fredag 21 december 2012

Sustainability team kick-off

Our Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID) sustainability team (finally) kicked off our kick-off this week. The sustainability team has no less than 21 members on its' distribution list and nine of us managed to take a whole day off to discuss past and future activities of the team. A tenth member was supposed to come but had to meet a doctor urgently and an eleventh person had to cancel because of an important trip. The majority of the team members who did not show up for the kick-off are in fact lurkers who for the most part are happy to (only) read mail sent to our distribution list. Quite a few team "members" have for example not participated in a single team meeting during the autumn term. But that's totally ok and we thus have "active" as well as "passive" team members.

The team doesn't have a huge budget (yet) so we held our meeting in the home of Green Leap design professor and team member Teo Enlund in Saltsjö-Duvnäs. Other team members who showed up for the kick-off were: me, Malin, Elina, Åke, Hannes, Cristi, Anders and Katarina.

Except of breaks for lunch and coffee, we had six hours of activities and quite a hectic schedule. Some nay-sayers thought the program I had planned was too ambitious, but I and everyone else present did a great job of proving these mild doubters wrong. So what did we actually do during our kick-off? Here's what:

- Short presentations of each person present. Why are you here and what's your interest in this area (sustainability)? What do you do job-wise concerning sustainability and what do you want to do in the future? Special emphasis was put on discussing what each of us wants to get out of his/her membership in the team. Membership and participation in team activities is voluntary. We all contribute with our time, so what outcomes (functions) makes (active) team membership worthwhile for people? Some suggestions were:
   - Support regarding these issues in everyday life.
   - Sustainability is a complex issue - gaining a wider perspective when meeting people with other entry points into the area, other research interests and questions.
   - Build competence together with others.
   - Get to know about upcoming conferences and other activities of interest.
   - Find partners for writing papers and research grant applications.
   - Match our individual needs with others' competences as we get to know each other better, i.e. "I need someone who can help me with X in my project".

- The next session started with an information session (discussions and decisions):
   - Hannes talked about his and Jorge's Green Hackathon events. Hannes was fresh off the plane from the latest (Athens) Green Hackathon and the next will be held in Zürich in February in connection and as a part of the ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) conference. I will go the the conference together with a whole bunch of CESC and MID sustainability team members.
   - We also talked about our (sometimes smooth, sometimes slightly more rocky) relationship to the KTH Center for Sustainable Communications (CESC). Who would be interested in a part- or full-time workplace in the "CESC corridor" when the center moves its location next year (Elina, Malin and Daniel as it turned out). Some of us will also attend the annual CESC workshop in January next year and the Zürich February ICT4S conference.

   - Finally we needed to find a new slot for our group meetings. We decided to shift from bi-weekley Monday morning meetings to bi-weekly Tuesday lunch meetings and to sync our meetings with the CESC bi-weekly post-lunch information meetings/mini-seminars. We can have our meeting and our lunches at the same time and then together go to the CESC meeting. This is something that for sure will boost our attendance at the CESC meetings which is another great outcome.

- Next we were supposed to work in smaller groups and generate ideas for master's thesis proposals that our group could stand behind, but this specific activity was sidelined by instead brainstorming and writing outlines for workshop submissions to the CHI 2012 "Post-sustainability" workshop. Four smaller break-out groups worked on different tasks and I believe two groups will follow through and submit proposals for the January 11 deadline. Me and Åke did solid groundwork for a worshop position paper and Hannes and Elina also had a great idea for a workhshop submission.

- We even managed to write a Christmas song for the upcoming Christmas dinner at our department! We probably spent way too much time on this task but it got the whole group involved and was great fun!

- The second-to-last and probably "heaviest" activity in our program was to discuss who we are as a group. How do we want to define or limit our activities and how do we want to present ourselves on the department homepage? What description can encompasses our diverse interests and still say something meaningful? Can we formulate a description that we all can stand behind? What do we as a group want to accomplish during 2013? We ended up with a list of keywords and the team left the task of actually writing up some kind of coherent text to me. I'll work on that first thing next year!

- The last activity before finishing off our day with a dinner together was to discuss as well as launch our sustainability team blog, We decided to start a WordPress blog (my first!) and also made some decisions about its function and use. The blog will be written in English and it will be accessible for anyone to read, but the function of the blog will (at least primarily) be internal - i.e. we will write with the rest of the team as our audience. We will diligently use categories and tags for our posts. Blog posts should be short (unlike the blog posts here!) and can for example include:
   - short presentations of team members
   - I read a good/interesting book/article, here are my thoughts
   - Take a look at this upcoming seminar/workshop/Ph.D. course/conference/call for research grant applications 
   - I've been to this interesting seminar/workshop/conference, here are my thoughts
   - I handed in a research grant application
   - I got funded!
   - I've formulated a new master's thesis proposal
   - I've been the advisor of a bachelor's/master's thesis
   - A short presentation of the upcoming team meeting external guest
   - Here's what we did at our latest team meeting!

All in all, the kick-off was a great success and people were happy about both the meeting and the outcomes. I talked with a few members from other teams at the department Christmas dinner the following evening, and I realized (to my great surprise) that our team is now a lot more coherent and organized than several of the other teams at our department. At the last year's Christmas dinner, "the sustainability team" label existed only as placeholder, and by last summer the team had only met a handful of times (three or perhaps four). To my surprise it now suddenly seems we are getting our shit together and are on a roll compared to some of the other teams! How did that happen?

That's great and all, but next year will for sure be better than this - our first - year has been. Although we did not really have time to discuss our team goals for 2013, I just sort of assume next year will be the year when team members start to write things together (scientific papers but also research grant applications)!

fredag 14 december 2012

Step 3 research network

Economist Kenneth Boulding has famously said that "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist".

Anyone with an ounce of numeracy can understand the deep truth in the claim that exponential growth is impossible in the long run (as such curves inevitably turn to the heavens and beyond). But at the same time, our everyday experiences (and those of our parents and of their parents and of relatives, neighbors, journalists, politicians and "captains of industry") seem to contradict this statement. We have come to take (exponential) economic growth for granted. Anything less than 3% or perhaps 2% or even 1% economic growth year-on-year "forever" is taken to be an aberration. Few people seriously consider the implications of a steady-state economy - an economy that doesn't grow. I could write whole essays about this topic, and I have (in Swedish).

There are however a few people who do consider and plan for a steady-state or even a shrinking economy, and some of them have gathered under the umbrella of the organization Steg 3 ("Step 3"). Step 3 is thus a Swedish growth-critical (or as they prefer to say, a "growth-realistic") grassroots movement that wants to raise the dilemmas of economic growth into the public debate. How can the single-minded goal of economic growth be dethroned from its position as the one and only goal worth discussing and indeed thinking about in our society? How can we instead discuss life quality above and beyond (only) economic values and economic dimensions?

I saw an invitation and went to a November Step 3 meeting that apparently was some kind of kick-off activity. People clustered in more than a dozen different groups and talked about specific issues that were close to their hearts ("sustainable city development", "decreasing working hours", "visions of alternatives (to the current system)", "influencing media", "influencing politics", "denial", "inner change"). Some of these spontaneous discussion groups have later turned into Step 3 working groups. I personally suggested there should be a group working on "growth-critical research" - specifically targeting those of us working at universities and/or within research and higher education.

We have thus formed such a group and we held our first meeting yesterday (four persons showed up). We discussed what the function of such a group could/should be, and what we (us four) would personally like to get from such a group. The activities of the group will be organized though a distribution list tying researchers in different parts of Sweden together, as well as complemented with local meetings in cities with a critical mass of people.

At the moment, eight persons are interested in coming to physical meetings in Stockholm and 12 persons have expressed their interest in being on a distribution list. I think these numbers will rise when there is a group and a distribution list to point at.

So, what kind of activities would such a group do? We floated some ideas and I think the number of ideas will increase further when more people join in. Still, I think we managed to together formulate an impressive list of uses - definitely enough to make such a group instantly useful for me personally. Here is a selection of stuff we want to use this group for:

Things we can do directly:

  • Start a distribution list (a Google group with automatic archival functionality)
  • Ask members to post a short presentation of themselves on the list

Things to then do:
  • Keep track (repost) info about upcoming conferences (workshops etc.).
  • "Best paper award"; each member lists his/her three favorite Step 3-related (annotated) scientific articles
  • My interests: three research questions I would love to explore
  • Find co-authors for contributions to conferences, workshops etc.
  • Keep track of grant proposals
  • Find co-authors for grant proposals
  • Form a reference group that could give feedback on not-yet-handed-in grant proposals
  • Exchange lectures in university courses (or tips about guest lecturers)
  • ...

Things to do later:
  • Organize a retreat/workshop at a members country house (should be several to choose from in this particular group...) to get to know each other better, find people with overlapping interests and form smaller groups with people you could/would like to cooperate with
  • Write articles together
  • Help other university teachers create Step 3-inspired or Step 3-related university courses (or activities/modules in courses)
  • Facebook group? Blog with more advanced functionality?
  • ...

We did not think the primary purpose of the distribution list should be to discuss different issues. The functions above are less "interactive" and geared more towards networking and disseminating information. I think that is as it should be. I like discussions, but perhaps not in a distribution list... 

We didn't think too much about the interaction between our group and the larger Step 3 network - that is still to come. There are probably many other things we haven't thought about yet, but I'm pretty happy about the meeting and about the outcome.

If you are interested in joining our growth-critical research network/group, please first sign up as a Step 3 member and then get in touch with me!

lördag 8 december 2012

Future of Magazines - post-presentation reflections

I've written quite a few blog posts this autumn that relates to the course Future of Media and this year's theme Future of Magazines and Magazines of the Future. This will in fact not be the last blog post on that topic even though the most visible part of the course (the actual projects) came to an end yesterday with a huge public presentation (schedule here) with an estimated audience of 200-250 persons. The KTH internal newsletter "Campi" wrote a (Swedish-language) text about the course with a focus on the final presentation.

This year's course, and the public presentation yesterday, must be regarded as a huge success. Beyond the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students in our program (who have to come to the presentation), there were also more external guests than ever before, including 60+ persons from industry (Bonnier, Aller Media, Sveriges Tidskrifter, WAN-IFRA, Schibsted, Svenska Dagbladet, Metro International, Aftonbladet, Expressen, Ekstra Bladet (DK), Tidningen Arbetsliv, Världen idag, Shourtcut Magazines, Campi, Tidningskungen, Grafiska företagens förbund and many smaller companies).

I had also recruited a great panel (or "jury") consisting of no less than five persons who provided the project groups with instant feedback and some questions:

- Anders Malmström, CEO for Bonnier International Magazines
- Milad Hosseinzadeh, Architect at White arkitekter, entrepreneur and guest teacher at KTH/Architecture
- Kristina Sabelström Möller, Tech. Dr. (KTH) and Senior project manager/researcher, most recently at Expressen
- Björn Thuresson, Senior researcher at KTH/CSC
- Jonas Olofsson, Business development manager at Bonnier Research & Development

The panel were, on the other hand, quite tough in the post-presentation deliberations. This is something that I will take into account, but their judgements will at the same time be "diluted" by other aspects that go into the grading and that the panel don't know anything about (see below). This however leads me to reflect a little on the process and work that needs to be done for next year's course; I wonder if what the panel perceived to be their job differs from what the students have aimed at (based on my instructions). I think this might be the case and wonder if it's a case of just clarifying goals to the students and the panel (i.e. just a matter of better communication), or if it's also a matter of re-writing and/or developing these goals.

What the panel can judge is:
1) The quality of the concept/scenario (is it relevant, does it have innovation height, is it credible, does it meet a real needs etc.)
2) The quality of the 10-minute presentation, i.e. the performance itself (was it well structured, did it  communicate the concept in a good way, was the presentation fun, innovative, were the presenters themselves doing a good job etc.)
3) The quality of supporting design representation ["gestaltning"]. These design representations most often consisted of a short movies - did they have a high degree of professional craftsmanship, did they manage to communicate the concept, did the presentation and design representation/movie support each other and form a coherent "story" etc.)

Beyond that, there are several other things that I (and my side-kick teacher) can judge:
4) The concept (again) but this time as expressed in the project report (where for example technical matters can be further developed and references can be made use of more effectively)
5) The quality/finish of the text itself, seen as a text (degree of professional craftsmanship, and divorced from other functions of the text (point 4 above))
6) The underlying work/research effort (desktop research/literature review, interviews, focus groups, surveys etc.)
7) The process (did a good job with the original project proposal, have handed in weekly status reports in time, attended the coordination meetings) things in time etc.)  

I think it would be of great help to next year's students if the tradeoff between different goals (as expressed in the 7 points above) could be clarified. Perhaps the description of the course should be updated too to better reflect any such changes. Before I start to do that, I would however like to read the students' evaluation of the course (due 10 days from now for early birds and beginning of January for late birds). 

One univocal success of the course is the idea of having an "executive group" help out. That is, beyond the 12 project groups exploring different aspects of the future of magazine, we have a 13th group, an "executive group", who help manage different aspects of the course-seen-as-a-project. These students make it possible to make something truly special out of the course, above and beyond what is normally possible in a university (project) course. 

Two panelists (those with the most experience of university courses) commented on the brilliance of having such a group. The secret of the sauce is of course also to man such a group with capable students, something that fortunately has never been a problem in this course. This year there were no less than six persons in this group, and each person was personally responsible for a particular task; 1) the final presentation, 2) the web page, 3) the book we printed, 4) documentation and archival of the project on the web, 5) sponsors and promotion material and finally 6) project leadership and overall coordination of the executive group (as well as the "point woman" in the contact with the responsible teacher - me). 

Again, the course and the final presentation was an overall resounding success and something that will be hard to beat for next year's students! My only remaining headache is to grade these projects and that will be tough. My problem is this: the easy way out would be to give high grades (A-B) to most groups. They might or might not be worth it, based on the criteria in the course PM and list of aspects that can be evaluated (above). Giving lower grades might on the other hand also not feel totally fair as all groups have worked hard or very hard with their projects. What I would prefer is for for the course to be worth more credits (taking into account the work effort of the groups), and at the same time giving me increased possibilities to use the full spectrum of the grade scale (A-E or at least A-D) when I evaluate these projects (and with input from the side-kick teacher and the panel/jury). The number of course credits it something that is really really tough to change though...