Personal Democracy Forum – from afar

So the @FutureGov crew in the shape of @carriebish @dominiccampbell and @laurenivory are over in New York for the Personal Democracy Forum #pdf10. Given the recent streamlining of my twitter stream so that I only follow 109 people, and given how many @futuregov fans there are in my twitterstream, and given everyone’s increased tendency to hit the retweet button, I’ve seen quite a lot of traffic about #pdf10 (and no I’m not complaining – that’s a good thing).

Last night I was observing the conversation and got sucked into a discussion with Carrie, Dom and @AnnePBowers re the language of co-production, co-design, co-operation, co-creation….we tried them all. In a nutshell my argument is that co-production feels to me too mechanical and too top down. I’ve never once suggested to my mates that we co-produce dinner, or co-design a barbecue – they’d just laugh at me and that language alone (besides being vague and a little aloof) to me would just indicate that I needed to take control….a far different co to co-ordinate or co-operate. Anyway I’ll do a fuller blog on language, especially co-production and co-design another time.

For now I wanted to respond to Carrie, who very kindly put together a blog post detailing her first day at #pdf10. There was obviously lots of food for thought coming out of the day but there was one thing in particular I wanted to respond about – Carrie’s thoughts on Eli Pariser‘s talk about personalisation.

(For those of you who are adult social care types this is personalisation in the IT sense, not personalisation as we know it…I’ll comment on that when I do the blogpost on language promised above).

It seems that Eli was talking about how google personalise the data and results that you see when you use their service and just when Carrie was warming up in full agreement, as she expected him to say he wanted to see more of it, he dropped the bombshell, as Carrie puts it “His bonkers argument was that it’s bad that different points of view are filtered out of my web experience and that this ultimately leads to me becoming closed-minded”.

So Carrie doesn’t agree with Eli…I’m not even going to try and paraphrase what she said, it’s here “Then it all went awry.  Eli concluded that this means ‘people get more of what they want’ but it’s bad for citizens as it doesn’t challenge us or tell us what we need to know.  Bleurgh!  So his suggestion is that we should have a less personalised experience so we are forced to see stuff ‘for our own good’.  What a ridiculously totalitarian position”.

So let’s place Eli at one end of this continuum and Carrie at the other – he thinks we should see stuff for our own good; Carrie makes an excellent argument that its simply control freakery of the highest order.

I’m really stuck on this….hence the decision to blog about it. It reminds me of my mum who (dependent on her mood admittedly) has a tendency if something too gruesome or sad or shocking comes onto the news to just change channel. If I’m watching with her I’ll challenge that on two levels – 1) because it’s irritating and I’ll no doubt want to hear about it and 2) because I think it’s lulling her into a false sense of security about life! Mean and bad things happen and a lot of the time I feel that we have a sort of moral responsibility to acknowledge these. (Don’t worry I’m well aware that I’m sat firmly in my own cloud cuckoo land here). A different but similar example that also springs to mind was that of Bush’s administration banning the American media from showing photographs of the coffins of service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. When this was overturned it was broadly seen as a win for transparency.

Now I appreciate that Carrie (and Eli) are talking about the search results returned by google and Carrie’s solution is to just give people their own data and let them decide their own experience. You can’t really disagree with Carrie at all on that regard but I guess I’m making a wider call for us to try and remain balanced and not personalise too far – or at least to be aware that you have personalised and to be explicitly transparent about that – so that you know what you are missing; and I guess that is where Eli has a point. If people aren’t aware that they are getting a limited result then how do they know what else is out there? Am thinking that a balance is what is needed….or maybe I just wanted an excuse to use the see-saw photo!!

Photo by tyger_lyllie

I suspect this links to another blog post that is lurking in the depths of the mind around how balanced our experiences of life in the online world really are – but that is definitely for another day. Thanks Carrie, looking forward to reading about day two.

2 thoughts on “Personal Democracy Forum – from afar

  1. Hey George

    Thanks for a) reading what I wrote and b) taking the time to actually comment in a considered way 🙂

    I couldn’t agree more with you when you say we should be transparent about the personalisation that is happening. That is what happens when you argue with #georgesmum about the TV channel. She knows what TV channels are available (and if she doesn’t then you make sure she knows) but ultimately it’s her choice because it’s her TV. What Eli was saying is that your mum (and by extension, humanity) is turning into an ignoramus because she doesn’t want to watch the news. How rude.

    I’m not saying that I want Google to personalise my web experience to within an inch of its life, far from it. I would actually like to do that myself. Because even with its 57 indicators of personality Google can never really know what I want from my search results, just like Amazon can never fully know what products to recommend to me (I’ll always regret buying that Michael Buble album for #carriesmum…) Instead I want to share my preferences with those companies on my own terms and for them to use that information to provide me with a personalised service according to my specifications, rather than this sort of haphazard guesswork they’re currently using. That way I can make it clear that sometimes I want to know the harsh reality of life and sometimes I just want to watch kittens fall over on Youtube.

    By extension, I think this is fundamental to the future of social services, and in that sense it does very much link to the *other* personalisation agenda. I want service users to be able to share with service providers information about themselves, their likes/dislikes, preferences, networks etc etc in order that those service providers can better know what each user needs/wants and provide it to them (or ideally just give them the money for them to get it for themselves).

    So someone who has mental health issues could (if they wish) share with their social worker/health visitor/GP information (ideally online) about their diet, exercise, stress levels, social network, finances etc. They could also share this with their family and closest friends, all of whom can use the information to see how they’re doing and offer extra support when they need it. In addition the service user can send health info as well as wish-lists and preferences to trusted companies in the market place who can recommend and give offers on products that will support the user, enabling them to spend their Individual Budget (do those still exist??) on things that will make a real improvement to their life.

    Since the service user can determine who sees what they remain in control and it brings about a complete re-shaping of the relationship between service user and provider (though of course the question is how social services will respond). The usual argument against this sort of thing is that the poor little service users won’t be web-savvy enough to use this kind of thing, or that people don’t care about privacy. Well I think the former is patronising and elitist and the latter is plainly untrue as the Facebook backlash shows.

    So in summary (*ahem*!) I think personalisation is good and we need more of it, though it is essential that we, rather than Google, are in control of how personalisation happens. This will mean we’re able to get the most out of the web while ensuring that we can be challenged when we want to be. I don’t believe that the state or corporations have any place in forcing us to be challenged against our will because that way communism/facism lies.

  2. Hey Carrie,

    Kinda goes without saying I couldn’t agree more – my only question would be why mainstream platforms can’t just be used? There must be platforms devised for things like weightwatchers or diet programmes or exercise programmes that already do the sort of thing that you suggest – I’m hoping it would be possible to just find something and use that, rather than start from scratch. To some extent a closed facestalker page would work on a crude level, maybe?

    Have you seen It’s been advertised as the ‘ebay for social care’ and has some really good people behind it. Not sure if you know/have heard of Caroline Tomlinson from inControl? She’s an awesome woman, a real powerhouse, who was involved in setting it up. Worth a look for sure.

    I don’t wanna see people challenged against their will by the state/corporations *but* I do think there’s a real danger of people believing their own hype/challenge not being as readily available in the online world – but that’s another post fo shizzle 😉

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