All posts by elejansen

remixing storytelling to do some good

These mornings when you wake up and the first thing you do is grab pen and paper to write down the epiphanies you had … 80% are rubbish. But sometimes they’re the bomb. Below is a list that I wrote down in a frenzy one morning: purposeful storytelling* as a remix of schools and techniques borrowing from

. architecture and design re design thinking
. coding re releasing and iterating beta versions
. hacking re disruption and disobedience
. design re open methodology and participation
. biz development re agile management and monetization
. diy culture re entrepreneurship and makerspaces
. gaming re mechanics and community building
. play re incentives and leveling hierarchies
. the arts re collaboration and significant objects
. music industry re distribution and revenue streams
. peer production re participation and crowdsourcing
. tech re platforms and experimentation
. academia re R&D labs
. education re experiential learning and curricula
. entertainment re storytelling and emotionality
. film-making re collaboration and dramaturgy
. marketing and PR re social reach and revenue streams
. positive psychology re ethos and leadership style
. jugaad and jua kali re frugal innovation
. the commons re mindset and share culture

I thought that morning was rather spectacular. 🙂

* As a result of researching open collaboration on Robot Heart Stories, I thought of the project setup as well as story mechanisms as purposeful storytelling, which are projects for social good that use story, game mechanics, collaboration, technology and design thinking to convey experiential learning outcomes for both participants and audience.

design thinkers

Just made another list on collaborative materials. Feels as if this can be extended massively. There’s no completion in this world, so I might just add to this successively.





online collaboratories


hubs and events


collaboration tools

to design a purposeful story by many


I recently thought about our recent experiments with open design and story as Purposeful Storytelling. Stories have long been used for the purpose to inform, sell or persuade, but we’re onto something that involves story to ignite action and THEN do all of the above. I mean using storytelling to solve problems, to create a fun experiential learning environment and use it as a tool to covey a complex solution.

Lance Weiler, Jorgen van der Sloot and I played a bit with designs and prototyping sessions, one of which I was invited to run at U.Lab’s Groundbreaker series. Our 60-minute Open Design Challenge (ODC) is a little bit different each time since we’re refining the process with each session. But every time we use storytelling, game mechanics and collaboration to design a solution around a Wish for The Future.

The ODC has three purposes:
1. participants experience what agility & collaboration mean in today’s culture industry
2. we R&D a system to solve problems using collaboration, game mechanics and story
3. we test and refine storytelling as a way to transfer knowledge, create empathy and call to action

Here’s a rundown of what we did.
Start absurd. First, the entire group had 4 minutes to generate 100 wishes around the premise to make the world work for 100% of humanity. Yep. We broke the group down into eight categories (urbanization, economy, education, humanity, culture, health, sustainability, government) to have each group focus on one area. A couple of minute later, we read out the wishes and decided the best wish collectively by cheering. Then – in the same manner – we turned the wish into a design question.

“Attempting the impossible widens the mind. Lateral thinking happens when you can’t possibly imagine an immediate answer to a question.”

Then we broke out into three groups: one would build a prototype that helps solving the design question; the storytellers craft a hero’s journey; the third group were the scribes. Their task was to communicate between the groups and to converge the outcomes on a storyboard. We gave every group a simple template that explained the basics of storytelling, design thinking and scribing.

“It was paramount that everyone had a task in the process to give a sense of agency and accountability.”

 53 minutes left. Imagine everything happening at the same time: Some scribes started planning their storyboard while others chose a target audience aka stakeholders, which we communicated to the two other groups. Within the first 5 minutes the scribes received the main characters from the storytelling group, which they passed on to the prototypers after they had given their first pitch to the scribes (within first 10 minutes).

Generally, nobody was allowed to talk without creating something with their hands at the same time. We provided play-doh, pens, butcher paper, paddlepops and other props. We like doing that because tactile activity enhances creativity by igniting both sides of the brain.

“Mayhem and confusion. The ODC leaves participants partly in the unknown to simulate how reality, too, only unfolds gradually. Chaordic time pressure requires us to adapt to change flexibly and creatively.”

The idea was that prototyping and storytelling group couldn’t communicate directly, only through the scribes aka social media. This way the scribes acted as ‘chinese whisperers’, so information between storytellers and prototypers would be filtered and reinterpreted – like in a collaboration between various teams in a company or a creative collective.

To communicate between groups, we had storytellers and prototypers pitching to the scribes. This was combined with a narrative game, in which the answer could only be ‘yes, no or maybe’. This had the purpose that content had to be anticipated and interpreted: empathy in practice. We made sure that information didn’t always flow clearly in order to imitate real life situations. At certain points we appointed narrators to help clarifying crucial aspects, in case the scribes would get stuck.

“One group ensures the flow of information between scattered teams. They are the connective tissue, the keeper of all knowledge, making sure that all elements come together in the end.”

The 2nd pitch later on would allow the scribes to ask questions but no answers were allowed. This had the effect that the prototypers went back and refined their work according to what was still too complex for an audience to grasp.

After 30 minutes we disrupted the flow asking the groups to include sensor technology, an Arduino or Raspberry Pi into their prototype. After ten more minutes the scribes got another brief to tweak and bend story and prototype into one coherent storyboard.

“The prototype is embedded as the significant object of the story. It’s the narrative spark that marries a solution to a strategy.”

Final pitches: We had the scribes tell how they saw the story play out using what they had gotten from the prototyping group. They pitched using their storyboard, which was a scripted wall, like an RSAnimate. The drawings were AMAZING!! After we had heard their story, the storytellers and prototypers explained their approaches and added to the converged version of the story with annotated drawings on the wall. Groundbreaker attracted such a varied bunch of talented people, we had a fantastic outcome.

“We can simulate collective intelligence by ascribing each group one of the three fundamental human brain functions (cf. Peter Kruse): connect deep knowledge (storytellers) and spontaneous creativity (prototypers) by building new unexpected synapses (scribes).”

The session was developed by Ele Jansen (, Sydney), Lance Weiler (, New York) and Jorgen van der Sloot (, Amsterdam). We’re refining the process further to develop a solid rapid prototyping model for experience design but also for kids as a playful approach to collaborate and to learn creative problem solving skills in conjunction with story. Results will be used on two levels: lessons learned about process feed into Ele’s PhD research and into our design for Lance’s Story Design Lab at Columbia University. They will also be published on The prototypes that are generated throughout each Open Design Challenge will be featured for others to pick up on it and develop it further (launch end of October 2012).

new changemaker convo at learn do share

In our second changemaker podcast, we invited Jochen Schweitzer and Jörgen van der Sloot to share their experiences with design-led innovation, engaging the public and their perspective on business futures.

Both experts in design thinking and business, they talk about future sensing, business development, the role of empathy, technology, and engagement; about bike tanks, crowdshare innovation, and the necessity to adopt cultural change to stay ahead in a networked economy.

Jörgen is Senior Research Director at FreedomLab Future Studies in Amsterdam and lead developer of their ThinkLab methodology that challenges teams to deal with wicked problems in intensive small group power-settings. As a host of such sessions Jörgen helps the team to take an outside-in look from a future perspective and helps to build a mindset to generate new ideas and create alternative visions

Jochen is Senior Lecturer of Strategy at the Business School of the University of Technology Sydney and co-founder of u.lab, a multidisciplinary innovation hub. He has also worked as a management consultant, production-planning engineer and cultural program coordinator with extensive experience in business planning, organisational transformation and change management. His work now focuses on teaching and researching strategic management, collaboration, entrepreneurship and innovation with a special interest in design thinking and social enterprise.

After we stopped recording the two kept on exchanging a few thoughts on alternative business models for research-led organisations and will get back in touch soon to speak more. That’s when our program really serves its purpose; when the right strangers get in touch, share their experiences and start collaborating.

Listen to the conversation at

the power of detachment

Do we produce better stories together, or alone? Do we actually know of stories that are created solo? Auteur theory has always neglected the fact that every film is made by a creative pool of producers, writers, directors, actors, designers, programmers, camera person… These established routines are challenged by mass collaboration, audience engagement and immersive storytelling.

I wondered. What does it mean to collaborate with a diverse range of people, from all over the globe, who all bring different skills, cultures and sense of accountability to the table?

To find that out, I immersed myself into the production of Robot Heart Stories, an experiment that was facilitated by 5th-graders as well as among 50+ collaborators from eight countries. My case study of it premiered a few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to present my results in an interactive session at DocLab in Auckland. The New Zealand transmedia tribe around the Documentary Edge Film Festival had called for a 3-day incubator to train their finest doc-filmmakers. I combined my talk with an interactive storysprint and connected both thematically, first speaking about my research on collaboration and experience design at Robot Heart Stories. For the second part Jordan Bryon helped me running a 60-minute storysprint that involved everyone’s imagination. The goal was to teach transmedia design and to experience firsthand what it means to collaborate with teams that have different horizons, objectives and pragmatics.

Apart from having tons of fun, we tapped into the power of detachment. To exemplify why detachment is so important for a good story, I’ll describe the workshop briefly. It was the third time we ran the session; and apart from prototyping a multichannel storyworld, we experienced how letting go of ownership and control can benefit a story greatly.

Here’s a rundown of what we did
First the entire group had 4 minutes to generate 100 wishes around the premise to make the world work for 100% of humanity. We broke the group down into eight categories (urbanization, economy, education, humanity, cuture, health, sustainability, government) and with quick cheers we decided which one we would go for. Then – in the same manner – we turned that wish into a theme for a transmedia story. Ours was:

Make art not money.

We then broke out into three groups: the prototypers would build a transmedia structure, choosing platforms and channels; the storytellers would choose characters and trope to design a hero’s journey; the third group was a mix between scribes and social media, let’s call them the storyboarders. We gave every group a simple template that explained the basics of storytelling, media channels and scribing.

Imagine everything happening at the same time: Some storyboarders started planning their scribe wall while others choose a target audience, which we communicated to the two other groups. 

Within the first 5 minutes the storyboarders received the main characters from the storytelling group, which they passed on to the prototypers after they had given their first pitch to the storyboarders (within first 10 minutes).

The idea was that prototyping and storytelling group couldn’t communicate directly, only through two narrators in each group, who could talk to the storyboarders only. This way the storyboarders acted as ‘chinese whisperers’, so information between storytellers and prototypers would be filtered and reinterpreted – like in a collaboration between various teams in a transmedia production. Generally, nobody was allowed to talk without creating something with their hands at the same time. We provided play-doh, pens, butcher paper, paddlepops and other props. Tactile activity enhances creativity because it ignites both sides of the brain.

To communicate between groups, we had storytellers and prototypers pitching to the storyboarders. This was combined with a narrative game, in which the answer could only be ‘yes, no or maybe’. This had the purpose that content had to be anticipated and interpreted, empathy in practice. We made sure that information didn’t always flow freely to imitate real life situations. At certain points the narrators could help clarifying crucial points, in case the storyboarders would get stuck. The 2nd pitch later on would allow the storyboarders to ask questions but no answers were allowed. This had the effect that the prototypers went back and refined their work according to what was still too complex for an audience to grasp.After 30 minutes we disrupted the flow asking the groups to include their audience as collaborators. After ten more minutes the storyboarders got another brief and ten minutes later we merged storytellers and prototypers to converge their work. This way we developed two versions of the same story.

Final pitches: We had the storyboarders tell how they saw the story play out on the very platforms they had gotten from the prototyping group. They pitched using their storyboard, which was a scripted wall. After we had heard their story, one of the storytellers and one prototyper explained their converged version of the story.

The power of detachment
It was electrifying to see the gentle power of collaboration. The storyboarders had merged story and transmedia platforms coherently, dropping some elements, and tweaking others (given they missed out on using some of the transmedia channels proposed). They had no problem to do so, because they weren’t emotionally attached to any of the ideas. This was completely different when storytellers and prototypers came together and tried to merge their work. They were invested in their personal ideas and seemed to struggle to slaughter their darlings. I thought that outcome was a really powerful takeaway.

Thanks to all the participants for all their enthusiasm. I was blown away by the buzz and ideas we co-created! Transmedia activist Lina Srivastava had so much fun that she will integrate parts of the session at the Lincoln Center Film Society’s Convergence Program in New York. Yaysa!

The session was developed in collaboration with Lance Weiler (, New York) and Jorgen van der Sloot (, Amsterdam). After running several 72-hour sessions, we condensed our method, so that teachers can use it with their students in a 60-minute class ( We’re refining the process further to develop a solid rapid prototyping model for experience design but also for kids as a playful approach to collaborate and to learn creative problem solving skills in conjunction with story. If you have a wish for a better future, post it at We’ll curate and prototype the best ones.

is the crowd a feasible design partner?


At u.lab’s opening session for their 2012 GroundBreaker series in Sydney we asked how collaboration can work best with external stakeholders. In an interactive session I had the honor to stir the crowd with David Gravina (Digital Eskimo) and Eric Folger (AMP). 50+ participants rolled up their sleeves, discussed with us, broke out into groups to assess and evaluate the possibilities and pitfalls of design thinking and collaboration. Organizer Joanne Jakovich and her u.lab team created a productive environment that included everybody in a creative way and facilitated a vibrant discussion. A reprint of this article was also published in GOOD magazine.

They asked us to be provocative. Here’s a transcript of my talk:

Collaboration is a $1 billion industry and is projected to grow to $3.5 billion by 2016, according to an ABI Research study. In its wake, there’s much talk about share culture, much excitement about a rising maker culture, and much hope that design thinking and peer production are panacea to a world in crisis.

Yet still we are a long way from knowing how to harness larger teams effectively. Of the many things that may work, I’d like to suggest four attributes that we should dare more in collaborative design.

Structure is the first. Consider imperfection in your design. We’re so used to everything being packaged so impeccably, even the most eager wouldn’t see how to unwrap and engage with it. My proposition is that if we create loose structures with a clear goal—one that gives direction but doesn’t direct—we might see others take action much quicker. Imperfections are inviting: they help overcome inhibitions, purvey a feeling of being needed and create a sense of belonging. It’s about giving creative freedom and agency to those who are self-propelled and invested.

The second is Understanding. While misunderstandings can spark unexpected discoveries, slack use of words can water down their meaning and purpose. Take ‘innovare,’ for example, the Latin for “renew, restore, change.” Current rhetoric around innovation is that it ‘bubbles up’ when we use the crowd. I disagree. Ideas might bubble up; they’re lighter. They can happen in a flash and pop easily. Change might start with an idea, but real innovation is plain-old hard work. To innovate means to implement ideas in smart ways that are meaningful to many, so they adopt them and change behavioral patterns. An innovation is based on an elaborate process and such endeavors don’t bubble up; they thrive with persistence and diligence and patience—and with a shot of playfulness.

Number three is Attitude. We’re very diplomatic and polite, praising each other’s work more often than being constructive critics. In spite of Americans having a strong debating culture, strategies of positive psychology and ‘looking away’ seem to prevail when it comes to creativity. Collaboration needs conflict to come up with something new. We need controversy to get over a hump, disruption to spark something unexpected. We should try to synergize the counterintuitive and integrate the paradoxical, and that means being candid and sometimes playing the Devil’s Advocate, even if that means stepping out of our comfort zone—which is rather exhilarating, because life really begins at the edge of our comfort zone.

The last one is Education. Many want to use the crowd, but nobody knows how to collaborate properly., u.lab, and Learn Do Share are initiatives that do research around it. Their how-to guides help spreading techniques. Nonetheless, we’re still just beginning of find out how we can collaborate best. Educational R&D on collaboration is an investment that every corporation—and everybody who wants to use the crowd—needs to make before they start crowdsourcing.

These principles are put into practice in various experimental storytelling workshops run at diy days ( We call them Wicked Solutions For A Wicked Problem. These sessions invite interdisciplinary teams to work together on finding solutions to local problems using methods that fuse storytelling, speculative scenarios and design thinking to inspire collaborative action and social good. We encourage participants to be absurd, to browse, and build, to teach and be taught, to challenge each other, to shape arguments, to test designs, and to implement them together with those who are affected by the wicked solution: everyone. At the same time, diy days gives participants a firsthand experience of what it means to create a better future with peers that have different horizons and objectives.

My wish for the future is to see crowds a feasible design partner, enabling each other’s passion projects, embracing them as learning experiences, harnessing shared assets to spin off various independent revenue streams, and developing a moral ecology that allows us to trust in circular skill exchange.


What can we make of ‘cognition in the wild’, when ‘the wild’ is seen not as threatening or dystopian, but as a social utopia?

resources, tools and collaboratories


Today’s political, social, environmental and economic landscape is confronted with challenges that are not addressed or solved sufficiently by policy-makers using known methods. Despite increasing calls, current systems for social change seem to also lack knowledge and skills to collaborate effectively. However, new platforms and resources grow in numbers, spreading new thinking to solve old problems. Here are some sites I like, use or draw upon as inspiration.

Online Collaboratories
HCD Connect:
GitHub Social Coding:
Amazon Mechanical Turk:
Wreck A Movie:
The Civic Crowd:

Hubs and Events
The Hub:
U-Lab at the University of Technology Sydney:
General Assembly:
Hybrid Platform, Berlin:
Copenhagen Game Collective:
Insight Labs:
Global Service Jam:
We make it, Switzerland:
Union Docs Collaborative, New York:

Collaboration Tools
My Experiment:
Amazon Mechanical Turk:
Future of the Book:

MEDEA Malmo:
HASTAC – Humanities, Arts. Science And Technology Advanced Collaboratory:
P2P Foundation:
Change – a Massive Open Online Course:
Transmedia resources:
Open Space:
Co-Working News (mostly German):
Stanford Social Innovation Review:

speaking of measuring engagament #2


Our panel at diy days on methods of funding and measuring engagement offered a vast range of perspectives. Creative entrepreneur Sparrow Hall, Ogilvy@Social’s VP Ryan Aynes, G2’s Nick Braccia and myself straddled concrete advise on scoring funding, successful pitching, qualitative and quantitative data, collaborating with brands as well as designing with and for the audience. Of particular importance was the idea that these elements are inter-related and should all be considered in a project’s design process.

Ryan reminded DIYers that they are “personal brand business models” and stressed the importance of having multiple revenue streams, for example through speaking engagements, social media and brand partnerships. Sparrow agreed saying that “brands have the money to create the things you want to do” and that they should hit the pavement, find the brands that align with their story and are hungry for innovation. This call for cross-sector collaboration echoed throughout the panel and the creative entrepreneurs in attendance, confident that their independent content is invaluable for brands to reach people just like them.

I underlined this trend by naming three fundamentals elucidated by social media that should be incorporated into all design: participation, engagement and authenticity. Ryan chimed in saying how social platforms are resetting their design with formats to better accommodate participatory forms of storytelling. My point of view was that of utmost importance is a focused objective – whether related to financial profit, social metrics, technology R&D or even personal curiosity – must be clearly defined prior to the start of the design process.

Ryan and Nick bantered about the dangers of buzz and anecdotal evidence in lieu of quantifiable data and true correlation between a marketing tactic and a sale. Ryan stressed the need for a defined ROI, but also admitted that a lot of brand managers are often too busy to even focus on the actual success metrics of the initiatives they’re funding. I agreed that “with all the numbers and big data, quality should not be overlooked; emotional aspects of your pitch are important.”

At this point, Nick checked all of our marketing speak by deferring to me for her studies. I talked production companies indeed being interested in funding against softer qualities, alongside hard metrics. I provided examples of skilled fans as co-creators who value access over ownership, and community over monetization. Production companies are seeing this as an asset to invest in, which stresses the possibilities and benefits that arise when indie producers team up with brands and include corporations in their revenue stream.

This article was published in our booksprint that collected lessons and experiments at diy days. The pdf can be downloaded at and here [6MB].

speaking of measuring engagement


A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at diy days New York City on ‘Measuring Engagement’. For their website I answered a few questions that were really inspiring. .

What do you see as the most exciting development in storytelling today?
Getting together to do it.

What’s your wish for the future?
More people sharing ice cream.

If you could share a book, film, album, and experience with the future what would each be?
Book: Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume (1985), because it addresses in bawdy language what’s too encrypted in Goethe’s Faust. There’s beetroot, Pan, stinky lovers, an antihero exiting time and space, surrendering to the realm of the senses to do no less than answering the grand questions of life. Total must-read for future spaceship navigators.

Album: Moloko’s Things to make and do (2000), for pure pleasure seekers and absent minded friends, for remaining the same and for realizing that being is bewildering and that the time is now. And if I could, I’d add familiar feelings to the mix.

Film: Tarsem’s The Fall (2006), for being a beautiful homage to storytelling, early cinema, bravery, deception, diversity, camaraderie, love, pain, innocence, Beethoven’s 7th, and poetry on a million metalevels.

Experience: Dark streets, millions walking, holding candles – a collective persistently challenging the system, knowing full well that they’re taking a leap in the dark. Months later they prevail: the inner German wall falls in 1989.

Witnessing the most silent revolution gaining momentum over years to result in a peaceful reunion that ended the cold war and united families; seeing my older sister climbing the Berlin wall the moment it came down; moving to the East to see what a complete overnight system change from socialist to capitalist does to a people; experiencing incredibly powerful and inventive derivatives of anxiety, freedom and loss of orientation for 18 Mio East Germans. Phoenix.

What will you be doing at DIY Days?
I’m excited to discuss with Sparrow Hall, Ryan Aynes and Nick Braccia how we measure success in a shifting socio-economic environment. What’s the reality of co-creation, what’s of value for the audience, and how do they respond to creative innovations? I’ll share my methods, bring stories from co-creative experiments in Europe, and first results from highly qualitative research on Europe’s ‘Generation 20+’. We’ll explore what this means for sustainability re funding, audience engagement, and …well… success, I guess.

Apart from that, find me running around collecting data to shake and stir the collective emergent narrative, to learn what’s hot, throw some marbles, and mingle with crazy lovely people

What is your background?
I’m a discoveress, younger sister, North European, slow thinker, midnight drawer, confuser-sense-maker, ethnographer, dancer, deep diver, sharer, passionizer, sound opulencer.
A universal dilletante.

Also, check out all the other speakers, such good company.

Oh and log your own wishes at



‘My proposition is at the beginning to formalize not what the paradigm of the world is but what the fundamental relations are which formalize, finally, the fact for a multiplicity to be the world. That is the point. After that, when you know what the transcendental is, what the discussion of the multiplicity of the transcendental, and so on is, you can propose many forms, in fact an infinite multiplicity of different forms of the paradigm of the world.’
Alain Badiou in an interview with John Van Houdt, continent, 1.4 (2011): 234—238.

And I fiddle around with ‘partial paradigm’ bla while he just says it. Sigh.

Hypermodernity. In which we PICK and FILTER our content, we don’t follow a common program, we DIY, CURATE and SKIP canon, we’re not part of a crowd, we’re part of many small scenes. We are a multitude of PARTIAL IDENTITIES and each FRAGMENT likes to CONNECT with a different MILEU. We don’t meet people that are very much like us because we CREATE our INDIVIDUAL DIVERSITY as a result of our careful SELECTION of EXPERIENCES that shape our SELF. We live in a squat and wear a suit to work. We don’t IDENTIFY with institutions, we BUILD them. We like to TAKE what’s abundant and SHARE what’s unique. We totally dig INDEPENDENCE and find a sense of BELONGING in all our little PASSION projects. We like MANY SMALL. COMMUNALITY today is about SIZE, INTENTION and CHOICE. We are DIVERSIFIED beings. Yet we love the COMMONS. You gotta love the PARADOX within.

thanks, zoe bear, for lovely deep thinking morning coffees.

fail better


I’ve been thinking a bit about imperfection lately. Imperfection makes us connect. In stories. In flows. In love.

In stories?
To explain imperfection in stories is easy: you provide a lose framework but leave intended gaps in the story, so the audience can step in and improve with their contributions. It’s a great way to motivate interaction with the story. (check out Scott Walker’s take on imperfection in transmedia)

In flows?
To pin down imperfection in practice is a bit trickier. I found in my research on the production of participatory stories that there’s a lot of exploratory imperfection due to the genre being quite novel still. Maybe such practice is best described as a playful approach to experiment with possibilities without having sufficient tools at hand. A key driver is discovery, transgressing into unknown terrain to find out how it can be navigated. Such exploration can’t draw on tested mechanisms, there are no proven paths to follow, so it’s trial and error that necessarily includes much imperfection. And embracing failure.


And in this realm, which is a liminal threshold, we have limited access to language to express and share our thoughts and approaches. So we encounter more misunderstandings, which again can spawn creativity and unexpected insights due to mismatching logical concatenations, which result in actions, then outcomes. Contingency multiplies when we move along those borders. And in the course of innovating we tend to gradually fix the imperfection that occurs between us, start matching our divergent thinking, anticipate the other empathically, search a more attuned connection to share a congruent understanding. Once we do, we leave the avant-garde. We perfected enough to create a least common denominator.

In love.
So, here comes one of my favorite stories (it has probably been told more elaborately elsewhere, but there you go):

The missing piece was kind of C-shaped and managed to get ahead in life, one step after the other. It rolled smoothly for a bit and then hit a corner, which made it hard to move on, but still worked out fine enough. One day the missing piece met another missing piece and they complemented each other wonderfully, so they connected and rolled superwell together. But, boohoo, after a while they developed cracks in their connection and didn’t roll quite as nicely anymore. They tried to hold on fast, but  fell apart eventually as the cracks got too big. So the missing piece was on its own again, hitting these edgy corners, struggling. Then it met a rolling ‘O’ and said ‘wow, you’re awesomely round. I want to be with you and roll like you’. But the rolling ‘O’ said ‘Sorry that’s not possible, there’s no way to attach here’. The missing piece looked sad, so the rolling ‘O’ added. ‘But you just keep on going, keep on working on your edges. Every time you overcome an edge, they’ll smoothen and – bit by bit – it’ll get easier to roll on your own. So the missing piece kept on overcoming its edginess and eventually rounded itself so well that it joined the rolling ‘O’ and they rolled around together, separately.

The end.

For long, I thought ‘hell yeah, rolling ‘O’, but maybe being a missing piece is quite fun. I kind of like the edginess and I like connecting with other unfinished pieces. I also do like to fail better each time.


What I’m trying so say is that imperfection might not only help us connect, give and share, but that it’s also a universal pattern that drives us to improve things and should be embraced more readily.

space-time, singularity, gravitational physics, and multiverses


I had this half-asleep epiphany during a long-haul flight and love this analogy: I might get my physics all wrong, but physicists speak of space-time as being a layer or a grid. Stephen Hawking calls it the fabric of space. He says that what we experience as gravity is caused by the dip in this invisible layer that is caused, for example, by a planet, the size and mass of which determine the pull of gravity. According to Roger Penrose, the point of pure gravity at the center of a black hole is a singularity, a place that according to Hawking can under certain circumstances (if reversed) serve as a birthplace of something new, causing a big bang. Knowing that I simplify, I’d still like to propose a similarity to the web.

If we assume that the www is the space-time grid, then certain services, nodes, or memes stand for planets, the bigger they are, the greater their mass and pull. In social sciences this logic aligns with Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s mass communication theory. Her notion of the Schweigespirale (spiral of silence) describes how one opinion becomes dominant because those who oppose but feel they are in the minority will remain silent. Noelle-Neumann sees a fear of isolation from society as the main factor for this behavior. So, if we assume that mass – in whichever form – has gravitational pull, it’s easy to assign Google or facebook dominance in the grid. To stretch the analogy even further: exorbitant pull results in a singularity, which can be destructive in a way that this singularity swallows its surrounding into a black hole. However, at the same time, according to Hawking’s theory, it can also serve as a birthplace of a new galaxy. In the web’s case this could be a new practice as in the case of Google, a new way to access knowledge; or in the case of facebook, new ways to interact and voice opinions.

Jean-Luc Lehner’s argument of multiple big bangs and multiverses is equally easy to transfer to the web. We’re all just particles.

….madness. Are there people researching those patterns comparatively?

Food for thought were a Channel 4 Documentary about approaches to a theory of everything as seen by Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose and a Falling Walls lecture by Jean-Luc Lehners.

ipu poll

People at ITU Telecom World Conference (Geneva, Oct 24) came up with an interesting poll. It’s a bit all over the place, some of the answered are biased, and I’m missing total numbers but most of the questions are well worth thinking about.

literary review on co-creative media practice (version: May 2011)


So this is my slightly outdated litrev from May 2011. I wrote it for my first annual PhD review at UNSW (Sydney).

Co-creative Practice in Participatory Narratives: Examining How Practice Enables And Limits Collective Storytelling

i: Practice/Performance
– Social Practice
– Media Practice
ii: Participatory Storytelling
– Objects Have Agency
– Authorship And Oeuvre in Peer Narratives
– Collaboration, Knowledge, And Learning
iii: Playful Narrative
– Immersion And Interactivity
– Play And Creativity
Concluding Remarks

Since the last decade of the 20th century, social media and affordable digital technology lead to a steadily growing DIY culture (Manovich 2008: 33, Lash 2007). This democratization of production through the many-to-many nature of the www affects how stories are told and perceived, most notably through a culture of sharing, remixing and commenting (Amerika, 2011). In this context, multichannel narratives – which are characterized by locally dispersed authors who share, create, and circulate content across diverse media platforms (Jenkins 2006) – have become popular among the industry and audience alike. Films and TV show convey complex stories that operate on a multitude of levels, employ plots within another plot and extend to other media. In order to play and dig deeper, the audience can follow the story and contribute to it through different media. Websites, mobile apps, locative media, or pervasive games offer content that enriches characters and story universe (cf. Dena 2009, Jenkins 2006, Rose 2011, Handler Miller 2008, Bernardo 2011, Gomez 2010, Montola/Stenros/Waern 2009).

This literary review on participatory storytelling is a result of refining key themes that unite my case studies and their theoretic foundation. Bridging media studies and anthropology opens two crucial pathways to answering how media practices change narrative form and interaction. By drawing on scholarly expertise in both disciplines, I can map the field in quite some diversity. Depending on the knowledge I gain during fieldwork, I can then choose and combine suitable theoretic concepts, which ideally inform one another. For my specific case study, three aspects are predominant. The first is media practice (i). Examining phenomena of new media production is complex, mainly since the realm of mobile technology lacks ‘spatial, social, and temporal boundaries’, which ‘makes it difficult to maintain distinct social contexts’ (Boyd 2011: 23:20). Looking at practice in its various forms is a way of subsuming those aspects under one roof, which determines the interplay of all the different parameters within. The second aspect is participatory storytelling (ii). As mobile technologies become more and more pervasive in everyday life, so does media consumption and production. In this surrounding, storytelling across various channels including various actors becomes dispersed and something new entirely. The third aspect is how this ubiquitous virtual platform inspires playful narratives (iii). In order to self-publish and co-create, professionals and amateurs interact, collaborate, and employ different media devices interchangeably, developing multimodal literacy that diverts from linear text consumption. Such narratives might feature new forms and lead to different ways of interaction, of which new media practice is the very source.

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thoughts on the role of a teacher as mentor-facilitator-learner-passionizer


During a recent workshop with freedomlab, I was reminded of a reflection on my own teaching practice that I wrote a while ago. In a 2-day thinktank-meets-hackathon we developed a sensory storytelling teaching approach for elementary level that includes much of what I also found useful to engage students, on University level.

– intro
– love and knowledge
– engagement and motivation
– collaborative strategy
– challenges
– conclusion
– references

Teaching engages all senses, one’s entire personality, patience, empathy and a good judgement; it also requires creativity and clear communication of knowledge and tasks – a teacher orchestrates an array of hard and soft skills to shape an engaging learning environment. My log reflects four pivotal insights that I got from my first teaching experience in an English-speaking academic setting. First, sensitizing students to see love as the key driver for gaining knowledge opens the arena for a playful approach to learning. Second, students get motivated by a personal atmosphere and a learner-oriented approach. Third, collaboration and a well-balanced depth of content keep students mentally busy and engaged. Fourth, some challenges arise with respect to language as well as to academic meta-knowledge, such as literacy and style that can only be partly addressed in class. My assumption is that small group teaching can be approached as a hybrid function between teaching, facilitating, and mentoring by delivering deep knowledge that is well structured in a whole-hearted, caring class environment.

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research synopsis

This PhD investigates co-creative practices in participatory storytelling. I compare two transmedia productions – one commercial, one non-profit – that experiment with co-creative story development. One of the projects is a commercial TV production that engages a group of 30 skilled fans during production. First, these game designers, artists and storytellers re-enacted the back-story of the crime series in a three-day living drama. In a second step, together with the series’ transmedia production team, they develop games and challenges for a wider audience. The other project is an online/offline experiment among fifth-graders and fifty skilled collaborators from eight different countries, who jointly create a loosely framed emergent narrative. My interest lies in what facilitates and constrains collective storytelling whilst employing various media technologies. By filtering motivation, priorities, ideology, organization, context and skills among participants, I theorize on compatibility of media practices, facilitation of co-creative processes and incorporation of playful learning.

My fieldwork lends itself to i) to observe story development and compare if production techniques complement or exclude each other, ii) to derive how technological potential is tapped to enable co-creative productivity, iii) to track aspects of play and learning in collective storytelling. My data enable further theory building on the use of interactive and mobile technologies with respect to embodied performance. Findings will contribute towards theorizing transmedia practices within the field of media anthropology. Understanding co-creation among creative teams and their participating fans is pivotal for appropriating and developing emerging networked ecologies.

Conceptually I’m particularly inspired by Bernard Stiegler’s philosophy of technics as constituents of consciousness, Quentin Meillassoux’s notions on contingency and dynamics within a speculative materialism framework, Gilles Deleuze’s thinking about complexity and the philosophy of becoming, Judith Butler’s commentary on breaks of iterability as seats of difference and learning, Scott Lash’s discussion of people’s ontological relationship towards global culture industry, and Georgina Brown’s remarks on blurring lines of art and cultural production. In this framework, I intend to fill a gap that’s left by meta-level classifications that circle around the term ‘transmedia storytelling’. Thus, my research does not draw on concepts but on people’s practices.

“The unrealistic sound of these propositions is indicative, not of their utopian character, but of the strength of the forces which prevent their realization.”
Hubert Marcuse