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Do we need Operating Systems for Living Well in the Digital Age - or a more human worldview?

Original post 04/04/2015

Summary: the new Open Policy Making toolkit from Cabinet Office helps me join up the idea of a new operating model for government with an operating system for local labs for Living Well in the Digital Age. Together they could support the emerging Grey Cells model for digital service development and citizen online engagement. However, doubts emerge about the analogy.

One of the next practical steps for our exploration into Living Well in the Digital Age will be to assemble and test the set of methods needed to create local Living Labs.

The Labs will be local pilots in which we'll experiment with methods like persona-based workshops, social network and asset mapping, crowdsourcing ideas and a natural language database of how-to stories.

The aim of the Labs is work out how best to help people choose and use technology for living well (informed by personas as fictitious characters), how to provide services to support this (ideas and stories will help), and do this by making best use of local assets (found by mapping).

We'll also be looking at the challenge modern technology brings in the way it reshapes our world - whether we like it or not.

We've started calling the framework for the Living Lab methods an operating system rather than a toolkit, and the methods may become “social apps” for reasons I'll explain a bit later (and see the footnote).

I hope there may be some useful linkage with the recently-launched Open Policy Making Toolkit, from Cabinet Office, that helps support what's called a new operating model for government.

Drew Mackie and I explained the idea of the Labs at the workshop on March 27 with the Department of Communities and Local Government that I reported here. The briefing paper shows a possible development process for a Lab using a range of methods.


In that process a development group might identify local challenges and priorities, look up ideas in the database and generate more ideas locally, map assets, and create personas to explore how technology might work for individuals.

They might then run a workshop to bring the results of this work together. The briefing paper explains how this could be done, and we have simulated something similar in the past using our fictitious borough of Slipham.

The process and bundle of methods to create and run a local initiative is often called a toolkit - like this one from the Sustainable Communities Initiative or The New Barnraising. You might mix in some creative methods from NESTA's DIYtoolkit, aimed to trigger and support social innovation.

I first used the term operating system for a how-to manual when helping design and develop Groundwork Trusts and Development Trusts in the 1980s and 1990s. (I'm not claiming originality - it probably just have came in discussion).

The task was to document the key areas for starting up and running a local partnership organisation - business planning, communication, project management, governance etc. We developed a loose leaf folder in which sheets for the main areas of competence indexed more detailed methods. The idea was that you could slot in more methods, as experience grew in developing trusts, with some assurance that they would work together because of an over-arching framework - the operating system. Later partnerships guide here.

These days operating systems on mobile devices (like iOS, Android) are populated by apps, that can be retrieved from app stores. So it seemed logical a few years back, in course of writing about Big Society, to think about a Social App Store - an idea which John Popham later took forward.

Social apps could be face-to-face workshop methods - such as the persona development process we created for AgeUK London - or more recent tech-enabled methods like natural language databases or the Kumu social network mapping system Drew and I are using in the emerging Croydon Living Lab.

The toolkit/operating system should be able to accommodate and blend online and offline methods (which is why I registered mediablends as a domain).

That also seems to be the idea of the Open Policy Making toolkit - contents here - which supports Government as a platform.

The toolkit features personas, and as I was writing this Noel Hatch posted a really interesting piece about creating personas and bringing them to life by producing “a day in the life”.

Now, back to my point in the summary at the top of this post, and how I think these models may join up.

At the workshop with DCLG we were presenting our ideas for Living Lab pilots back-to-back with a presentation from William Barker about their Grey Cells model for digital service development and citizen online engagement. The Labs - and our operating system - are one possible approach to populating the Grey Cells model bottom-up. The OPM tookit supports Government as platform at top level.


So if we can design our operating system to be coherent with the OPM kit we might have an operating system that works for innovation in government, and also in localities.

Stretching the analogy a bit further, the development process within which toolkit methods/social apps are used is a bit like the workflows we need to develop when using computers or mobile devices. In that case, what's important is that when you open one app - says for notes - you can easily easily introduce content from other apps then publish, save or move the content to another app.

That only works if the operating system enables the joining up. So in our Living Lab operating system we'll have to work out how assets and organisations logged in a local database can be used in the network maps, together with stories and links to other resources.

The personal interests and needs revealed in the personas should act as a brief for digital mentors … and the operating system/apps they will need for their work.

Does this make sense? Just working out loud and hoping it might be a conversation opener with other people developing kits and processes in the field.

Footnote: after writing the above about operating systems, apps, and technology analogies, I remembered a piece I wrote in 2008 drawing on work by Jack Martin Leith the David Gurteen - Not getting it may be a worldview thing.

It's about the analogies we use to understand the world, and within that the methods that we use for change. A few hundred years ago the worldview would be mechanistic, based on Newtonian physics and maybe the mechanisms of clocks and watches. We adopt a worldview based on latest, fashionable, technology.

Maybe operating systems and apps falls into the same trap. I know it won't appeal to lots of people who might say it de-natures human relations, ignores emotional and spiritual life. Jack had worldviews 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 in his original paper. That is no longer available - but there are slides relating the three worldviews to Spiral Dynamics. Jack's current work here

We've moved from the world as a huge machine (1.0) to the world as a (tech dominated) ecosystem (2.0). Government as platform is 2.0, and that may provide the framework for Local Digital developments. Is it a good enough worldview?

David Wilcox - contact details here or please drop a comment.

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