Auf der Trauminsel der Bibliotheken: Bibliothekskongress Leipzig

I’ll be at next month’s Bibliothekskongress in Leipzig, a gathering of German-speaking librarians and information professionals. If you’re attending, come say hello and talk Library Island – or catch me online.

Ändern sich Bibliotheken zu schnell oder nicht schnell genug?

Was bieten wir einer Welt, die sich schnell und radikal zu verändern scheint?

Wie sieht gute Führung in der Bibliothek des 21. Jahrhunderts aus?

Wie können wir für Zeiten der Veränderung planen?

Um antworten zu finden, besuchen Sie Library Island.

Library Island simuliert fünf Jahre im Leben von Bibliotheken in einem kleinen Land. Die Spieler übernehmen die Rolle von Bibliothekaren, Regierungs- und Gemeindemitgliedern.

Die Spieler verhandeln politische Konflikte und soziale Herausforderungen (oder sogar Naturkatastrophen!) und passen das Spiel dann an ihre eigenen lokalen Probleme.

Es ist ein einfaches Spiel, das nur mit Papier und Stiften gespielt wird, aber es ermöglicht den Spielern, komplexe Szenarien und unbequeme Themen zu besprechen.

Ich habe Library Island entwickelt, um Organisationen zu unterstützen, ihre Vision und Mission für die Zukunft zu definieren und umzusetzen. Library Island schafft Raum für die Erkundung einer ungewissen oder schwierigen Zukunft und hilft Mitarbeitern, Führungskräften und Trägern einen strategischen Standpunkt zu entwickeln.

Man kann Library Island als eigenständigen Workshop oder als Teil eines umfassenderen strategischen Prozesses nutzen. Es ist spielerisch, belebend, zum Nachdenken anregend und macht sogar Spaß!

Learn more about Library Island here.

Dreaming Spires, New Scenarios

I’m pleased to announce I’ll be joining the team at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School (SBS) as a facilitator on the upcoming Oxford Scenarios Programme.

'Dreaming Spires', by Flickr User JJBullock - Copyright JJ Bullock 2010
‘Dreaming Spires’, by Flickr User JJBullock – Copyright JJ Bullock 2010

The programme offers an intensive course in developing strategies which address multiple plausible futures. You can find out more about the programme at the SBS website.

#NotEnoughSciFi: Time of the Clockwork Dutchmen

It’s been a while since the last #NotEnoughSciFi, an occasional series looking at works of science fiction and fantasy which I think might be useful for organisations, institutions, companies, and communities which are trying to get ready for the shape of things to come. See previous entries here.

I had a glorious time with a book last week. Something that hadn’t happened since I was a kid.

I was busy at work and didn’t have much time for leisure reading. So when I started Ian Tregillis‘ novel The Mechanical, I only expected to manage a half-hour or so a night before falling asleep.

Instead, I stayed up through the night to finish the book. The next evening, I started the second volume of the trilogy which The Mechanical begins. On the third night, bleary but compelled, I finished Tregillis’ series. I spent my nights lost in his world. It was heaven on earth.

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The series – called The Alchemy Wars trilogy – is a work of fantasy, not science fiction. It is set in an alternate version of the year 1926 which owes as much to the 17th century as the 20th, where the Dutch and French are the warring European powers whose conflict has shaped global history.

So why does it have anything to teach us in 2019? Read more

Six minutes on Library Island

I talked about the Library Island activity, which helps people and organisations to build strategic awareness and think differently about the communities they serve, with Chris DeCristofaro of the Library Pros podcast. Watch the video here, or on YouTube.

You can hear the full conversation – which explores libraries, healthcare, play, strategy, and public service – over at the Library Pros website.

Podcast with @TheLibraryPros

American podcasters Chris DeCristofaro and Robert Johnson invited me to join them for a discussion on their show The Library Pros, exploring issues of interest to librarians and information professionals around the world.

Chris and Bob did an excellent job taking us through a discussion of libraries’ strategy, mission, and community service, with a few laughs along the way. It’s one of the best conversations I’ve had on these topics in the past year.

You can hear our chat over on the Library Pros website.

The In Between: Audrey Huggett on Interactive Storytelling in Libraries

Murder. Mayhem. Family strife. Gateways to other worlds. Stories that the audience shapes, and that might run for months or even years.

In a corner of Michigan, one library worker and her colleagues are bringing all these things to life.

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I first met Audrey Huggett in 2017, while working with Ann Arbor District Library on the Wondrous Strange event.  Library technician Audrey has led a series of projects where members of the public participate in live-action storytelling, ranging from murder mystery to an epic fantasy with cosmic stakes.

Audrey joined me to talk about her work in interactive storytelling in January 2019, just as she was completing preparations for the upcoming “In Between: Quest for the Keystone”. Read more

Institutions at Play: Library Island coverage at the Finnish Library Association

“Eye-opening, polyphonic and above all fun” – at least, that’s how Google translates this piece on Library Island by the Finnish librarian Riitta Kangas.

Riitta focusses on the playful and collaborative aspects of the activity. Library Island allows people to jointly approach difficult issues in a safely fictional setting, before taking the lessons learned back into the real world, where they may be applied to achieve practical goals.

You can read more about Library Island here, or check out the website of the Finnish Library Association for Riitta’s article.

 

Bandersnatch: Choosing a Future, Letting People Surprise You

Over at The Cultural Gutter, there’s a thoughtful piece about Netflix’s recent interactive film, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

The choose-your-own adventure film allowed viewers to shape the story of a young programmer trying to develop a computer game in 1984. Presented with either-or choices to make via their TV’s remote control, someone watching Bandersnatch can influence the outcome of the narrative – but as the story develops, the choices are increasingly unpalatable and the question of who is controlling whom becomes increasingly prominent.

The Cultural Gutter’s Alex Macfadyen writes:

What watching Bandersnatch felt like to me was entrapment. A choice between two terrible things is still a choice, but I often didn’t agree with any of the available options. There also seemed to be no way to avoid making some of the choices because you just got brought back to them after the other options resulted in a dead end. The writers clearly had a very specific moral direction they wanted the story to go, and the viewer is ultimately corralled into creating the narrative they want.

Part of that narrative was the construction of me, the viewer, as the person forcing the character to make bad choices and lose his mind, but the viewer also only has access to the paths that the writers dictated for them so it’s more an illusion of choice. There is no path that leads to a good outcome, but you have to follow them all to find that out. In the end, I think the only choice you could make that would resolve the ethical conflict they’ve posed would be to refuse to participate and stop watching altogether.

Playing Bandersnatch, and reading Macfadyen afterwards, reminded me of a British Library Labs event I attended a couple of years back.

Jon Ingold, who has made several great choose-your-own adventure games including the subtle and troubling World War 2 drama The Interceptspoke about the relationship between players and authors of such adventures.

Rejecting the language of “empowering players” or “co-creating game narratives together”, Ingold described adventure games as puzzles where the author attempts to lure the player into a trap of their own choosing – a trap to which the player must then find a brilliant escape. The player is never in control of the story, any more than the rat who turns left or right at a given corner is in control of the maze.

These problems of choice and control lie at the heart of the workshops I’ve been running over the past couple of years. To what extent can we allow participants in an event to surprise us?

I’ve devised participatory sessions for literary festivals, conferences, and training events; run live-action games where players must battle zombies and solve practical problems; I’ve even written a book review in the form of an online choose-your-own adventure for Australian literary magazine The Lifted Brow.

The challenge for me has always been – how can you let people surprise you?

Choose-your-own adventures, from Bandersnatch to Ingold’s more sophisticated offerings, are ultimately more like mazes which one can only choose to run or not run. (The promo art for Bandersnatch helps to make this clear).

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In activities like Library Island, I’ve been trying to devise opportunities for people to tell their own stories and genuinely shape the outcome of a collective narrative – the benchmark for this being whether the players were able to do something the author didn’t see coming.

Library Island players have brought fraud, civil unrest, and workers’ rights issues to sessions – helping us to address the most serious challenges to a community within the safer space of a playful, fictional setting. In the very first pilot for the game, a character stole a plane which they had illegally bought using government funds – something I definitely hadn’t accounted for – and an event which led on to serious discussion of scrutiny, oversight, and accountability for the use of public money.

Since then, players have only made the problem worse — delightfully worse.

Games which genuinely let people contribute to the outcome of a story also have the potential to change the way we look at the future.

Too often, when planning for the months and years to come, we see our options as constrained, like the forking but pre-written paths of Bandersnatch and its kin, railroading us towards a limited number of possible futures.

This can sap our ability to imagine a better world than the one we expect, but it can also make us vulnerable to harmful futures we didn’t see coming; financial crises, political upsets, and environmental disasters, for example.

In a turbulent era, finding ways to allow many voices to offer their story and participate in constructing plausible future scenarios help us to prepare for the world which is to come – a world which has not been pre-written by a game designer, and which therefore denies us both the safety and constraint of someone else’s narrative.

Read more about Library Island here.

Play The Lifted Brow‘s “choose-your-own adventure book review” here.

A different way to plan your 2019

Are you thinking about the year to come? Do you make New Year’s resolutions, or use January 1st as a turning point for your life at work or home?

Here’s a quick & easy planning tool I sometimes use in workshops. It’s adapted from the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach, where it’s called “Arrows of Time”.

You just need a piece of paper – even a napkin will do! – and something to write on it with.

First, put the paper in landscape orientation, with the long sides at the top and bottom, and draw an arrow from the bottom left corner, pointing right. This represents the past.

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Now, around this arrow, answer these questions:

  • What will we still be dealing with in 2019?
  • What issues from the past can’t we get away from?
  • What isn’t finished yet from the year just gone?

When this is done, draw another arrow from the top right corner, pointing left. This represents the future.

Screenshot 2018-12-31 at 13.15.49

Now, around this arrow, answer these questions:

  • What do we know is coming in 2019?
  • What do we fear about the coming year? What do we hope for?
  • What do we expect to happen?
  • What have we failed to prepare for in 2019?
  • What can’t we avoid about the year to come?

Between these two arrows lies your room to manoeuvre. In the space between them, draw a box, representing your capacity to choose the future you wish for.

Screenshot 2018-12-31 at 13.16.04

In the box, answer these questions:

  • What do you want to happen? What can you plausibly achieve next year?
  • What actions should you take to meet these goals?
  • What can you do to prepare against unpleasant surprises, or outcomes you wish to avoid?
  • What can you do to be ready for happy accidents and unexpected opportunities next year?

This is just a quick, simple activity, but it helps you to plan in a way that allows for the turbulence and uncertainty of any future – looking not just towards your objectives but the context in which you will need to make them happen.

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As Oxford University’s Rafael Ramirez put it in our recent discussion on scenario planning, such “back-of-the-napkin” activities can be valuable as a starting point, or in constrained financial circumstances:

The metaphor I use is buying a television. If you don’t have a lot of time, or your organisation has been cut back, you may have to do only a good-enough piece of work: like buying a cheap black-and-white television to see who has won the World Series.

If you have enough time or funds, you can buy yourself a big colour television which shows more detail about what is happening. […] To get more detail, better arguments, better references: a better, more detailed colour picture on your television. But getting started costs very little indeed.

An organisation’s intent should be clear, compelling, and easy to articulate succinctly. So should your plans for 2019.

Why not grab a piece of paper today and sketch out where you’d like to head in the year to come?

What did you see? Where to next?

Well, what did you see this year? Where did you go, and where do you want to go next?

2018 has been eventful for me, with lots of travel and some big projects.

(That doesn’t mean I found no time to read; you can see some of my favourite books from the last 12 months in this blog post).

This year I got to some places I’d never been before, as well as revisiting others that have long been important to me.

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Read more