Budding Opportunity for Corporate Entrepreneurs

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has grown increasingly strategic, and a broader concept of sustainability has gained ground.

Public pressure to address negative corporate externalities, and pressing social, economic, and environmental issues drove the evolution of these practices. Over time, they have blurred the lines between the public, private, and civil sectors, and redefined traditional roles and structures in the process.

International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) try to fill the gaps amid calls for greater efficiency and more demonstrable impact, but with fewer resources, more constraints, and increased competition for donor dollars. The public sector and civil society are increasingly looking to the private sector to play a larger role. The question is no longer if companies have a responsibility to society, but how best to execute it.

Many companies are stepping up to the call, navigating the competing demands of shareholders to deliver maximum profits in the short-term, and the demands of employees, consumers, and other stakeholders to respond to long-term social issues. Yet others still struggle to deliver cohesive and authentic programs.

A more integrated approach has the potential to transform such initiatives into programs that benefit business and society.

Source: Joshua Cramer-Montes via Stanford Social Innovation Review

A Spanish Town That Runs on Twitter

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Visualization of the mayor’s connections to the community. To the right, details about his Twitter activity. In this screen shot of a data explorer developed by Martin Saveski, each circle represents a Jun citizen or organization. The lines represent Twitter follower relationships. The four colors denote sub-networks of people within Jun who are closely tied to each other by their Twitter activity. Source: William Powers and Deb Roy via HuffPost

Mayor José Antonio Rodríguez Salas has spent years turning his small Spanish town into one of the most active users of Twitter anywhere in the world.

For Jun’s 3,500 residents, more than half of whom have Twitter accounts, their main way to communicate with local government officials is now the social network. Need to see the local doctor? Send a quick Twitter message to book an appointment. See something suspicious? Let Jun’s policeman know with a tweet.

For José María de la Torre Sarmiento, an architect who stopped by Jun’s town hall after work to verify his Twitter account, the chance to quickly send tweets remained preferable to submitting government forms that took weeks to process.

“I work from home and use internet services all the time,” he said during the five-minute verification. “Why can’t I do the same thing when I use public services?”

Source: The New York Times

Placemaking and Redefining the ‘Chaotic Street’

Many renderings of new urban development projects include a plaza or similar open space, sitting somewhere in front or between the proposed new buildings. Glitzy visualizations paint pictures of future plazas teeming with life. People are lounging, meeting each other and actively engaging in public life.

But wander off to anywhere in Helsinki (or any Finnish city, really) and you will find dead plazas galore. Most of today’s plazas were planned before digital tools came into play and made adding people easy, but the story has been the same for a long time: once materialized, our plazas typically end up being devoid of the public life they’re envisioned to support.

Supporting public life is a topic we must discuss. The public and policy atmosphere is shifting towards a future of living in denser and more urban neighborhoods. This makes having high-quality public realms a top priority for livability. Thinking about why we have so many dead plazas also helps to advance the broader discussion for smarter urban planning.

Source: From Rurban to Urban

The Undiluted City: Integrating Nature into Modern Life

Just being in an urban environment, scientists have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.

One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.

This research arrives just as humans cross an important milestone: For the first time in history, the majority of people reside in cities. For a species that evolved to live in small, primate tribes on the African savannah, such a migration marks a dramatic shift. Instead of inhabiting wide-open spaces, we’re crowded into concrete jungles, surrounded by taxis, traffic, and millions of strangers. In recent years, it’s become clear that such unnatural surroundings have important implications for our mental and physical health, and can powerfully alter how we think.

Source: Boston.com

The Problem with Machines? They Aren’t Human Enough

Humans are full of conscious and unconscious biases. For example, a 2012 study in Quebec showed that in considering equally qualified and skilled candidates, those with last names like Ben Saïd were 35 per cent less likely to be called back for an interview than those with last names like Bélanger.

Our machines are learning from this data. They are being taught through AI systems that in fact “Bélangers” are more qualified than “Ben Saïds.” So, as we use AI to predict recidivism in the criminal justice system, to determine loan eligibility or for job application screening, we are further embedding systemic discrimination in our institutions. This is unfair and unethical. It is also a great economic loss. One solution is to teach machines in a similar way to the human brain.

Source: Montreal Gazette

How are Journalists Covering Cross-Sector Collaboration?

A lot of failed cross-sector projects happen because of a lack of government oversight, a lack of public understanding, a lack of public pressure in what is going into a complex project. That’s where journalism comes in.

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Image: Circle of Self-Destruction by Juan Molinet

Interest in addressing problems through collaboration among business, government and nonprofit sectors is on the rise. Meanwhile, journalists want to understand the mechanics, benefits and limitations of these relationships — partnerships that involve the “linking or sharing of information, resources, activities and capabilities by organizations in two or more sectors to jointly achieve an outcome.”

Journalists have a key role in covering these partnerships, not only to fulfill the Fourth Estate’s mission of holding public officials and agencies accountable for their work in these collaborations, but also to educate the public about cross-sector collaboration as a model for addressing public problems — both its benefits and limitations.

Source: The Intersector Project

Digital Nomad Life 101

When I first started out, I felt like I always had to be “go, go, go.” One month here, a week or two there, and although I enjoyed the adventurous aspect, that sort of pace is not sustainable, at least not for me. The more I traveled and the more nomads I met in co-working and co-living spaces, I found a lot of them traveled at a slower pace.

The most successful nomads — either financially or those who have been maintaining a nomadic life for years — all have a home base (or two) somewhere where they spend 3 to 6 months on average. The rest of the time, they travel and work from other locations. So, I think that there’s this sort of misconception that to be nomadic you have to constantly be on the move and that is just not the case.

Source: Vianessa Castaños via Blue Lotus Collective

The Rise of the Interstitial User

Apple users usually expect for their devices to perform basic system management and maintenance, monitoring background processes so that a rogue task doesn’t drag down the currently active app, for example.

But when Apple confirmed users’ suspicions that a recent update was aggressively slowing older devices, the story quickly gained national attention, culminating in the company cutting the price of battery replacement service and apologizing for the misunderstanding in an open letter to customers. Though Apple never goes as far as to admit wrongdoing in the letter, their direct appeals to customers’ “trust” and “faith” serve as an implicit acknowledgement that the company disregarded a boundary somewhere.

Given how social media and messaging services have, as Jenny Davis says, “extended beyond apps and platforms, taking on the status of infrastructures and institutions,” Apple’s moves to smooth device performance and subtly automate connectivity make some sense. “They have become central to society’s basic functions, such as employment, public safety, and government services,” Data & Society scholars argued in response to Carpenter v. United States.

The ubiquity of networked phones not only facilitates access but furnishes society’s layers of contingency – the many convenient, useful and at times crucial services we enjoy and rely on every day. When our societal infrastructure shifts, as it inevitably does, we feel it and often anticipate its impact.

Indeed, as part of the “cyborgian bargain,” we both expect and are specially equipped to continually renegotiate our status within ever shifting socio-technical systems. For the trust we exercise conditionally with and through society’s mediating infrastructures and institutions, we do not expect an equitable exchange so much as we demand reciprocation, however tenuous and incomplete, commensurate with our wants and desires.

The sort of user we are becoming now might be better described as interstitial, a status emerging from our agency in relation to and actions afforded by socio-technologies. Instead of the ancillary user that platforms imagine molding and fixing in place, the interstitial user contends that our interests and desires necessarily defy simple categorization and we will use what options we have at our disposal to pursue our aims in spite of designers’ wishes.

Source: Nathan Ferguson via Cyborgology

Lucy Bernholz on What’s Missing in Digital Spaces Right Now

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Image: Kyle Smith via GitKraken

The most important thing that’s lacking is actually any kind of private space where you are not being monitored by the corporations whose tools you’re using to have whatever conversation you’re having.

So, every time you have a conversation in a digital environment, all of it, there’s a third party who’s got that information — always a corporation. And then all of that exchange is also being monitored by the government.

If the fundamental premise is that this activity of non-profits happens outside of those realms, it literally doesn’t exist in digital space, because we’re playing in their house, if you will. We may well need and would all benefit from an environment that provides some protections for us in those spaces as they exist.

When we talk about digital civil society we always say, ‘Look, we need to invent this, because we don’t have it.’ The best way to protect somebody else’s digital data in that environment is to not collect it. If you don’t have it, then it’s not at risk.

Non-profits have been excited to use things like free online documents and spreadsheets that are stored in the cloud and shared across organizations, and this comes at no direct financial cost to them. If you upload to those systems the names of everyone participating in your programs, with their address their email and their phone number, you’ve just given it away to other parties.

But, if you collect that information and don’t store it online, for one, or you encrypt it, for two, or you store it on your own servers and not in other people’s houses, as I like to think about it, then you are providing the same degree of integrity to that data that you again provide to the money that you rely on to do your business in the first place. You’re treating it with integrity toward your mission.

And if your mission, for example, is helping vulnerable people in your community, don’t do it in such a way that you essentially make them more vulnerable.

Source: Lucy Bernholz via Vermont Public Radio (audio)

Linking Distributed Data for a Human-Friendly Web

At the Linked Data-driven company of the near future:

1. You will find it curiously difficult to distinguish between “traditional” data workers (analysts, data scientists, etc.) and those in other functional areas who, at other companies, are less reliant on data. The agent of change here is the unambiguous way that Linked Data represents the world.

2. You will marvel at the volume and variety of data accruing from disparate sources, flowing from team to team, integrating with other data, producing unexpected insights, available to anyone at any time.

The data, for example, would be browseable and searchable by humans, crawlable and queryable by machines. Additionally, just like the Web, Linked Data enjoys a remarkable network effect in that each data set added to the network increases the incremental value of every data set in the network.

3. You will be inspired by the rapid creation and adjustment of models and automated processes in response to real-time data. Much of this agility is fueled by machine learning models being deployed at a far faster pace than can be achieved without the aid of Linked Data.

This is because the output of machine learning is tightly correlated with the quality of input data. People who work in this area spend much of their time cleaning and preparing input data, whereas semantically linked data has been “pre-understood” and embedded with knowledge.

[Now,] the energy devoted to the costliest, slowest phase of data work — preparation — can finally be reallocated to more productive activities like analysis.

Source: Techonomy