fredag 28 oktober 2016

HCI and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (workshop)


I just came home from the 9th NordiCHI conference in Gothenburg. I will write a blog post about the conference itself, but this blog post is about the Monday October 24 pre-conference workshop that Elina Eriksson and I organised together with Oliver Bates (Lancaster University, UK), Maria Normark (Södertörn University), Jan Gulliksen (KTH), Mikael Anneroth (Ericsson Research) and Johan Berndtsson (inUse). The name of the workshop was "HCI and UN's Sustainable Development Goals: Responsibilities, Barriers and Opportunities" and all of the seven organizers attended the workshop with the exception of Johan who was replaced by his colleague Ingrid Domingues at the very last minute.

The workshop has a webpage/blog of its own and I also wrote a blog post about the workshop back in June when we wanted people to sign up for attending it. Here's the timeline and the background as to how we came to organize it:
- February/March: Oliver Bates and Maria Normark separately got in touch with Elina and me with a request/question about organizing a NordiCHI workshop on something having to do with sustainability.
- April 21: It all came to us (Elina and me) just before we were to have a Skype session with Oliver and Maria. We proposed the theme (HCI and the UN SDGs) and it was immediately accepted.
- Beginning of May: We handed in our workshop proposal to NordiCHI after having recruited three more organizers. The rest is history.

For convenience I copy this short blurb about the workshop from my previous (June) blog post:

"Our NordiCHI workshop is called "HCI and UN's Sustainable Development Goals: Responsibilities, Barriers and Opportunities" and it takes as its' starting point the 17 new global UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim at accomplishing sustainable development for people and the planet by 2030. With this workshop, we propose that HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) should start working with the SDGs, or at least explore if and how HCI could work with the SDGs"

The original questions we posed for the workshop were:

  • How can Sustainable HCI be inspired by, and contribute to the SDG goals? 
  • What should we in the field of HCI do more of, and what should we perhaps do less of? 
  • In what areas should we form partnerships in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals? 
  • And with whom should we form these partnerships?

Beyond the seven organizers, there was also an additional dozen or so participants who attended the workshop (as well as two late cancellations) and the workshop led to several new acquaintances that might matter in some way(?) in the future. I have to say that it was especially nice to meet and get to know the brand new acquaintances Maja van der VeldenLea Schick and Hrönn Brynjarsdottir Holmer. I also have to say that their workshop submissions (applications) were very all good in the sense that I learned something new when I read them. 

Maja (University of Oslo) immediately recognized me and correctly claimed that we had met before - 12 years ago - at a small conference called Cultural Attitudes towards Technology and Communication (CATaC) that was held in Karlstad in 2004. Lea (IT University of Copenhagen) is primarily an Science and Technology Studies (STS) scholar and this was her first HCI conference ever. We both shared a research interest in energy and had lots to talk about at the conference reception the following day. I have finally read several landmark Sustainable HCI paper by Hrönn (Cornell University) but had never met her before so that was really nice. Hrönn has worked together with NordiCHI conference workshop chair Maria Håkansson (Chalmers University of Technology) who also attended our workshop. I also have to say that I bumped into Lizette Reitsma a lot during the rest of the conference. She's from the Netherlands but is right now doing a design researcher at Energy Design Studio at the Interactive Institute Swedish ICT - so we have friends in common. Except for me and Elina, my colleagues Cecilia Katzeff and Hanna Hasselqvist (that I meet most days at KTH) also attended the workshop. For a complete list of workshop attendees, see the very end of this blog post.

--- Session 1 ---

The workshop consisted of four 1.5-hour long work sessions and we basically spent the whole first session presenting ourselves to each other through 16 pecha kucha presentations. Each persons had prepared six slides and after having started your presentation, you had 20 seconds to talk before the image automatically shifted to the next. That's a great way to present yourself and each of the 16 persons who attended the workshop did in fact come prepared with six slides each. Things just stick when you hear someone talk and see the talk being accompanied by slides with text and pictures.

--- Session 2 ---

We started the second session by mapping (with post-it notes) the connection between HCI and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These questions helped us get started:
  • How can Sustainable HCI be inspired by, and contribute to the SDGs goals? 
    • Can you list HCI projects, artifacts, papers that can be connected to SDGs?

Picture: Yellow = own projects, Orange = projects by others who self-identify as being part of Sustainable HCI, Pink = HCI in general.

We had intended we would then work with the almost-empty SDGs (Should we work with this (from an HCI point of view almost unexplored) goal? How? What could HCI contribute with?), but there was a small revolution among the participants. Why not work on the SDGs where a lot of work has been done and "straighten them out", someone suggested. After a chaotic intermission, we re-organised the session on the fly. Our schedule for the second and the third session was partly shot out of the water and we instead improvised and tried to read the mood of the congregation and it worked out for the best!

So we jumpstarted a process we had planned for later where those who wanted could suggested topics they wanted to discuss and if enough people joined, that discussion happened (in competition with other suggested topics). I suggested a discussion specifically about the (connection between) "SDGs and ecological sustainability" and with the addition that this should be seen/discussed/framed in opposition to the well-known "novelty craze" within HCI. I worked almost exclusively on this topic together with Lizette Reitsma, Hrönn Brynjarsdottir Holmer and Maja van der Velden (below) for an hour and we were so into the subject that we just took a short break to get refreshments and then went back and worked through most of the lunch break. 

Picture: From left to right: Lizette Reitsma, Hrönn Brynjarsdottir Holmer, Maja van der Velden

Here are some of our (not necessarily very structured) thoughts - they would do better in a mind-mappy format but I've given it my best:

- We criticized "mainstream" HCI as it sometimes seems to be about developing technologies in search of problems rather than the other way around. HCI as well as design can also be a little too much about the cult of genius, of believing and teaching our students that our heroes are genius designers (Steve Jobs etc.). We should replace some of the ("non-humble") design that is taught today and that emphasizes novelty! new projects! new stuff! with "humble design".

- Humble design; part design and part plain old user-centeredness. Solving real people's real problems and perhaps also including problems or challenges that animals and nature have (due to the actions of humans)? We would emphasize HCI that solves problems rather than (compulsively) desiging new technologies. Some have already worked on this, e.g. "undesign" (Pierce), "self-obviating systems" (Tomlinson et. al.) and Baumer and Silberman's "When the implication is not to design (technology)".

- Also and as an anti-dote to the emphasis on newness, more attention should be paid (lavished) on restorative HCI/design, design for repair, modularity and recylcability, on the right to repair, on obsolescence and (arguably) on the maker movement and 3-D printing.

- So what to do then? On a general level we need to widen our horizons and encourage more interdisciplinary work/cooperation. One concrete example that came up was how Maja's department "forces" (encourages?) ph.d. students to think about ethical challenges of their work by way of including a field in a template they have to fill in. I think of this as a field in the Individual Study Plans (ISPs) that all our ph.d. students at KTH have to fill out and regularly update. So could there be an equivalent (for example) for the SDGs when you submit a paper to a conference? There can be lots of instructions today about font and size, placement of pictures and tables but also about not using colloquial or sexist terms in the paper template you download. So why not then a header about ethical aspects of the research that has been conducted or about the connection between the research that is being reported upon and the UN Sustainable Development Goals? Just as all non-systems-building papers kind of have to end with a (sometimes tacked-on) "Implications for design" section/angle, why then couldn't there be an "Implications for the Sustainable Development Goals" section/angle? This would be especially pertinent in a conference with a theme that connects to sustainability - like the next (2018) NordiCHI conference which will be organized in Oslo two years from now and which has the theme/tagline "Revisiting the life cycle".

- We also discussed the obsession to "solve problems" in mainstream HCI, even if that process is proceeded by "creating problems" where there does not really exist any, or where there only exist small problems before. You first have to argue that we have Important Problems (of some kind) in our homes before you can start to market robot vacuum cleaners (and so on). So I was reminded of Raghavan's paper "Abstraction, indirection, and Sevareid's Law". Sevareid's law states that "The chief source of problems is solutions", e.g. solutions (or "solutions") are the origin of new problems. Ex: the combustion was the solution to several problems of which one was an excess of manure on the city streets, but now the combustion engine constitutes a problem in itself (CO2 emissions, climate change as well as a number of other problems). This whole complex of problems - solutions - new problems - new solutions (etc.) is thus a problem in itself - and I'm gonna solve it! That's kind of a joke, but, the way to solve this problem might in fact be not to solve it (if you get my drift - having read Tainter on complexity being a bitch or Greer on problems and predicaments is an advantage here).

- Doctors have the Hippocratic oath so we should perhaps have an oath of our own. It was suggested that we should look at "The Karlskrona Manifesto for Sustainability Design" and adapt it to HCI. I'm game if someone wants to lead that effort! My suggestion was to also have a look at the work that is being done on Slow technology, e.g. on technology that is "good", "clean" and "fair".

- It was suggested that HCI should be responsible for how the things we design are used (e.g. "responsible design"). This is a tough requirement as it would not just mean a responsibility for design and development but would also encompass deployment and end-of-life responsibilities. It would most certainly lead to a slowing down of the speed at which technologies are being designed and deployed today. Some references that were being thrown around at this point was Dourish (and Bell) on Ubicomp messes, Nardi on HCI mostly designing objects and services for the global affluent (upper) middle class (us! ourselves!) and "Phoebe Senger stuff" as well as (again) work on "Undesign". 

- Despite the term "slow" (as in slow tech) turning up here, we agreed that it is a term that would be tainted in HCI and another term has to be used (or invented). Also there is a need to operationalize "slow"; slow tech, slow research, slow-what-exactly? Also; how slow, slow at what level, slow as assuming reflection or slow (also) as something else? And "slowness" is of course also on a collision course with current reward systems in HCI, in computing and indeed in much of science in general...

- We also compared "mainstreaming of sustainability" with "having sustainability at the core". Mainstreaming would make systems Greener (here pronounced "Green-err") using today as a baseline, but the more hardcore version/vision of sustainability would not "spread out" (a thin veneer of?) sustainability everywhere, but would rather put it at the core and assume (e.g. implicitly prescribe) sustainability as a way of life. Like Asimov's three laws of robotics, but for sustainability?

- Lastly we discussed the relation between "us" and "them". But how can we define what we and what Sustainable HCI does without creating an "us" and a "them"? How can we instead define an ideal, utopian future that everybody can dig?

- Ah, we did discuss one more thing throughout our session. We drew different Venn diagrams and our final diagram had three overlapping circles with a bull's eye representing the overlap between 1) the SDGs, 2) ecological sustainability and 3) technology/computing. That's where we want to be and that's where we think everybody else should be too! The work to carve out what that bull's eye actually means remains to be done at a later point in time.

So this was one group with four persons talking for perhaps 90 or 120 minutes or so. While I have notes from the other groups I here settle for enumerating the topics that other groups worked with in parallell:
- Empowered decision making
- Human rights/Human Factors standardization
- Sustainable lifestyles

The results from session 2 spilled over inte the after-lunch session where we reported and discussed the results from the before-lunch group sessions.

--- Session 3 ---

We later mixed the groups up and started off again by reading a quote from Brynjarsdottir Holmer och Håkansson’s position paper for the workshop (“Abstract goals, complex life”):

As we stated above, it was quite humbling to read the ambitious SDGs and realize that there is not a very significant overlap overall between research in HCI and the SDGs. As far as sustainability research in HCI, there has been a significant awakening in the last few years acknowledging that sustainability is indeed a topic worthy of HCI focus but as far as we can tell, it has been a struggle to bring it forward in a cohesive fashion that does not peter out. That is, to us it feels like there is interest and a lot of good work but it is disperse, incremental and piecemeal. Is there something about the way we conduct work in HCI that prevents it from reaching the real world?

This led to a number of questions we asked the workshop participants to discuss in their groups for a short period (10 or 15 minutes):

  • How can the SDGs help us to mobilize and reach further?
  • Can we use SDGs as a battering ram?
  • Are there problems with the SDGs and/or with using the SDGs?

The second question was perhaps not the best. Many didn't know what a battering ram was and it was also an unpopular and combative trope and the verdict was that it wasn't appropriate (...but, battering rams are probably underappreciated when fighting against entrenched positions...). Here's a selection of the many thoughtful reflections that this exercise resulted in:
  • The SDGs are normative but not moralistic.
  • We should always adhere to the principle of not doing stuff unless they lead to a more sustainable society, and, a sustainable society is “defined” by it adhering to and/or working towards the SDGs
  • We need to think about the function of using the SDGs. Who are we talking to and why are we using them? Do we use them to understand each other? To talk to and convince others? To justify our research (and increase the chances of it being accepted to CHI)?
  • There is a tension between Big Policy as encapsulated by the SDGs and small-scale HCI projects.
  • Is the goal of us using the SDGs to affect HCI or for S-HCI/HCI to have an impact on the world outside of HCI (for example on energy companies etc.)?
  • There might be reasons to use the SDGs. Are there also reasons to avoid using the SDGs? Is there an impeding risk of SDG-washing (c.f. green-washing and we-washing for the sharing economy)?
  • The SDGs are mostly about social sustainability and and they engage less with ecological sustainability (e.g. "planetary boundaries").
  • The SDGs constitute a nice framework but how do we measure and evaluate them? Some the goals (and the act of measuring progress) are just very complex.
  • While there is a lot of activity around the SDGs, it is still the case that they are not widely know by the larger public (or the larger research community). Everyone has heard about "sustainability" but how many has heard about the SDGs?

--- Session 4 ---

The fourth and last session was spent looking at the larger picture.

  • Where do "we" meet up next? What conferences or workshops are of interest to us? 
  • Where is there, or, how could we form a forum where the academy and the industry could meet? 
  • How do we continue this particular discussion of ours (online)? 
  • How can we sum up and disseminate the work that went into the workshop and the work that came out of the workshop (primarily but not exclusively by and for the workshop participants)? This blog post is a start. 
  • What have you learnt in this workshop that is useful for you and/or that you would like to tell others?
  • We also discussed what "the next" follow-up workshop should be about.
  • Reflection from the organizers when comparing the thinking that went into the workshop with the outcome of the workshop.
  • On publication strategies for how to disseminate the results of the workshop (there's a lot more than this blog post!). Still, it can for now be boiled down to two proposed venues; a column in the professional magazine Interactions and a special issue of the IxD&A journal (see below).
The very last point we discussed was an invitation to put together a special issue of the journal Interaction Design and Architecture(s) (IxD&A). We originally received this invitation in the end of June, but at that time when we didn't even know if there would be enough participants to hold the workshop. So we dithered and the matter receded into the background for months. I took hold of it a month or so ago and had a chat with the editor in chief, Carlo Giovannella. We came to an agreement and I will be responsible for a special issue (or, technically, for a "focus session") that will be published a year or so from now. Several of the workshop participants were interested in writing towards such a special issue but we will of course also put together an open invitation so as to get the best possible submissions for that special issue (focus session) on HCI and the SDGs. More information will be published in a blog - probably at the end of the year.

Here's a full list of the workshop participants (the organisers are listed here):
  • Kaveh Bazargan (Shahid Beheshti (National) University, Iran)
  • Hanna Hasselqvist (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden)
  • Hrönn Brynjarsdóttir Holmer (Cornell University, USA)
  • Maria Håkansson (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden)
  • Cecilia Katzeff (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden)
  • Reuben Kirkham (Newcastle University, UK)
  • Pär Lannerö (The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority, Sweden)
  • Lizette Reitsma (Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, Sweden)
  • Lea Schick (IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
  • Maja van der Velden (University of Oslo, Norway)
  • Stina Wessman (Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, Sweden

Picture: From left to right: Maria Håkansson, Stina Wessman, Ingrid Domingues and Hanna Hasselqvist

Picture: From left to right: Maria Normark, Oliver Bates and Lea Schick

söndag 23 oktober 2016

Useless games for a sustainable world (paper)

In my previous blog post I wrote about an abstract Leif Dahlberg and me submitted to a workshop on "uselessness" last week. Well, I actually submitted another abstract to the same workshop together with my colleague Björn Hedin, "Useless games for a sustainable world". Our main idea is that virtual badges that you buy for money inside a computer game perhaps can be seen both as a waste of money and as an environmental boon since you spend money on things that have a very small environmental (materials) footprint.

I wrote that the call for papers was great in my last blog post. Here are a few short excerpts from the cfp:

"For a person or object to be useless, means it does not serve its intended, or any other, purpose. ... When something turns out to be useless, it has failed intrinsically. The inherent negativity of uselessness is directly linked to a supposed obligation for everything and everyone to be useful, at all times, everywhere.

As much as anyone feels useful at a given time, it is a precarious state that can disappear any moment. A day that was intended to be useful might turn out to be unproductive, wasted, useless, followed by shame, guilt and remorse. ...

In this workshop we seek to interrogate the notion of uselessness in culture, politics and aesthetics both empirically and theoretically through four broad interconnected themes: the everyday, space, the body and objects. ...

Potential topics could include, but are not limited to:

The Everyday
How can we complicate notions of useless hobbies, obsessive collecting or hoarding, and conspicuous consumption? ... What does it mean to waste time online? ...

What makes a space useless? What to makes of a space that stores useless objects like a rubbish dump or an attic full of unused stuff? ...

The Body
What purpose do the bodies of the millions of people who work behind desks serve? ... How do gyms, fitness routines, and paradigms of healthy living alter or reinforce our views on the useful body? ...

Trash? Rubbish? Garbage? How are innovation and the inexorable drive for newness rendering all kinds of objects like computers, cd’s, mobile phones, clothes, furniture, etc. useless at an astonishing speed? ..."

Those questions are just amazingly provocative and interesting, aren't they!? Here's our abstract on the simultaneous usefulness and uselessness of real money trade of virtual badges, objects, content:

Useless games for a sustainable world

Daniel Pargman1, 2 & Björn Hedin1

1) KTH Royal institute of Technology, School of Computer Science and Communication (CSC), Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID)
2) KTH Royal institute of Technology, VINN Excellence Center for Sustainable Communications


Many adults - not the least in the context their children’s gaming habits - think that computer games are a useless waste of time and money. Even gamers themselves can think that their gaming habit represents a less-than-useful activity and that they ought to do something else (or at least play less). We here make no normative judgements about the utility (or not) of games but instead analyse computer games from a sustainability perspective. Are computer games “useful” or are they “useless” when regarded through a sustainability lens and against a backdrop of problematising the relationship between sustainability and consumption?

In the sustainability discourse it is clear that Westerners urgently need to decrease their consumption. Or, do they actually only need to decrease the material footprint of their consumption? Could it in fact be the case that high-and-increasing volumes of commerce around digital computer game artefacts (downloadable content, virtual objects and badges) could be framed as “environmentally beneficial”, since the money in question is not spent on other activities, products and services with a considerably higher materials footprint? That would mean that spending money for a “useless” virtual badge inside a computer game actually could be framed as “useful” act of anti-conspicuous consumption in a larger - non-digital - societal context. Analysing the materials intensity of consuming digital content and services is however complicated by the fact that digital games can have tangible real-world material (rebound) effect. With this summer’s large-scale Pokémon Go craze, sales of powerbanks exploded and some half-jokingly referred to these as ‘Pokebanks’. This furthermore echoes last year’s increase in the sales of graphic cards then the computationally demanding game “Witcher 3” was released.

We have, as researchers/lecturers in Media Technology and as parents thought about the sustainability impact of computer games for some time and look forward to having the opportunity to develop these ideas in a paper to your workshop on “Uselessness”.


fredag 21 oktober 2016

“I have no use for useless PhDs” (paper)

A call for papers (cfp) for a workshop on "Uselessness" was circulated at my department some time ago. The full name of the workshop is actually "Unnecessary, Unwanted and Uncalled-for: A Workshop on Uselessness" and I believe the cfp might very well be the best-written cfp I have ever read. It's almost impossible to 1) have a pulse, 2) be researcher and 3) not have ideas go off like fireworks in your brain when you read it. I can very much recommend that you read it!

The cfp was sent by my colleague Leif Dahlberg and I thought it represented an opportunity to (for the first time ever) write something together with him and the result is (at this point) a 300-word abstract, "“I have no use for useless PhDs”: Interrogating the notion of uselessness in techno-scientific culture". We will find out already 10 days from now if we are invited to the workshop and we are then expected to submit a paper by January 15. That paper will be circulated among workshop participants before the workshop takes place at the end of March in Amsterdam. The worskhop is organised by the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis.

Here's the abstract we put together for the workshop:

“I have no use for useless PhDs”: Interrogating the notion of uselessness in techno-scientific culture

Leif Dahlberg(1) & Daniel Pargman(1, 2)

1) KTH Royal institute of Technology, School of Computer Science and Communication (CSC), Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID)
2) KTH Royal institute of Technology, VINN Excellence Center for Sustainable Communications


What is the understanding of uselessness in contemporary techno-scientific culture? We investigate this question through interviews with three high-powered, prominent professors at Sweden’s oldest, largest and (arguably) most prestigious technical university, KTH Royal Institute of Technology. The goal for all activities at KTH (research, education, public outreach) at all levels (students, faculty, management, leadership) is to cut the slack, to be goal-oriented, to perform and to deliver. While these values are part of the background techno-scientific culture at KTH, these particular individuals perform above and beyond what is to be expected and have proved themselves to excel in various activities that are valued and rewarded at KTH and in society.

At KTH education is mainly organised in professional Bachelor and Master’s programmes, and although both teaching and research is multidisciplinary as well as interdisciplinary, the university only has one subject area, Science of Technology (Teknikvetenskap). The vast majority of research conducted at KTH is applied, and often conducted in collaboration with the public sector or with private companies. The research typically aims at developing concrete, tangible products and services. This techno-scientific culture employ “usefulness” and “impact” as key criteria both for motivating actors and for how activities are evaluated. It goes without saying that in such an environment, which in several ways is characteristic for Swedish society at large, uselessness becomes a highly problematic notion. In contrast to many other knowledge cultures where the search for (new) knowledge has a value in itself, at KTH (new) knowledge is predominantly measured in terms of its instrumental usefulness.

In our interview study, we found that this instrumental way of thinking affects the attitudes and value systems of prominent actors in complex and sometimes contradictory ways. Although subscribing to a basic utilitarian outlook, the significant role of the unnecessary, the unwanted and the uncalled-for is manifested in various ways, both privately and professionally as well as in terms of formulating research questions, in scientific methodologies and through concrete research practices.

onsdag 19 oktober 2016

KTH Sustainability Research Day (event)

I went to the annual KTH Sustainability Research Day yesterday (just as I attended and blogged about last year's event). The event (13-17) was fully booked (300 persons) so I think it has to be considered a huge success already before the vice chancellor with responsibility for sustainability, Göran Finnveden, opened up the event by welcoming the attendants.

The (half) day was divided into two parts where the first part consisted of traditional plenary talks. I especially liked the very first speaker, Mikael Karlsson, who talked about the relationship between science/scientist and politics/politicians, media/journalists or more generally about the relationship between research and surrounding society based on a recent report that Eva Alfredsson and he had written (news article, morning newspaper debate articlethe report (pdf)). Here's how the summary of the report starts:

"This report is originally written as a decision support document for the Swedish All Party Committee on Environmental Objectives (Miljömålsberedningen) whose tasks include proposing a climate policy framework for Sweden. The aim of the report is to analyse political decision-making on climate policy and how it is affected by economic modelling and decision-making requirements. The report provides an overview of costs and benefits of climate policy measures and discusses decision-making approaches and the burden of proof under climate scientific uncertainty."

Mikael said several things that were very interesting:
- The one question that is always posed is "what does it cost to change things?". The question that is never posed is "what does it cost not to change things?"
- There are unreasonable demands on proof before a specific measure can be taken.
- There are unreasonable demands for decisions. The specific example was that a company can use whatever criteria they feel like to buy something but a municipality (or a university) is heavily circumscribed in their decisions about what products or services they want to buy. This makes change difficult (or indeed the very process of buying products and services in the first place).
- Mikael asked who in the audience is in the habit of eating unknown mushrooms. Not a single person raised his/her hard. Despite this industry is allowed to introduced new "exiting" chemicals into our environment until it has been proved (perhaps decades later?) that a specific chemical is dangerous and/or has detrimental effects.
- There is inertia, change has to have (proven) beneficial effects before it happens. But why couldn't it be the other way around, perhaps the proof should be on those who act within/want to keep a system that clearly is unsustainable?

The next speaker, Mark Howells, showed a really interesting image of how UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are interlinked:

So if you want X, you also have to work on goals Y and Z. He specifically talked about and gave several examples of how goals having to do with energy, water, food and poverty were linked. One example I thought was interesting was how people downstream might/could/should "pay" people upstream not to chop down trees. What the downstreamers lose on transfers of payments is saved by not having to deal with flooding. But this relies on complex systems that can mediate and coordinate between upstream and downstream communities and interests and I immediately thought of how this perspective might be problematic or even conflict with Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom's theories about local (communities') self-reliance and self-determination.

Another speaker was our Minister for Financial Markets, Per Bolund. I had no idea that he apparently is doing a (temporarily or permanently "resting") ph.d. in systems ecology (?). He has been a member of the parliament since 2006 so the chance of him actually finishing his ph.d. might at this point be slim but I was still pretty impressed by this. He later participated in a panel with three other persons of which one was my colleague Josefine Wangel who did good.

The day was later ended by a short talk/summary by our incoming chancellor, Sigbritt Karlsson.

I mentioned that the (half) day was divided into two parts and the second part was a ConverStation exercise with no less that 31 parallell presentations of ongoing sustainability-related research. I have written about the ConverStation format in other blog posts; in 2014 quite critically and in 2016 with more sympathy. I do have to say that for this event and for this setting it was a very good match and the ConverStation format really shone.

Here are the ConverStation instructions (in Swedish) that the 300 attendees had access to (the document includes a list of the 31 presentations they attendees could choose from). No less than nine of the presentations were held by (people I consider to be) colleagues of mine from the KTH Center for Sustainable Communications (CESC).

Each presenter presented his/her research/project three times for groups of up to six attendees who sat around a round table. The idea was for the presenter to talk for 10 minutes and then leave 10 minutes for questions and discussions. The attendees in their turn choose which talks to listen to by grabbing a limited number of "tickets" (post-it notes) with a number of the presentation and color for the time slot (pink, green and blue = first, second and third time slot). From my point of view it all worked really smoothly.

I presented the study and the paper that I had indeed presented using the ConverStation format only one and a half months earlier at the 4th ICT for Sustainability conference. Since I had also presented it in a plenary session (as one of the six best paper nominees), I had in fact already had a finished Pecha Kucha presentation with 16 slides that I straight off reused for this Pecha Kucha presentation. It all worked out for the best and I took some notes from my discussions with the three groups of attendees who listened to my presentation(s).

söndag 16 oktober 2016

Future of Media 2016 line-up (course)

The first part of the project course I'm teaching, DM2571 "Future of Media", came to an end this past week and we are now moving from the start-up phase (with lots of guest lectures) to the project phase. We change the theme in the course every year and this year's theme - the 14th - is "The Future of Computer Games/Computer Games of the Future". Last year's theme was "The Future of Storytelling/Storytelling of the Future" and the year before that we worked with "The Future of the digital commons and the sharing economy".

Since we change the theme every year, we basically also give a new course every year. More specifically, we make few changes in the format, but we replace all the content. That means there's a lot of work for us teachers every year.

This year is special due to two reasons: 1) We have shelved our old master's program and started a new - and this course isn't in it. That ought to mean this is the last time the course will be given (but I haven't gotten than 100% confirmed yet.) I wanted us to continue to give this course, but I can on the other hand feel that I could personally be done with it after having taught it 12 out of 14 times. 2) This year - for the first time ever - we have chosen to revive a theme we have already worked with once before; we worked with "The Future of Computer Games" 10 years ago, in 2005. There's not very much overlap at all since so much has happened on the computer games scene in the last 10 years.

Despite the fact that I don't do any research at all on computer games any longer (as apart from 10 years ago), I have partly been suckered in to that space once more. There is so much happening around computer games and there is such a massive interest (as well as lots of moolah) around computer games that it's hard to resist once you come into that sphere of influence. I have for example told my students that I am willing to be their master's thesis advisor if and only if there is a critical mass of students who want to write computer games-related master's thesis this coming spring. If this course spurs 3-5 students to write their master's thesis on computer games-related topics, I feel I have an obligation of sorts to be their advisor, despite computer games not being my thing any longer.

I usually write a blog post like this at about this time of the year but didn't last year as I was on a hiatus blogwise from March 2015 to March 2016. I did however write a blog post where I listed the (18) great guest lecturers that visited the course the year before (2014).

This year we will have no less than 11 different student project groups that will all present their visions of the future in mid-December (Dec 16 at 13-16) in the form of a large (200+ persons) public presentation (welcome! - more information to follow later). I will shortly follow up with another blog post about these 11 different projects groups and the gaming-related topics they will be looking into for the rest of the autumn term.

The first part (half) of the course has now come to an end and it's a huge relief for me. While there is still plenty of work left to do, the rest of the course will definitely demand less from me and that's really good as my next (first year master's level) course on Media Technology and Sustainability will start a few weeks from now.

Anyway, here are the no less than 21 great guest lectures we have had pass our course by since the beginning of September!

-------------------- Lectures --------------------

Kimberley Åhage, project manager & associate eSport program manager at DreamHack & Blizzard, "eSport, the younger generation creates a new business" (Sept 1).

Linda Kiby, CEO at Warpzone Studios AB, "Where do we go from here?" (Sept 2).

Anton Albiin, Project Manager at the Association of Swedish Game Developers, "You've never been this lucky" (Sept 8). 

Daniel Ström, CEO and creative director at Guru Games, "Storytelling vs Mechanics - The mechanical hen or the storytelling egg?" (Sept 9). 

Daniel Pargman, KTH/CSC/Media Technology and Interaction Design, "Theory and method of Design Fiction – what this course is really about" (Sept 13). 

Björn Thuresson: teacher, researcher and manager of the KTH Visualisation Studio, "VR, AR and beyond" (Sept 14.

Annika Waern, professor in human-computer interaction at Uppsala University, "Pervasive games and revolutionary play" (Sept 15).

Jin Moen, inventor of Oriboo and former founder and CEO of Movinto Fun, Collaboration Manager at Uppsala University Innovation, "Everybody dance now! - Motion-based games" (Sept 20).

Jan Christofferson, administrative officer at the Swedish Media Council, "Violent computer games and aggression" (Sept 21).

Krzysztof Krzyscin, Technical Art Director and Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, Game Director at CD PROJEKT RED ("The Witcher"), "Video Games Tech Evolution" (Sept 21).

Peter Zackariasson, Associate Professor in Marketing, "Business models in the video game industry" (Sept 22).

Pontus Rundqvist, Project Manager and Business Developer at DreamHack AB, "DreamHack – esport broadcasts under the hood" (Sept 23).

Daniel Pargman, KTH/CSC/Media Technology and Interaction Design, "Massively Multiplayer Games" (Sept 29).

Mikolaj Dymek, Associate Professor at Mid Sweden University, "Gamification – New Game Rules of Media and Communication?" (Sep 30). 

Gemma Thomson, CEO & designer at Box Kaleidoscope, "The "Whys" and "Hows" of Gender Inclusivity in Games" (Oct 5).

Staffan Björk, Professor in interaction design at Gothenburg University, "Computer-Augmented Board Games" (Oct 6).

Staffan Björk, Professor in interaction design at Gothenburg University, "The Dark Side of Game Design?" (Oct 6).

Anna Swartling, Head of Centre of Excellence Experience design at SEB, "Project TEAM work" (Oct 11).

Marcus Toftedahl, Phd student in socio-technical systems, Lecturer in game development. University of Skövde, "The Sweden Game Arena in Skövde" (Oct 12).

Tjarls Metzmaa, Secretary of The Swedish Gaming Federation, "Gaming - a way of life" (Oct 14).

We unfortunately had a few guests cancel their lectures. One person had a pretty legitimate reason as he had worked with putting together the Stockholms Spelmuseum [Stocholm Games Museum] (FB) that opened just as the course started. I haven't been there yet but can undertand that he was massively overworked at that time and did not feel like taking on any more pro bono work. 

onsdag 12 oktober 2016

On the next month's worth of projects and blog posts

This blog post is written during a lull in my activities; a lot is happening right now but nothing has come to fruition during the very last few days so I will do something I have never done before and that is to write a little about the current tasks I perform on my job (my work load), about upcoming deadlines and about upcoming blog posts (the latter two go together). This blog post will also be a blueprint for me during the following month as I will also outline what I will publish during the next 30 days (from Sunday October 16 to Sunday November 13).

I will below write as if I know the exact date when blog posts will be published, but the text below should be regarded as my (current) plan rather than as an explicit promise. If I write two blog posts per week (usually Wednesday/Thursday and Sunday), I would publish blog posts #1 to #9 during the period in question (October 16 - November 13).

- I haven't yet written anything about the course I have been teaching that started on August 30, Future of Media. I will write one blog post this coming Sunday (#1) about the line-up of guest lecturers we have had drop by by since the end of August. I will also write a blog post one week later (#3) about the 11 different project groups and the 11 different themes they will work on during the rest of the term. I might write a blog post (#8) about the mid-crit event in the course on Nov 8.

- Next week I will attend the KTH Sustainability Research Day and plan to write a blog post about it (#2).

- I will go to the NordiCHI conference between Oct 25 and 27 and will write a blog post about it (#5) as well as another blog post (#4) about the pre-conference sustainability workshop I organise together with a bunch of other persons.

- I will go to Barcelona for the better part of my kids' autumn break (week 44) and I plan to write at least one blog post (#7) about it and about my upcoming visits to the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, UAB) and the Technical University of Barcelona (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya - BarcelonaTech, UPC).

These are the concrete events I can see coming up. They all have a duration in space and time (and they occupy slots in my calendar), but I also have a number of deadlines coming up during that very same period:

- I have an important deadline (first draft of an article - the final draft is to be handed in in February), but I don't plan to write a blog post about the submission of the draft article.

- I have a deadline for handing in my application to become a "docent" at the end of the month after having postponed it for two months in a row and after having postponed it for five or more years in a row. I might write a blog post about it or I might wait until it has been "processed" and I know more about the outcome.

- I will review five CHI papers before November 2 and I might write a blog post about it.

- We will organise an event in the beginning of November for companies that work with Sustainability and ICT/digitalisation. "We" here means KTH/CESC and the purpose of the event is to help companies suggest and create (master's) thesis topics for our students and then help match companies and students with each other.  I will definitely write a blog post about it!

- I have a October 21 deadline for a one or two submissions to an upcoming workshop on Uselessness and will write one (or two) blog post(s) about my submissions there.

- I have an October 30 deadline for a submission to the academic track of the 75th world Science Fiction conference and I will definitely write a blog post about it.

- I just (earlier this week) found out about the upcoming (April 2017) conference "Energy for Society: 1st international conference on Energy Research & Social Science" and will for sure submit something or possibly several different papers (abstracts) to that conference for the upcoming November 4 deadline.

- I have a November 6 deadline for a (very) short paper to the 9th [Swedish] Pedagogical Inspiration Conference and I might write a blog post about it.

- I work in two different research projects, SPOC and STEM, and have just started up writing projects in both where I am (or might become) the first author. I should write something about these projects and especially about SPOC since I notice incredulously that I haven't written about at all - ever - on the blog. My production pipeline is on the other hand more than full for the next month so it might have to wait.

- I teach a ph.d. course on ICT and Sustainability but don't plan to write a blog post about it until later (perhaps when the course ends in January).

- Also my next course (about Media Technology and Sustainability) starts on October 31 but I don't plan to write a blog post about it. Or it could be that I'll write a blog post (#6) about it, we'll see.

All in all I have a lot of things to write about on the blog during the coming month and it might be the case that I will have to temporarily step up the pace and publish three blog post per week so as to not generate a huge backlog. There are also other blog posts that will have to stand back during this period, most notably my series of blog posts about "Books I've read lately" where I recently wrote about books I read back in December last year...

One final note is that these are the projects that for the most part become visible through the blog during the next 30 days. There are of course a lot of other things going on "behind the scene" that will only come to fruition (through blog posts) two, three or six months from now so stay tuned...

söndag 9 oktober 2016

On creative academic environments (seminar)

I am hired and I work at the Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID) at KTH, but I am also affiliated with - and as of six months physically sit at - a research center called Center for Sustainable Communications (CESC). It's just one floor below my colleagues at MID and I can sneak up in a minute. The move (new location, new colleagues, new types of conversations around the lunch table and at coffee breaks) has been invigorating as it offers me the chance to establish new connections to people as well as the opportunity to have new ideas. At some point during the spring, I must have talked about this at a coffee break and my colleague Cecilia Katzeff turned out to be really interested.

I more specifically talked about a slim book I have read (and re-read, and leafed through several times) during the last 10 years, Gunnar Törnqvist's (2004) ”Kreativitetens geografi” [Geography of creativity]. Me and Cecilia (and others) started wondering if there was something innit that could be applied to our current situation and the fact that CESC had recently moved to new premises seemed like a good reference point from which we could discuss what characterises creative (academic) environments and how we could become a more creative environment. See further the invitation to the seminar we held this past week (below).

There are so many things I could say about this book and about its implications but I will here settle for just a few. First a few words about my relationship to the book.

Tönrqvist's book was published 10 years ago but already 15 years before that I read the incredibly inspiring text (see below) "A world to understand: Technology and the awakening of human possibility". It made a big impression on me and I explicitly referred to and made use of it at my "trial lecture" for the job position I applied for as an assistant professor at KTH 10+ years ago. That text slots neatly into Törnqvist's book that came out in 2004 and that I read in 2005.

I even brought that book with me to the US on my sabbatical 2.5 years ago. I re-read it and (very ambitiously) prepared notes so as to discuss it with my friend Christer Garbis (with whom I did my ph.d. and who has lived in the US, working with usability and UX for Microsoft and Amazon, for more than 10 years). That was an extremely interesting discussion and I meant to write a blog post about the book-and-article combo back then (May 2014). Instead I bought three copies of the book and sent them to three colleagues of mine (Ann, Björn and Elina). And that was it.

I have since also learned that Törnqvist followed up his slim 2004 book with a heftier 2009 book (and there is apparently a new 2014 edition of that book). I have bought that book, I haven't read it yet but might do it sometime next year. The thing is that I Christer's gave me his notes from reading the book (2014) although my own seem to be long gone. Both his notes and book itself are choke-full with interesting notes, comments and angles. I for example notice that we did two quite different readings of the book back in 2014; Christer was focused on analysing the US companies he had worked for while I was reading the book in a much more instrumental way, asking how I could be part of creating a creative environment in an academic setting. We had thus changed roles compared to an earlier (2005) meeting/reading of the book where I analysed and he applied. My question back in 2014 was "how can you create/build/grow/engineer a creative environment on a shoestring budget?" How can you tap in to people's intrinsic motivations rather than more shallow, fickle and expensive extrinsic motivations?

I even have a note about (based on the book) an optimal research organisation with about:
- 3 full professors
- 3-4 assistant/associate professors
- 4 post-docs
- 10 ph.d. students
- 10-15 master's students

That is altogether 30-36 persons of which 20 persons are salaried but where only 6 have permanent positions and the others stay on for between 2-5 years. For reasons of size, "intertia" and fluidity, exposure to new ideas while at the same time being able to, over longer periods of time, "grind" different ideas against each other seemed like a pretty good approximation for creating the conditions for an "optimally" creative environment. The whole endeavour of course also needs a shared focus, a "mission" and a "vision" and I would nowadays also add 1-3 spaces for visiting scholars and also mandate that this organisation has to have a pretty loose relationship to the "ordinary" day-to-day activities of a (possibly) large institution that hosts the "institute" (such as a university). This by the way is more in line with an optimal organisation for research rather than for teaching although the incorporation of a continuous flow of master's students partly straddles that divide. And now that we have hired an assistant professor in Human-Computer Interaction with a specialization in sustainability - Elina Eriksson - this is the academic research organisation I would like to aim for building up together with her over the next 5-10 years.

The seminar itself was a partial success. Due to other functions of the meeting we only had 37 minutes to discuss the topic "creative environments" (see the invitation below). It was also embarrassingly clear that a small minority of the attendees had read the texts despite the fact that only a modest investment in time was needed to plough through them. I therefore extend an offer to whoever reads this: do feel free to invite me for a new seminar that allows me to reuse the invitation below! Still, there were some interesting outcomes of the seminar and I also have a few thoughts of my own as I leaf through my notes.

We did discuss the very interesting question "have you been part of a creative environment?" and the follow-up questions "what characterised, and what are your experiences of that environment?" Answers and the resulting discussion spanned issues of time and space, architecture, diversity, inclusion/exclusion, affluence (room for thoughts vs. pressure to constantly perform/deliver), social aspects (after-work beer at a pub) as well as administrative and organisational aspects. I feel that the work I do right now, writing an article together with no less than five other very talented persons is part of the most creative work I have ever done, despite that not every person has met every other person physically (we live in cities and on different continents and some didn't know each other before this thinking-and-writing project started).

Some other aspects I think I interesting (each could easily merit a blog post of its own) are:
- the difference between creativity in an academic (research) setting vs artistic endeavours and artistic settings (writing, music, literature etc.)
- the tension between hierarchies and more egalitarian networked work groups and structures
- the tension between small groups ("Small is beautiful") and larger groups and organisations (that tends towards hierarchal relationships)
- the full-on conflict between bureaucracy and creativity/renewal
- the different between creativity/renewal and "normal science" which could include being very diligent, cranking out successful (but not very creative) cookie-cutter articles
- the tension between stability and fluidity
- the connection between money (access to resources, economic might) and creativity
- the importance of informal meeting places (so-called "third places")
- the connection between creativity and variety and diversity but also of it tittering on the edge of chaos (which is not always that nice).
- the connection between creativity as something that (nowadays) flares up for shorter durations vs the attempts of big tech companies (Google, Spotify etc.) to mandate and institutionalise creativity by making the workplace into a space not just for work but also for play
- I am amused by the fact that most of the work in the so-called creative industries (film, computer games etc.) can be supremely uncreative with "the next big thing" being but a variation of the previous big thing, but where large teams with wildly varying and complementary abilities are assembled (and costs money from day 1 - making them extremely amenable to thrusts of (hierarchal) project leadership.

If not already clear, "creative environments" are not necessarily the same thing as productive environments. Or, they probably are productive, but not all productive (or socially inclusive and nice) environments are creative. Törnqvist's questions have much more to do with the creation of genuinely new ideas and schools of thought. It could be that genuinely new ideas come from pressure-cooker environments that drives people to the utmost or beyond (I here think of Tracy Kidder's classic (1981) book "Soul of a new machine"). We had a small discussion at the seminar about inclusiveness and power in relation to creative environments and I'm adamant (although we did not have time to develop or discuss this) that we should not glorify "creative" environments. If you don't measure up, or if you are unpopular or work on something that that no one else is interested it, it might be a terrible environment to be in. You would want the environment you work in to be nice, but that might be partly or fully orthogonal to the most important characteristics discussed here. It could for example be that the ultimate creative environment is also the ultimate "honeypot" that eats you up and spits you out...

Although ultimate creative environments can have lavish access to resources (think of laboratories that produce Nobel-prize-winners), I do think that there is still something to learn from this book since every environment could become more creative than what it is. Very few environments will produce Nobel prize winners, but every environment could surely do more than what they currently do!

Last but not least, I am interested in the opportunity to trawl for "creativity on the cheap" or "creativity on a shoestring budget" in "the interstices of structure, in liminality; at the edges of structure, in marginality; and from beneath structure, in inferiority” (Turner, 1969, p.128). So what is the relationship between creativity and skunkworks projects? Or between creativity and the ability to take a sabbatical? Or between creativity and an ongoing seminar series, a recurring conference, the Swedish "Almedalen week" event or the existence of a temporary (decade-long but no longer!) research center? Where can, and where does creativity happen? Where do genuinely new (schools of) thought come from? What is the role of people who are "magnets" and who have the gift of being able to make others believe in their ideas and in their visions (I met one such person this past weekend - Stephen)?

These were a few of my own thoughts that rolled over me as I sat down to write this blog post. These ideas come from a book that I have read several times and that has made its mark on my thinking. I can easily tie this blog back to the previous blog post about books I've read "recently" (at the end of 2015) about the exact opposite of creative environments; about rules, bureaucracy, stupidity and technology, about obeying instead of thinking for yourself and about all of us slowly but inevitably(?) segueing into an Administration society (with many many unpleasant overtones).

Title: Creative academic environments and implications for CESC 
Presenters: Daniel Pargman & Cecilia Katzeff​.
Date and time: Oct 5:th between 12:30 - 13:30 (bring lunch if you wish to)
Place: At CESC, Lindstedtsvägen 3, fifth floor, room 1537  ​

Swedish retired professor of economic geography, Gunnar Törnqvist, wrote a delightful 90-pages short book, ”Kreativitetens geografi” [Geography of creativity] in 2004 where he asks two key questions:
- Where can we find examples of creative (academic, artistic, literary) environments?
- What characterises such environments?

The answer to the first question is for example:
- Athens 500-400 B.C. (Pericles, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes etc.), 
- Bowdoin College’s class of 1825 (a future US president, the greatest novelist of a generation and various other luminaries)
- Renaissance Florens (Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael etc. under the patronage of Medici)
- Vienna at the turn of the century (Freud, Klimt, Schiele, Mahler, Loos, Zweig, Wittgenstein etc.)
- Manchester at the birth of industrialism (Arkwright, Newcomen, Spinning Jenny, ”Cottonopolis”, steam railways)
- Paris between the wars (Picasso, Dali, Hemingway, Yeats, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gershwin, dadaism, surrealism).
- Cambridge, Stanford and other top universities that harbour (recurring) Nobel-prize winning research environments.
- ”Movements” and ”schools” in arts, architecture, music, literature, technology and science that are anchored in specific geographic environments

A popular culture depiction of a creative environment is to be found in the 1989 movie ”Dead poets' society” (starring Robin Williams).

We present Törnqvist’s book and add two more questions for us to discuss at the CESC lunch seminar:
- How can academic environments become more creative?
- CESC moved to new premises earlier this year. How can CESC become a more creative environment? 

Readings: Please prepare for the seminar by reading two short chapters (see attached files below):
- Törnqvist, G. (2004). "Den institutionella miljön" & "Kreativitetens villkor". From ”Kreativitetens geografi”, SNS Förlag.

For non-Swedish speakers (and everyone else who is interested), please instead read:
- Leebaert, D., & Dickinson, T. (1991). A world to understand: technology and the awakening of human possibility. In Technology 2001 (pp. 293-321). MIT Press.

Very welcome!

Daniel Pargman & Cecilia Katzeff

torsdag 6 oktober 2016

Books I've read (Dec)

I read the three books below in December last year (e.g. 10 months ago). All three books below are about rules and (over)administration running amok, smothering that which it was originally supposed to support. All three books have been influential in shaping my thinking and some of the thoughts go very well together with the ideas that Barath Raghavan and I wrote about in our paper "Refactoring Society: Systems Complexity in an Age of Limits". We presented that paper in June 2016 at the Second Workshop on Computing within Limits (LIMITS 2016). The ideas and perspectives in these books have also made a strong showing in blog posts such as "MID department retreat and reflections of organisation" (June 2016) and "Open letter to my dean - spare us from excessive administration!" (August 2016). The asterisks below represent the number of quotes from the each book (see further below) and here's the previous blog post about books I have read.

******************** I have a good eye to anthropologist David Graeber after having read his truly marvellous "Debt: The first 5000 years" back in 2014. With his new book "The utopia of rules: On technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of bureaucracy" (2015), David Graeber continues to deliver and this book has already been very useful for me (see above) and has helped shape my opinions about the use and misuse of rules/bureaucracy. The core of the book consists of three longer (50+ pages long) "essays" of slightly varying quality. Although good, they do not reach exactly the same heights as Debt did - but this book is still for sure well worth reading! Even the weaker essay on how our images of the future has changed since Graeber's childhood and adolescence is interesting but the real punch (for) me is in the first 100 pages with the introduction ("The Iron Law of Liberalism and the era of total bureaucratization") and the first essay ("Dead zones of the imagination: An essay on structural stupidity"). 

Which public servant wouldn't want to understand more about "structural stupidity" and who doesn't want to understand more about bureaucracy and the lived experience and razor-sharp analysis of life in a world that is ruled by rule-crazed, literal- and narrow-minded implementers and executers? Who would have thought reading about bureaucracy could be that much fun? After now having read a monograph and this collection of essays I do have to say that Graeber is great but that he is at his fore when he slowly and gradually sharpens his arguments in a longer, coherent text so I for sure hope his next book will be another monograph! Want to have a David Graeber-light experience? Then read his short text on "On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs" (2013).

I very much hope that I will get to meet David Graeber at some point. Actually I don't just mean "meet" as in attend the same conference, but "meet" in the sense of being able to recurrently have access to him in an academic setting as a visiting researcher! Or instead perhaps attend the same one-week intensive workshop (or some such similar event)! I imagine Graeber to be a very interesting person both personally, politically and academically. 

************************** I have mixed feelings about Anders Forsell and Anders Ivarsson Westerberg's 2014 book "Administrationssamhället" [Administration society]. There are some truly deep insights in this book and the perspective presented has again been instrumentally useful for me already immediately after having read the book (see the links above). The problem is that while the discussions and the conclusions are riveting, the book (as a book) isn't. It's kind of clunky to read because the quality of the authors' ideas and conclusions are of a much higher than the actual text is. So it's hard to know if or how much I should recommend this book to others. For people who don't read books from cover to cover I would recommending that they perhaps only read only selected chapters - the last two chapters are for example must-reads and the final chapter is entitled "What does administration society do to us?".

The book is the result of a research project (aptly named "administration society") that Anders and Anders have managed and the authors write about New Public Management (NPM) the creeping administrativisation of various professions and of society at large. This process is slow and insidious and seems for the most part to be impossible to stop. I tend to of think of processes of administrativisation as being equivalent of the invasive Spanish slug (aptly entitled "the killer snail") that is nowadays bedevil Swedish gardens and that has few natural enemies in the Swedish fauna. It would be interesting to more systematically explore the parallells between administrativisation and other invasive species, i.e. a "plant, fungus, or animal species that is not native to a specific location ... and which has a tendency to spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy or human health".

The brunt of the book is built on three case studies of (increasing) administration in the healthcare sector, in public schools and among the Swedish police. The conclusions are always depressing  and they are always the same (more administration over time). The amount of, and the time we spend on administration seems to continue to rise over time and professionals subsequently spend more time/a larger proportion of their time on administrative tasks and with administrative systems. We all then do less of whatever it is they are supposed to do as professionals (e.g. cure people, teach kids and catch criminals). This is true not just of the three professions that were reported-on in this book but also for other professions (for example the military and of course also for university teachers). this is not a good way to spend tax money as we can both spend more and get fewer services or services with lower quality for our money.

Forsell and Ivarsson Westerberg effectively undress the folly of believing that you can mandate increased quality in the public sector (and elsewhere) by instituting more rules, by forcing people to follow these rules and by evaluating and making inquiries as to the "effects" of the new rules. New rules and procedures might result in increased quality but they might also result in decreased quality since the only thing we can really be sure about is that administration and its concordant costs (in time, money, frustration etc.) will increase every time we try to "solve" a new problem. The increase in costs can easily outweigh any possible planned-for improvements (e.g at time "improvements" that exist on paper but not really anywhere else).

I have and continue to feel a great urge to write about these phenomena (see above). I'm especially interested in combing the results of Forsell and Ivarsson Westerberg's research on administration with  Joseph Tainter's theories about decreasing returns of increasing societal complexity as well as with ideas about second order and rebound effects as per (this is basically just to remind myself) Maruyama, Sproull & Kiesler, my colleague Börjesson Rivera (on rebound effects) and others.

I have also sought contact with the two authors and am now in fact in touch with them. They mentioned the possibility of (at some point in time) organising a small workshop with people who are interested "in these matters" and they also know other (to me unknown) Swedish researchers who are interested in/doing research "in this field" (e.g. "encroaching administration"?). If so, I do believe I am now on their shortlist of people to get in touch with and hope this such a workshop will be organised at some point.

I so truly would have wished that the perspective these researchers present was understood and anchored at all levels and in all parts of society as well as in the organisation that I work in. I would so wish that more people (with power!) understood that not everything that can be done (or can be measured) is worth being done (or being measuring). Even if a particular action has beneficial effects (of some kind and at least beforehand and on paper), the costs of doing it might still be higher than the expected (hoped-for) benefits. So instead of trying to corral the professionals, trust them and encourage them to raise the bar of their own standards by allowing them to themselves set, discuss and the police the criteria for what constitutes good performance in their own respective fields. If you are a politician, an economist or a manager, stay away from micromanaging fields you yourself are not a professional in (like research and teaching etc.). It's hard to improve things "from the outside" but it's easy to inadvertently and with the best of intentions in mind make things a lot worse by measuring and benchmarking and so on.

Here's the worst-case scenario: we end up with a system where our kids' teachers spend half their time on administration and only half of their time actually teaching our kids. Oh wait, that wasn't a nightmare, that was the results of Forsell and Ivarsson Westerberg's latest study...

******* The last book in this batch is Roland Paulsen's 2015 masterful book "Vi bara lyder: En berättelse om Arbetsförmedlingen" [We just obey: A story about the Swedish Public Employment Service] is masterful and he has for sure developed as an author since I read his book "The work society" (2010) two years ago. Paulsen's new book could represent a standard of what every book an academic writes should be: succinct, short, personal - and still delivering great insights. You can now buy the pocketbook edition for 49 SEK - and you should!

Paulsen describes how a personal meeting and a mild altercation led to a research grant and a personal need to understand how people who work in a dysfunctional organisation orient themselves to having to protect their minds and their sanity while continuing to work inside the mindless and senseless sardonic virtual reality called the Swedish Public Employment Service. The employment service is an organisation that has an "annual budget of 72 billion SEK [8 billion USD]" and where "The average Emplyment Service officer mediates no more than ten unsubsidized jobs per year". There's a lot more I could suggest but I instead suggest you read the quotes below and then run out and buy the book!


----- On the idea of government bureaucracy as evil -----
"Ludwig von Mises, an exiled Austrian aristocrat, [in his] 1944 book Bureaucracy argued that by definition, systems of government administration could never organize information at anything like the efficiency of impersonal market pricing mechanisms. ... von Mises argued that as a result, the social welfare states then emerging in places like France or England, let alone Denmark or Sweden, would, within a generation or two, inevitably lead to fascism. In this view, the rise of bureaucracy was the ultimate example of good intentions run amok. Ronald Reagan probably made the most effective popular deployment of this line of thought with his famous claim that, "the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" The problem with all this is that it bears very little relation to what actually happened."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.7-8.

----- On liberalism leading to more government bureaucracy -----
"While the idea that the market is somehow opposed to and independent of government has been used at least since the nineteenth century to justify laissez faire economic policies designed to lessen the role of government, they never actually have that effect. English liberalism, for instance, did not lead to a reduction of state bureaucracy, but the exact opposite: an endlessly ballooning array of legal clerks, registrars, inspectors, notaries, and police officials who made the liberal dream of a world of free contract between autonomous individuals possible. It turned out that maintaining a free market economy required a thousand times more paperwork than a Louis XIV-style absolutist monarchy. ... I propose to call it "the iron law of liberalism":

The Iron Law of Liberalism states that any market reform, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.9.

----- On "deregulation" -----
"So what are people actually referring to when they talk about "deregulation"? In ordinary usage, the word seems to mean "changing the regulatory structure in a way that I like." In practice this can refer to almost anything. ... In the case of banking, "deregulation" has usually meant ... moving away from a situation of managed competition between mid-sized firms to one where a handful of financial conglomerates are allowed to completely dominate the market. This is what makes the term so handy. Simply by labeling a new regulatory measure "deregulation," you can frame it in the public mind as a way to reduce bureaucracy and set individual initiative free, even if the result is a fivefold increase in the actual number of forms to be filled in, reports to be filed, rules and regulations for lawyers to interpret, and officious people in offices whose entire job seems to be to provide convoluted explanations for why you're not allowed to do things."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.17.

----- On the credentialism (and higher education) scam -----
"There is a rich anthropological literature, for instance, on the cult of certificates, license, and diplomas in the former colonial world. Often the argument is that in countries like Bangladesh, Trinidad, or Cameroon, which hover between the stifling legacy of colonial domination and their own magical traditions, official credentials are seen as a kind of ... magical objects conveying power in their own right, entirely apart from the real knowledge, experience, or training they're supposed to represent. But since the eighties, the real explosion of credentialism has been in what are supposed the most "advanced" economies, like the United States, Great Britain, or Canada. ... Almost every endeavor that used to be considered an art (best learned through doing) now requires formal professional training and a certificate of completion, and this seems to be happening, equally, in both the private and public sectors, since, as already noted, in matters bureaucratic, such distinctions are becoming effectively meaningless. ... the main result of one's years of professional training is to ensure that one is saddled with such an enormous burden of student debt that a substantial chunk of any subsequent income one will get from pursuing that profession will henceforth be siphoned off, each month, by the financial sector. In some cases, these new training requirements can only be describes as outright scams"
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.22-23.

----- On using "rationality" as a sledgehammer -----
"Anyone who claims to base their politics on rationality ... is claiming that anyone who disagrees with them might as well be insane, which is about as arrogant a position as one could possibly take. Or else, they're using "rationality" as a synonym for "technical efficiency," and thus focusing on *how* they are going about something because they do not wish to talk about *what* it is they are ultimately going about. Neoclassical economics is notorious for making this kind of move. When an economist attempts to prove that it is "irrational" to vote in national elections (because the effort expended outweighs the likely benefit to the individual voter), they use the term because they do not wish to say "irrational for actors for whom civic particiaption, political ideals, or the common good are not values in themselves, but who view public affairs only in terms of personal advantage." There is absolutely no reason why one could not rationally calculate the best way to further one's political ideals through voting. But according to the economists' assumptions, anyone who takes this course might as well be out of their minds."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.38-39.

----- On audit culture and bullshit jobs -----
"Much of what bureaucrats do ... is evaluate things. They are continually assessing, auditing, measuring, weighing the relative merits of different plans, proposals, applications, courses of action, or candidates for promotion. Market reform only reinforce this tendency. This happens on every level. It is felt most cruelly by the poor, who are constantly monitored [by] legions of functionaries whose primary function is to make poor people feel bad about themselves. But the culture of evaluation is if anything even more pervasive in the hyper-credentialized world of the professional classes, where audit culture reigns, and nothing is real that cannot be quantified, tabulated, or entered into some interface or quarterly report. ... This helps a phenomenon I have written about elsewhere: the continual growth, in recent decades, of apparently meaningless, make-work, "bullshit jobs" - strategic vision coordinators, human resources consultants, legal analysts, and the like - despite the fact that even those who hold such positions are half the time secretly convinced they contribute nothing to the enterprise."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.41-43.

----- On bureaucracy as blight -----
"Let me begin with a story about bureaucracy ...
[3 pages and a horror story about running around in circles later:]
As it happened, the whole problem soon became academic: my mother did indeed die a few weeks later. At the time, I found this experience extremely disconcerting. Having spent much of my life leading a fairly bohemian student existence comparatively insulated from this sort of thing, I found myself asking my friends: is this what ordinary life, for most people, is really like? Running around feeling like an idiot all day? Being somehow put in a position where one actually does end up acting like an idiot? Most were inclined to suspect that this was indeed what life is mostly like. ... in fact all bureaucracies do this, insofar as they set demands they insist are reasonable, and then, on discovering that they are not reasonable (since a significant number of people will always be unable to perform as expected), conclude that the problem is not with the demands themselves but with the individual inadequacy of each particular human being who fails to live up to them.
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.48-49.

----- Today we are surrounded by vast quantities of aesthetically impoverished text (including this) -----
"Paperwork is *supposed* to be boring. And it's getting more so all the time. Medieval characters were often quite beautiful, full of calligraphy and heraldic embellishments. Even in the nineteenth century some of this remained: I have a copy of my grandfather's birth certificate, issued in Springfield, Illinois, in 1858, and it's quite colorful, with Gothic letters, scrolls and little cherubs ... My father's, in contrast, issued in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1914, is monochrome and utterly unadorned, just lines and boxes, thought they are filled out in a nice florid hand. My own, issued in New York in 1961, lacks even that: it's typed and stamped and utterly without character. But of course the computer interfaces used for so many forms nowadays are more boring still. It's as if the creators of these documents were gradually trying to strip them of anything even slightly profound, or remotely symbolic."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.51.

----- On government bureaucracy as coercion -----
"In many of the rural communities anthropologists are most familiar with ... it would never occur to anyone to deny that the government is a fundamentally coercive institution ... much of the time, the state, or its representatives, were not really around. Government played almost no role in regulating the minutiae of daily life: there were no building codes, no open container laws, no mandatory licensing and insurance of vehicles, no rules about who could buy or sell or smoke or build or eat or drink what where, where people could play music or tend their animals. Or anyway, if there were such laws, no one knew what they were because it never occurred to anyone, even the police, to enforce them - even in town, and definitely not in the surrounding countryside, where such matters were entirely regulated by custom, deliberation by communal assemblies, or magical taboo. In such contexts, it became all the more apparent that the main business of government bureaucracy was the registration of taxable property, and maintaining the infrastructure that allowed those who collected taxes to show up and take their things away.
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.61-62.

----- On gender inequality and women's interpretative labor -----
"in American situation comedies of the 1950s, there was a constant staple: jokes about the impossibility of understanding women. the jokes (told, of course, by men) always represented women's logic as fundamentally alien and incomprehensible. "You have to love them," the message always seemed to run, "but who can really understand how these creatures think?" One never had the impression the women in question had any trouble understanding men. The reason is obvious. Women had no choice but to understand men. In America, the fifties were the heyday of a certain ideal of the one-income patriarchal family, and among the more affluent, the ideal was often achieved. Women with no access to their own income or resources obviously had no choice but to spend a great deal of time and energy understanding what their menfolk thought was going on."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.69.

----- Raw power is an asymmetry in interpretative labor -----
"the master's ability to remain completely unaware of the slave's understanding of any situation, the slave's inability to say anything even when she becomes aware of some dire practical flaw in the master's reasoning, the forms of blindness or stupidity that result, the fact these oblige the slave to devote even more energy trying to understand and anticipate the master's confused perceptions ... Ultimately it's about participating in the process that shuts them up."

I thought this quote was so interesting I remade it to fit two *other* contexts that are relevant to my daily life at the university:

Alternative version #1"the teacher's ability to remain completely unaware of the student's understanding of any situation, the student's inability to say anything even when she becomes aware of some dire practical flaw in the teacher's reasoning, the forms of blindness or stupidity that result, the fact these oblige the student to devote even more energy trying to understand and anticipate the teacher's confused perceptions ... Ultimately it's about participating in the process that shuts them up."

Alternative version #2"the bureaucrat's ability to remain completely unaware of the university teacher's understanding of any situation, the teachers's inability to say anything even when she becomes aware of some dire practical flaw in the bureaucrat's reasoning, the forms of blindness or stupidity that result, the fact these oblige the teacher to devote even more energy trying to understand and anticipate the bureaucrat's confused perceptions ... Ultimately it's about participating in the process that shuts them up."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.103.

----- On Star Trek as a kind of communism that works -----
"consider Star Trek, that quintessence of American mythology. Is not the Federation of Planets - with its high-minded idealism, strict military discipline, and apparent lack of both class difference and any real evidence of multiparty democracy - really just an Americanized version of a kinder, gentler Soviet Union, and above all, one that actually "worked"? ... Star Trek characters complain about bureaucrats all the time. They never complain about politicians. ... Star Trek characters live under a regime of explicit communism. Social classes have been eliminated. So too have divisions based on race, gender, or ethnic origin. The very existence of money, in earlier periods, is considered a weird and somewhat amusing historical curiosity. Menial labor has been automated into nonexistence."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.124-126.

----- On the expansion of paperwork -----
"the last thirty years have seen a veritable explosion of the proportion of working hours spent on administrative paperwork, at the expense of pretty much everything else. In my own university, for instance, we have not only more administrative staff than faculty, but the faculty, too, are expected to spend at least as much time on administrative responsibilities as on teaching and research combined. ... The explosion of paperwork, in turn, is a direct result of the introduction of corporate management techniques, which are always justified as ways of increasing efficiency, by introducing competition at every level. What these management techniques invariably end up meaning in practice is that everyone winds up spending most of their time trying to sell each other things ... and universities themselves ... have now become brands to be marketed to prospective students or contributors. Marketing and PR thus come to engulf every aspect of university life. ... .
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.133-134.

----- On how to minimise creativity -----
"There was a time when academia was society's refuge for the eccentric, brilliant, and impractical. No longer. It is now the domain of professional self-marketers ... Common sense dictates that if you want to maximize scientific creativity, you find some bright people, give them the resources they need to pursue whatever idea comes into their heads, and then leave them alone for a while. Most will probably turn up nothing, but one or two may well discover something completely unexpected. If you want to minimize the possibility of unexpected breakthroughs, tell those same people they will receive no resources at all unless they spend the bulk of their time competing against each other to convince you they already know what they are going to discover."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.134-135.

----- On largely invalid arguments in defence of capitalism (but what's the alternative?) -----
"Defenders of capitalism generally make three broad historical claims: first, that it has fostered rapid scientific and technological development; second, that however much it may throw enormous wealth to a small minority, it does so in such a way that increases overall prosperity for everyone; third, that in doing so, it creates a more secure and democratic world. It is quite clear that in the twenty-first century, capitalism is not doing any of these things. In fact, even its proponents are increasingly retreating from any claim that it is a particularly good system, falling back instead on the claim that it is the only possible system - or at least, the only possible system for a complex, technologically sophisticated society such as our own."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.143.

----- On bureaucrats as gluey and largely indispensable -----
"once you do create a bureaucracy, it's almost almost impossible to get rid of it. The very first bureaucracies we know of were in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and these continued to exist, largely unchanged, as one dynasty or ruling elite replaced another, for literally thousands of years. Similarly, waves of successful invaders were not enough to dislodge the Chinese civil service, with its bureaus, reports, and examination system, which remained firmly in place no matter who actually claimed the Mandate of Heaven. In fact, as [German sociologist Max] Weber also noted [more than 100 years ago], foreign invaders needed the skills and knowledge so jealously guarded by Chinese bureaucrats even more than indigenous rulers did, for obvious reasons. The only real way to rid oneself of an established bureaucracy, according to Weber, is to simply kill them all, as Alaric the Goth did in Imperial Rome, or Genghis Khan in certain parts of the Middle East. Leave any significant number of functionaries alive, and within a few years, they will inevitably end up managing one's kingdom."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.151.

----- On the 19th century German Post Office as the pinnacle of modernism -----
"In the late nineteenth century, the German postal service was considered one of the great wonders of the modern world. Its efficiency was so legendary, in fact, that it casts a kind of terrible shadow across the twentieth century. Many of the greatest achievements of what we now call "high modernism" were inspired by - or in many cases, built in direct imitation of - the German Post Office. And one could indeed make a case that many of the most terrible woes of that century can also be laid at its feet. ... The post office was, essentially, one of the first attempts to apply top-down, military forms of organization to the public good."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.153-155.

----- On the arrogance of arguing that your own position is rational -----
"claiming one's own political positions are based on "rationality" is an extremely strong statement. In fact, it's extraordinarily arrogant, since it means that those who disagree with those positions are not just wrong, but crazy. Similarly, to say one wishes to create a "rational" social order implies that current social arrangements might as well have been designed by the inhabitants of a lunatic asylum. Now, surely, all of us have felt this way at one time or another. But if nothing else, it is an extraordinarily intolerant position, since it implies that one's opponents are not just wrong, but in a certain sense, wouldn't even know what it would mean to be right, unless, by some miracle, they could come around and accept the light or reason and decide to accept your own conceptual framework and point of view. ... You can't really make an arguument against rationality, because for that argument to be convincing, it would itself have to be framed in rational terms."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.168.

----- On turning custom into rules in the Audit Society -----
"anthropologists are notoriously reluctant to turn their tools of analysis on their own institutional environments, but there are exceptions, and one excellent one is Marilyn Strathern's analysis of what in the UK has come to be known as "audit culture." The basic idea behind audit culture is that in the absence of clear, "transparent" criteria to understand how people are going about their jobs, academia simply becomes a feudal system based on arbitrary personal authority. On the surface, it's hard to argue with this. Who could be against transparency? Strathern was head of the anthropology department at Cambridge when these reforms were imposed, and in her book Audit Cultures, she documented the actual consequences of this kind of bureaucratization. ... in order to become "transparent" to the administration, they had to start articulating [traditional ways of going about everything]; in practice, what this meant was that they had to take what had always been a subtle, nuanced form of procedures and turn them into an explicit set of rules. In effect, they had to turn custom into a kind of board game. ... such reforms may aim to eliminate arbitrary personal authority, but of course they never actually do. Personal authority just jumps up a level, and becomes the ability to set the rules aside in specific cases"
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.196-197.

----- On the glamour of being a bureaucrat -----
"Ancient Egypt in contrast created whole genres of literature to warn young students against adventurous occupations. They would typically begin by asking whether the reader had ever dreamed of becoming the captain of a ship, or a royal charioteer, then go on to describe just how miserable such an apparently glamorous occupation would likely really turn out to be. The conclusion was always the same: don't do it! Become a bureaucrat. You'll have a prosperous job and ... you'll be able to order around the soliders and sailors who will treat you like a god."
Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of rules, p.243.

----- Adminstration über alles -----
"Increasingly, we devote ourselves to administrative work. ... Everything that happens at work must be documented: it should be measured, recorded, reported, reviewed and evaluated. In addition, we participate in budget meetings, have opinions about the new quality policy or are subjected to the auditors' scrutinizing glances. The administrative work seems to increase and it steals time from "regular" or "real" tasks. Even in our everyday lives, the administration comes into play in almost all areas. ... It is considered good and it is coupled with positive values to plan, be rational, have clear goals, control, review and follow up."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.9.

----- Administration is trending -----
"[There are] many important questions to ask about administration, such as: What is administration? Is administrative work increasing, and if so, how? How does the ordinary work change as a result of new administrative requirements? Why does administration increase or change? What are the consequences of increases in administrative work? Our purpose with this book is both to draw attention to, discuss and understand what administration is and why it is changing."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.12.

----- On bureaucracy -----
"As many know, it was the German sociologist Max Weber who coined the term *bureaucracy * ... Weber argued that bureaucracy was the most effective type of organization, and that it would gradually replace the previously dominant forms based on kinship and heritage. Bureaucracy was thus an objective tool for the modern society that was based on a rational sense. ... It was thus not something problematic or bad rather something natural in a society marked by reason and optimism over developments. it was only later that bureaucracy became a dirty word mainly associated with its negative consequences such as inflexibility, cumbersomeness, zealous officials, paper hysteria, delays and waste of resources."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.13.

----- On management vs administration -----
"Management is linked to active bosses/managers, whose job it is to proactively make changes in a business but also to react when larger shocks occur, and this is done largely through making decisions about various measures, while administration is more related to monitoring, controls, and supporting the business, and this is done by gathering, treating and processing information of different kinds, and then report back on this. This focus on information may also explain why administration more or less seems to have disappeared from the organizational researchers' agenda. ... issues about information and the management of information [have] been taken over by research directions that have followed in the wake of the digital revolution."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.34.

----- On over-administration in healthcare and the police -----
"If we compare studies and observations from healthcare with other areas of the public sector, they have much in common. One example is the police, which just as the county councils [responsible for health care in Swedish] have gone through several rounds of cutting down on the administrative personnel. It is striking how similar the problems are described in the police compared to healthcare. Effects that are experienced in the police forces are a feeling of an increase in administrative work, which means that you have to do more administration yourself, unmanageable and increasing demands on documentation in connection with police matters as well as cumbersome and incompatible computer systems that hinder rather than facilitate documentation. ... All articles and letters to the editor talking about increasingly burdensome administrative work probably reflect a change. ... At least many feel that administration is an obstructing element in their work. It seems administrative work trickles down and into all types of work. There are fewer administrative specialists, but more people who administer as part of their job."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.68.

----- On an abundance of irrelevant administrative tasks -----
"In the autumn of 2013 the new analytical authority Department for health analysis published a report about physicians' use of time. The question asked was, what are the main challenges to achieve a more efficient use of medical resource ... much focus lay on the fact that the administrative requirements on doctors had increased. ... Dressed up in word like "challenges" and "opportunities for development" the report directed sharp criticism of the current situation in the health care sector. The study ... consists of solid empirical data and it confirms what has been said in opinion articles and letters to the editor: that doctors perform a variety of administrative tasks, many of which it is possible to question the relevance."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.117.

----- On clients/consumers/patients becoming their own administrators -----
"The case [shows] that administration not only moves out to the employees, but also draws in clients/consumers/patients and their families. A folder is placed in the hands of the recently ill, and with it a number of forms and billheads to be completed. Clients become co-administrators of their own illness."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.134.

----- On administrative vs professional goals -----
"[In health care] there are increasingly strict requirements on auditing, control and monitoring of activities. The accounting model used guides work towards activities that are being scored. The danger with this system is that the professional will give way to the administrative, that it to say that the definition of good care shifts towards the care that is rewarded by that system ... to put plaster on a leg, to sew up a wound in the emergency room or to surgically remove the tonsils are more concrete and measurable tasks than therapy and conversations. This results-oriented approach and all the talk about productivity may be perceived as strange for employees in the are of psychiatric care. A similarity is that we see the same trends elsewhere, that is to say that numbers "rule" together with requirements for auditing, control and reporting. These requirements often come from higher hierarchical levels in the organizations, and are often related to finance and budget matters."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.134-135.

----- On the requirements and the limits of administration -----
"All available resources could theoretically be devoted to administration. The number of stakeholders is large, and their demands are usually both reasonable and commendable. But if we are to meet them all there may not be much time left for other things, and that was not how it was supposed to be. Stakeholders may hypothetically require an infinite amount of information - the only thing that limits the ability to meet such requirements is the amount of resources available. ... In the many studies we have reported on in previous chapters there are certainly many examples of *over-documentation*, documentation this is performed and that requires work but that is not at all necessary for the operations of the organizations in question."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.180-181.

----- On changing things for the better (on paper - but not in real life) -----
"One example of how administration ... has increased and been added to the workload of a profession is the bi-annual appraisals that teachers have with students and their parents. This used to happen through an informal gathering where the teacher verbally, after previously perhaps having written down a few points on a paper, reported on the student's school situation and then had a relatvely informal discussion with the student and the parents. Nowadays, teachers have to prepare for these discussions by writing a review of each student according to a standardized format. These reviews must be available for parents in advance through a digital platform and is intended to serve as a starting point for the conversation. During the conversation the parents, the student and the teacher should agree on an individual development plan which should also be documentet digitally using another standardized format, either directly during the discussion or afterwards. ... We know it takes considerably more time to write something than to talk about the same thing, so this change resulted in a substantial increase of the teachers' workload. This is an example of how a well-intentioned change - to document students' performances - infringe on the working hours and where the alternative use of the time probably is teaching in the classroom. This type of administrative work literally eats working hours, something that those who introduce the change seldom seem to be aware of."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.189-190.

----- On the link between business economy educational programmes, organisational theory and the increase in administration -----
"We believe that educational programmes in business economy is a factor that plays an important role in the growth of administration and the emergence of administration society. We primarily refer to those educational programmes that aim to manage and lead organizations and that often have their foundation in the subject matter of business administration. We argue that the business economy programmes have led to the development of a new profession with much power. Partly these educational programmes are currently the largest programmes at [Swedish] universities and university colleges and there is furthermore a strong connection to the fact that economy in general has become a social ideology (economization)."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.207.

----- On e-governance as a scheme for citizens to do the work of government -----
"A more general trend with so-called e-government services is that we as citizens and "customers" increasingly are expected to administer ourselves. Administrative work is moved from public organizations to the citizens themselves. We therefore perform part of the organizations' administrative tasks. We can already now manage our own matters with the Swedish Social Insurance Agency and the Swedish Tax Agency. E-health is the latest project that is being developed in this spirit and in which we can administer our contacts with the health care system. "
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.213.

----- On the connection between ICT systems and the increase in administration -----
"IT systems draw all employees into the administrative work while simultaneously increasing the administrative capacity. Not only does the amount of administration increase - IT has also increased the speed. ... In the emergence of an adminstration society, there have been powerful tools in the form of various IT systems and -solutions that has enabled administration. All of this has most often been carried out by using arguments about rationalization, efficiency and savings. ... increased administration is neither accompanied by increased working hours or the corresponding reduction of other employee duties, but is rather assumed that all administration should be accommodated with the regular working hours."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.214-215.

----- On outsourcing as a potentially counter-productive generator of increased amounts of administration -----
"When public organizations are divided into smaller units that will be results-driven, or when public sector activities are exposed to competition and more activities are outsourced, those transactions and the resource flows that arise must be measured and registered, which places new demands on the economic administration. Furthermore, contracts must for example be specified and negotiated and procedures for measuring performance must be established. Since market reforms thus create new organizational relationships, they also create demands for new forms of management, coordination, monitoring and other administrative tasks."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.216.

----- When the market metaphor generates useless administrative work -----
"Let us give an example of how an internal market system aimed at making things more efficient can have the opposite effect. The example comes from studies of administrative processes that the consulting firm PwC made in the municipalities of Hudiksvall and Karlskoga ... One example is the municipalities' internal invoicing. By mapping the working hours for handling the invoices and multiplying by the average salary, you can roughly determine what it costs to handle an internal invoice. The survey showed that it took the equivalent of almost six full-time jobs to handle around four thousand internal invoices, resulting in a cost of 466 SEK per invoice. ... Interestingly, this is an administrative process that only occurrs as a result of organizing into profit centers that buy and sell services from each other within the same organization. It does not contribute to any external value, instead only generating work internally in the organization. It creates a mutually increasing work load according to Parkinson's law. Solely by using the organizing principle "internal market", the municipality has thus created a gigantic amount of work for itself that drains it of time and money. "
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.213.

----- On the hidden (administrative) costs of outsourcing and procurement -----
"[In addition] there are also developments that, based on arguments such as freedom of choice, *expose operations to competitive tendering and to in varying degrees privatize operations* that were previously managed by the public sector. This has meant that large resources also are spent on the procurement of subcontractors, leading to new administrative work of various kinds. ... Outsourcing operations to subcontractors or procuring services thus implies costs in terms of administrative work for public organizations."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.219.

----- On organizations' core businesses and administration-generating "ancillary products -----
"[Furthermore] there are also requirements that organizations, in addition to their core business, should produce a variety of "ancillary products". We have earlier called this "formalized legitimizing administration" and it consists of plans, policies and reports for example in regards to environmental goals or ethnic diversity. All production requires control and this also applies to "ancillary products". ... Regardless of the results of attempts to control such processes, we know that they always generate work and thus also costs. A good example is the quality standards that go under the name ISO 9000."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.220.

----- On our mania to evaluate everything and everyone -----
"There is a persistent societal trend as of several decades that virtually everything we do (both in our private and working lives) should be able to be subjected to measurement, evaluation, accounting, grading and control ... When we buy food or stay at hotels we are asked to fill out forms where we assess different aspects of the products and services we use: Is customer relations good or less good? Are we satisfied with the cleaning? What is our overall impression? And so on. We expect that pupils and students should get reviews and grades, while teachers and courses are also to be evaluated. On the Internet, we provide reviews and ratings to those who sell goods and supply services, we rate video clips on Youtube and provide various numbers of stars to movies and CDs. We see the same trend when different public services are assessed. Key Performance Indicators and reviews are becoming more common and more important. Here they can be applied to the number of teachers per student in schools, the number of crimes solved by the police or the number of cases per officer in the Swedish Social Insurance Agency."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.221-222.

----- On the practice of preemptively preparing for possible future audits -----
"To be subjected to an audit represents an effort from those who are audited that is at least as large as the work effort or the auditors. Those who are audited furthermore adapt to the possibility of a forthcoming investigation, i.e. the knowledge that they may be audited may mean that organizations make themselves "auditable". They will then try to predict what a reviewer will crack down on, and the organization preemtively changes accordingly (or proceeed to produce the right documents). They have then in a theoretical sense internalized the auditing into their own thinking and actions, allowing attempts to steer their operations to have the same effects despite the fact that the audit has not actually taken place. ... over-documentation occurs in order to "keep one's back free", that is, to secure passing a potential future audit. ... This perspective, which has received increased attention by research during the past decade, stems from Michel Foucault's ideas of what power is and how it is practiced in different societies."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.220.

----- On demands for increased transparency as as a source of administration -----
"There is also a desire to increase the transparency of public organizations ... The quest for both external and internal transparency are among those demands that generate the most administrative work for contemporary organizations. As we noted above, not all attempts to better steer an organization do in fact lead to better governance. The do on the other hand generally generate additional administrative work. The strive for increased transparency, like all other attempts of steering an organzation, generates an abundance of administrative work in the organizations concerned. ... One example is the demands/proposals for the introduction of systems to measure quality."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.223.

----- On what counts as "activity" and "drive" in bureaucratic organisations -----
"The more that stakeholders make demands on an organization, the more administration they give rise to. There is much that suggests that the surroundings of public organizations increasingly consists of more stakeholders that make more and more demands, thus leading to more administration. This is often done due to the fact that those who make demands want it that way, but it might also be because that is the way that a bureaucracy shows that it has drive and does something."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.228.

----- On reforms having opposite effects compared to what was being strived for -----
"The New Public Management-oriented reforms that have been implemented in the public sector are placing new demands on administration. There are both empirical studies and theoretical arguments that show that organizational changes, particularly the introduction of market reforms inside public organizations, lead to administative growth and change. The problem that paradoxically arises is thus that reforms aimed at increasing the efficiency can result in the opposite, a reduced efficiency."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.228.

----- On the negative consequences of living in an administration society -----
"Reforms motivated by increased efficiency and freedom of choice have costs in terms of administration. The difficulty is that these costs are difficult to calculate and compare with the potential and equally difficult-to-cacluate efficiency gains. The question that arises is: When do the administrative costs exceed the efficiency gains from organizational reforms? ... [it is] easy to suspect that some reforms have negative effects. ... in the following, we reason about five different kinds of possible negative consequences of administration society: it can lead to inefficiency, mission creep, deprofessionalisation, stress and to a reduction of the democratic influence over management."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.233.

----- On possessing quality vs emulating quality -----
"It becomes ... more important to follow the correct procedures and meet the specified requirements than to maintain actual quality of operations, i.e. to show and to say that you have good quality rather than to ensure that the quality really *is* good. An interesting observation is that the basis and the legitimacy of the new professions [communicators, information officers, controllers, planners, coordinators, strategists, consultants, IT specialists, HR specialists, managers] comes from organizational and management-related areas, while the old ones were based on expertise in the sector they operated in. ... social mobility in modern organizations is about those working in core areas making administrative careers ... the new administrators do not have their loyalte directed to the core areas but rather towards the the administrative goals and the control systems."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.238.

----- On administration creep (c.f. "mission creep") -----
"There is a correlation between the presence of illegitimate (unreasonable and unnecessary) tasks and stress, tension and fatigue. ... Another observation we have made is that administration seldom comes in the form of major planned changes, but consists of many small, limited tasks: an additional registration, two mouse clicks, a document or a new rule. Alltogether all these small administrative tasks eventually however become a significant amount of extra work. Since this work is often invisible, it is neither accompanied by additional time to perform it or changed job descriptions, but is rather expected to be included, and tacked on top of the ordinary tasks. Increased production requirements in the public sector in conjunction with the increasing volume of administration has a significant impact on the pace and the work environment of many groups of employees."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.239-241.

----- On embracing bottom-up rather than a top-down approaches -----
"*Starting from the operations*. Instead of looking to satisfy external stakeholders' needs or the needs of the organization, identify what the needs of the operations are and what those who work with the issues in question demand. It is rare for the personnel to ask for new control systems, measurement models or crisis management plans. Instead embrace a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach. The administrative perspective should not have the prerogative of formulating the problems to be solved. Administration should support the operations - not the other way around."
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.246.

----- On trusting the professionals -----
"You should *trust the professionals.* Many professional occupations are represented in the public sector. Typical examples are teachers and doctors ... Something common to these professions is that they have specialist university-level training, strong norms about how work should be conducted, and a relatively high degree of autonomy. In short, these are self-motivated, qualified coworkers. Controlling their work forcefully runs the risk of going against their professional standards and sends signals from management that they are not trusted. Moreover, it is possible to discuss whether their time is use correctly if the control systems that are in place generate administrative work that displaces core work tasks so that highly skilled groups of employees spend their time administering instead of using their skills irregardly if this concerns doctors, teachers, police, social workers or lawyers. Instead of trying to control activities that are characterized by professionalism and where those who do the work itself possess the greatest knowledge and understanding, perhaps a greater responsibility for organizational decisions should be handed over to them. "
Forsell, A. and Ivarsson Westerberg, A. (2014). Administrationssamhället. Studentlitteratur, p.247-248.

----- On poverty in an affluent society -----
"During much of the 20th century, Sweden was the most equal country in the world. ... Poverty [today] is not so much a consequence of unequal wages as the fact that a growing proportion of the population do not have a salary at all. ... In a society where inequality is on the rise, judgement falls heavily on those who are excluded. Expressions of poverty have never been limited to material shortages and that is especially the case today. Something characteristic of the so-called "precariat" is rather the basic tone of uncertainty, the stress of not knowing what the next few weeks will look like and the recurring humiliation at then hands of employers and authorities. In a society where the difference between winners and losers is becoming increasingly blatant, the latter will have to deal with a growing sense of failure."
Paulsen, R. (2015). Vi bara lyder: en berättelse om Arbetsförmedlingen. Bokförlaget Atlas, p.37.

----- On the meagre results of money spent on the Swedish Public Employment Service -----
"The Swedish Public Employment Service [has become] the institution that is expected to solve *everything*. Three other institutions - the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, the Swedish Migration Agency and social services - are now sending a record-breaking number of excluded individuals straight into the Employment Service offices. The analysis made is as follows: as sick, newly arrived to Sweden or poor, your biggest problem is that you don't have a job. So you should head to the Employment Service. ... The average Emplyment Service officer mediates no more than ten unsubsidized jobs per year ... If the Employment Service do not mediation jobs, what then do they do? What happens to the annual budget of 72 billion SEK [8 billion USD] - a sum that is equivalent to ten billion SEK more than the government expenditures for universal health care in Sweden?"
Paulsen, R. (2015). Vi bara lyder: en berättelse om Arbetsförmedlingen. Bokförlaget Atlas, p.38-39.

----- On administrative work crowding out the "real" work -----
""You could say that during the late eighties, providing services was larger than controlling and checking the unemployed. The control part is much bigger than the service part now. So there has been a shift where you not only check on the unemployed, but also check us [who work at the Employment Service]. And we have a huge control apparatus in place." When he started to work [for the Employment Service] in the mid-eighties, he handled almost none of the bureaucratic work himself. There were assistants who did that. As soon as he had pulled the strings and arranged a new job, he could dump the papers in the lap of someone else. He could devote himself to helping people. "There was no real performance management in the eighties. You did things that you yourself thought were good. And it was nice to to be an Employment Service officer, since we could use our creativity rather freely. To do good things." In today's Employment Service, the administrative burden has long ago exceeded the limit of absurdity"
Paulsen, R. (2015). Vi bara lyder: en berättelse om Arbetsförmedlingen. Bokförlaget Atlas, p.44-45.

----- On what present-day obedience looks like -----
"Obedience has many faces. It is far more complex than blunt power. Today we dislike to think of ourselves as "obedient ". ... To understand obedience at present times, we must first realize that the Holocaust and experiments with fake electric shock have limited relevance on our time. If we want to gain insight into *our* obedience, it is better to seek out an organization that exists today and where members on a daily basis implement decisions they do not really believe in and then ask: why?"
Paulsen, R. (2015). Vi bara lyder: en berättelse om Arbetsförmedlingen. Bokförlaget Atlas, p.52.

----- On credentialism -----
"I have myself devoted several years to teaching university-level courses to future HR administrators. You could become a personnel administrator with no more than high school diploma only three decades ago. Administration and communication processes were far less automated at that time compared to today and the requirements of detailed knowledge was therefore greater. Now, when the labor has become easier than ever before, most employers require that you have a three-year college degree to do it. One explanation for this is that colleges and universities have become repositories for excess labor. This has led to what in English is called *credentialism*: an inflation in the value of a degree that is required also for jobs where that training is not of any use. Employers will make as substantial demands as they can - because they can - leding to education becoming an empty, albeit decisive, symbol in a worklife competition."
Paulsen, R. (2015). Vi bara lyder: en berättelse om Arbetsförmedlingen. Bokförlaget Atlas, p.100.

----- On the differences and dividing lines between unemployment, labour and meaningful work -----
"For there to be an incentive to work, being unemployed can not be too comfortable. The compensation can not be too high and the demands on activity must not be too low - you can not get more in compensation than those who work and you can not be released from supervision. However attractive wage labor may may appear to those who have ended up outside [of the labor market], and however much the political parties unite behind the increasingly important objective of "creating jobs", there is however a truth that is as well known as it is suppressed: most of us would refuse the jobs we currently have if we were free from economic coercion. The proportion of people who could imagine themselves continuing to work if they unexpectedly became financially independent has since the 1950's gone down from half of the working population to less than a third. This third encompasses those of us who are allowed to comment in public on the meaning of work: researchers, journalists and politicians. Professions for which leisure and work intermingle; people who can attend dinners, read books or travel around the world and refer to it as "work". "
Paulsen, R. (2015). Vi bara lyder: en berättelse om Arbetsförmedlingen. Bokförlaget Atlas, p.170.

----- On the consensus of creating jobs in a world of job-shedding -----
"All of society pulls in the same direction. Economic policy has been reduced to one single question: how can we ensure that more people have a job in a world where work becomes more and more superfluous day by day?"
Paulsen, R. (2015). Vi bara lyder: en berättelse om Arbetsförmedlingen. Bokförlaget Atlas, p.179.