Superhero activity example
Design, Tips

The value of workshop superheroes

This is a cross-post from the Indigenous Digital Excellence “backstage” blog.

Some time ago I came across an idea/method from Adaptive Path that the authors dubbed Design a superhero. In that blog post, Leah Buley outlines the method and how she’d had some success using the method in the context of user interviews as a fun and engaging way to gather user requirements.

I really liked the idea and felt that the method may also have utility in a workshop context as an introductory activity. I’ve since had the opportunity to test that theory in a number of workshops (with some minor variation from Leah’s original description) and have found it very effective in this context. Continue reading


Alex Laskey at TED

In a number of my workshops and presentations I’ve used the example of some research into the power of harnessing social norms to drive energy efficiency. And also how these same norms can have unexpected rebound effects. In preparation of a workshop I’m running in a few weeks’ time I came across Alex Laskey’s fantastic talk on the subject. Well worth a watch—he does a fantastic job of explaining how it all works and what they’ve found.

Design, NGOs & Nonprofits, Presentations, Work

Reflections on the IDEA Summit

This time last week I was deeply engrossed in the IDEA Summit, which was a gathering of people exploring what “indigenous digital excellence” means.

I was privileged to be one of the co-facilitators for the sessions, and had the opportunity to briefly present on the concept of “design thinking”. Hopefully I did the topic justice in such a short timeframe (15 mins)! My presentation is embedded below, or you can download a PDF of the presentation with my associated speaker notes (PDF 3.9MB).

The event, which ran over 2 days, was a really inspiring experience to participate in. The atmosphere was awesome, in no small part due to Rhianna Patrick’s “MC” role.

The event culminated in a presentation of 5 ideas explored by the participants to a broader audience of invited guests. The 5 ideas emerged from exploration of a number of key themes that emerged early in the Summit around self-determination, appropriate technology, sustainability (for communities to manage and continue initiatives beyond the initial “seed”), mobile, and cultural transmission.
Continue reading

Business 2.0, Design, Sustainability

What will replace A Better Place?

A Better Place battery swap station

I was disappointed to learn about the liquidation of electric car infrastructure provider A Better Place earlier today.

I really admired Shai Agassi’s vision for this business, and have highlighted it as a great example of both social innovation/shared value (business with a social/environmental benefit at its heart) and design thinking (replicating the convenience/experience of a service station for the electric vehicle age) in presentations and workshops that I’ve facilitated. Naysayers will no doubt latch on to this event as reasoning for a) why social innovation/shared value doesn’t work and/or b) why electric vehicles are not going to succeed (case in point).

They externalised and amortised one of the key drivers of higher costs of electric cars (commentary I’ve seen puts the battery at about 20–30% of the cost of the vehicle). The model also presented real business incentives to improve longevity and management of battery technology waste due to the side-effects of product service systems. Batteries could be more easily rolled out to customers over time as well, as new technology came to market without modification to the vehicle.

I also admired the multi-faceted nature of the business—which proposed not only technology for battery swapping, but also more general charging infrastructure. I saw an interview with Agassi where he described A Better Place not as a charging or battery company, but as an energy company. They saw the potential for electric cars playing a significant role in smart grid infrastructure—a vision much broader than just cars.

The article linked at the outset of this post doesn’t go into a lot of detail, other than to suggest public uptake of electric vehicles was slower than anticipated, and gaining automotive supplier support was a key barrier.

It’s perhaps ironic that a company set up to remove one of the key barriers to electric vehicle sales—the “range anxiety” issue—was unable to get sufficient support from automotive manufactures, who report lower-than-expected uptake of electric vehicles as a reason not to invest more. Seems like a classic chicken and egg conundrum, that A Better Place was looking to solve and externalise for the manufacturers. Given only one vehicle manufacturer—Nissan Renault—got behind the initiative, it does beg the question just how serious car companies are about really advancing this market. That said, even leader Tesla Motors hadn’t gotten behind the approach, as far as I know, and they certainly can’t be accused of not promoting/supporting an electric vehicle future. (I would be especially interested in Tesla’s comment/take on A Better Place’s closure.)

I suspect the biggest problem was simply trying to launch too early to support an immature industry. That is to say they were simply ahead of their time. Electric vehicle technology is in its relative infancy, and standards and technologies are evolving rapidly. I suspect it was difficult to get manufacturers to commit to a standard given the many different configurations and challenges related to A Better Place’s approach. Battery technology, in particular, is rapidly evolving.

And placement of batteries within a floor-pan is not as simple as finding a place for a petrol tank. For example, some manufacturers have layered them across the floor-pan. Others have placed them behind the seat. Others, still, have them placed in various locations across the vehicle to balance weight and driving dynamics.

I’ve not had a moment to review further commentary on the closure, so I’ll be interested to learn more in the coming weeks/months as more is written about A Better Place’s experience, as no doubt will happen. I’d love to read comment from those close to the project, with the benefit of a little distance in time, what lessons were learned.

I have said in the past I don’t think hydrogen fuel cells are coming any time soon (I see this as a bit of a red herring—a future that will perpetually “just around the corner” to give manufacturers and excuse for not backing alternatives). And while battery technology is improving at a rapid clip, it will be some time before charge times reduce to minutes, instead of hours. Short of a miracle breakthrough (which is a potential, but still not something we can “bank” on). Will charge time become a non-issue as range increases? I don’t think it will—certainly not in the public’s perception.

So something like A Better Place will be needed if electric vehicles are to achieve widespread up-take in a non-urban/fleet environment, even in the short term. Given A Better Place’s experience, I’m wondering what new venture/approach will step up to take its place?

Social media & networking, Work

What is “Digital Excellence”?

This is a cross-post from the Indigenous Digital Excellence site, part of the ongoing conversation in the lead up to the IDEA Summit.

I’m feeling really excited to have been invited to co-facilitate one of the groups at the up-coming IDEA Summit. I feel it’s a real privilege to be part of this process.

As I’ve been preparing for the Summit, I’ve been giving some thought to “What does Indigenous Digital Excellence mean?”. My first stab at an answer (from my personal perspective) is on the IDEA website:

The highly personal and “always available” nature of digital technologies, including social media, present significant promise in supporting positive personal and social change in a wide variety of contexts. To me, “Indigenous Digital Excellence” means empowering and supporting young Indigenous people to find their own creative solutions to their distinct challenges, using digital technologies as a foundation. I believe that these solutions will be far more powerful and creative than anything I could/would come up with.

Prompted by Summit co-facilitator Leanne Townsend, I started to think about this question in my own sphere. That is, as a (largely) digitally-based professional, what do I consider “digital excellence” to mean? That is to say, if I was to look around at my peers in my own personal network and ask “what does digital excellence look like?”, I’d suggest the following (probably incomplete) list:

  • Has pragmatic familiarity with a wide variety of digital devices, software tools, and spaces.
  • Actively participates in online social networks, professionally and/or personally.
  • Leverages digital technologies effectively in achieving their own personal goals.
  • Is able to make informed judgements about what tools are right for their particular requirements/circumstance.
  • Has confidence in getting up to speed with (evaluating, understanding and adapting to) new digital technologies quickly as needed.
  • Is not overwhelmed by it all.
  • Maintains a healthy relationship to digital technologies so that they are appropriately integrated into real-life interactions—i.e. not addicted to checking emails at every available moment. Chooses when “going dark” is appropriate and needed to maintain personal space and balance.
  • Is aware of, and has sufficient confidence and support in mitigating, the various risks and dangers inherent in online interactions—such as personal security, handling bullying, what’s appropriate in public vs. private vs. professional contexts.
  • Is aware of the broader socio-technical and socio-economic implications of digital technologies. That is, the broader impacts and influence these technologies are having on society at large.

I’ve just written that list off the top of my head, but it’s interesting to note that only a couple are related to the technology themselves. Most are personal attributes in how someone approaches technology. This, I think, is important.

Extending from this then, I’m very interested in whether or not Indigenous Digital Excellence is different from the above? Are there unique challenges within the Indigenous community that would influence this list? I’m personally not sure, but I’m very interested in hearing from others about their thoughts…