Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What’s Kept the Society Against Quackery Going for 137 Years? - “We are trying hard to undermine this undeserved trust of quacks"

by Eric Grundhauser, Atlas Obscura:
Beware quacks.
Beware quacks. ARALLYN!/CC BY 2.0

Fakes. Cheats. Snake oil salesmen. Quacks. From time immemorial, people have been trying to sell poorly researched or just plain made-up remedies and medicines. Luckily, organizations like Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (VtdK), translated as The Society Against Quackery, possibly the world’s oldest skeptic society, have been exposing hucksters and helping to defend their marks since 1881.
“Quackery is the practicing of treatments and/or diagnostic methods of which the value has not been scientifically proven,” says Dr. Cees Renckens, former president of the VtdK, serving as head of the organization for 23 years. “This is usually accompanied by loudly praising its results.” While the rise of modern medicine standards and protections has eliminated some of the more blatant flim-flam that was once passed off as medical science, Renckens says that quackery is still as much of a problem as it’s ever been, and is in some ways worse. “[Today’s] quacks hide behind appeasing terms such as alternative medicine, additive medicine, holistic medicine, complementary medicine, naturopathy, integrative medicine,” he says.
The VtdK formed around the same time that modern medicine began to be professionalized in the late 1800s. According to a history on the Society’s website, the Dutch Society for the Advancement of Medicine, which was founded in 1849, was having trouble policing the unlicensed and unqualified medical practitioners of the day. In an effort to raise awareness of the growing number of quacks operating in the Netherlands, they published a pamphlet in 1878 detailing how to identify a quack, and what to do about them. From this initial bit of literature, the Society Against Quackery was born.
G.W. Bruinsma, one of the original founders of the VtdK.
G.W. Bruinsma, one of the original founders of the VtdK. ÛNBEKEND/PUBLIC DOMAIN

In the beginning, the group was mainly focused on rooting out fraudulent doctors and suspicious medicines (nostrums). Members of the association, mostly doctors and other educated men, would chemically test suspect cures and remedies, and if they were found to be placebos or otherwise ineffective, the Society would publish their findings in their journal, Nederlands Tijdschrift tegen de Kwakzalverij (Dutch Magazine Against Quackery). They developed a reputation for fearlessly calling out spurious practitioners just as vehemently as their bogus cures, using hard science to disprove and discredit their claims. According to Renckens, the first president of the VtdK, G.W. Bruinsma, once said, “It is useless to curse the cards and not mention the names of the cheat players.”
The Society continued to publish their magazine into the 20th century, but as laws around medicine became stricter and more robust, their focus shifted toward the world of the paranormal around the 1960s. “In the 1960s about 1 percent of the adult citizens in the Netherlands consulted a quack (mainly paranormal healers, manual therapists and phytotherapists), among which there were hardly any doctors,” writes Renckens in an email. It was during this time that belief in psychic abilities, mesmerism, crystal healing, and the like began to enter the cultural consciousness, and the VtdK was there to try and protect people from getting scammed by shining a light on self-proclaimed alternative healers and their unprovable methods.
From the 1980s on, the VtdK has shifted most of its focus back to the alternative quackery that they see as infecting attitudes toward modern medicine. In the early 1990s, they fiercely lobbied against homeopathic remedies, and in 2000 they released their list of the 20 greatest quacks of the 20th century. Included on the list were individuals whom the VtdK had tangled with over the years, including A.J. Houtsmuller, who claimed he could cure cancer with a diet, and the Dutch spiritual guru Jomanda, who claimed she could bless water and give it healing properties.
Cees Renckens, current chairman of the VtdK.
Cees Renckens, current chairman of the VtdK. VERA DE COOK/CC BY-SA 3.0

The VtdK may have been in the skeptic business for over a century, but it isn’t exactly getting any easier. “In the olden days we enjoyed the support of the recognized medical societies, which is unfortunately no longer the case,” says Renckens. “Nowadays they frequently maintain a more friendly attitude towards colleagues practicing what they call CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), which in our view is a sCAM.” Renckens says that as of 2015, some 35 percent of Dutch citizens believe in some form of alternative medicine, some of which are even covered under medical insurance. The VtdK finds this unacceptable. “We are trying hard to undermine this undeserved trust of quacks,” he says.
The Society is regularly sued for defamation and libel by the people they have labeled as quacks. But according to Renckens, they’ve won all but one case, and ended up with more members and support as a result of the exposure.
Today the VtdK has a membership of around 1,700, around half of which Rencken says are involved in the medical profession, although most of the work is done by the core group of about 16 chairpeople. The Dutch Magazine Against Quackery is still published four times a year, and they’ve also introduced a tongue-in-cheek annual award, the Meester Kackadoris Prize, which they bestow on people who support quackery. “[It] is awarded not to quacks, but to persons or organizations that support quackery, who seem to be reasonable and correctable, like broadcasters, journalists, politicians, leaders of medical colleges, insurance companies, etc.”
An issue of the <em>Dutch Magazine Against Quackery</>.
An issue of the Dutch Magazine Against Quackery>. NEDERLANDSE LEEUW/CC BY-SA 4.0

And it’s not just about raising awareness of quacks. The VtdK is still involved in more hands-on cases. “We are frequently called by victims of quackery or by people who are considering to consult an alternative practitioner but have their doubts,” says Renckens.
The VtdK only look at quackery in their native Netherlands, but spurious alternative medicines and their peddlers can be found all over the globe, so Renckens suggests a common sense approach to protecting yourself from shady remedies. “If you think you need medical treatment, then only consult practitioners with good training, registered medical diplomas, and who stick to regular medical practice,” he says. “Avoid in all cases quacks without diplomas or registration, and the same applies to MDs who have deviated from the right track and have forgotten how medical science distinguishes good medicine from quackery.”
Correction: Previously Dr. Renckens was listed as the current president of the VtdK, this has been corrected to reflect his leaving.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Learning From Zoos: How Our Environment Can Influence Our Health

File 20170517 24330 1j3hzlq
by Emmanuel Tsekleves, Lancaster University

We are told that we are a nation of couch potatoes, lacking the will and the strength to turn around the obesity tanker. We all need a little help in our quest for a healthier life and design can play a crucial part. If we designed our towns, cities, homes and workplaces more like animal experts design zoos, we could be one step nearer to reaching our fitness goals – as long as we can have some fun along the way. The Conversation

It is reported that British people will be the fattest in Europe by 2025 and that if we want to reverse this we should have a healthier lifestyle by exercising more and eating less. But we are often made to feel guilty for not sticking to theses healthy lifestyle plans. I would suggest that before we start blaming people for adopting sedentary lifestyles, we should be taking a step back to look at the design of the environments, towns and cities in which we live.

The link between the design of the built and natural environment and its role in our health and well-being has been well explored. Now new research, led by Lancaster University, on “design for health” suggests that the environment, including buildings, cities, urban spaces and transport infrastructure, is closely linked to the lifestyles we adopt.

What is abundantly clear is that, as we shape our environment, it is also shaping us. Our psychological, physiological and physical status as well as our interactions with other people and with the natural environment are all affected. A key challenge that governments and policy makers worldwide are facing is how our built environment and infrastructure should be shaped to support healthier behaviours to prevent disease.

First, we should stop focusing on methods that tell people what to (or not to) do and which attempt to change their behaviour simply through media campaigns and punitive measures, such as tax schemes. While seeking to minimise the barriers that prevent healthy behaviours, we should make sure that the design of new environments is taken into account.

Looking to zoos

A good model would be to look at how zoos are designed. Before a zoo is built, it is common practice for zoologists, biologists, animal psychologists, nutritionists, architects, designers and landscape architects to work closely together to create an environment that optimises the living conditions for the animals.

Important environmental elements, such as vegetation, habitat, lighting, materials and each animal’s requirements are taken into account. The ultimate aim is to design an environment that fully supports the animals’ physical, psychological and social well-being. Ironically, we do not seem to make the same demands when a town, neighbourhood or workplace environment for humans is planned and designed.

Another opportunity that has recently emerged is the healthy new town NHS initiative. The aim is to radically rethink how we live and take an ambitious look at improving health through the built environment. Ten demonstrator towns will be built across England with community health and well-being as their main focus. Clinicians, designers and technology experts will reimagine how healthcare can be delivered in these places. Although this is a step in the right direction, what it is currently missing is the more holistic approach we have seen in the design of the zoos.

A crucial element in designing these towns so they are places that people would want to live in, is to include community members in their creation. This strategy would help design-in health-promoting behaviours, such as access to healthy food outlets or green spaces in which people can walk and exercise.

Embracing playfulness

Playful design – the mapping of playful experiences from games and toys to other non-game contexts – can play an important role here in inviting and encouraging people towards healthier alternatives. For example, the piano stairs project in Stockholm, which converts the metro stairs into a giant functioning piano keyboard – much like the piano made famous in the Tom Hanks movie Big (1988) – demonstrates great promise. It encourages commuters to opt for the intriguing new stairway instead of the escalators to enjoy making musical movements as they go up and down.

A project in The Netherlands, meanwhile, illustrates how everyday street furniture, such as lampposts, benches and bollards, can be inexpensively converted into impromptu exercise devices, inviting people to engage in casual activity and socialise with their neighbours. We could therefore envisage several other contexts were playfulness can transform mundane everyday activities into fun ones that encourage people into a more active and social lifestyle.

We could convert building walls into activity walls to encourage stretching of arms and legs through touch; redesign public squares and walkways into interactive dance floors that invite movement and guide you through a city; and transform workplace spaces and public places into “playgrounds” that boost movement and productivity and decrease lethargy.

So there you have it. If we want to be a nation of lean, mean and healthy citizens we need to learn from zoos and the animals that live in them. And we need to embrace playfulness and enjoy the place where we live. That way, we can tackle life with a hop, skip and a jump.

Emmanuel Tsekleves, Senior Lecturer in Design Interactions, Lancaster University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Sharing Stories in a Broken Culture: Respectful Relationships are a Prior Condition for Persuasion

Credit: Shutterstock. All rights reserved
by SIMON HODGES, Open Democracy, Transformation:

In late-April 2017 the French Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron stunned supporters of Marine Le Pen, his opponent, by directly engaging with them on a picket line. Macron handed the microphone to union members whilst arguing that closing borders would do nothing positive for the economy, and might well harm it.

This was a rare act of engagement in western politics, where debates are characterised by the frothing of deeply divided sides. If Macron’s argument had been transmitted indirectly via the media it would probably have fallen on deaf ears, dismissed as more ‘fake news’ or standard ‘liberal bias.’ But he managed to create a relationship with people directly who he knew might disagree with him, and this direct engagement made all the difference. Physical presence has a power that goes beyond any argument. By showing that he was ready to listen, Macron also helped to diffuse his opposition. The crowd quietened and a dialogue began.
The gatekeeper of our intellect - the emotional limbic system - relies on relationship. No matter how potent the arguments, that system won’t allow more information to be processed rationally by the ‘higher’ faculties of the brain if there is no emotional connection. That means that respectful relationships are a prior condition for persuasion—a point that is lost in much current political campaigning, still more in the nightly ridicule of President Trump and his supporters by comedians on late night television shows in the USA.
The polarised cultures of Western democracy alienate one other not just through what they say, but also by how they live. These divisions are having a crucial effect on how we address issues of migration, welfare and trade. The problem is that both sides are so busy trying to fix the other that no genuine communication is taking place.
The blogger Andrés Miguel Rondón offers Venezuela’s experience as a prescription for healing this situation. It took liberals there years to realise that they themselves had become de-humanised, while in the mindset of those who saw ex-President Hugo Chavez as a champion, all talk of justice and freedom of the press fell on deaf ears because it seemed to come from an alien group.
When two sides of an argument are so entrenched, a simple exchange of facts no longer produces any forward movement. The clash is not one of opinions but of radically-different worldviews. A worldview is an emotional commitment to certain attitudes and beliefs. Most of us spend our entire lives accumulating evidence to justify a worldview. Our lives and actions then seek to express it. “We tend not to see our worldview as a perspective” says researcher Annick de Witt, “We see it as truth.”
The fundamentals of our own worldviews are no less shaky than those of the opposition, but our respective commitments run very deep. Long-time Greenpeace activist and storyteller Brian Fitzgerald puts it another way: “What is being expressed might seem crazy, but the feeling it expresses is a true experience for that person.” We may deny or reject what we see as a nonsensical argument, but in doing so we are denying what someone else experiences as truth. It’s this dynamic that feeds mutual alienation.
So what does it take to reach across our different worldviews?
First, “it takes a lot of humility” says de Witt, “We need to be willing to explore the limitations of our own worldview.” But this is a step, she admits, that few of us seem willing to take. The theatre director Peter Brook puts it like this: “hold on tightly, let go lightly.” “For a point of view to be of any use at all,” he says, “one must commit oneself totally to it, one must defend it to the very death. Yet at the same time, there is an inner voice that murmurs: ‘Don’t take it too seriously.’” It would be wonderful if more of us were willing to commit to our values, but even more powerful if we had the grace to let go. Only then could we find more common ground.
Secondly, the stories that shape our worldviews are very powerful. In the information age it’s tempting to think of the whole world as a story. If the world is a story then the perfect world is only a story away. We need only spin a message, an advert or campaign to bring about successful change.
We all know of indigenous tribes whose worlds are shaped by the stories that they’ve heard, so we believe our own storytelling will shape society too. The trouble is that the kind of stories that are told in such societies are part of a network of mythology—not media to be consumed but realities that are lived. Such stories aren’t just heard; they are enacted through ritual. Listeners become participants in ways that shape and sharpen their psyche. They don’t simply receive information; they learn new ways of seeing and being in the world. Their intuition is moulded so that they know how to act.
It will take the work of centuries to restore our present-day cultures to anything like that level of dignity and imagination. However, we can draw one vital lesson: what we are looking for is not a story but a ritual. By creating experiences that embody the world we want to live in, we allow others to participate and create their own meaning.
“It took our leaders ten years to figure out they needed to actually go to the slums and to the countryside” says Rondón, “And not for a speech, or a rally, but for game of dominoes or to dance salsa – to show they were Venezuelans too, that they had tumbao and could hit a baseball, could tell a joke that landed.”
To see how these different elements combine—relationship, humility and ritual—here’s a recent example that comes from Italy.  In 2016, a group called GoDeep! hit the streets of Grottaglie in Puglia to explore—and potentially transform—local attitudes towards migration from North Africa.
At the heart of the process was what they call the ‘appreciative gaze,’ an attitude similar to the unconditional positive regard that was practiced by the psychotherapist Carl Rogers. Rather than arriving with pre-set judgements on what needed to be changed, the group spoke to local people on their own terms. Sometimes this meant receiving openly racist abuse, but gradually ties with the community were forged.
At the end of the enquiry, a celebration of diversity was held in which both local culture and the cultures of the new arrivals were included. Those seen as ‘the other’—in this case migrants and liberal activists from GoDeep!—steadily became more of an ‘us.’ By starting with direct contact and open conversation with local people, the group established a relationship. This relationship then served to create an experience that told a deeper story of unity than words alone could tell. This story of unity was then ritualised in celebration.
First-hand experiences of this kind create more information, conversation and connections than conventional media campaigns, and they help to reduce the likelihood of judgmental behaviour and artificial separation. “In a few days we created the possibility for people from diverse backgrounds to take ownership of their local space” says Niels Koldewijn, a GoDeep! participant and the director of Elos Foundation. “It generated recognition for migrants from the locals, and importantly, migrants for locals as well.”
This approach might not be enough to persuade political hardliners, but it can help to create the right conditions for those who are ready to make a jump across the lines of difference. As one of Hannah Arendt’s favourite poems from Walter Benjamin puts it:
“…the soft water’s movement will
defy the strongest stone in time.
The hard ones, you see, are more easily undermined.”
We could imagine a wave of ritual actions similar to GoDeep! taking place worldwide, each one a potent demonstration of the open, tolerant world we want to create. Enacting unity through public works, participatory theatre and even cups of tea would mean that we’re not just telling a story but creating it together—and doing so in ways where everyone’s invited.

Monday, May 1, 2017

How to Care for Your Brain

Your body isn’t the only thing growing older, your brain is aging too. Do yourself a favor and care for it – you won’t regret it. These articles will help you out!

Your Brain Ages Just Like Your Body—Here's How To Keep It Young

“Humans spend a lot of time trying to slow down aging from the outside—we buy expensive face creams, spend hours primping in the mirror, and even turn to plastic surgery. But the fact is our brains age just like our bodies do—only the mental side effects can significantly erode our quality of life. And according to Reader's Digest, our brains start slowing down at the tender age of 30. On the bright side, the magazine also offers up some tips for delaying or even reversing this aging process, as informed by various doctors, psychologists, neuropsychologists, and more. To stave off memory loss and cognitive decline, make a point to do the following three things for brain health every day:”

What Is The No. 1 Way To Keep Your Brain Sharp?

“Every week, there seems to be another new study reaffirming the neuroprotective brain benefits of physical activity and aerobic exercise. This week is no exception.
For anyone who reads The Athlete’s Way blog posts regularly, I apologize for sounding like a broken record when it comes to the cognitive benefits of exercise. I know you've heard it all before.
That said, as a public health advocate, finding empirical evidence to motivate people to be more physically active is my raison d'être and the ultimate goal of this blog. In my mind, there is no greater motivation to exercise than the power of physical activity to keep your brain sharp.”

Scientists Discovered A Simple Way To Keep Your Brain Young As You Age

“We all want brains that function at their best, today, tomorrow, and — we hope — for the rest of our lives. What can we do to make that happen?
To try and answer that question, scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital studied 17 ‘superagers,’ people over 65 who have the mental function of those in their 20s.
The goal was to find out if there were any observable differences between superager brains and normal brains, and if so, whether the rest of us could use that information to give ourselves better brain function through the years.
The answers are yes and yes.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

12 Empowering Ways to Engage in Civic Affairs

It's evident that there's a growing desire among people, especially here in the U.S., to get involved in civic affairs. 
While online organizing can be an effective means of bringing about change, there's something powerful about showing up in person to talk with public officials and connect with others who are fighting for the same causes. 
We've pulled together a list of 12 ways to boost civic engagement. The list includes several suggestions from Lawrence Grodeska, founder of CivicMakers, a San Francisco-based social enterprise that offers collaborative civic tech tools, consulting, and other services for public agencies and nonprofits. 
1. Join a participatory budgeting initative: Participatory budgeting enables citizens to vote on how public and other funds should be spent. As we reported recently, the concept is becoming popular in the U.S. PB, as it's commonly known, can be done on a very small scale - at schools or community organizations - or on a larger scale, in cities, counties, and states. It's also a great opportunity for kids to learn and have a voice in budgeting processes. 
2. Attend city council meetings: A easy way to stay up-to-date on issues affecting your city is to attend local city council meetings. If you're unable to attend, check your local television listings as many community television stations broadcast council meetings. 
3. Attend town hall meetings: Town halls give constituents a way to connect directly with state and local representatives. They're all the rage now, as people are energized to make their voices heard, but they've long been a part of civic discourse and engagement at all levels of government. 
4. Join or create a Civic User Testing Group: The Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup), which is based in Chicago, is a community of residents who get paid to test civic websites and apps. It's an emerging field, but as open government platforms and tools become more commonplace, it's poised to spread around the country. 
5. Start or join a Civic Saturday club: Civic Saturday clubs are gatherings for people who want to learn more about politics and civic responsibility, engage in their communities, and reflect on the challenges we all face. 
6. Run for office: If you're ready to make a next-level commitment to improving the lives of your neighbors and fellow citizens, consider running for office. For information on getting started, check out VoteRunLead and 
7. Get involved in placemaking projects: Placemaking is a way of reclaiming public spaces, such as sidewalks, plazas, streets, and parking lots, as community spaces. Placemaking includes everything from street art projects and mobile libraries to pop-up public spaces, complete with classes, music performances, and other activities. 
8. Work for local government: One of the best ways to learn about the political system is to get a job in your local government. The connections made and hands-on learning experience will provide an invaluable glimpse into the functioning (and sometimes dysfunctioning) of government. 
9. Explore community land trusts: Community land trusts, which ensure community stewardship of land, are primarily used to ensure long-term affordable housing. Get involved with your local land trusts to have a say in the future of your town. 
10. Read the Constitution: How many of us have read the U.S. Constitution in its entirety? If you're overdue, make time to read it and further your understanding of the core tenants the U.S. is founded on. You can read it at 
11. Support independent journalism: More than ever, it's crucial find and support news outlets that are guided by a commitment to the truth rather than the political leanings of their owners. 
12. Turn off your TV and put your phone down: When it comes down to it, engaging more in your community often involves the simple act of turning off your television or gadget and getting out into your community. You'll meet people you might not have otherwise, get a first-hand look at the workings of your local government, and find ways to engage that are a good fit for you and your family. 
To get regular tips and resources about offline civic engagement, subscribe to the CivicMakers newsletter.
Header photo by mauro mora via unsplash. Follow @CatJohnson on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sweden Opens World’s First Mall for Repaired and Recycled Goods

(Photo by ReTuna Återbruksgalleria)
by , Good News Network: 
A new generation of recycling has now gone from local drop-off centers to a shopping mall that sells only repaired or upcycled products.
The new recycling establishment, ReTuna Återbruksgalleria, has nothing to do with the fish; instead, it was named after the Swedish town in which the building is located, Eskilstuna, Sweden.
The facilities contain both a recycling center and a shopping mall. Customers can donate the items that they no longer need, then shop for something new - all in one stop.
Dropped off goods are sorted into various workshops where they are refurbished or repaired accordingly. Products are then sorted into 14 specialty shops that include furniture, computers, audio equipment, clothes, toys, bikes, and gardening and building materials; all garnered from second-hand products.
The center also includes a café and restaurant with a heavy focus on organic products, as well as a conference and exhibition facility complete with a specialty school for studying recycling. The center, which is operated by the local municipality, has benefitted the local economy by creating 50 new repair and retail jobs, and providing space for private start-ups and local artisans.
The biggest bonus for the Swedish community is how the center relieves local government from the tremendous burden and expense of disposing of unwanted goods while turning potential “waste” into profits.
“Our idea is that the customer comes here and leaves for example some furniture and clothing that can get tired or have no use for anymore,” says Anna Bergström, center manager ReTuna Recycling Galleria. “Then you go a lap at the mall. Maybe find a new jacket and a new framework that will make the photograph of the grandfather unique and extra fine. Since you eat organic lunch in our restaurant to gather strength to go another lap and find new flowers for the garden and a new lamp for the living room. When you leave here, you should feel that you did something good for the environment and that they shopped climate.”

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Co-Creation - The Death Knell For Creative Agencies?

Ensure you're talking to experts in community recruitment & management
by , The Drum:

The broadcast model of advertising is dead.

Audiences, especially younger audiences, do not trust mainstream media outlets, Government, politicians, banks or big business and if brands are not careful, they will also fall into this growing bucket of institutions that have lost touch with their audiences.

Young people are becoming increasingly disenfranchised. This is hardly groundbreaking news, but recent global events seem to be making matters much worse. The banking crisis, Brexit and Trump getting elected all typify the disconnect between generations Y and Z and the ‘establishment’. Add to this fake news and who could blame these young people for being suspicious of what they see on TV or read in a newspaper.

Young people have a serious problem with traditional sources of information. The ways that information is shared has changed dramatically. Anyone can now be a publisher, a brand or media owner in their own right. Audiences don’t have to rely on news organizations for their news any more.

The world has changed for brands and brand marketing too. Brands have long understood the need for an authentic connection with their audiences. But smart advertising alone is not enough to engage young people who are searching for meaning in their relationships. Brands need to engage at a deeper level with their audiences who are making purchasing decisions based on what a brand stands for. A popular and successful way to create an emotional connection is to align with passion points of the target. Using music or sport has been hugely successful.

Cause is also now rapidly becoming a significant mobilising agent for youth audiences who care about the world around them. Young people don’t just want to know that a brand has integrity. They want to be involved; they want to be part of the conversation and play an active role.

Creative agencies largely still believe that they have the best ideas. And why wouldn’t they? There are some incredible minds in the creative agency world, but there is also a great deal of ego. And there has to be. You have to come up with the best ideas in the world for the biggest brands in the world - and for the biggest fees in the world. Who owns the idea? What does that even mean? Why do the majority of brands insist on developing their marketing strategies in isolation from their audiences?

Concepts are developed by creative teams, then in some cases, they then hit qualitative testing - which can either meet with approval or the idea gets killed. It’s the way it has been done for a long time. Creative agency groups have a significant chip in the game, with billing for global powerhouse brands numbering in the many millions. So its understandable that they should want to maintain the status quo. But the audience has already moved on.

There is more audience research and data than ever before - which should mean good news for audiences. However, a recent study by Havas found that “Some 60% of the content created by the world’s leading 1,500 brands is 'just clutter' that has little impact on consumers’ lives … that failure means globally consumers would not care if 74% of brands disappeared, with that figure rising to 94% in UK”. If this research is to be believed, there is a fundamental change needed in the way brands operate, especially in the UK.

So how do brands break out of the old model, create an authentic connection with their audiences and start making content that isn’t just ‘clutter?’ Co-creation is where brands are brought together with the audiences in creative communities to generate insights and ideas that lead to content. It seems painfully obvious that brands who want to know what their audiences think and feel should involve them in the creative process, but remarkably few actually do.

Brands have the opportunity to be a facilitator for new ideas, to become a platform for creative expression. Young people today want to be the architects of the brands and the causes they care most about. Empowering the audience gives a sense of shared ownership and sense of shared purpose that cannot be achieved through traditional approaches to marketing.

If you are a brand that is interested in co-creation, here are a few pointers to consider:
  1. Start by building a community. It’s important to find the right voices to contribute, so make sure you are talking to experts in community recruitment and management.
  2. Allow innovation to travel upstream. Don’t be afraid to let your audience explore new approaches to old problems - be brave.
  3. Be dynamic. Allow the ideas (not the old model) to drive the solution.
There is a huge opportunity for creative agencies to harness the power of co-creation for their clients by getting involved now. It’s just the ideas may not always be born in the boardroom. If you are a brand that is looking to get closer to your audience, create content that has a much greater chance of landing successfully and all for a fraction of the price, then perhaps co-creation is for you. 

Simon Voysey is partnerships and marketing director at Latimer. He Tweets at @Moorchat.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Safe in the City? Girls Tell It Like It Is

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How does a city shape women’s feelings of safety? P Salen
by Nicole Kalms, Monash University; Gill Matthewson, Monash University, and Pamela Salen, Monash University, The Conversation:

When authorities decide that an area of the city is “not safe”, the usual response is more lighting, CCTV cameras, and police.

But what if there are more subtle indicators of safety in the environment that they are missing?

This is a question being asked by a team of researchers from the Monash University XYX Lab who are collaborating with Plan International Australia to identify and illuminate why women and young girls often feel unsafe in Australian urban spaces.

Late last year, Plan International launched a campaign asking young women and girls in Melbourne to engage with a web-based interactive map Free to Be and, over a three month period, comment on how safe and welcome spaces in the city made them feel.

They did so by dropping “pins” on the interactive, geo-locative map of Melbourne and suburbs. In total, 1,318 pins were dropped by around 1000 women - either green ones (marking “happy” places) or red ones (marking “sad”).

Some responses were obvious: Federation Square and the State Library were “happy” spaces. “It’s usually pretty busy and I feel safe and connected to Melbourne here,” said one woman of Federation Square. Observed another of the State Library: “Always a lot of people hanging around and it’s a safe spot to meet others.”

“Sad” spaces, however, often involved accounts of concerning incidents and places that felt frightening. Said one woman of Swanston Street near Flinders St Station:
It’s scary here at night time. It’s well lit and there are always police around, but it can be really scary. One of the reasons I don’t stay in the city late at night.
Another reported an incident where
Two male teenagers loudly harassed me about my gender because I wasn’t wearing make up and have a short haircut.

Flinders Street, Melbourne. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017

Our analysis found some common themes. Busyness gave a place a buzz. But spaces that were crowded seemed to provide a cover for unpleasant incidents such as pushing and groping. Sexual harassment was a major element of “sad” places. It ranged from cat-calling to propositioning to distressing sexual assaults.

One young woman wrote:
I rarely go out after dark in the city any more after years of harassment from drunk men. To be catcalled, then verbally abused in a very aggressive manner if I don’t respond or turn them down is incredibly scary. I don’t like that they’ve won over the space, but I don’t want to be bashed or raped. And the only way seems to be not for the men to stop but for me to leave.
While the highest number of sexual harassment incidents were recorded at Flinders Street Station, the most serious events reported occurred in Chinatown. In total, there were over 300 cases of sexual harassment reported over the three-month period and 69 reports of sexual assault incidents, which ranged from groping to more than one alleged rape.

Signs in ‘Happy spaces’. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017
Interestingly, King Street - known for its strip clubs and with a reputation for violence - had markedly less red pins than other areas of the CBD. This indicated that women and girls have already self-excluded themselves from city streets that are explicitly identified as masculine.

This preliminary research raises important questions for architects, designers, planners and policy makers. For instance, are there environmental factors in the built environment that either support or discourage such behaviour?

One key description of “happy” spaces was that they were open, spacious and welcoming. It was also fascinating to examine the language, branding, signs, and advertisements in spaces described as both happy and sad. By looking closely at three “happy” spaces (Hardware Street and Lane, Degraves Lane, and the State Library) and three “sad” spaces (La Trobe Street between Swanston and Elizabeth, Bourke Street Mall and the Flinders Street Station area), a pattern emerged.

Signs in ‘sad’ spaces. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017
In the “happy” spaces, small and unique brands with positive messages and attractive graphics (Little Cupcakes, Clementines, Doughnut Time) were featured. Much of the advertising was hand-lettered menu boards, which seemed to create a friendly feeling.

In the “sad” spaces, restaurants were dominated by masculine names (Duncan’s, Mr Burger, Hungry Jack’s, Lord of the Fries, McDonalds). There were also subliminal and gendered messages such as logos that resembled large breasts and names linked to transgressive behaviour (The Joint Bar, Dangerfield, High Voltage City).

It was in these spaces that there was a high incidence of sexual harassment recorded by those with the Free to Be app:
Someone spanked my ass…
Had a drunk, mid-40’s man with his friend slap my ass hard as I walked past with my husband.
He walked past and grabbed my vagina.
Was harassed and followed into a shop by a man trying to talk me into sleeping with him.

Swanston Street, Melbourne. Pamela Salen, XYX Lab, Monash University 2017

The analysis of the signage alongside the women’s comments suggests that there is a possible correlation in the way that language, as well as the precincts of franchisees, might affect the experiences of young women in urban space. Studying these “happy” and “sad” spaces in more detail will give us the potential to learn from them.

This research unfortunately reveals something that most young women already know: that the city is far from gender neutral. There is much work to be done to uncover how cities shape their experiences.
A recent workshop held by the XYX Lab with Plan International and the City of Melbourne brought together Victoria Police, public transport authorities, councils, Our Watch and other interested people. It revealed a willingness across the board to investigate and address these issues.

MADA’s new XYX Lab was officially launched on Sunday 26 March at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Nicole Kalms, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at Monash University, Monash University; Gill Matthewson, Lecturer in the Department of Architecture, Monash University, and Pamela Salen, Lecturer, Communication Design, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Launching a Cooperative Isn't Easy: Here's a Resource to Get You Started

My foray into the cooperative movement began when I was a student at Indiana University doing campaign-based activism. 
Along with my fellow activists, I focused on putting a stop to things like the buy-out of the university-owned bookstores on campus by Barnes and Noble and the high costs of rental housing near our campus. 
After learning about the cooperative model - in which the users of an organization's products or services own and control the organization - our focus shifted to presenting cooperative solutions to these issues. However, our initial attempts at creating a cooperative failed, and we eventually lost energy for the work. I attribute much of this to not having sufficient outside guidance.
When we wanted to launch a network of low-income housing cooperatives off-campus, the lack of support continued to be an issue. I contacted a national organization dedicated to helping students start housing cooperatives and never got a response. Almost two years of work went by on these cooperative projects with virtually no outside assistance, resources, or expertise. Despite the lack of support and formal expertise, we were ultimately successful in starting our initiative. 
The cooperative, Bloomington Cooperative Living, now owns over a million dollars worth of property and provides affordable housing to more sixty students and non-students in the community. By working with these various groups, I learned by doing and failing, several times. In my over a decade of work in cooperative development, one of my biggest frustrations has continually been a lack of economically and culturally accessible resources for many of those interested in starting cooperatives.
In response, I envisioned a resource that would be both accessible and practical for people of all identities and backgrounds interested in the cooperative model, provide a holistic picture of entrepreneurship, share basic insight into the "hard" skills of starting cooperatives like financial planning, and focus most the more nuanced work of keeping a group together through the ups and downs of starting an organization.
This week, we at the Traveling Cooperative Institute, a peer-to-peer cooperative business development program of the Northcountry Cooperative Foundation, launched "Collecting Ourselves," a comprehensive cooperative entrepreneurship curriculum.
The curriculum walks participants through an examination of the philosophy and practice of cooperation, the meaning of "development" and "entrepreneurship" in their lives, the steps taken to develop a cooperative business, and an exploration of two of the most important steps of collective entrepreneurship: organizing people into a steering committee and creating a business plan. 

Popular Education methods are used throughout the curriculum, drawing directly on the expertise and insight of participants to guide the learning process, endeavoring to make the content relevant to a wide audience by "meeting people where they're at."

The total curriculum is comprised of nine workshops, encompassing up to 16 hours of training. The curriculum can serve as content for a semester class in university, be used in regular community study groups, or for a retreat-style academy. It was developed for young people in their teens to thirties, but is modular and adaptable for most ages, identities, and experiences.

My sincere hope for this resource is that it can serve as a tool to support all people in their efforts to pursue cooperative entrepreneurship. Further, that these pursuits don't just create cooperatives, but also contribute to halting patterns of harm in communities.

We are not just creating things with our friends - we are responding to and resisting systems that perpetuate injustice and hurt. Building cooperative businesses, if done with this both grand and fundamental intention, can be a way to contribute to necessary healing and the building of a better world. I hope this resource can help make building a better world a little easier for more people.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Important Matter of Doing Creative Work You Can Believe In

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986)
Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Christopher Connors, Medium - The Mission:
"If one has fear, there can be no initiative in the creative sense of the word. To have initiative in this sense is to do something original - to do it spontaneously, naturally, without being guided, forced, controlled. It is to do something which you love to do" - Jiddu Krishnamurti.
I see so many creative works these days that lacks authenticity and integrity, because they’re regurgitated, reprocessed trash. Whether writing, painting, spoken word or music, there’s too much art now that is unoriginal. We’re lacking innovation and creativity because few people are trying to invent something wholly original and unique to their DNA. 

They’re not even mimicking what someone else did. They’re reproducing exactly what someone else did and calling it their own. Some might call that stealing or copying. I call it, “unoriginal excess” that does harm and danger to the creative community.

I checked out Facebook earlier to find that a good friend of mine had one of his designs taken and used by someone else. He’s a graphic designer and a very talented one. He’s grown a small business around Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gear. It’s thriving and growing. He’s passionate about it and believes in it.

And now, there’s someone else trying to not just mimic - but completely usurp and take his hard work to make it their own for profit. Somehow, someway, we’ve come to tolerate this garbage. It’s become more acceptable. Thing is, the part that bothers me most isn’t the stealing. Which DOES bother me. It’s the total lack of originality and the thought of getting away with it.

Original Content
"If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original" - Ken Robinson.
Crafting original content means that you take the brilliant ideas that pop into your mind and write them out in the unique style that only you can. And if you can’t? Be willing to cite or give a “shout out” to the person who did. Then, work harder and learn from those artists that you admire. Because eventually, your end-product will be a conglomeration of ideas, thoughts and works from thousands of sources that will end up uniquely your own.

I think about this constantly. I’m always trying to craft original content based on my life experiences. I’m always competing to find new ideas in the marketplace, when I go out into the world and in new things that I read online and at the library. I turn to writers of yesteryear - literary giants like Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis and Stephen Covey. I look to the stars of today like Brene Brown, J.K. Rowling and Malcolm Gladwell. On this publication alone, I’m inspired by a true original, James Altucher.


Inspiration is vital. It should lead us to a greater belief in ourselves, to find what we want to do and then go create it with maximum effort and a positive attitude. That’s when we do our best work. I pour my heart and soul into each article I write. I’ve had some extremely kind people in this Medium community reach out to me and offer me praise. It touches my heart. Writing is such an enormous part of my life and I have big, big dreams just like so many of you. All of us should want success on our terms, rooted in the belief that we can have it if we stay true to ourselves.

Trust me when I tell you, imitation is not always the most sincere form of flattery. Value your originality and the desire to be yourself over any desire to want to be exactly like someone else. That’s something you can count on and believe in with all your heart.

Believe In It
"Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy" - Norman Vincent Peale.
If you’re a creator of art, chances are, you do it “for the love of the game.” You want to inspire, attract and produce content that a community of people get value from. That’s the way it should be. We as a people are so afraid to make mistakes, these days. So as a result, we sometimes lack faith in three ways:
  • We’re afraid to simply put our art out there
  • If we do create, we’re afraid of what others might say
  • We’re uncertain and doubt whether our creation is “good enough”
We have to disabuse ourselves of this mindset! It’s stultifying progress and hindering bold, new creations from coming into existence. 

Do what you love. But first, believe in it! You have to believe in what you’re doing. That belief should transcend every other factor or obstacle in your life. Your faith should be rooted in creating and doing things that ONLY YOU can do. Work and art that is unique to you, because there is only one you. Never, ever let anyone hold you back from this. Be original.

Believe in what you’re doing. Don’t just do something because you think it’s what people want. When you’re true to yourself and uniquely, boldly yourself, you’ll see the best results. The world will thank you for it.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Myth of the Alpha Leader is Destroying our Relationships - At Work and At Home

Does the suit really make the man? (Unsplash/Ben Rosett)
by Danielle Teller, Quartz:

According to a Fox News article written by Suzanne Venker, women’s achievements in the workplace are dooming their marriages. As women are increasingly “groomed to be leaders rather than to be wives, [they] become too much like men. They’re too competitive. Too masculine. Too alpha.”

The author’s premise is that the husband is meant to be the alpha in the household, and cohabiting alphas are like “like two bulls hanging out in the same pen together.”

I take exception to this article, but not for the obvious reason. The contention that women’s success at work leads to marital dissolution is so laughably unsupported by facts that it’s hardly worth disputing. Divorce rates are strongly negatively correlated with women’s educational attainment and income level, as well as the rise of two-income families

While University of Chicago economists made a splash a few years back by reporting that marital satisfaction is diminished when wives earn more than husbands, a more up-to-date study paints a more nuanced picture: Unequal incomes are associated with marriage instability regardless of who earns more, but having a career decreases a woman’s probability of divorce by a whopping 25%. Equal-earning marriages are even less likely to end in divorce.

What bothered me about the article was not its easily falsifiable premise, but the author’s unthinking acceptance of an American trope, the leader as alpha male or female. The metaphor evokes images of chest-thumping silverback gorillas and snarling she-wolves. This symbolism of leader-as-dictator has wormed its way deeply into the American subconscious - and it’s wrong.

Cultural assumptions have the power to shape society in both positive and negative ways. Countries that expect children (boys and girls) to be good at math produce better mathematicians. Conversely, expectations can backfire: countries that paint youth with the brush of sexual innocence have high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. And when an entire culture conflates leadership with aggressive domination, it opens the door to bad behavior in both the boardroom and the living room.

As a society, we pay a steep price for maintaining the fiction of silverback gorillas and lone wolves. We reward bad behavior in the workplace like stealing credit from others, self-aggrandizement and entitlement. We discourage smart, talented people from seeking leadership positions because they falsely believe that superhero skills are a prerequisite (this particularly affects women, who systematically underestimate their abilities relative to men. It is probably no coincidence that America lags behind many nations in women leaders).

And, as evidenced by Suzanne Venker, this stereotype can even infiltrate our romantic lives, setting the expectation that one partner - of any gender - needs to be dominant. This may be a recipe for fun and games in the bedroom, as Venker claims, but over the long term, respect and self-esteem are eroded by a partnership of unequals.

In the American mythos, great men accomplish great deeds with little or no help from others. The truth, of course, is much messier. Nobody lives in a vacuum. Schoolchildren are taught that Thomas Edison single-handedly invented the lightbulb, and that Abraham Lincoln unswervingly shepherded the country toward the abolition of slavery. 

But in fact, the achievements of Edison and Lincoln would not exist without the cooperation, counsel and labor of many other talented and insightful individuals. Those contributions were not forced by intimidation or displays of dominance. Just as generosity is more effective than bullying or criticism when it comes to eliciting welcome behaviors in a spouse, so do colleagues respond best to leaders with positive motivations.

Great leaders do not succeed mainly through classical alpha behaviors like intimidation, micromanagement, and aggressiveness. Even Steve Jobs, a poster child for the American alpha male, said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do.” And for every visionary, controlling executive like Steve Jobs, there are many more people like Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who acknowledge that they succeed by amplifying other people. Yet outside of management classes and business self-help books, not nearly enough Americans have internalized the use of soft power, persuasion, collaboration and mentorship as keys to great leadership.

By blindly accepting the trope of the alpha male or female, we perpetuate it. If we can shift the leadership mythos in America toward more clear-eyed realism, we will ultimately get more leaders whose qualifications go beyond a talent for chest-thumping. It may not feel as satisfying to declare that you’re good at nurturing, empowering, and lifting up other people. But that’s what great leaders - and romantic partners - do.