Hung Parliament or Hung Government?

Participatory Democracy NOW!

As we have been saying on this blog, see 1917 or 2017 for example, this is not an election that addresses our real concerns today, in the 21st century. Nor addressed how British people might actually live and work, outside the bubble of the financial district, now and in the future of these “disruptive” times. In the main we agree with the Age of Anger analysis, by Pankaj Mishra, that globalisation, social media and the “war on terror” are the key issues today and think that this is a helpful framing device for current and forthcoming political discussions about life and work in both the UK and the EU about how we might get through the 21st century.

Consequently we believe that a hung parliament is a wonderful outcome to #GE2017. Perhaps a real debate about how we create a socially-just society, from which a socially-just economy could emerge, might become part of the political discourse, not just #Brexit brutality, blame culture and media trivialisations.

I’ve already tweeted that our call for Citizen-generated Contexts and a bottom-up political process, is now even more relevant. The current ongoing constitutional crisis in the U.K. highlights the inability of our existing political class, schooled in the 19th century arrogance of Victorian social elites, to understand the world that is right in front of them, rather than the glorious English history they prefer to look at.

Our 1689 political system, with its usefully unwritten constitution, and dependant on the past certainties of the nation-state, remains a bulwark of  useless hierarchy in an emerging networked age. We could be building a society that pleases us instead of being fearful about everything around us.

This is more a hung government that a hung Parliament. As I described in 1989, we could be writing a constitution for a networked society based on a digital economy in which everyone partakes, not just absent owners in Silicon Valley.  In EU terms we could make the principle of subsidiarity a key principle of devolving decision-making to the lowest level and trust ourselves and not the political elites who continually seek to diminish us.

Fred Garnett


Subset or Superset?

After dinner coffee or new ingredients?

In 2010 the Government closed down Becta, its e-learning agency, thanks to Nick Clegg’s intervention. I had worked there and had formulated a question I asked of others in government; “is e-learning a subset of learning, or a superset?” Meaning is digital learning the coffee after the main course, so we can pass on it if we wish (like Nick Clegg), or is it a new set of ingredients from which we can transform the main course in various ways? Those of you following the current disruptive capitalism debate can guess what I think. Most people in government still see it as an optional digestif and insist on “meat and two veg” forever and ever.

In 2001 & 2002 I worked on a government project, Cybrarian, that built a prototype social network,  which effectively did what Facebook does even before Zuckerburg started coding it. The big difference, part from being a British social network for use in the UK, is that in Cybrarian users owned their data rather than the platform builders. As we have seen from Facebook, Google and Apple, you can use American products as long as they can monetise your data to death; a key output in the Age of Anger. Knowing that its value was little understood I wrote “An Information Architecture for Civil Society” because digital computer-based initiatives are driven by business thinking and 3-level business information systems design (Operations, Management, Executive). New society-wide systems needed to map to existing information use in civil society. Sadly government continues to make decisions based on promoting business information systems not on the information needs of people.

Amazingly Cameron asked businessman Zuckerberg to help the UK Government cut the Labour budget deficit by using Facebook in 2010. That’s right, the Conservatives shut down a British centre of world-class expertise in digital learning and then asked Southern Californian libertarians to help save the British economy by using pretty much the same platform as they had rejected as a British technology. Mind you Tony Blair had rung Bill Gates in 1997 and asked how to save the NHS; databases was the reply. Ask an American tech guy what is the answer and they say “American tech.”

e-enabling or transformative? This question has become the key question that Nigel and I now ask of any 21st century policy initiative, such as Theresa May’s back to the grammar schools big idea. Are we going to continue behaving as though the world is exactly as our school pedagogy describes it, but slightly speeded up through digitisation? Or are we going to rethink how we might undertake what we do what do by using the potentialities and affordances of emerging technology? And not by applying business information system design to the social contexts in which we live. In learning terms we want to apply what we describe as Folksonomy not Taxonomy.

A new emerging Digital Practice can be seen in many English colleges that (we’ve) documented in our Digital Practitioner work. The transformative quality revealed in this work is that, instead of didactic subject delivery, we discovered artfully-crafted, student-centred, learning experiences.  Entry-level professionals, who grew up and used personal technology in their everyday life are very comfortable with using them in the classroom and incorporating the ideas of their students too.

Nobody knows anything in government, as William Goldman said about Hollywood. If you educate around the history of a subject everything looks like a matter of history. If you celebrate World War One for several years then history looks like lions lead by donkeys with jingoism the default setting of the populace (unless you have an alt.history to draw on). Since Thatcher politicised education in 1986 and promoted a heavily managed National Curriculum severely reviewed and inspected by the the controlling OFSTED, we have fetishised a national education that is authoritarian and hierarchical as we try and prepare for a networked world. The current governments and the well-educated political class, A-level students on steroids, remain scared and fearful of the potential of digital transformations, scream fearfully and throw up their hands whilst asking American tech to steal everything we have but solve our problems please. Problem-solving should start in school (like Finland) not be a purchasing decision…

Content or Collaboration?

Before and After MOOCs

Universities have a category error about learning. They think it is content delivery. This is an almost 1,000 year old error based on the time when (learning) resources were extremely scarce and books where large, heavy, hand-written and locked away in libraries. The interface between teachers and learners was the lectern (hence lecturer). A large wooden frame upon which those frighteningly heavy books could be placed at a suitable angle from which the content could be read out aloud. The learners copied down what was read out and, hey presto, “learning” magically happened. Universities were systems for the transmission of content from a severely proscribed list of definitive works. Universities still essentially operate on this model.

Oxford University started with 30 books in its library in 1096. 113 years later Cambridge University was formed by dissatisfied Oxonians who had accumulated 130 books. In the 13th century knowledge was growing rapidly at the pace of 1 book per year and, for some, University education already needed redesigning. Monotheistic universities (which is how they started) have always dealt in the “language of the priesthood” and 800 years later continue to behave as though we are still living in content scarcity. Come to us and receive our benediction through content transmission. This confident but false assertion is what keeps people scrambling to receive the gift of Oxbridge arrogance to see them through to the end of their days; and possibly ours too if they study PPE (as recently pointed out). 

Learning is what is missing from our education system, not what defines it. The focus of our (learning-based) work has been to examine how the new participatory technologies of Web 2.0  (see Trust the Learner) can help surface learning as the key driver of the education system. We argue for collaboration, developing a shared understanding of whatever is being studied, and context (the learners circumstances) as being the key dimensions of learning, rather than high-stakes assessment. Learning is a “front-loaded” process motivating learner inquiry, whereas education is an “end-loaded” process laden with fear, and examinations. We think we should be designing fit for context learning not fit for purpose education…

MOOCS are the 21st century extension of this medieval  content is learning fallacy. Curated content as a metaphor for learning. In fact xMOOCs are short courses designed to fit into the course hours model of the USA university system and can be delivered at reduced cost. Learning is the process whereby any learner makes sense of what any education system offers them, and from which they draw conclusions that are meaningful to them. Education is still a ‘by rote” process of memorisation and foolish tests of that remembering… As we’ve indicated in Before and After MOOCs we can learn from the failings of our elitist education systems, but not if we keep thinking that A-levels remain the gold standard. We’ve had 921 years of medieval lecturn-based pontificating based on an assumption of content scarcity. Why not start designing around trusting the learner to navigate through content abundance? Why not allow learners to collaboratively negotiate their way to shared understandings about the many contexts in which they live in the 21st century? More…

History of Manchester in 100 objects


In 2011 we were trying to turn Manchester in to an Ambient Learning City using social media. We wanted people to tell their own stories about Manchester using objects that they owned. We were working with the Museum of Science and Industry and wanted people to tell stories about their own economic history as a way of rethinking what their economic futures might be. This was in the shadow of the credit crunch when it looked like economic life might end, at least for the poorer in society.

Screenshot 2017-05-24 07.45.52

Then the Manchester riots happened in August 2011. Many were fearful but David Caton Roberts decided to act on the principles of the project and get people to collaborate on a crowdsourced project nominating their favourite object in Manchester whilst the riots were happening. Be positive and tell good stories about where you live. He called it a History of Manchester in 100 objects after the British Museum project A History of the World in 100 objects. Click the link and have a look, it’s a great read for Mancunians and everyone else!

Some nominated objects 

…4) The tiled images on the pavement on Oldham Street/Tib Street (the Banksy lion?)…

…8) The City Silver Plate (service kept in Town Hall, piece in Manchester Art Gallery), 1870s…

…77) James Prescott Joules paddle wheel (now there is an object for you)…

What did we learn? We learnt that despite fear, and the relentless focus of news media on the bad, people have good stories to tell and great memories to share. (See our social media festival for more). We learnt that we can find new ways to live and learn in our cities as the economy changes and use social media tools for the collaborative and sharing purposes of learning and empathy, not just for consumption and manipulation.

Fred Garnett

More on Ambient Learning City lessons we learnt from the Manchester MOSI-ALONG project…

Social Cities of Tomorrow

(In London) Participatory City

(In Timisaora) Learning City 2.0

Imported or Trained?

I spent many wonderful years in the Further Education sector where Britain (had) many world best qualities. It’s where I learnt to teach and help anyone cope with the education system.


As we showed with I Am Curious #Digital it still has innovative Digital Practitioners

We could be training British kids using “artfully-crafted, student-centred, learning experiences” who could then build new futures rather than saying we need to import cheap labour to keep the costs of old industries low…

Innovation economy or austerity economy? The answer lies in the education system AND the learning design it allows…

Pleased or fearful?

Optimistic or pessimistic?

Written in Bruxelles for #makesense we think we should solve the problems that annoy us most and build the society that pleases us most…


This building doesn’t come from examinations where solving artificial, theoretical problems derive from the attempt to understand a subject discipline but, rather, from tackling real-world problems that affect or afflict us; draw up your own list. Solve your problem, perhaps improve my society…

Solve the problem that annoys you most is a phrase that comes from Philippa Young, a guerrilla film-maker who quit Oxford because it was too arcane an environment from which to address the problems of the modern world, and the savage shortages created by the so-called abundance of the globalised world and its WTO. She used the term as part of the workshops we ran on WikiQuals in 2011 and she later gave a TEDx talk on being a guerrilla filmmaker, which was what informed her thinking about problem-solving.


Build the community that pleases you most is a phrase I used in a keynote for the wonderful #makesense crew of nascent social entrepreneurs at an event, appropriately enough for these Brexit times, in Bruxelles. Here is the full set of my ideas.

Manifesto or Policy Forest?

Leaked or Shared?

Today saw the leak of Labours Manifesto and a media debate on either the non-substantive policy issue of the lack of control of Labour on its members, or comments on substantive issues by senior Conservatives who said it showed that the coalition of chaos would not provide stable and secure leadership. We are not big fans of manifestos anyway, and given that this is an attempt to establish a Brexit manifesto, after the fact, in order to(allegedly) increase the governments power when negotiating with the EU, then the gleeful seizing upon the leak rather than the policies by the British media indicates once again that personality-driven elections obscure rather than illuminate…

We are interested in Participatory policy making and as a part of our Policy 2.0 project (participatory, creative, interactive) we developed a policy-making approach as part of the learner-generated contexts research project, called Policy Forest. It is a policy development based on our institutional Architecture of Participation work where we, especially Nigel, apply Web 2.0 principles (What is Web 2.0?) to educational institutions. First used on our LGC event on designing future learning spaces, we have evolved it further.

Architectures of Participation we have characterised as “Adaptive Institutions working across Collaborative Networks” where we see all workers within an educational organisation sharing in the decision-making process, as pioneered by Eccles College and their award-winning webactions project.

Policy 2.0 was launched at CAL in Dublin in 2007 and was in part inspired by Diana Laurillard views on the Adaptive State and the idea that a conversational framework for policy implementation could be developed

The shared policy development approach in Policy 2.0 was further developed and tested over a number of events and finally reached a workable model at the JISC workshop on Sustaining Innovation in education. In this model, experts, and politicians evolved a number of policy formulations concerning specific policy outcomes and people vote for the formulation they prefer, policy by policy. It is not a mandate, nor a manifesto, but a line by line policy review. In our model we have 3 options for each policy outcome as well as a write-in option. Significant write-ins can also be accommodated. Results are published and acted upon, not unlike environment audit statements.


The actual policy formulations for Sustaining Innovation can be found on Cloudworks

More on Architecture of Participation on the blog, more on Policy 2.0 on slideshare

Fred Garnett

2017 or 1917?

What year is #GE2017 being fought in? 2017 or 1917?

Back in 1972 I was so shocked by how the UK establishment flat out lied to maintain power that I decided to study politics in order to understand how the manipulative UK political system actually worked. In 1984, having taught politics for a couple of years in the USA and then been employed to teach computing in the UK (as we are too scared to teach an understanding of politics to the Queens own subjects), I decided to merge my interests and investigate what the overlap was between technology and social change.

By 1989 I concluded that social change, caused by disruptive meta-technologies, occur in 50 year cycles (Kondratieff) through “unanticipated outcomes” and “negative second-order effects” That is change is unpredictable. Change is NOT what experts anticipate (which is always predict to be “same as what we have now, only more *intense*). Social change however is qualitative not quantitative. I thought that by 2021 we would be going through a mega-set of socio-technical changes which would necessarily require us to change the constitution (outlined in Homi & the NeXT One in 1989) in response. As pre-figured by Jonathan Gershuny, on the BBC in 1984, that would reflect a social network architecture based on a “two-way, broadband, interactive, multi-media, optical-fibre network that would allow everyone to be a producer as well as a consumer”; prosumer economics perhaps? Instead, in 1986, PM Margaret Thatcher decided that the economic future would be based on the privatisation of industrial assets, not on building the infrastructure backbone for a participatory democracy based on a digital economy. So she privatised the national telecommunications provider BT (“selling off the family silver“) who began installing copper wires instead.


Well in 2017 our socio-economic assets have long been privatised and many people have moved up the Rich List thanks to the UK becoming “relaxed” about greed, however our digital economy still relies on a panicky phone call to Silicon Valley rather than an universal broadband architecture enabling everyone to work. Even (beautiful) Romania is way ahead of us on broadband…

1917 – This complete inability of the current political establishment, and it’s supplicant elite of media experts and commentators, to understand the changing present-day economic drivers, which have been present since 1971 (foreshadowed by Kondratieff  in 1922) has been exacerbated by our continual re-writing of WW1 since 2014. Where previously WW1 was about donkeys we now celebrate  Great British Lions of 100 years ago. We have had an orgy of self-love about how great our military history has been, whilst we actively destroy our own communities and, under George Osborne, the Welfare State. Health-care free at the point of delivery is far more amazing than History love-fests about Imperial Britain.

Instead of examining how the combination of new technology, neo-liberal economics and freedom of migration have impacted upon meaningful work in the communities in which live, our political establishment has retreated into the self-regarding, well-paid towers of privilege that their Oxford PPE education entitles them too. Arrogantly confident that they will retain their valuable jobs whatever the election results.

1917 or 2017 – So it seems to me that this election is being fought on WW1 principles; trust the lions of England, and not the donkeys of Europe. Every single one of the self-loving boys of the Establishment are voting for more A-level examinations and carb-fuelled school dinners without any thing that smells of them European continent.

So! Do we want to e-enable our past, imperial 1917, where we are all dutiful subjects of the Crown, or do we create anew a socially-just 2017 where we are citizens participating economically in the creation of a new society in which we live actively? Citizen-Generated contexts anyone?

Fred Garnett

Citizens or Mayors?

Citizen-generated Contexts

I welcomed the Maastricht Treaty as it signalled the moment I finally grew up from being the mere subject of a sovereign to a person with equal rights who could be active within a democracy. Unfortunately it also unleashed the Hobbesian anger of those who thought that life really was nasty, British and short and which ultimately resulted in Brexit for a multiplicity of reasons.

Since Web 2.0 came along we’ve been thinking about how new digital technologies might help with both new more active processes of learning. In 2006 we decided we were interested in enabling learners to “generate” their own contexts for learning and became the learner-generated contexts research group, promoting the open context model of learning which fused subject pedagogies, collaborative andragogy and creative heutagogy so people might learn where they choose, beyond the classroom.


In the City of Manchester  we tested (MOSI-ALONG) the idea of having many contexts available for learning across a city and quickly realised we needed both new metaphors to frame people’s learning in new contexts, as well as a new social media based learning process, Aggregate then Curate, to help shape how that learning might evolve from learner-generated activities. We didn’t transform Manchester but we did transform our own understanding of how to support learning in non-traditional contexts with new digital tools.

Citizen-generated Contexts was an idea Nigel and I floated as we tried to help UK online centres move from Community Grids for Learning to Community Grids for Information as part of a community-based response to e-government. We think we can create new participatory processes of democracy by “positively designing to allow for new forms of citizen engagement to emerge” We think we need to a) identify new complex social practices such as “Transition Town open space meeting agendas” and b) enabling new extra-institutional structuring, the liminal processes of WikiQuals, or Young Mayor teams in local authorities, and absorb them into mainstream politics.

New Mayors in the UK are now being elected as a new form of hierarchical local representation. Central government has defined away whatever local government can do ever since (old mayor) Ken Livingstone used County Hall to publicise the rising unemployment caused by the Thatcher government in 1981-1984. New (American-style) mayors, now exhibiting what my friend Roxanne terms the “pathology of office”, are free to make their cities world-class (building skyscrapers) as part of a new and shallow celebrity politics of spectacle. 30 years of property-driven speculation has meant communities no longer know how to define themselves and self-organise. We need to invent new ways of doing this (complex social practices) and also of recognising them (extra-institutional structuring). Citizen journalism, hyper-local blogs and Facebook groups all represent different ways of doing this.

As ever with new technology the affordances for transforming social discourse, as either citizens or learners, are there but people are more concerned with e-enabling existing processes as we are generally neither comfortable with redesigning existing institutions nor looking at how we might use. As Ben Hammersley put it, the Network Society is waiting to be born but those who grew up in hierarchical society keep recreating their comfortable pasts. We think social transformation can be better defined in context by citizens rather than in absentia by officials in office.

Here’s a new toolkit, have a play – Citizen-Generated Contexts; 

(Fred Garnett)

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