Here's a video of a talk I did for my friend and Sociability Associate Saul Albert back in October, explaining my Freeschools project. It's a bit long and more than a little rambling, but some of you might find it interesting, if only for the fluffiness of my hair.
It picks up from about 7 minutes in. (There's also a transcript and some interesting marginal discussions on our Freeschool Commentpress site.)
The Freeschools concept is my favourite "social technology" project right now because it's so simple. Through the simple application of two colours of post-it notes and some simple "social software", it is possible to turn any group of people into a learning network. We're starting to spread this concept via the School of Everything now, and already people are beginning to run these evenings all around the country. If you'd like to have a go at starting your own freeschool, the instructions are here.
The Freeschool concept is based on the experiments of the Palo Alto Free U, on which the School of Everything is based and which I explain a little in the talk. You can see a Freeschool experiment in action in the second half of the video. I think as a social research project, it demonstrates two very important things: firstly, all people need to begin sharing their skills is a clear process for sharing what they know, and what they need; and secondly, you never know what people know.
Freeschools are more than just experiments for me though, they are a good example of an emerging methodology for designing social interactions, once called "social engineering" but which might now be termed social design. In modelling processes for constructing interactive software applications, we are discovering new ways to model all the other interactions in our lives too.
In each strand of my work at the moment, my underlying purpose seems to be to reduce what we're doing to the simplest format possible. For the RSA Networks we reduced the process of incubating projects to "propose -> discuss -> support". For Croydon Council last week I was modelling citizen-led campaigning as "Be heard. Get involved. Make change." My colleague Mary recently reduced the process of a peer-to-peer project support group to "what are you doing, and what do you need help with?"
It may feel like oversimplification, human interactions are surely too rich to really be defined in such crude terms. But that's the joy of complex systems: a few simple rules can have huge and unpredictable consequences. After all, Go is a very simple game. So is football for that matter. Freeschools are a very simple idea, but their potential for impact is complex and far-reaching. And most importantly, they demonstrate that you don't need the internet to have social technology.