Activity round-up for October

Consistency has never been one of my strongest points, and consistency of blog posting especially. I've had quite a lot of things going on lately which merit a post though, so here are a few of the headlines. The main thing to announce is that Social by Social is now in print and also available to download in PDF at It's a detailed practical guide to using social technology for social impact, and it's intended to be especially useful for civil servants, social entrepreneurs and campaigners. It lists the best software to use, explains how to use digital tools to engage communities, and tells some stories of the what happens if you do. Thanks to contributors like Euan Semple, Steve Bridger, Dominic Campbell and many more.

My co-authors Amy Sample Ward, David Wilcox and I have also decided to put our ideas into practice by building an online community of people who are using social technology for social good. If you're involved in trying these tools out, sign up to the SxS Network at and connect with others in this field, share best practice - and get personal advice from us too.

Mindapples is progressing well. Tom, Ana, Sangeet and I have been working on a new brand and a new website and we'll have something ready for alpha testing next month ready for a beefed up PR campaign in December. The team is growing and we've been analysing the results to produce some interesting stories for public consumption. The next step is to secure some seed funding to accelerate the project, so please do introduce us to anyone who wants to fund public mental health education programmes. Read more on

There's lots going on at School of Everything too. This month we've launched School of Everything Gifts, which means you can buy your loved ones some lessons with hand-picked teachers in anything from breadmaking to Twitter lessons (with personal tutoring from yours truly).

And finally, I'm very pleased to be working with Futuregov on a consultancy project for the DCLG on ePetitions. We're writing some data standards for all local government petitions systems to ensure our collective efforts to call the Government to account are processed and shared smoothly. More on how to get involved with that on the Futuregov blog.

So, lots happening, especially in my favourite areas of education, democracy and mental health. There's more, including fun (and occasionally cheesy) things going on with the Courvoisier Future 500, plus interesting plotting with Luke Nicholson at Kept, and some new writing projects in the pipeline. Watch this space for more, when I have time to post.

In the meantime, a little plug for my friends at Castle Galeazza, where I will be spending a few days this weekend to unwind. Reading retreats in rural Italy - the perfect antidote to all this high-tech sociable London living.

More videos of me with bad hair

It's dangerous who you get talking to these days: in this age of consumer media and mobile technology, everyone's a TV journalist. I went for a drink in the sunshine with Stowe Boyd yesterday after the School of Everything Tech Advisory Board, and the next thing I know I'm being interviewed on his N82 and streamed live to his blog:

The technology was so quick, I didn't even have time to do my hair...


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.