Talking Open for Africa’s Education System

July 2, 2008

Last month I decide to quit my job and have a huge rethink about what I wanted to do with my time.

Much of the reasoning to leave the role was based upon wanting to do something very different with technology, editorial and brands. There is very little value in using digital as a promotional tool compared to using the aesthetics of networks, manufacturing and communications for devising new markets. I’m particularly interested in temporary markets as the frailness of this form of economics  creates a stronger network of merchants, which in turn pushes invention, rather than innovation. This is what sustainability demands – frailness.

The Joneses project was my thesis of a business model for production and consumption of media that enabled a manufacturer to find new markets and understand the role of their prospect’s communities through the co-creation of entertainment.

For this to function, Creative Commons licencing was fundamental, in fact the format of the business model was built around the opportunities that the Attribution – ShareAlike model afforded.

The Open Rights Group, as I noted before, produced a lovely case study on this.

To which, Frances Pinter, heard about the work and invited me to the London School of Economics to talk it through with regards to her current research for the Education Publishing business for Developing Countries.

So on Tuesday we met, along with her colleagues Eve Gray and Steve Kromberg of Creative R&D, and Batambuze Charles of the National Book Trust of Uganda, and went through how a brand funded a marketing programme that led to open publishing and how this could be applied to the infrastructure of developing nations, specifically Africa. Their project ‘PALM’ : Publishing using Alternative Licensing Models, looks to answer the question:

Can the adoption of more flexible licensing regimes contribute to improved publishing and better access to learning materials in Africa today?

It was really interesting valuable to talk to non-brand-oriented marketing people about the Joneses Project; firstly they asked the same questions as any business strategist would, (legal negotiations, rights), and touched on many that comms strategists have asked me (ROI, reach, production), but more importantly, they could see the potential in how the model applies to manufacturing as much as it does to marketing.

Kondensationswürfel by Hans Haacke

And this went straight into the big question for me; how do brands integrate into the infrastructure of society and bring huge social value to prospects rather than waste time and money in promoting their own values. This begins to address the futility of an ‘author’ in digital and the importance of learning the ingredients of data (the factors that produce data) – which leads us to the social understanding of how data can be used to create new entities that have nothing to do with the original data sets. Otherwise we end up with condensation trapped within rather than utilised outside the businesses engagement.

(Hans Haacke, Kondensationswürfel, 1963)

This may seem like a quantum jump for clients and agencies to even consider developing, but with projects such as Planning For Good and John’s Green Manifesto, the conversation has started. Droga5‘s Tap Project for UNICEF is at the crossroads of service and advertising. It doesn’t reach into designing a solution to the crisis, but it does take communication design to the areas of life that really need it. Charity is a symptom of a sick society; it is not a business case to solve.

The root of such concerns reside in a broader issue of how society understands itself. The Tap project is a Campaign because a Charity is a campaign. And I’m sure it saved lives.

Here’s another great video from this years Cannes Festival, with UNICEF giving some of the projects background.

For me it highlights the grave concern of the understanding of sustainability. Sustainability requires frailness; sustainability is a network concept and the best networks, are the most frail,

After the past couple of years looking hard at the way Brands manage their business communications, preferring advertising (“the tax for poor products”~Anomaly) to marketing (“listening to what prospects want from life”~Google), preferring media centric campaigns instead of growing digital platforms; ignores the value in human interactions that can be enhanced by a brands facilitation of services.

It’s massively rewarding that a brand’s marketing model can inform other markets far outside the the intended demographic, never mind a completely different sector, or Continent. It demonstrates the power of adoption and sharing within open business models. It’s how good ideas spread and has nothing to do with being ‘viral’, it’s about finding new markets through collaborative design over time. This is where Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics (written 4 years before the ClueTrain Manifesto) becomes really interesting in terms of service design and content creation.

If I get asked once again,and I’m sure I will, what the ROI of the Joneses project was, I’ll say it’s helping the future of design, production and distribution of developing countries, specifically around technology that are shared globally. It’s hardly philanthropy, but it does demonstrate that a marketing programme can ensure the client is part of a much wider, deeper conversation about how the world’s societies are operating, and to a degree, lead the debate. I think this is what Russell means by being polyphony. Metrics are single dimensional understandings.

Leaving these opportunities to ‘governing’ bodies will eventually erode a clients freedom of speech; as Richard suggests, privileges of a corporation’s use of marketing, and advertising, can be withdrawn; such restrictions on freedom of expression (corporations have the same rights as people in terms of possession and thus expression) will lead to more and more propriety models, may they be business design or communication / information systems. That’s not good for any one.

How long can you go for without a great ‘brand’ experience. What is that space between advocacy and addiction?

Perhaps we’ll see this happen with AnalogFolk. “Communications Products”, like Branded-Utility-ala-Social-Objects, may end up be defining workflows as products. After all, it’s the ‘brand experience’ that is the product; but fundamentally, its what the ‘reader’ (audiences) brings to the experience that defines the activity.

And I think this plays havoc with ‘planning’, strategy and insight. To be adaptive, agile business models are a must, may this be the institute that you work within and the work that you do for others. The thinking behind executions has to be holistic, not local, so that local adaptation is possible by the ‘locals’ themselves. In return, local adaption must freely be influential to the holistic model. This is conversation. This is business dialogue and it’s how design is used  in the most effective way.

Design is brilliant for problem finding; it’s not purely the domain of making things look good. Design used to problem finding, will remain open. A closed design is a fixed message, and that denies sharing and adaptation.

This is why, promotional design work (advertising) has little impact on business – design needs to be used to change a business’s social interactions, not merely change it’s ‘face’.

The full gamut of digital technology, aka ‘software’, isn’t changing the business of marketing; it’s changing the whole reason for business. And I think that’s what I was explaining to the the LSE, that publishing, essentially an author’s marketing business, has finally realised that by giving away the product, you will learn more about an audience, who will show you new markets through their consumption habits. Publishing is a value-added communications channel, and the role of this when brands are trying to engage with society is to fund the needed productions.

Need is driven by an audience’s desire for their own amplification. Interactive publishing is a design tool for collating rare data. Twitter collects rare data – it’s data that no one else has (well, twitter gets it first, then passes it onto any ole aggregater) – but it’s the live semantic web using the audience to live through meaning, instead of technology systems ‘learning’  and storing. The Wisdom of the Crowds has superseded the expectations of Artificial Intelligence because collective design ensures emotional engagement.

Publishing is not a destination; publishing is the most powerful of all conduit systems humans have. It’s why marketing depends on it and why publishers need to collaborate with a broader range of commercial models than it’s supply ‘n’ demand legacy. Any future of a publishing relevancy must be based upon currency being extractable from any ‘object’ in any way you imagine. Invention exists only when ‘borrowing’ can occur. This is why you must understand the creativity within licenses to get the best out of the use of technology – it’s the artistic licence, if you will…

This is the social network that will communicate what to manufacture. If there really is more value in the Long Tail businesses, then bespoke manufacturing is the holy grail – essentially, taking what prospects what ‘now’ and delivering with exclusivity. As Gaping Void would testify. It was the basis for Adidas. It’s the index of the Internet. It’s the basis to identity.

So for me, these are all strong indicators of where I should be paying attention, and my meddling, in service design, open business models and creative use of technology.

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22 Responses to “Talking Open for Africa’s Education System”

  1. Gavin Heaton Says:

    Awesome post. Will take some time to digest … but seems painfully relevant to a side project I am working on at the moment.

  2. Will Says:

    Brilliant post. Coming to Beersphere drinks this evening mate? I fancy a chat about this..

  3. @Gavin – Thanks fella.

    @Will – Have to be some other time, sorry.

  4. […] Talking Open for Africa?s Education System « Zero influence – “Any future of a publishing relevancy must be based upon currency being extractable from any ?object? in any way you imagine. Invention exists only when ?borrowing? can occur.” […]

  5. John Says:

    That’s all very fine but, seriously, what is the ROI? Spreadsheets need numbers you know.

  6. @john

    Isn’t metrics the type of conversation between 2 fishermen talking about ‘that’ fish that got away?

    Isn’t metrics a bit like saying I got a B- in a French exam?

    Isn’t metrics like saying, “does my bum look big in this?”

    Isn’t metrics about having a Porsche that clearly indicates some kind of macho compensation disorder?

    Isn’t metrics the list of fruit on an Innocent Smoothie packaging.

    Isn’t success and failure the shaddows of Supply and Demand, an enterprise model superseded by the likes of freeconomics?

    The ROI, it seems, is the adoption affordance of the collection of processes that inspire new inventions. In short, the brand becomes a muse, rather than the Pygmalionesque artisan.

    No one ever needed to define the ROI of Elena Ivanovna Diakonova.

  7. John Says:

    Well obviously. But I’ve still got this damn spreadsheet to complete.

  8. John Says:

    And Elena was a 10.

  9. @ john


    Does your spreadsheet go up to 11?

  10. ‘the brand becomes a muse, rather than the Pygmalionesque artisan’
    another classic!
    have you and @Johndodds ever thought of doing some sort of stand up philosopher double act?

  11. Richard Says:

    Quite a lenghty post, thankfully it is informative and entertaining to read. Keep up the good work.

  12. @eaon

    Do you mean, something like this :-

    I think the Kraftwerk routine is the closest to what we can achieve.

  13. Rob Says:

    I’m very impressed at how you can write such long posts and keep them interesting – I tend to get bored after I’ve written one line so god knows what people think who actually bother to read my rubbish – however back to your post …

    Marketing is not a science – it has elements of science behind it – but fundamentally the principals are simple and to me the most significant change that has occurred in the past few years are people’s ability [thanks to technology/social networks] to find out what % of the marketing spiel they are encountering is bullshit or not. [ala the Wunderman example on my blog]

  14. Painfully slow am I, however, yes, -kind of Seth teach, teaching artists to be part of the sustainability solution, chatting instead of telling, doing instead of thinking or maybe doing while thinking and I’ll read more and digest more. Thank god you post infrequently. 😉 Production and manufacturing has much more vital and prevelant role in alleviating poverty than currently being considered, me thinks. again, thanks.

  15. Daniel Edlen Says:

    I agree with Rob Campbell. Your writing is dense like Poe’s but also tracks. I didn’t find myself even wanting to hit “Page Down”.

    “Page Up”, yes.

    I’m hoping my shift (thank you, Mr. Godin) to focus on audience rather than my art comes through. I know that the interactions I’m having with people are much more rewarding. It imbues the “product” with the stuff of sentimentality, concentrating and preserving humanity in something actual.

    Less than a month for something personal with a great story and a way to celebrate you and your connection to your culture is pretty cool, I think.

    Daniel Edlen

  16. andee Says:

    good….news for me…..thanks guys

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