Category Archives: New Systems

Introducing the researchAgenda

I want to research how being more public and open about the subjects that you wish to research affects that research, does it make for a richer outcome? Does it mean that you start competing with others to get your results out sooner once you know that you and twenty others are working on similar topics? Or do you collaborate, maybe publish more, your own work plus work written together?

I sat down and hit the paralysis that I wrote about before, I want to change the world in these ways and right now I have no idea how to take the next step. Which idea is worth spending time on? which one not?

Of course, rather than just pick one work out the plan for it, then if it failed quickly move onto the next I decided to create another idea to address the problem.

researchAgenda is a simple site, simple because part of it is really me practicing my coding again after too many years just managing projects.

Using twitter, you sign in, and create a simple post, a title and a small block of text. Describe quickly what you are thinking of researching.

This can then be tweeted to your followers, who can, if they are interested visit the site, give you a positive vote if you think the idea is worth looking at, maybe leave a comment or maybe they know a reference you should be aware of, a paper on the web, or in a journal or another project by someone.

Each idea has its own view, so you can see all the comments, the suggested references and if it was your idea, you can press a button to start the project. What does this do? It clones a standard, default project in GitHub, creates a set of folders for data, documentation, references etc and a readme and contributor list that is based on the people who have added comments and references to your idea on researchAgenda.

Think of it as similar to HelpMeWrite for research.

At the moment there is nothing about the institution, nothing about how the project is reviewed or funded, or even a necessity to document what the outcome would be. It is currently just a space to write down the fact that you are interested in investigating further X. Maybe after feedback you get to refine what it is, maybe its a short project, you are going to spend a week just using a new technology and your outcome will be a blog post on what you found, good learning references etc.

Maybe though the outcome is more going to be more substantial. Can you take the input and form it into a proposal to go before one of the research councils, are you attached to an Institution that can manage the funding from such?

Of course, longer term this is, in itself a stake in the ground about creating a more public discourse about research, knowledge acquisition, generation and dissemination. Can you shape a research proposal an perform the primary work without being attached to a usual Institution? How are the outcomes of your work reviewed and published and how can the current models of academia bend to accept such work? Can they?

This does also tie into my previous posts, one on how to affect change, having a simple way to put a message ‘I want to do X’ that you can point to and ask for feedback is nice. Yes you can write a blogpost, or a facebook post or any number of other places but there is also something about the idea of a communal space, this is creating an simple ‘UnAcademia’ (ok, I’m not sure that is really the term to use, I could be quickly using up my valid excuses to use the Un- prefix). The other the Arts UnCouncil on alternative funding for arts and cultural activity.

I think as this stands, it would work for ideas around the arts and humanities, as well as for people who already operate outside the usual academic institutions. They can use the interest in a proposed research problem to help support trying to get funding for doing the work, for example. Would the idea work in other areas of research? Would bioscientists use such a platform to start staking out what they were interested in and maybe finding interest / collaborators outside their usual field/lab of interest?

There is nothing to say that you have to use the GitHub project, or you have to keep it open, maybe it can integrate into other online tools, maybe you can use this to help start parts of a research project that involve crowd sourcing of participation for microtasks?

researchAgenda will launch shortly in alpha, it is just a sketch in code but if you are interested in trying it out drop me a line and I’ll make sure you know when its live.

The Arts UnCouncil

The board in front of you is empty, a grid. Rooms and times around the edges. How are you going to create something from this?

We have had unconferences for a while now, take the existing format and then blow it apart, allow the participants to create the content, to share, discuss and learn. It does work and once most people get past the initial shock of that schedule grid being blank to start with they soon learn that its there for them.

We need to find new ways to fund arts and culture. We can not rely on what has been there before, institutions do crumble over time, things do change and whilst I, personally do not agree with a policy being discussed or enacted by the current government and that we should fight, question and argue each and every one of them, I also believe that this is an opportunity to try other things.

Crowdfunding is a way to go, in fact on the, now many, crowdfunding sites you can find a number of art projects, short films, gallery shows etc. WeDidThis is dedicated to crowdfunding art.

Before I have proposed ideas around how we could look at funding journalism if we wanted to avoid the possible agendas of media moguls. Now, lets think about the cultural space around us.

We are already crowdfunding art works:

In Oxford, the city council have started running Create, a project where, once a month artists submit proposals, from which 6 are selected to pitch at an event. The event is open to the public, attendees are asked for a suggested donation of £10 (a minimum of £5) which goes into the event pot. The council match the donations in the pot.
At the event, the artists pitch and everyone votes for who gets the money.

The People Speak also run a similar event called Who Wants to Be…?, the audience created a fund and then spent the event deciding what to do with the money. Designed as much around a game show and audience participation event, this is also a performance in itself.

The Oxford model has been run twice now and seems to be working, and is something that could be used elsewhere.

You could also use the model similar to the one I suggested for the news foundation, ‘I agree to pay X amount once a month into a fund.’ As a contributor to the foundation I get to vote for the board that will be in charge of the dispersal of grants from the fund. In this model I would have less say over what specific art, events etc. would get funded, instead I devolve that to a curatorial board.

This could be seen as similar to the Awesome Foundation.

Now the Arts UnCouncil, we look at the board showing the balance available to fund the arts and at first glance it is bare.

Then we notice in the corner Oxford City Council’s Create is there. Other projects, such as the Nesta backed National Funding Scheme are currently on trial (disclosure: there is some of my code and technical architecture in the NFS project) also fall into our field of view but there are still a lot of blank spaces.

These are the spaces that we can fill, The Arts UnCouncil is the collective effort of us all to take part in the cultural landscape of our society. It is not a replacement for the Arts Council but as well as. We are not looking to close the funding gap but to participate in the creation of culture and art.

Very quickly the spaces on the grid fill up. You read some of the titles, some really catch your interest, others you glance over but thats ok. An idea springs into your mind, how you want to talk about something that has been on your mind for a while, an idea or project you have been working on over time recently. You want to share and listen. So you grab a pen and fill in one of the spaces.

This is just a note to ask us to start talking about how we might all actively contribute to our cultural landscape, how we might allow for challenging work to be developed and produced, how we can feel a part of the landscape.

The Arts Uncouncil might become a thing, run in trust for us all or maybe it is just an idea around which we can think and talk and do.

Help start the discussion.

The Arts Uncouncil.