Monthly Archives: June 2010

G20 and Social Media Anarchy

Is this Democracy in Action?

It is a sad night in my city. Tonight, Toronto is facing a battle with a group of about 300 self-described anarchists called the Black Bloc. Stores are being vandalized, police cars are being taken over and lit on fire. It’s an awful mess.

All in the name of protest for the G20. The reasons for the protest are too many to mention. For some it is about human rights, others its’ the environment, social justice, spending, the G20 meetings themselves — you name it, there is probably some group trying to get its voice heard here.

Unlike any previous protest — even the G20 meetings in Pittsburgh last year — this one will be known for being televised.

And photographed.

And blogged about (like this).

And networked. A lot.

Indeed, I’ve never before seen such citizen journalism in action. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has both their own reporters and readers/viewers tweeting about what is happening in a live feed. The Torontoist blog has enlisted many of its readers as roving reporters as well.

Indeed, Torontoist represents the true social media perspective by asking readers to:

HOW TO SEND US UPDATES We want your G20 stories, photos, links, and tips. Email G20@torontoist.com, send updates to @torontoist on Twitter, or submit your photos to Torontoist’s Flickr pool.

Add to that Twitter and Facebook, and I feel like I’m right in the mix, and that is part of the problem.

I like the fact that I can know what is going on in my city without having to risk my health or witness the hatred, crime and injustice being committed by a small band of goons who are subverting the good intentions and genuine voice of the protesters. But then, it also means that I’m not able to stop them and, because so many others are busy capturing this on video or camera, they aren’t either.

Scanning through the video online of the protests I couldn’t help but notice how many people were getting into the middle of things with their cameras. They were, in some of the videos, clearly between a justifiably agitated police presence and an equally frustrated group of protesters who want to ensure that they communicate their perspective to the G2o leaders and the public. This new paparazzi culture can be seen across the videos, including this one of two police cars being ignited at the heart of the city’s financial district. In this case, the cameraman could at least appreciate that the cars might blow up, but he was one of the few.

Beyond the carelessness of these new ‘journalists’ comes the problems with a lack of training in journalism, which is un-critical self-expression to an audience. I was told that many businesses on Yonge Street (Toronto’s central street) were ‘destroyed’ by goons — at least according to many tweets and posts. After coming home from another event I read this and thought I’d see for myself what happened and it appears that these stores had their windows broken and that’s about it. Yes, they were damaged, but destroyed?

The whole thing was captured on film in fact! Yet, it gets reported badly. Regular journalists do this, but it seems that citizen journalists using social media do it badly — a lot.

I don’t know what this day means for social media and citizen journalism, but I know I am not happy with the way things have turned out. As you can see from the previous clip, there were a lot of people trying to ‘get the story’ or capture it on film and very few trying to stop the violence. Indeed, social media by way of making these acts broadcast and commented on so quickly by so many may have provided the very encouragement that these Black Bloc folk need and want.
But because so many were so quick to capture this, they disengaged from the very acts they hoped to capture and as a result, there is a lot of damage to a city in terms of its property, but also to its soul.

What I’m not sure is what about the events of this day upsets the most.

The iPad and True Social Computing

Like more than 3 million others, I recently bought an iPad. I have given myself a lot of reasons to do so from making life easier for my shoulders (no more packing my laptop and all its cords with me), an interest in changing the way I work (slowing down), and because it is the latest innovation that could be used for health and research purposes.

And they’re pretty neat.

But behind all of the bells and whistles and justifications for using the iPad, the thing that sold me on it more than anything was that it may be the first social computer.

Watch how people interact with the iPad and you’ll see something that goes beyond a slimmer touch-screen computer and you see a social engagement technology. People gather around them and its shape and size allows it to be passed back and forth, resized, and shifted around in a manner that allows people to truly interact with it socially. And by socially, I mean as people, together, in one place. Place itself is also different, not just because it provides an attractor for physical interaction, but because its web platform allows that physical interaction to connect to the online social world at the same time.

Last night this was demonstrated as I went to dinner with some friends. I brought my iPad with me as a couple of my dinner mates wanted to see one in action. What transpired was an interactive, engaged and often hilarious series of interactions between us, the iPad and videos, text and pictures we pulled from the web. Unlike a laptop, which creates a physical barrier between people and their space (the screen goes up to block your view, the keyboard goes down to cover your table), the iPad can be manipulated in a way that it becomes far less intrusive.

The computer is sharable and something that can be passed around, which also means that the person who brings the computer isn’t tied to it and can let others work with it.

The prospects for using this in both personal and professional life are tremendous. Imagine how much more likely we would be to engage in genuine sharing of an article, or book (e-book I suppose) with another in the moment if we had tools that reduced the physical barriers that make computing so isolating? Imagine creating opportunities for newcomers to a country or a social circle to use these sharable tools as a method of transcending barriers to social engagement or information. Consider it.

What would you do if you could draw people in and communicate outward with a technology that allowed you to do 90% of what your laptop does, but is immensely more portable and sharable?

There are few technologies that deserve the title “game changer” but I think the iPad is one of them.

Knowledge Translation & the Systems Problem

Serendipity is a funny thing. Finding two or three themes that coalesce suggests to me that a blog post is necessary to bring them together.

This week the Canadian Public Health Association conference wrapped up in Toronto. Between the pre-conference workshops and the post-conference catch-up on email, Tweets and other media posts it was a week filled with concurrent themes:

1. Time Crunch: Too much to do and not enough time to do it for most people
2. Information Management: How to manage all the different media messages as a prosumer (a creator and consumer of content)
3. Knowledge translation: How to get the message to ‘stick’ and take our best knowledge and put it into action.

These are all different facets of a larger problem besetting those of us in the health professions and knowledge work trying to engage the public and peers using new media. In nearly all of the conversations and presentations I was a part of or witnesses, the question came down to this:

“How can we make it all work?”

The first point, which was discussed in a previous post, seems to be a growing issue that has been a continuation of a theme my entire adult life: people are busier than ever and the demands keep growing. What makes the current context different isn’t that the changes in technology are making this worse (because that’s always been the case), but rather that the rate of change is so fast.

My grandparents lived through the introduction of radio, TV and then the VCR as the major information technologies they had to deal with (computers existed, but they never used them or cared to). My parents have lived through those plus the computer, mobile phones, GPS systems, DVDs, and now PVR added to HD TV. They use email and surf webpages and My Mom recently got a Kobo ereader and loves it, but that might be the most high-tech entree that they engage in for the next while (unless someone can come up with a really good Sodoku system for my Dad).

Me? Add all of these and Skype, Twitter, Facebook, Blackberries/iPhones/Smartphones, Foursquare and the myriad cloud computing tools out there to my list. On a daily basis I probably read 100 blog posts, get more than 500 Twitter updates, see about 50 Facebook posts, receive 100 emails, and receive a myriad other number of Skype, GChat, Buzz, and BBM messages and voice mails. And that’s just correspondence and ‘keeping in touch’. I also have about a dozen books on my ‘about to read’ list and usually keep a pile of research articles I need to keep up with. At some point, this system of mine is about to break.

And then there is the physical world. My wife, my neighbors, my research team and other colleagues in addition to the people I meet on the street, in meetings, and who serve me at the local Starbucks.

I wish I was unique in this, but the truth is that a lot of people in academia, knowledge work, or the health system are in the same boat. Yet, we expect to reach these people so that they become better at what they do.

The conditions in which knowledge is shared is only part of the equation.

I recall a conversation with a colleague responsible for continuing education at a local hospital who told me about her challenge of keeping things interesting for the staff she trains. She does most of her training at 7am when there is a shift overlap. This means her audience is either exhausted from a 12 or 24 hour shift or half-asleep because they just woke up and have a shift ahead. As we talked, she laughed about how ludicrous the whole thing was. No matter how compelling the information is or how dynamic the presenter is, little will overcome this system design and its influence on learning. Yet, we accept it for what it is and try to envision clever ways to overcome these ‘inconvenient’ structural issues.

Same goes with social media. We expect to translate knowledge to busy people through tweets, Facebook posts, reports, and ads and yet fail to consider the context in which these messages are viewed. If there is too much going in, not much is really being translated.

It is with some irony that if the community we wish to reach is too busy or their information ecology too grand, then the effort required to translate anything will be far greater, putting more stress on those with the knowledge and adding to their ‘to do’ list. Take this further and you can see that we are in a race to the bottom.

And yet, that is what many seem prepared to do because no one – no one – I spoke with about these matters was prepared to do anything with the elephant in the room (that being the current information/work context). There was some begrudging acknowledgment, but otherwise a passive acceptance that workloads are high and the information landscape is vast, but that these factors can be overcome with the “right” strategy.

Too many cling to is this idea that if we just get the message right, time it perfectly, get buy-in from the end users (and maybe create a message with them), and use the appropriate medium, we’ll achieve knowledge translation. To that, I am reminded of Russell Ackoff’s statement about doing the “wrong things righter” . In this case, these are ‘right’ things, but without a system that supports integration capacity, it is just an exercise in looking good.

Knowledge translation scholars and practitioners have made enormous strides in acknowledging the power of integrated activities, marketing theory and practice, and getting beyond simply pushing content at people, but working with people in exchange relationships. The next critical skill they need to master is systems thinking and related action if any of those other great skills are to have meaning.

Personal and Social Wellbeing Meets Time Crunch

What happens when the bell rings?

As the clock struck midnight last night, a new report on the wellbeing of Canadians was released on, with some irony seeing that it was released when most should have been in bed asleep instead of reading new research, the impact of the ‘time crunch’ on their lives.

Yesterday I wrote on the same thing from the perspective of those in public health (i.e., the ones who develop reports like the one mentioned above). Irony, once again, makes an appearance.

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) is described as:

“The CIW is based on the understanding that a true measure of national
wellbeing must link the economic, health, social, cultural, and environmental
realities of Canada, its people and the communities in which they live. By doing so, it can go beyond conventional silos and connect the dots among the many factors that shape our quality of life.

Before commenting on the report, I’d like to reflect on this mission. For starters, the CIW takes a systems thinking — or at least an ecological — perspective by overtly acknowledging the interconnectedness of various (largely social) determinants of health. It is also situates health in context, by placing it where people live their lives rather than in the abstract as many other reports do. The CIW also explicitly refers to ‘silos’, which upon further examination, acknowledges that health knowledge, practice, and policy is not the provenance of disciplines, experts or any particular groups working independent, but that it is more and that this knowledge must be connected to truly make sense of the whole.

In his preface to the report, the Chair of the CIW, Roy Romanow, writes:

Not so long ago we dared to imagine a shift to the leisure society – a world where robots lifted the burden of work, and prosperity
allowed more time for stimulating activities and fun.

Today’s reality is starkly different than yesterday’s dream. Technology does play a major role in our lives – for better and for worse – and it comes in a more sophisticated form than robots. Computers, Blackberries, iPhones, social networking…along with other transformational forces like globalization, climate change, new family structures…all have changed the way we live, work and play. They’ve also changed the way we interact – and the time we have to interact – with our families, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and communities.

He goes on to say:

(The CIW) finds Canadians caught in a time crunch, struggling to meet the competing demands of: a workplace that can reach out to them 24/7; children and parents who need a supportive environment; and their own needs to refresh body and mind through family time, leisure and culture activities.

Not surprisingly, the report has already received a lot of attention in news outlets across Canada.

Also not surprisingly, the report finds that single mothers are among the most affected by the time crunch, adding to their already significant physical and mental health risks and overall social burden or isolation. Yet our lifestyle is a thief that steals time from us all. Changing job roles and contexts, increasing expectations to be available to colleagues, globalized work patterns, absence of community supports such as child care options, and pressures associated with urban and rural environmental design all contribute to a society that resembles little of what we expected at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

This is a complex problem and requires not only systems thinking, but considerable systems action to address. Changing a job expectation does little if someone still has to drive 2.5 hours to get to and from work each day. Having a good daycare nearby isn’t going to do much to enhance the quality of life for a parent having to check her Blackberry for work the moment a child is dropped off or before they are picked up. And no amount of education is going to help if you don’t have the time to absorb the learning that comes with it.

One change will affect another, but only small, yet persistent, and widespread shifts will enable the critical mass of activity to promote the necessary social shift to wellness. Without systems thinking and action, this report is destined to serve as yet another thing we can’t absorb.

So take some time today, read the report, reflect on what small shifts you can do right now and what you can do tomorrow to carry the momentum. Perhaps if we all do that, share what we learn, coordinate a little, and start collaborating we might laugh at this report as much as we do at the 50’s depictions of 2010 filled with robots filling our lives with leisure opportunities.

Is Public Health Modeling Good Behaviour?

Could Public Health learn from this?

Take a break. Life is too short to work all the time. All work and no play makes us dull and boring.

All good stuff — right?

If so, then it must be good for those of us in public health too, right?

Apparently not.

Over the past two days I’ve been attending the annual Canadian Public Health Association convention being held in Toronto and if there is one thing that I’ve learned: we are not taking our own recommendations to heart. Literally.

Stress, particularly that associated with work, has been associated with all kinds of chronic conditions and is a contributing factor to coronary heart diseasemetabolic health, and overall increased risk of cardiovascular mortality.

And from an informal survey of my peers, there is a lot of stress out there among those of us in public health.

Today I met with some colleagues to discuss ways in which information technology could help this problem and make life easier for us. The discussion produced some ideas on what tools could help public health professionals work better and more efficiently in the 21st century, but what stoked the most discussion was speculation that these tools simply place a Band-Aid on a larger problem of work overload.

We aren’t working better, we are working too much and that is what needs changing. Indeed, technology may be making things worse.

For example, email — once a tool that helped us correspond with more people, faster, with less effort — was held as a perfect example of a symptom and cause of stress:

“I get 450 emails a day. This is insane. The only time I get a break is when I’m on an airplane and now they want to introduce the Internet into the cabin! Last time I had my inbox under 100 was 1998” – Full Professor and medical doctor

“I’m not even important and I get 80 messages a day — and classes aren’t even in session right now; it’s the summer!” – Assistant Professor

“I feel like I’m back in school” – Public health official referring the problem of having to respond to emails in the evening when he’s at a conference during the day, just like when he was a student in lectures all day.

“If I don’t answer an email the moment I get it, the chance it will never get responded to is high. I miss very important things that way. I get so much email I can’t manage it all — and I keep getting more” — Senior public health leader

“I feel guilty just taking three days off to spend with my family on a trip. Getting away (to where I can’t access email) is the only way to truly get a break” — Associate Professor

The CPHA conference started on Saturday for those attending pre-conference workshops and continues all week. For those who are using the time to actually attend the sessions (and not sneak off to their hotel room or the business centre to catch up on email — those without Blackberries that is) and maybe socialize with their peers have a mountain of email awaiting them back at the office.

That is email that falls on top of the web-searching, meetings, research. We in public health argue strongly for the need for strong evidence-based research to guide our work and that all public health trainees be training in methods to critically examine the research to make good decisions. The truth is that few have the time to read things in any depth at all.

“I’ll bet the number of people who actually want to critique or critically appraise a research article is very low. They just want to be told what to use and why” — Public health researcher commenting on the public’s and public health professionals’ interest in contributing to the development of knowledge through things like wikis or collaborative writing tools.

We speak of stress as if it is something for others. Systems change is implored, yet considered something ‘academic’ in practice. Leadership is called for, while few choose to truly lead, by example at least.

So are we modeling good behaviour and if not, are we undermining our own credibility in the process? If not that, are we simply undermining our own health and wellbeing?*

* I write this having learned that a particular leader who I greatly admire suffered a massive heart attack recently and recall hearing the news and not being surprised at all, which made me very sad.

No work tonight (writing this blog is something I enjoy). Mazel tov!

Mobile Health Promotion and Web 3.0

Telephones of the Distant Future by Catmachine.

This week the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto is hosting NetChange Week, which describes itself as being “A week exploring tech for change” .

(follow comment on Twitter using #ncwk).

Yesterday’s focus was on mobile technologies and the ways in which they’ve been used to promote health and facilitate fundraising and knowledge development with non-profits. A series of innovations and novel forms of engagement were proposed, most notably in the area of sexual health.

Toronto Public Health presented work on a sexual health promotion program that uses proximity marketing through Bluetooth technologies. Health promoters with TPH go into the (mostly) gay community, particularly bars and clubs, wearing monitors that allow people to opt-in to receive Bluetooth-transported messages directly to their phones. The messages, contained in a GIF format so they can be viewed at a later time, provide a discrete way to deliver sexual health information specifically suited to the gay population.

Another similar program came from Black Cap, which has sought to engage the black community in Toronto through a variety of sexual health programs aimed at men who have sex with men and youth. The latter program involves a group of youth opinion leaders / health promoters who use text messages and their personal social networks to spread positive health messages in the community. Thus far, the program appears to be creating a buzz and leading to some action.

A third presentation from Lisa Campbell Salazar, a health promoter working with TakingITGlobal (among others), presented her research on youth and mobile technologies. Although the survey was not all focused on health issues, they certainly provided highlights (details of the survey can be found here).

One of the most salient findings from this survey was that mobile tools provide youth with a safe, accessible way to offer peer support to one another and connect in real time in situations where their health risk behaviour takes place. As TPH Health Promoter Michelle Hamilton-Page said in her presentation:

No one who is coming up to our booth is having sex at the moment, they need information for later when they are. Mobile phones provide a means to do that.

This is the bottom line for mobile technologies and health promotion. It provides support where people are — literally and figuratively — rather than where we wish them to be. Where we wish them to be are in places where we don’t have to work too hard to reach them (or are not complex): clinics, traditional media spaces, office buildings. Traditional media is usually passive, it can be crafted in boardrooms and office buildings, with little need to actually engage the community your trying to reach*. It is harder to do that with mobile messaging (although there are examples where this works in practice — TPH’s messages are crafted in advance, but the way they are delivered by an ambassador in the community adds that customized component that is part of the message. Black Cap’s youth opinion leaders custom craft their own messages on the fly using guidelines).

*- although even traditional media tries to solicit input before deploying things into the field.

Traditional, developer-designed, limited-authored websites (Web 1.0) allowed us the opportunity to broadcast messages in new ways to an enormous population. Social media enabled people to not only take part in a conversation, but initiate and re-create dialogical spaces and express themselves in ways that transcend text to pictures, video and other creative media (Web 2.0). Mobile technologies combine both of these earlier phases and enable conversations to take place where people are physically situated, freed of wired connections (Web 3.0). Here, the concept of ‘web’ is truly a network, a spiderweb of connections that are poised to promote health and engage the public in new ways.

It is here that the future of health promotion,  and public health more broadly, lies.

A Web of Digital Health Promotion

Leadership Systems

Leading the Way

What makes a leader effective vs. harmful?

Robert Sternberg, one of the prolific and widely cited psychologists in history, spoke to this issue at the annual convention of the Canadian Psychological Association being held in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Sternberg is the originator of the WICS model of leadership, which involves: Wisdom, Intelligence, Creativity, Synthesized.

In his 2007 review paper on the WICS, Sternberg describes the WICS this way:

According
to the model, effective leadership is a synthesis of
wisdom, creativity, and intelligence (WICS). It is in large
part a decision about how to marshal and deploy these
resources. One needs creativity to generate ideas, academic
(analytical) intelligence to evaluate whether the
ideas are good, practical intelligence to implement the
ideas and persuade others of their worth, and wisdom to
balance the interests of all stakeholders and to ensure that
the actions of the leader seek a common good.

What makes this model unique is that it combines individual characteristics with a sense of purpose for a “common good” and, in both cases, emphasizes individual agency. Sternberg knows of what he speaks and writes. Among his more than 1400 academic publications are large bodies of work that focus on human creativity, wisdom and learning, and intelligence. His Triarchic Theory of Intelligence has, along with the work of fellow psychologist Howard Gardner, transformed our understanding of human capability and broadened the focus away from the very narrow, culturally constrained, vision of intelligence that dominated much of the psychology literature in the 20th century.

People choose to be leaders

Sternberg views leadership as a choice, not something you’re not born with. It is also something that relies heavily on creativity, something that is inherently a personal and a social quality. The WICS, in its basic form is  educational and transformative (my words not his). By linking creativity, perceptual and cognitive abilities, experience and synthesis, a systems-sensitive model of leadership is proposed via the WICS.

Other models can be criticized for their de-emphasis on time (past accomplishment) and over-emphasis on information and analytics to the detriment of wisdom. Intelligence, while inferred, can be viewed superficially as something fit for ‘natural’ leaders, thus reducing the role that personal choice plays in leadership. Creativity, also inferred, is another feature of leadership models that is often overlooked in favour of charisma. Most importantly, Sternberg’s model rests on the ability of leaders to do their work in the service of humanity and is careful to distinguish good leaders from bad ones; those that inspire sustainable good works rather than promote the opposite. It is for that reason that a Nelson Mandela is worth studying more than an Adolf Hitler.

Although the WICS is not new, the need to bring it back into focus and inspire people to lead and to nurture the four qualities within it are needed more than ever. A simple survey of the unfolding crises on the Korean Peninsula, off the coast of Gaza, and in the Gulf of Mexico one can see the need for better, wiser, intelligent and creative leaders.

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