Transnational Platform (RIP) started up, both we and the Commission expected online meeting to be popular. But this never happened, with fewer than 10% of Thematic Network meetings taking this format. In retrospect this was a great shame, as it could have increased the breadth of participation and learning. If it’s any help, we published a guide setting out some guidelines and handy formats for meetings and webinars.

For me, the whole experience went so well that I am minded to propose that we hold virtual general meetings more frequently.

Social Impulse – a brand for urban and social CLLD? 12 December 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in EU, journalism.
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Event flowAt the Telling the Story conference yesterday, the Commission took the offensive to stem the tide of negative feelings about the EU. It assembled 800 communications professionals to help them to ‘tell the story’ about the good work the EU does with its various funds. According to Pascal Chelala of Eurobarometer, the public image of the EU has been in steady decline since 2007. But the trend is the opposite among people who have heard of the EU’s funds – here the approval rating is on the rise. Awareness of the ESF has risen by 4% in the last few years – to 44%. However the proportion of people who actually have heard of the EU funds varies widely – from 80% in Poland to only 10% in the UK. That explains a lot.
The event was both innovative and nostalgic for me. The pleasant nostalgia came from the fact that it was held in the Square, the conference centre that commands the Mont des Arts, with a panoramic view of Brussels. When it housed the Economic and Social Committee it was the first official building I came to in Brussels, for a CECOP general meeting in 1985. We used to meet in the Salle Europe (now the Arc), and I remember being amazed at the institutional welfare state which sold me coffee at only 10 francs (24 cents nowadays).

A new style of conference

The innovation was the open and participative style, aided by a comedy duet and graphic visualisation – i.e. cartoons.
Commissioner Johannes Hahn made the plea that regional policy should be seen as an investment policy with a return in terms of solidarity and welfare, and hence must apply across the whole EU and not be limited to the least developed parts. His colleague Dacian Cioloş pointed out that nowadays the CAP has territorial and social dimensions, and supports the production of social good such as biodiversity. It was good that Zoltán Kazatsay, deputy head of the Employment DG, chose to preface his speech with a testimony from an actual ESF beneficiary, Brigitte Debey. Lowri Evans, head of the Fisheries DG, was impressively to-the-point: the fisheries reform will mean more fish and more jobs – perhaps 7 million of them in coastal areas. She instanced Northern Irish fisherman Sam Cully, whose life was saved by an EU-supplied lifejacket. Nevertheless, journalists complained that the sort of firm information on real projects that they need to ‘tell the story’ is infuriatingly hard to obtain.
The high point was a masterclass in storytelling from Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans and a controversial biography of Mao Zedong. She told us how it as to live through the cultural revolution, and signed copies of her new book on Empress Dowager Cixi – the woman who abolished the torture known as foot binding

Gamification is the way to go

I learnt a lot about using social media from two expert contributors. Sean MacNiven, Head of Communications Innovation at SAP, talked about the trend to ‘gamification’. People like playing computer games because they have are clear goals and rules, they give constant feedback, you are allowed to fail, and you are promoted on merit. So a game like Farmville could be used to promote agricultural policy. This is not such a silly idea – look at what Sim City has done for town planning. His main reference is Gabe Zichermann, who says what motivates learning is the ‘3 Fs’: feedback, friends and fun.
Aurélie Valtat, the Council’s Digital Communications Manager, was also impressive. She encouraged communicators to think in terms of messages not ‘lines to take’ (rebuttals). Using social media is a matter of starting with an existing community and turning it into an audience: for instance the Employment DG started Social Europe after consulting the relevant NGOs. She advised communicators to be prepared for adverse reactions – which, where government is concerned, there will always be. “If you offend no one, it’s a sure way to be forgettable.”

Telling the story about CLLD

I contributed to the workshop on ‘communicating CLLD’ by presenting the case of Portugal’s Programa Escolhas (‘Choices’), a national ESF programme that has trained 220,000 young people, mostly of migrant origin. It operates in 110 places across the country, with an €8m annual budget. It is successful, having reintegrated 10,000 people into education or work, and given 14,000 of them IT qualifications – at a cost per participant day of just 42 cents. It undertakes two distinct communication operations:
• to partners and potential clients, via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Ning etc. It has produced 365 ‘life stories’ and has a weekly slot on national television.
• to institutions. It has maintained unwavering political support for 12 years by providing robust evidence of its effectiveness, through 20 impact indicators, calculations of social return, and thorough external evaluation.
Everyone in the workshop knew and approved of CLLD, and we saw some excellent examples of communicating it – see the video by Dreckly Fish in Cornwall, which was produced for €600! Thomas Müller of the LEADER group in Sauwald, Austria, gave us an excellent 8-point plan for putting CLLD over to local people.
The conclusions were that we are strong at putting out success stories of changed lives and livelihoods, but how do you explain the processes that produced them? The building of alliances and the negotiation of funding streams are riveting to very few. And the concept of CLLD is complex. Maybe LEADER has been over-codified, suggested our chair, Paul Soto. Its seven principles were developed in response to a Court of Auditors report, but in adapting the method to tackle urban and social problems, we may need to slim them down to the essentials: delegation of power and user participation. In towns, there is often no clearly delimited geographical area, there is a multitude of interested parties, and there are overlapping communities.
CLLD is a funding mechanism not a brand. Rural policy has the LEADER brand, and coastal policy the FARNET brand. So what is needed is a brand for urban and social CLLD – ‘Social Impulse’ was suggested.

Neoblogisms 11 November 2012

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I propose the following neologisms:

ffriend – Facebook ‘friend’
flike – Facebook ‘like’
blogorrhoea – blogging too much

Eric Fischer’s Twitter and Flickr Maps 30 October 2012

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Prepare to be amazed:

Eric Fischer's Twitter and Flickr Maps.

Work and play networks 30 October 2012

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Quantity and quality
The big thing that my LinkedIn network map doesn’t show is the quality of the relationships. I have to admit that in the case of LinkedIn this isn’t very high with me – at the moment it is limited to taking a mild interest in what people are doing, and adding a few well-chosen comments to as discussion now and then (for instance on the rightness of British canals being given over to a charity rather than a ‘mutual’ as the government miscalls it. Of course the charity could spawn subsidiary social enterprises). Whereas with Facebook the ‘bandwidth’ is much broader – it is populated with a lot of photos and jokes and is interactive in more unpredictable ways. This is a drawback as well as an advantage, as Simon was saying on Sunday. With Facebook you get a steady or rather an erratic – flow of enjoyable surprises – it is good for stimulating unexpected thoughts. It is ludic and serendipitous, which I like. The downside to this is that you don’t know what you’re missing – FB’s relevance engine filters things and doesn’t tell you how – so for instance Truus gets my utterances but I seem not to get hers.
Whereas somehow LinkedIn is hard work – it has a serious face, it’s about “getting on” in the world. And I don’t like to divide those sides of myself up too rigidly. I like to work at what I believe in, so that work is creative and builds something, and is not a loss of time but an enrichment of time – co-operation is an expression of this. My previous post revealed that my Facebook ffriends fall into this work/play dichotomy (currently at least – I’m waiting for it to change). With LinkedIn the dichotomy is vertical – the work layer is visible and the play layer is hidden underneath.
Fragmentation or layering?
I’d been thinking that the future for FB was inevitably one of fission and fragmentation – that as the whole world joined (we are already 1/6 of the way there) then it would become less and less useful, and that ‘walled gardens’ and premium networks would come back into fashion. What is in fact happening is a sort of vertical segmentation, with the idea of ‘close friends’ and so on, pinched from Google+. This is very welcome as it will increase transparency and predictability.
I haven’t yet become comfortable with Twitter – and as I ramble on maybe that’s as it should be. But I’m capable of concision so maybe that will change too!

LinkedIn network map 29 October 2012

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LinkedIn has a network mapping tool too, and it’s very pretty. It’s fairly predictable, the way I have 6 clusters of connections plus a few single unattached individuals – but the thing it brings to my mind most is the people who AREN’T there – the gaps in the network. I suppose some people are just like that. Some of them are in my Facebook network map, so now I want to merge the two of them. This is only the first-level network of course. If we had more dimensions we could show deeper levels – contacts-of-contacts.

As an afterthought, the map seem to show that the co-operators (in blue on the right) are a very cohesive network among themselves – more densely interconnected than my other work-related communities. I suppose that’s because co-operation is more than just a job.

My two social networks 27 October 2012

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I’ve just discovered (after tens of thousands of other people) that the computation engine Wolfram|Alpha will do an amazing analysis of your Facebook usage if only you type ‘Facebook report’ into its search box. It calculates reams of information such as how many links you upload, what time of day you log in, who comments on your entries, where they say they live and what they say their birthdays are. It produces some amazing charts too, including a wordcloud of your comments (my most common word is ‘economic’).

Wolfram|Alpha network analysis of my Facebook friends

This is the best chart – a network analysis of my 91 Facebook friends. Reader, you can see that you fall into one of 4 main clusters. The salient fact though is that my ‘ffriends’ are rigidly divided into two worlds – work and family – no one bridges the gap. The co-operative world makes up the top half of the chart, with the British side in orange on the left and the European side in khaki on the right – linked by CECOP and Vivian. Brussels Labour is the outlier top left and COPIE & AEIDL are top right. Truus’s family is in blue bottom left, and my family in green bottom centre, linked by Truus herself, Zanna and Liana. Way over on the right are 3 old friends from Suma. Finally as is inevitable for a dumb computer, some people are in the wrong place – and so Ian Symonds has attached himself to Truus’s family.

It’s a fascinating diagram. I wonder whether the two halves of my schizophrenic existence will ever connect to each other? And if only WordPress had similar analytics.

Why is it all kicking off? 24 January 2012

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Paul Mason in his Guardian video says that the Capitalist Realism of the Neocons – the belief that while we studied reality they were remaking it – has come crashing to a halt. A generation has had the future they predicted cancelled just like that, and some have adopted very radical beliefs: from Lib Dem to Black Block anarchist. Many of them don’t read ‘old stuff’, but rely on social media, which are consistently 14 hours ahead of the mainstream. In the 20th century telephone companies extracted value from the network effect; what today’s protesters are doing is extracting another kind of value, which is non-monetary. Social media give you a free hit of momentum – and of ‘dis-momentum’ – protesters know when to swarm and when to break off. Sociologists have thought this mercurial nature of the social media generation is a weakness, but it can be a strength.

There seems to be a link with the flocking behaviour of birds like starlings, the preferred image of the European Social Franchising Network.

When will the Facebook bubble pop? 23 July 2010

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So Facebook has half a million members – 1 in 13 of the world’s population. It has become the indispensable monopolist. The social revolution it has engendered is that we no longer separate our work and personal lives. We promote ourselves as individuals all the time. It’s coming to be that the more we reveal about ourselves, the more we are trusted – the absence of a visible “hinterland” is seen not as a healthy concern for privacy but as being abnormally secretive and a bad sign. But there might be a backlash to this. First, if we use online social networks to manufacture an identity for ourselves, then this will eventually be seen to be (a) too much effort; and (b) too easy to fake. Secondly, there’s certainly no utility at all in being networked with most of the world’s population, and we will get tired of this endless self-promotion. To my taste, Facebook has thankfully grown out of its childishness (the sending of bunches of flowers) but has now got too commercial (it’s idiotic to think you can be friends with a brand). In an era of a superabundance of possible connections, the only way forward is to fragmentation into niche networks in which people, as in real life, choose whom they network with. LinkedIn already does some of that, by forcing you to justify how you know someone – a sort of password test.

Hypertrophy 17 October 2009

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I have joined the incredible 51 million people who are reputed to have started ploughing, seeding and harvesting virtual crops in Farmville. I have a small herd of pink cows that moo, chew and produce strawberry milk. I plant a biodiverse and photogenic range of crops, from pumpkins to red peppers, and I am not going for prairie-style monoculture just to get to the next level faster. Though it would be nice to have some more land, I have to wait 7 more levels for that.

Why and how has the game become so incredibly popular since its launch only 4 months ago? Because it combines a high number of attractive traits:
– cute graphics: you can look at your ‘farm’ as a sort of animated dolls’ house;
– the tamagochi effect: it’s something to care for. You have to harvest your crops befoere they wilt, and when you pet your animals they love you back. Sweet!
– the business model: there’s a trade-off between the cost of the seed, the time is takes to mature and there selling price off the crop that makes it more than just decorative;
– competition: your neighbours can see your wealth and the level you’ve reached, so if you like yoou can race them;
– social networking: the only reason I started was because my children-in-law invited me to (just so they can show off their flashy new crops all the time);
– identity: you can plant various national flags (indeed there was a minor diplomatic crisis after India’s flag was omitted);
– topical relevance: every so often special one-off items appear, like spooky trees to mark halloween.

Apparently 11 million virtual farmers go down to their fields every day. how long can it last?

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