Findings of the UWS Challenging Racism research

Starting in 1998, a UWS research project has been in progress on the geography of racism in NSW.

Key findings of the Racism project include:

  • While racism is quite prevalent in Australian society its occurrences differ from place to place.
  • These variations have been largely overlooked by anti-racism campaigns in Australia.
  • Most Australians recognise that racism is a problem in society.
  • Racist attitudes are positively associated with age, non-tertiary education, and to a slightly lesser extent with those who do not speak a language other than English, the Australia-born, and with males.

There are very interesting local insights into racism in Australia – there’s an interactive map of the findings by region. And you can download the national findings here (in PDF format).

Some real food for thought.

Thanks to @Jinjirrie for bringing this report to my attention.

Interesting perspective on war, innovation, skills and strategy from Col. John Boyd

This rare video of US Air Force Colonel John Boyd shows his 1991 House Armed Services Committee Testimony and is worth watching. Many consider him to be one of the best strategic thinkers of the twentieth century and his ideas have influenced many of today’s leading strategists.

Of particular interest is his focus on the essential inputs for winning victories in war, especially given the longstanding involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. They key elements he identifies are people, strategy and tactics, and military hardware.

Also there is considerable insight into the kind of roadblocks that institutions might throw up against innovators.

This video of the U.S. hearings into Military Reform After Operation Desert Storm (APRIL 30, 1991) is not short, but it provides some great food for thought.

Truth, transparency and consequences

Truth is said to be a double edged sword. Yet truth is only a problem if one is trying to hide something. The Wikileaks saga shows how difficult is has become to keep secrets in our hyperconnected world.

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. – George Orwell

Amusingly I noted a newspaper article announcing that governments around Australia are planning to ban access to web based email services like Hotmail and Gmail:

Bureaucrats could also use unmonitored emails to leak sensitive documents. “The recent WikiLeaks release of government electronic information has demonstrated the importance of maintaining appropriate protective security frameworks and the risks of failing to adequately protect electronic information,” the report said
Source: Public servants face web bans to minimise risk of password cracking

I was amused because only yesterday I noticed that you can buy a “compact 32GB USB flash drive with 2 year warranty” for $65 at JB Hi Fi.

Blocking all the potential sources of leaks is getting rather difficult in this hyperconnected and wireless world.

These attempts to block all potential leakages of data are ultimately doomed to failure. If someone wants to leak then it will happen. Even now that we have the example of what bad things might happen – in the person of the unfortunate Bradley Manning, who is apparently being treated inhumanely in custody of the US military – there are some people who will put themselves on the line to get the truth out. For some people negative personal consequences are a price they’re willing to pay to share their truth.

Also we need to acknowledge that most of our important business information walks out the door every night in the heads of our people.

But an important question for all organisations to ask is how many of the things we keep secret really need to be secret? What would happen if we were transparent about some business information?

Salaries is one area that is subject to secrecy in many organisations. What would happen if you simply published the list? It already happens if you work for the government – it gets published in the Government Gazette – and the sky does not fall. What other things can we be more transparent about?

Obviously not everything a company does can be public. But making more rather than less of what we do secret might just make it easier to keep our more important secrets. Perhaps that is the contradiction of openness versus secrecy? Less is more.

In any case the digital genie is out of the bottle and the technology to liberate information is in everyone’s pocket. We need different solutions to locking things down and making people’s jobs more difficult. New solutions for a new age. I wonder what they will be?

Democracy in action, civil society and political change

Yesterday in New South Wales there was a major shift in the state’s political landscape. We saw a significant shift in voting with enormous swings against the ALP across the state and especially in traditional heartland seats.

The Liberals won seats in which they’d never imagined a serious contest. As election guru Antony Green noted:

“It’s very hard to believe it when you see a 30 per cent swing in a seat, which is what we saw in several seats.

They are astonishing figures; I mean there wouldn’t have been swings of that size since the Great Depression, since the defeat of Scullin, they are mammoth swings and that’s a very difficult thing to really get on top of on the night.”
Source: ABC’s election analyst ‘astonished’ by swing

What is of particular interest is that all of this change happened without any bloodshed. In fact, the leaders of each side – Kristina Kenneally for the ALP and Barry O’Farrell for the Liberal-National Coalition – maintained a civil demeanour towards each other throughout the campaign.

Apart from the odd bit of local bastardry – such as defacing posters – there were no reports of shots fired, no reports of fisticuffs, and no emotionally tinged polemics.

Instead, Barry O’Farrell (who has performed the miracle of unifying the Liberal-National Coalition) in his victory speech noted that his opponent, Kenneally, was a “skilled communicator and gutsy performer“.

While Kenneally noted in her concession speech:

“Tonight we acknowledge and accept the decision of the people of NSW,” she said speaking from the Randwick Labor Club. “And we accept their decision with humility and good grace.

“The people of NSW always get it right and so tonight I congratulate Mr O’Farrell and I wish him, and the government that he will form all the best.

This is a great place to live and to be free to exercise our democratic rights in peace. Unlike Ivory Coast where elections saw fifty-two people killed only a few days ago.

Complain about the political system in Australia if you like, but we are really a lucky country.

A real concern is the rise of divisive and un-civil behaviour in Australian federal politics. We need to fight against this rise of invective driven politics where personal attacks are the norm. It’s time to keep our traditions of a good fair fight that lets the people decide at the ballot box and which follows the rules of engagement set down in legislation.

Well played to both Barry O’Farrell and Kristina Kenneally. Good to see a change of government in NSW – sixteen years was a tad too long for any one party to rule.

Interview with 2 of my favourite entrepreneurs @jason @garyvee

If you’ve got time it’s worth taking some of it to watch this interview with Jason and Gary.

Jason Calacanis, himself a serial entrepreneur, is a great supporter of startups with his LAUNCH Conference.

Gary Vaynerchuk is a well known entrepreneur who built up his family business to a major player using social media and the force of his remarkable personality.

Having met both of these guys, one thing that stands out about each of them for me is that they are truth tellers. You might not like what they say, but they call it as they see it. The corollary is that they often put out a helping hand for people who are working on their own startups. Good guys, with good experience, worth listening to.

Gary raises some important issues about how social marketing is not about push. If you’re trying to sell stuff using social media then this is a crucial conversation to understand. As Gary says:

“If Content is King, then Context is God”

#Digicitz 9: Politics & Digital Activism in the Social Age

Tomorrow night I’ll be hosting a panel for Digital Citizens on Politics and Digital Activism in the Social Age. The panel has a fascinating and diverse group of people:

  • Penny Sharpe – Labor Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Roads
  • John Bergin – Director of Digital News for Sky News
  • Steve Hopkins – from Ai-Media
  • Thomas Tudehope – Director of Engagement and Strategy for SR7

These panel members are all active in social media and each is a practitioner at the coalface of digital activism. They have some remarkable stories and experiences to share about the changes that the digital revolution has brought to the political and activist worlds. And each panel member brings a unique perspective of politics and digital activism.

YOU CAN REGISTER HERE
The venue for this event is the Shelbourne Hotel, 200 Sussex Street, Sydney, doors open at 6.30pm for a 7pm start. Tickets are $10 with 50% going to charity Sydney Cats and Dogs Home – who shelter over 4,000 lost and unwanted animals each year.

If you can’t make it tomorrow night then please consider donating to the Sydney Cats and Dogs Home Parched March fundraiser.

Twitter turns 5: will it rule? via @stilgherrian

I had a chat with Stilgherrian (@stilgherrian) on ZDNet’s Patch Monday along with Open-source software advocate and developer Jeff Waugh (@jdub) and James Purser (@purserj) from Collaborynth, a consultancy that develops collaboration tools for business, government and not-for-profits.

You can listen to our discussion on this nifty embedded player:

http://www.zdnet.com.au/blogs/podcast/embed/22540003/

Australia and the secret sauce of western civilisation?

Historian Niall Ferguson, in his Civilization: The West and the Rest, notes that:

“For 500 years the West patented six killer applications that set it apart. The first to download them was Japan. Over the last century, one Asian country after another has downloaded these killer apps — competition, modern science, the rule of law and private property rights, modern medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. Those six things are the secret sauce of Western civilization.”

In the light of this it is interesting to consider how Australia fares in relation to these key elements.

1) Competition
The competitive landscape in Australia is challenging. Due to the small market size we tend towards duopolies; but regulated appropriately that can provide sufficient competition. Also it is difficult to get sufficient scale for wholesale competition. While competition at the retail end of the market is much easier to encourage. Issues around cartels and price fixing remain problematic, with our regulators unable to address this effectively through the courts.

Australia is doing better at competition than it used to in the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s but we still have a way to go. The banking industry is probably the poster child for how much more there is to do regarding effective competition.

2) Modern Science
Australia has always ‘punched above its weight’ in science as well as in sport. But with funding cuts and dearth of opportunities for career scientists we are in serious danger of losing this critical advantage.

Also recent research shows that Australian universities are not performing well in relation to international research rankings:

“…few [Australian] universities performed above the international benchmark – only 12 in total which average in the top three ratings at world standard, above world standard or well above world standard.

Behind that is a very long tail, with 29 institutions averaging below or well below world standard.”

Source: Uni research report a blow to big-noters 31 Jan 2011

The other side to modern science is how our society treats science and scientists. Do we still believe in science? Do we still trust what scientists say?

Regarding vaccines – one of the genuine life saving scientific discoveries – we have many well educated people within Australia rejecting them. The anti-vaccine movement seems to be gaining momentum and we are in danger of losing the benefits of herd immunity that earlier vaccination programs gave us.

And then there is the area of climate change. With significant proportions of the Australian population (led by Tony Abbott) believing that nothing has changed and that there is no reason to make any changes to our collective lifestyles or economic choices as a result of climate change.

Also the number of well educated people who are privileging scientifically untested remedies and treatments over scientifically tested ones is increasing. This was discussed well recently by Tanveer Ahmed in Alternative medicine, superstition of our age.

However, I think that, at present, the people who believe in scientific ideas, approaches and solutions still prevail in Australia (for the time being).

3) Rule of Law and Private Property Rights
On this front, thanks to our common law heritage and continued independent judiciary, Australia continues to do well. Our legislative environment is relatively stable and decisions tend to give businesses and private individuals certainty. The rule of law seems safe in Australia for the time being.

I’ve often joked that private property is one of the sacred truths to which we hold dear in Australia. And, apart from the odd geological survey or government resumption of land, private property seems safe here.

Of course Australia does not have any constitutional guarantees of basic human rights nor do we have a nationally legislated Bill of Rights, although some states have legislated independently. But we do have the Australian Human Rights Commission, but even when this body expresses “grave concern” over an issue that does not mean that the Government will necessarily act.

However, there are some concerns regarding the growth in powers sought and granted by government to its agencies to spy on citizens – for example this piece on the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Act 2010.

4) Modern Medicine
Australia is lucky that a former government introduced universal basic medical care – Medicare – unlike some other countries where many people are unable to afford such care. Due to the availability of good quality food and water together with access to basic medical care (including government funded vaccination programs) our population is healthy. This in spite of increasing obesity and related diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Medical research continues – with foundations such as the National Health and Medical Research Council and many other private research groups – and Australia remains strong in this area.

With our education of medical professionals Australia remains strong, in spite of some concerns regarding the number of doctors and nurses.

5) The Consumer Society
There are two elements to the consumer society – the consumer mindset and consumer behaviour. Australia seems to be retaining a strong consumer mindset and this is occupying all facets of our relations with retailers and service providers (even in non retail contexts).

However, consumer behaviour seems to have shifted since the GFC with retail sales slipping. And since Christmas we have seen the panic from local retailers led by the venerable and somewhat cranky Gerry Harvey based on worries that consumers are turning to online retail over going to a local store.

Our society has become consumerist in its thinking. This means that the consumer mindset is transferred to areas of life that were once not seen as consumer transactions. For example, we now see ourselves as consumers of health services not as patients. Or we see ourselves as consumers of local government services, not as ratepayers.

This change also flows on to our expectations of those “service providers”, generally increasing our expectations. When one is a mere ratepayer one might take whatever the council deigns to offer, but as a consumer one can and will demand better service.

I’m not sure that we have really come to understand this powerful change in the shift to a consumer mindset across so many areas of modern life. It also means that the notion of service in return is a dying idea. As a consumer I receive services, not give them.

6) The Work Ethic
Adults have bemoaned the decline in the work ethic of subsequent generations since the days of Socrates. Australia is no exception. For example this recent article: Gen Y too lazy and unfocused to hire – bosses.

In the past Australians worked hard at a single job, saved up until they could afford things and waited patiently until middle age to get a housing loan. But now, we children of the ‘me‘ generation who have been brought up as consumers first have a different relationship work and credit.

We have seen an erosion of the ability to stay in a single job, where you show loyalty to the employer and they return that loyalty. The recession of the 1990s saw many of us watch people we know turfed out with nothing after years of loyal service. We watched the wave of downsizing and the lionisation of people like Al “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap by business leaders.

The Gen Xs who came out of university during the late 1980s and early 1990s found it hard to get work and learned to be suspicious of employers and their promises. This generation watched many traditional jobs, such as manufacturing, head offshore and service jobs replace them.

The old stoic Australian world view, the one where we just took whatever came at us without asking why, seems to be dead. We have been brought up to know that we have rights, even if they are simply moral rights. Rights as consumers, rights as taxpayers, rights as citizens, rights as students, rights as employees.

All of this changes our approach to work. We are still capable of hard work, many of us do not shy away from hard work. And for that hard work we expect reward. Yet some amongst us do not think that we have a right to demand that they too work. Some think that immediately upon starting work they deserve the rewards that accrue to long term achievement. And I suspect that this attitude is tied up with our consumer mindset and the way that so much in modern life does not appear to call for mastery or apprenticeship.

What’s it all mean?
As an Australian I tend to think ‘she’ll be right mate‘. We are a good country, and the preponderance of our people are good people. We are governed under a democracy that works. We have a free judiciary and our people are not oppressed. We have a tradition of a ‘fair go’ for all and we have a long history of helping the underdog.

As long as we refuse to buy into the politics of fear I suspect we’ll be alright.