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Will we be smart enough soon enough?
Putting Civic Intelligence into Practice
(Keynote paper, Research for Action Workshop, Making Links 2010 Conference)
Civic Intelligence defined pragmatically: people to have the ‘smarts’ by which to acquire the things they need to prosper in society.
The world needs ‘our’ help: global problems, local problems – all need attention and those in power, and the operation of the free market will not solve them. Doug frames his work by asking: “How smart need we be to solve these problems? Will we be smart soon enough for the problems to be solved before they overwhelm us?”.
Civic intelligence is a concept to lead us to the answer to these questions. It refers, effectively, to a judgment of how smart a group might be relative to the problems it faces; it is a form of collective intelligence, focusing on shared problems (eg the problems that define the group). Civis intelligence is about being smart, through civic means, to achieve civic goals. A particular modality of this form of collective intelligence is its distribution throughout society. Civic intelligence as a paradigm for activists and researchers.
Sustainable prisons: question – “Can prisons save money and the environment while changing lives?”
Sidenote This example suggests that productive action to solve significant social problems lies in joining together multiple problems – it is not so much finding innovative answers to a single problem but, rather, actively constructing a new problem set in which the action serves two or more problems at once. In this example, spending money on a sustainability project within prison not only makes prisons better at the ostensive goal (rehabilitation), but also contributes to the problem of educating people about how to live and act sustainably while also, potentially, making prisons more productive and therefore cheaper
Beehive Collective’s work in relation to land degradation and renewal, “The True Cost of Coal” – sophisticated interweaving of skills and action, notion of research through action at the grass roots.
Sidenote This example suggests that productive action involves very different paradigms of knowledge work where creativity, sharing, working together to represent the world and tell stories about it is more effective in addressing problems (and in doing so building civic intelligence) than traditional models of ‘research’
Liberating Voices project: promote and assist citizen engagement through thought and action – pattern language responses. Everyone is an activist. Patterns are not recipes: “tools for thought”; patterns “change the flow of what would have happened in its absence”.
Patterns here could be understood as scaffolding for cognitive developmental action – without them, people don’t know where to start even if they know what the goal might be. Patterns don’t determine the outcome but give sufficient support for people to begin work. Moreover, patterns provide a shared language through which people can identify commonalities and work together. Without them, they remain individuated. So, do patterns create a kind of autonomous foundation for collective engagement?
Interesting diverse list of points to define civic intelligence, interesting because of its diversity of categories:
civic intelligence builds more civic intelligence (it is productive beyond any specific act)
inclusive and participatory
efficient and creative
real problems (e.g. inequality, not just increased wealth for a few)
addresses several problems at once
The last point is especially revealing: “Make activism cool (again)”. Schuler comments – “what is preventing people from doing this stuff? It’s not cool”
I believe this comment taps into the increased knowledge- and engineering-focused state of contemporary society – what is now ‘cool’ is doing knowledge work so demonstrations, ranting, protesting which used to be cool forms of social activism now appears to be insufficiently ‘efficient’ and ‘creative’ for our contemporary society.