Notes

"Humanity faces a quantum leap forward. It faces the deepest social upheaval and creative restructuring of all time. Without clearly recognizing it, we are engaged in building a remarkable new civilization from the ground up. ... What is happening now is nothing less than a global revolution, a quantum jump in history." —Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (1980)

2015: The world of the electron and the switch. A vast ocean of knowledge and collaboration at our fingertips. The beauty of the baud. With access to the Internet, humanity is no longer limited to geographic location. Our communications network has great potential for facilitating social change on one hand and control on the other. How do we prevent ourselves from giving in to the lesser angels of our nature?

Hello, world!

On these pages we are fleshing out a modest concept combining meaningful dialogue, offline and online communities, and civic engagement. The working title: Dandelion. Think of it as a book club, but for discussions about society, economics, politics, technology, and the natural environment. In the parlance of bygone times, a salon. One that espouses the hacker ethic, and encourages following up talk with action.

Do you want to help? Get involved, please.

Drafts

Draft pages for the main website under here.

About

Dandelion is devoted to amplifying activism and social connectedness in local communities through a loose network of discussion clubs.

We believe meaningful, productive dialogue brings people closer together, and together we can bring about social change. A strong community benefits the individual, the community as well as the greater society. People who feel a sense of belonging tend to live happier and healthier lives, and strong communities create a more stable and supportive society.1

We aim to create safe spaces for:

  • discussing social, economic, political and ecological challenges that local communities face
  • exploring how needs in local communities connect with national and global issues
  • imagining alternatives to current institutions
  • sharing ideas, experiences and perspectives between communities
  • transforming civic knowledge into civic and prosocial actions

@todo

  • Find original source of highlighted text above (widely used)
  • Mention that we aim to broaden the reach of activism and volunteer orgs, and connect them and community media. Possibly include a light form of networked advocacy, though outside of our scope.
  • Mention that groups have to start on their own organically, not coerced by us; they have to speak from their own lived experience (similar philosophy to Abahlali baseMjondolo2)
  • Possibly mention that while there is an online component to this, we focus on IRL dialogue and interaction, and value it more. See reasons below.
  • Possibly mention that we could use participatory culture and play to make civic engagement more fun, draw in more people. Perhaps outside of our scope because the project is a gateway to activism and volunteerism for those not already involved in those. Consider how to implement.

Why

@todo Clean up or incorporate elsewhere on this page. Counter-argument: 5 Really Important Reasons to Stop Dismissing Online Activism - Sian Ferguson

To address problems with activism on the Internet

"Without question, the Internet is a powerful tool for organizing and communication. But as these examples demonstrate, democratic change for Internet policy results from a combination of both public and institutional advocacy. For researchers, these events serve as a reminder that understanding Internet activism requires investigating both visible protests as well as less visible actions targeting decision-making processes. Similarly, civil society seeking change must leverage public engagement to encourage individuals to address decision makers. As long as governmental institutions are architected based on old hierarchies with traditional feedback mechanisms, phone calls and face-to-face meetings will continue to be critical tactics for democratic change."3

  • Marketing and raising awareness of causes:
    • Filter bubbles, especially Facebook. People don't see "information that disagrees with their viewpoints, effectively isolating them in their own cultural or ideological bubbles."4
    • For many, a significant part of Internet use is passive and they might feel less inclined to engage in activism while in consumption mode. They are effectively numbed.
    • People might be overwhelmed by the number of causes to support, and not focus on a specific issue in their local [IRL] community.
  • Discussing issues. Depending on the size, composition and culture of the community, discussion of controversial issues or dissent might be problematic due to:
    • Toxic behaviour
    • Reduced empathy and trust5
    • Self-censorship, e.g. comments that can actually or perceivably damage one's reputation in the community or put one in danger because of authoritarian government
  • Researching issues:
    • State censorship6
    • State monitoring7, backdoors into encrypted communication8, ISPs retaining browsing history, citizen reputation score (in extreme circumstances, allegedly)
  • Action that leads to desired outcomes:

To increase social connectedness

  • Tech disconnects us from each other and our local communities [citation needed]. @todo Expand into demographic argument9, i.e. people that have access to tech and Internet are disconnected from issues relevant to those that don't. Possibly add how that applies to SA context.

To encourage more involvement in community

Principles

Community

@todo

  • Describe how and why we connect with local orgs first, then national orgs.

Decentralisation

@todo

  • "Decisions should be made by those that are affected by them. Only those with a legitimate interest in a decision should have an input. The more local, the more decentralised we can make decisions, and the more control we will each gain over our lives."10
  • Against Decentralization - Friedrich Lindenberg (2015) - alternatives to decentralised tech as only solution

Equality

@todo

  • "In theory, democracy works because each single person has one vote and all those votes are equal in the eyes of the law. But equality is not equity, and that’s an important distinction to understand for anyone working on social change. Equality implies that everyone has an equal chance to participate, but doesn’t recognize that an equal chance may not lead to equal participation. Equity recognizes that playing fields aren’t level, that people may need disproportionate amounts of help to have equitable participation."11

Openness

@todo

  • The Future of Open and How To Stop It - Steve Song (2015) Openness as a means of building trust
  • From open source to open government: A critique of open politics - Nathaniel Tkacz (2012)
  • "People with open networks are more easily able to create atypical combinations."12
  • Possibly add Popper's thoughts on closed vs. open society, and fear of change (The Open Society and Its Enemies13141516)
  • Describe how this aligns with the open movement, cooperation, collaboration
  • We should be allowed to aggregate discussion and pull in practices from events, i.e. events and content should not be under restrictive licenses

How It Works

Organisation

In telecommunication terminology, a network is as an interconnected set of nodes that exchange information. A node is the most basic part of a network; for example, a user or a computer. These nodes can be organised in various ways, and this organisation is what distinguishes different types of network architecture from each other.1

Illustration of centralised, decentralised and distributed networks from "On Distributed Communications" by Paul Baran (1964 © RAND Corporation)
Illustration of centralised, decentralised and distributed networks.2

Dandelion operates as a distributed network of discussion clubs - the nodes in this analogy. We aim to avoid centralised, top-down bureaucracy in favour of independence, sharing, and occasional collaboration between clubs. Clubs are self-governed, self-reliant, and free to organise and brand their activities as they wish. We only ask that they abide by our principles. In return, we provide guidance to organisers, and an opportunity to tap into a network of like-minds and social game changers.

A discussion club can be a circle of friends or a crowd of strangers. These people can come from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and have different norms and values. They might not want to, and don't have to, refer to themselves as a "club." "Picnic" or "society" might be more appealing terms.

Events

Productive dialogue is about learning. We recommend running small, informal events that resemble an unconference. 15 people or less. Here's why:

  • It's easier to make connections and have real conversations in a small group.
  • Attendees that want to, can speak up more easily.
  • To keep financial cost to a minimum. This lessens the burden on organisers and lowers the barrier to participation for attendees.
  • To lessen the psychological cost for organisers. Organising events with high production values is stressful. The less stress is involved, the more likely an event will happen again.

The format of the event depends on the topic of discussion and the resources available to the organisers. Possible formats include:

  • Group discussion: The club picks a topic, compiles a reading list, researches, and a few weeks later, forms an interesting discussion around it.
  • Show and tell: Attendees bring their work-in-progress passion projects or demos to show and tell; perhaps with a theme. This is the springboard for conversations.
  • Expert lecture: A talk by an activist, academic or a researcher with a well-developed idea, e.g. a podcast, a book in progress, or a manifesto. An audience of more than 10 people would likely be more appropriate for this.
  • P2P: Two groups link up via the web for a shared discussion or expert lecture.

@todo

  • Emphasise that group should aim not to duplicate initiatives by others, but should rather try to collaborate as much as possible. This would likely lower costs (financial, time).
  • Think about creating media (audio, video, or web, e.g. Fold) that tell how the issues discussed affect members of the group personally and their community. These artifacts could be used for sharing stories between groups from disparate communities without them interacting, or before they do, so that they are more informed and prepared for discussion. Stories could be produced in collaboration with and/or aired on community media (e.g. radio, CRF, IkamvaYouth, loveLife, RLabs), and used for advocacy. Examples: Code for South Africa's Living Wage Calculator, Exit Zero Project, By Any Media Necessary: Mapping Youth and Participatory Politics
  • Think about how one could use data to better understand issues, fact-check (e.g. Africa Check), and dispel preconceptions, and how the data literate (journalists who do DDJ, School of Data, et al.) could help.
  • Add an example of how to approach a topic in an informative and fun way, and how local issues connect to broader themes. For example, right to privacy: mass surveillance3, public space4, liberal vs. conservative (e.g. Saudi Arabia) cultural differences5, doxxing6, examples of agitation and education (e.g. CV Dazzle, Safer Nudes)

Online

We recommend that each club should have a blog for sharing content with their community. This blog could be updated frequently or only prior to an event, with a reading list. Discussions could be documented, so that follow-up is easy for both attendees and outsiders, and so that ideas can spread through the network. This could be in audio or video, for example a podcast or a YouTube video. Ideally, a transcript should be available for reading, for accessing any websites that were mentioned, to improve accessibility for non-native speakers and hearing-impaired people, and for indexing by search engines.

@todo The following will probably be divided between this page, Get Started, Resources:

  • List examples of blog solutions, e.g. WordPress, wikis, etc. Briefly describe the differences in tech and capacity needs. List examples of documenting events, e.g. Refugee Hackathon Wiki
  • List examples of discussion boards and mailing lists, e.g. Discourse, Google Groups, etc. Briefly describe the differences in tech and capacity needs, e.g. community manager for large groups.
  • List examples of chat solutions, e.g. Twitter, Slack, IRC, GNU social, etc. Briefly describe the differences in tech and capacity needs.
  • List examples of networked website/social solutions, e.g. diaspora*, Hubzilla. Briefly describe pros and cons7.
  • Describe how to archive chats and prevent ideas from getting lost (summarised in blog post after event?)
  • Describe how the main website works, and how content will be aggregated on the main website and shared between clubs. Include API-, metadata- and microformat-related issues.
  • Describe pros and cons of hosting discussion on central domain using something like subreddits vs. hosting discussions on individual group's site.

Topics

Topics could range from the heavier politics of technology and power, to the lighter politics of dancing. We encourage civic engagement, and so, recommend that discussions should aim for a problem-solving angle where possible. Generally, discussions could be about:

  • Broad themes and specific issues affecting the local and/or global community, e.g. social, economic, political, technological, ecological, or a combination thereof.
  • How community organisations, e.g. activists or volunteers, are addressing those issues.

Promotion

@todo Describe how the concept can be spread via youth leadership and social entrepreneurship programmes, community media (e.g. partnership with radio), etc.

Get Started

@todo

  • Add information and practices for starting a club, joining the network, hosting an event (a few sources are listed under Resources). Perhaps divide the page into 2 parts: an introduction with call to action(s), and an expanded section for deeper reading/FAQ things.
  • Consider chapters 3 and 4 of Do It Yourself: A Handbook For Changing Our World as an introductory topic for a club. Discuss how the club operates, how the club fits into the network, how to use consensus decision making or deliberative democracy to deal with governance issues.
  • Add a list of broad topics that can be used to generate ideas about how the needs in your community connect with national and global issues1:
    • Climate Change, Energy, and Pollution
    • Poverty and Sustainable Economic Development
    • Health
    • War & Violence (War and Conflict)
    • Immigration
    • Race and Ethnicity
    • Gender and Sexuality
    • Faith
    • Internet access, online privacy and security, and freedom of information
  • Consider adding a checklist for organising an event, similar to http://www.africacodeweek.org/sites/5551c60a0905eb7c7c000002/content_ent...
  • Consider adding practices for handling divisive topics online, e.g. how online debate sites operate, Tactical Tech guide, Coral Project if it has published guides.

Resources

Guides and tools for organisers

Events

Online

General

@todo

  • Separate guides and tools into stages of event: planning, execution, documentation

List of advocacy, volunteer and civic media organisations

@todo

List of tools for civic engagement

@todo Compile a list of online tools: web, apps, data portals, dashboards (e.g. Solomon), problem reporting tools (e.g. FixMyStreet), citizen-based monitoring, etc. Anything at local, provincial, and national gov level, but also non-gov (e.g. Atlas of Social Maps, CrowdVoice, projects similar to what one might find at Centre for Civic Media, Engagement Lab, Public Lab, etc.). Check projects on Code4Africa and Code4SA sites. Examples:

List of case studies on civic tech projects

@todo Consider adding a list of case studies on civic tech projects - to derive best practices from.

Reading List

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Elizabeth again: The whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing on the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It's a miniature rudder. Just moving that little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. It takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole ship of state is going to turn around.

So I said, "Call me Trim Tab." —R. Buckminster Fuller

Articles

Manifestos and statements

Books

Further listening and reading

Similar concepts and projects

  • AdaCamp - unconference dedicated to increasing women's participation in open technology and culture.
  • Cowbird - public library (website) of human experience.
  • Public Lab - DIY environmental science community.
  • Space Collective - ideas about the state of our species, our planet and the universe.
  • Tea With Strangers - bringing strangers together for great conversations.
  • Youth Lab - creating spaces for young people to have discussions about policy and socio-economic issues.
  • Young Lab Association - creating spaces for young people to have discussions about policy and socio-economic issues.

Other community media

@todo Consider how this page could be incorporated into main website for inspiration

Creative Brief

"I have had my moments of rage where I think the powers that be will never end oppression or inequity voluntarily. But I do not trust these moments of violence within me. Passion is persuasive. Power is dominating. Passion is contagious and inspirational. Power is threatening and coercive. Passion moves people. Power controls them. I think in these perilous times, a third way is emerging, a kind of escalated passion — a creative energy that comes from giving one’s heart and soul and imagination to the struggle. Not aggression but fierceness. Not hurting but confronting. Not violating but disrupting. This passion has all the ingredients of activism, but is charged with the wild creations of art. Artivism – where edges are pushed, imagination is freed, and a new language emerges altogether." —Eve Ensler (2011)1

Brief

Objective

The primary objective is to persuade the audience to start their own club or to join one, as well as to introduce the project.

Audience

We are looking at people who want to bring about social or political change. They engage in activism or volunteerism in their community, or have a desire to do so. They question the dominant ways of seeing things, and explore alternative views of the world through art, academic discussion or civic action. They might experience feelings of despondency, apathy or helplessness. They might feel isolated from other people, ideas, resources or information that can help.

Message

One can change one's world through dialogue and interaction.

Requirements

  • It should be playful, approachable, inclusive, and welcoming. Examples: informal copy and graphics of Tea With Strangers; rebel clowning (case study) uses play and absurdity to undermine authority and reframe mainstream media narrative.
  • It should emphasise the power of the individual to create change rather than relying on the masses, and that movements and power structures are interconnected. Example: Planetary Collective's Overview short film (see Mood board below).
  • It should aim for a hint of mystery and wonder. Example: National Geographic Society's Dive to the Edge of Creation documentary (see Mood board below).
  • It should be difficult to co-opt. One might use misdirection, mutation, and a mix of protest art, propaganda and subvertising (see Mood board below).
  • Visual style and palette should be as simple as possible, and should rely on a strong concept. Example: protest art from the 1970s (see Mood board below). Graphics should be legible when reproduced with low-res technology, e.g. photocopy.

Themes: connectedness, discovery, extreme ecosystems, life, sea, space

Deep-sea dandelions (order Siphonophorae) are colonies of individual marine animals working together for their mutual benefit. These individuals are specialised for different functions (feeding, defense, reproduction, bouyancy) and physiologically integrated to the extent that they are incapable of independent survival. The animals pictured below were observed near hydrothermal vents and cold seeps at depths of up to 2,500m. These deep-sea communities exist in absolute darkness and depend on chemosynthesis for sustaining life2. Chemosynthesis is the conversion of inorganic carbon (carbon dioxide) to organic compounds such as sugars and amino acids (food) using inorganic compounds (hydrogen sulfide) as energy sources. In contrast, sunlight is the energy source in photosynthesis. It has been hypothesised that life on Earth might have originated at hydrothermal vents3, and that chemosynthesis might support life below the surface of other planets4 and moons5.

Mood board

Protest art and social commentary

"Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. We intend to fill that vacuum. We also intend to make some people wish that wolves had stolen them from their cradles." —Hunter S. Thompson (1970)6

(1970s © Gorilla Graphics, College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley)
America and Vietnam (1970s © Chicago Women's Graphics Collective)
Sisterhood is Blooming (1970s © Chicago Women's Graphics Collective)
Committee to Defend the Panthers (1970 © Faith Ringgold)
(1969 © Emory Douglas)
Various (1970s © Emory Douglas)
Xenophobia Poster Series 2: Live in SA (2008 © Sindiso Nyoni)
Persona Non Grata (Black Lives Matter) (2015 © Sindiso Nyoni)
Fear (© Michael Thompson)
Profits Before People (© Michael Thompson)
Aspen Wall Poster #1 (1970 © Thomas W. Benton, Hunter S. Thompson)
Aspen Wall Poster #2 (1970 © Thomas W. Benton, Hunter S. Thompson)
Aspen Wall Poster #3 (1970 © Thomas W. Benton, Hunter S. Thompson)
Aspen Wall Poster #4 (1970 © Thomas W. Benton, Hunter S. Thompson)
Aspen Wall Poster #5 (1970 © Thomas W. Benton, Hunter S. Thompson)
Aspen Wall Poster #7 (1971 © Thomas W. Benton, Hunter S. Thompson)

Subvertising

"A well produced 'subvert' mimics the look and feel of the targeted ad, promoting the classic 'double-take' as viewers suddenly realize they have been duped. Subverts create cognitive dissonance. It cuts through the hype and glitz of our mediated reality and, momentarily, reveals a deeper truth within." —Adbusters (Do It Yourself: A Handbook For Changing Our World, Pluto Press, 2007)7

Work Buy Consume Die (1990s © The Designers Republic)

Propaganda

"Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live forever!" (date unknown)
US poster advertising YWCA United War Work Campaign during World War I (1918?)
US poster advertising World War I Liberty Bonds (1918, Library of Congress)
Soviet education poster: "In order to have more, it is necessary to produce more. In order to produce more, it is necessary to know more." (1920, Through the Russian Revolution)

Deep-sea dandelions

Documentaries and short films

Dive to the Edge of Creation - National Geographic Society (1980)
Vimeo / YouTube
Overview - Planetary Collective (2012)

Get Involved

How to get involved

If the ideas presented here hit you square in the feels, and you have a suggestion for improving the concept, get in touch with us.

Attribution and contribution policy

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Contributors