Innovative ideas

A few comments on Friday’s Innovative Ideas Forum at the National Library of Australia…

A bit of faith in humanity goes a long way

From my POV, the most interesting aspect of the forum was that one key theme was so not-new – trust in and respect for the public / consumers / audiences / users – whatever we want to call them. Four of the presenters suggested in some way that trust as an essential element of contemporary cultural work – Marcus Gillezeau, Mark Scott, Rose Holley and Darren Sharp. This is an absolutely critical point. But it has been said many a time before, especially in relation to the library sector. It was the issue that was most discussed in 2006 when I posted a paper about Web 2.0. And it’s all over the web now – just try googling ‘radical trust’.

As government-funded cultural workers – as people in positions of cultural authority – we need to lay aside our fears, withhold our judgement, and actively resist our will-to-control – and trust and respect our audiences, radically and fundamentally. If we assume the best of people, and build systems based on radical trust (which can include transparency features and safeguards such as version tracking and rollback functions), then it’s possible to get the brilliant results that the Library is getting through its Newspapers Digitisation Program – thousands of people correcting millions of words, because they want to help. As Rose Holley reported, people are motivated by the trust and respect the Library is showing them.

The opposite is also true, and I bet we all have this experience: lack of trust is a powerful demotivator.

But clearly, hearing the words and seeing the success stories is not sufficient to engender the cultural shift we need in order to build trust-based systems. Every single time I hear (or talk) about a project involving user-generated content, someone invariably asks the question about the vandals.

Well, yes it happens that some people do dodgy things, by accident and by design. But it’s better to build a system that enables public participation for public benefit than to preclude that participation and benefit on the assumption of ill-will. Only then can we allow and benefit from user-led innovation  – thanks to Darren Sharp for bringing this notion to the forum (and hear, hear to the recently-released Venturous Australia report, which pointed out that governments have been pretty good at fostering top-down innovation but fare badly when it comes to innovating from the bottom up).

Talking the talk but baulking at the walk

Despite lugging my huuuuge Mac laptop with the idea of swimming along in the tweetstream while I listened… I was one of the who-knows-how-many who couldn’t connect, even after more IP addresses were made available. Well – I did manage it at 4.45pm from the foyer, after everyone had gone home 😦

So as someone willing but unable to participate in that way, I was disappointed that the social media channels that had been set up for the event were not integrated in any way into the forum itself – rather, there was an unfortunate (and ironic, given the subject) disconnect between the presenters and the audience.

Perhaps the next forum could be a more radical experiment in the form of the forum – perhaps we could collaborate to create some innovative ideas.

A phenomenon that passed me by…

I admit I had never once heard a jot about Scorched, the ambitious and fascinating all-media creation of Marcus Gillezeau and co. I’m not a watcher of commercial tv, so no surprise there. But I’m a user of social media, and did not hear about it that way either. Would have been interesting to see a show of hands as to how many people at the forum had heard of the project, watched the telemovie, participated in the community. Lots about it is interesting and worthy of further discussion – in particular, the relationships between fact / fiction, and commercial / non-commercial culture. And what happens to the community now that there’s no more funding?

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