Let’s make a scene and rebel against Big Tech

Norman Rockwell, “The Party Line” (1919)

This is more or less what I meant to say at a talk I gave at Nerd Nite this week called “Can we occupy technology with love?”. It follows on from a short blog post I wrote last year with the same title.

Can we occupy technology with love?

What do I mean by occupying technology? I mean, roughly, bending it to our will; taking advantage of its adaptivity to do something different.

To show what I mean, I’ll start with a few examples of ways technology has been rebelliously adapted.

The first is curator Marie Foulston’s…

This is a rundown of the course themes and structure, in case you want to recreate it at home.

What we learnt running the pilot | More about the programme

This programme was funded by Co-op Foundation, in partnership with Luminate

A slide from the first session: It’s all about power

Before you dive in, it’s worth noting the videos here are live captures of sessions we ran from our homes during a pandemic; they haven’t been edited or given any post-production treatment. The lighting is variable, there may be cats, sometimes the recordings start very slightly after people have started speaking, and — in my case — you’ll get…

A short rundown of what the pilot was meant to achieve, what we did, and what we learnt

This programme was funded by Co-op Foundation, in partnership with Luminate

A screengrab of the nine fellows and three facilitators, trying and failing to pose for a proper photograph

What we wanted to achieve

The aim of the programme was to see if we could inspire a group of dynamic community leaders in Greater Manchester to actively engage with the ways technology is changing society.

Why?

The active role that communities play in using, shaping, and tidying up after technology is often underestimated. But — as the pandemic has shown — the wisdom and generosity of neighbourhoods and informal networks, committed campaigners and established charities is…

Careful Industries is a microbusiness based in the UK, run by Rachel Coldicutt. We have a plan for gentle growth in 2021 and are looking for a freelance inclusive HR expert for a short, foundational project.

The Project

Work with Rachel to hire our first member of staff — our Operations Manager

  • Effort and time frame: up to 5 days of consulting and delivery, to take place between late January and early March 2021
  • Fee: c. £3,000

What is needed?

We need help to operationalise our values from the very beginning. Specifically, to:

  • Ensure our initial policies and approach to hiring are inclusive, flexible, sustainable…

A non-technical guide to the likely social impact of the National Data Strategy

A picture that says “policy briefing note: understanding the social impact of the national data strategy”
A picture that says “policy briefing note: understanding the social impact of the national data strategy”

Anyone who knows me will know that I hate to write a long document — but, unfortunately, I had no choice. My policy briefing note on the National Data Strategy rather stretches the credibility of the word “note” (it is just under 6,000 words long), but there was a lot to say.

Read the briefing note >

Read the summary slide deck>

The briefing note attempts to explain the importance of the National Data Strategy for non-technical audiences, and summarises some of the social impacts. …

On Excel-gate and the UK government’s “quantitative revolution”

Row 65,536 — the last row in an XLS file

What gets mended matters

In 2014 I was working at a service-design agency, doing discovery interviews at a big utility company — talking to stakeholders and finding out what could be done to make their billing system compatible with the “smart” devices being rolled out by the marketing team.

After a few conversations, it became clear that all roads led back to two system administrators — two women who sat in an unbeloved office at the back of the building, the only people able to do the magic required to spit billing data out of the…

Data policy has important social implications and should not only be determined by technologists

A screengrab from the National Data Strategy web page
A screengrab from the National Data Strategy web page

Why is this important?

The National Data Strategy might sound like a very technical thing; in reality it is a document that sets out a vision for how information might flow through the UK economy, government and our public services. That information will be used to drive decisions that are made about people and things, and inform the design of products and services. So although this might be traditionally regarded as a piece of digital policy, it will also have implications for economic and social policy.

A white lighthouse against an orange background.
A white lighthouse against an orange background.

Glimmers has been a real-time investigation into the relationship between technology and civil society.

Civil society is committed to “building back better” but for that to happen, it needs to be active and thriving — not exhausted and over-stretched.

In response to our findings, we have created the Glimmers Toolkit to aid recovery for civil society organisations, and are calling for a Community Tech Stack, so the future of digital social infrastructure is not dependent on either big technology platforms or start-up “unicorns”.

The full final report is available on the Glimmers website. Our findings and recommendations are summarised below.

Insight

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock racing through LA in “Speed”

Dominic Cummings’ techno-enthusiasm is infectious — and, this year, it’s been spreading all over government.

There doesn’t appear to be a written plan — at least not in the public domain — but there are certainly recurring themes. This is a dream of a low-friction, innovation paradise in which numbers tell the truth while bureaucrats (and ethicists) get out of the way. It is less a vision for society, more an obsession with process and power.

The risks of this approach can be seen in the handling of the A level grading and the NHSX track and trace app. Both…

Using the wisdom of civil society to forecast and anticipate social issues

A graphic illustration of a white mountain with a flag in the top
A graphic illustration of a white mountain with a flag in the top

This is an extract from a letter sent to Danny Kruger MP as part of a consultation for the UK Prime Minister, exploring how to empower and strengthen communities for the long-term.

The wisdom of civil society

Civil society is well-placed to use its empirical and on-the-ground expertise to forecast and anticipate societal issues. Leveraging this wisdom is vital to realising the government’s levelling-up agenda.

Mirroring the Grand Challenges set out in the Industrial Strategy, there is an opportunity for civil society to set a number of critical Social Missions for post-Covid recovery…

Rachel Coldicutt

Feminist. Responsible technologist. Reading and writing on equality, automation and climate crisis. On sabbatical-ish. Formerly @doteveryone .

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