Meeting Grand Challenges with Participation of a Different Kind
Tim Lloyd P.Eng.
www.Sensorica.co and the Toronto Community Network
Our CSPC2020 panel proposal draws attention toward the immense capacity for open science and innovation, recently demonstrated by the rapid proliferation and scale-up of citizen-led science and innovation responses to COVID-19 pandemic1,2. The panelists explored the variety of ways that societies and their relationships to science and innovation might evolve so that such latent potential for active, integrative learning and creativity could be continuously available to accelerate important technological advances and social developments. As an alternative to convening at the conference, we were invited to render our dialogue in editorial form – asking; “Is a significant increase in open and transparent science and innovation necessary for effecting sufficiently adaptive responses to grand challenges?” And further, do we risk falling short of such challenges through inattentive policy or outright dismissal of these modes of innovation and production? Acknowledging that important progress is being made toward these objectives, we’re, nevertheless, concerned that much greater momentum is required to absorb and address the yet more wicked levels of turbulence, complexity and uncertainty that seem to define the grand challenges today and for years to come.
Delving deeper, our panelists provoke reflection concerning the specific changes in science policy and practice, capable of expanding and transforming public participation in the scientific enterprise to such a degree that it becomes a genuinely different kind of participation. The new categories of science and innovation and policy, so inspired, should serve to compound beneficial impact for our society in proportion to this latent exponential capacity that, too often, lays dormant – revived, only now, in the face of a pandemic. Sometimes people use terms like “radical collaboration” to try to capture the adventures of ideas being imagined and sought after in these terms.
Of learning and democracy, John Dewey once warned, “Democracy cannot flourish where the chief influences in selecting subject matter of instruction are utilitarian ends narrowly conceived for the masses, and, for the higher education of the few, the traditions of a specialized cultivated class.”3 The wildfire-like virulence of disinformation movements regarding even the most basic public health science and policy response and, the “existential threat to democracy” that can be presumed underway to the south of our conference proceedings, tempers any easy dismissal of his warning, simply on the basis of having been uttered before Max Planck accepted his Nobel Prize for the discovery of energy quanta.
With some humility then, David Berlin, Katie Kish and Tiberius Brastaviceanu met to share their learning and experience across a spectrum of science, technology and policy areas. David shared his work enabling ICT-connected citizens and communities to convene more transparent mediums and processes for open and participatory democratic decision making. Katie helped us appreciate how Ecological Economics conceives of and responds to the troubling implications for economies and societies blinded to their critical boundaries and contradictions. Tiberius drew the connections between science, science policy and economics, in his pioneering Open Value Network experimentation and developments for more adaptive and responsive patterns and flows of collaborative innovation and entrepreneurship. Great urgency was evident in our dialogue – a feeling of fast approaching limits in the logics and mechanisms of our increasingly precarious status quo – and, the imperative to profoundly expand the circle of participation in science, science policy and society, at large. An imperative as much for our very survival as for the growth of our empathy, compassion and humanity.
Illustrative parallels can be drawn with the advancing impact of the “connectionist model” of computation and the breakthrough improvements in the performance being achieved using this new cognitive machinery. We’re witnessing the long advance of incremental science and engineering, that brings us face to face with machine intelligences to match and far exceed our own. Like Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts proposing those first connections, the assembled panelists find themselves now in the early days of discovering and testing new patterns – not of computation – but, of value attribution, economic flows, trust and collaboration. With time, these efforts will produce the enabling conditions for new kinds of networked citizen collaboration that liberate the exponential potential inherent in “networks”.
An example of this transition from quantity to quality is evident in calls to regulate social media’s unbridled capacity to sow confusion and conflict, as easily as clarity and consensus. But has the horse left the barn – or, can we employ more profound integration, engagement, inclusion and participation – of many more and different kinds of citizens – in dialogue with science and science policy to respond in time to the grand challenges of today and tomorrow? It’s not a question of “whether”, but of “how” and “how fast” to negotiate an available path along which to transform our economic metabolism into resilience and sustainability. Just as smart cities, artificial intelligence and social media alike are concerned with ethical governance of their constitutive algorithms and processes, we must take care that our digital landscape prepares the ground for human flourishing. Citizens learning and producing in Open Value Networks and deliberating in online group decision-making platforms must find, within these digitally enabled environments and communities, better ways of living and working together and not the socially corrosive endgame of a gig economy world.
Our proposals for open, transparent and richly inter-networked ways of doing science and society are not so much ideological as they are realistic and practical. A purely pragmatic and instrumental perspective on the related medium term economic opportunities, would see that new scientific questions and incremental advances will be required in realizing the envisioned systems, protocols, networks and norms. The attendant innovations – from the cyber-physical, to the social psychological – stand to yield highly strategic intellectual property assets and economic development. In such a turbulent era, profound comparative advantage will be enjoyed by those who produce technologies of agility, adaptation and resilience. Advance preparation in accelerating our resolution of grand challenges is not an ideology, it is a necessity.
2- Hensher M, Kish K, Farley J,Quilley S, Zywert K (2020). Open knowledge commons versus privatized gain in a fractured information ecology: lessons from COVID-19for the future of sustainability.
3- Democracy and Education, 192