Transparency, participation and our citzen’s obligation to make something out of it!

On behalf of the Bundeszetrale für politische Bildung I’ve hosted a livestream with Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of Sunlight Foundation, last thursday. In the up-run of the Bundeskongress Partizipation the Bundeszentrale will have more of such events. Their goal: to get a discussion going on the topics closely related to the event’s theme: participation.

  • What does participation mean?
  • What does it take?
  • Why should citizens participate?
  • What influence should they have?
  • What are existing examples?
  • How can we “learn” participation?

It was a pleasure to start this serie with Ellen Miller. She spans for more than 35 years the worlds of non-profit advocacy, grassroots activism and journalism out of Washington DC. She is a nationally recognized expert on transparency and the influence of money in politics.
Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan non-profit – dedicated to using the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency.

She gave us a brief introduction on Sunlight’s work and then we really had a lively discussion with the participants. A broad range of questions came up. You can watch the entire live stream here:

SynBarCamp 2011 – The Day After

Last Friday I moderated together with Dominik Wind the first Synaxon Barcamp. Quite an experience I have to say. The camp was exclusively for Synaxon staff – employees only.

33 topics were proposed and presented in our opening session – they were burnt down in the opening session to 25 – still a lot to work through the day. At the end we had 14 presentations – a few topics were melt together, some other simply didn’t get enough attention. An impressive outcome – especially when you know that each and every topic will be kept on track by its own “Minister of the Future” – the person who is responsible to transform this idea into daily Synaxon practice. Tomorrow Synaxon’s management will decide how much “free” time per week a minister will get to work on his/her topic … a great commitment, I think, since the employees can then work on their ideas during regular working hours and don’t need to spent extra hours on top of their regular daily work – just like at Google.

You could feel the curiosity and excitement when the room get packed for the opening session. After a brief introduction by the internal organization team Dominik and I took over. We explained the basic rules of an open space and challenged the partcipants by showing a video with creative ways to present their ideas at the end of the day.

The intro of the 33 topics took 45 minutes, every employee explained his/her idea and told us about his/her expectations of what to achieve. Then they went off in working groups. The groups weren’t equal in size – some of them had 15+ members, others only 4. Nevertheless in all of them everybody was committed to achieve the best.

As a matter of fact the participation of Synaxon’s management was optional – meaning it was up to the employees to decide wether they participate or not. It turned out that in every group I saw members of the management were happily included in the open and absolutely critical discussions.

I visited 5 working groups during the day – and what I’ve heard was in many ways astonishing, at least for me:

  • trainees fighting for their right to get the best out of their education by proposing a radical new method how to deal with them
  • employees telling their bosses very openly what they are doing wrong (not having time for conversations, not following up on topics which were discussed … )
  •  IT geeks revolutionizing processes set by the management
  • other geeks were demanding open source software strategies for tools Synaxon has heavy invested in – and the CEO announced at the end of the day via twitter and Facebook that their software is going open source!
  • employees demanding and finally deleting a fair amount of the 198 company rules

So I asked myself on my way home if the Synaxon web 2.0 concept  – I only knew so far from conversations and interviews with Frank Roebers, Synaxon’s CEO – has really infiltrated the entire company? At the best I could, I checked it according to the principles I think enterprise 2.0 companies should follow – here in short my one day impressions:


The Synaxon wiki way is transparent. Nevertheless being transparent doesn’t garantee that everybody knows everything which was made transparent. And this became obivious in some sessions. So there is the need to filter in order to reach the full potential of transparency.

And transparency is not only a top-down but also a bottom-up issue. If management is transparent things won’t work the 2.0 way if employees aren’t transparent as well. So it’s a requirement for everybody in the company … everybody is challenged. And this is something which employees need to understand: 2.0 is a 2-way street.


No lack of openness.


I’ve got the feeling that collaboration can be improved – especially across department boundaries and across brand boundaries.

No idea about collaboration with “external” partners.


It wasn’t optional to attend the BarCamp. It was a must for all employees – at least it was communicated as a must in the beginning. Except for a few which kept the daily business running.

The 35 topics were proposed from 15 people … so more than 10 % of the staff was actively involved. The management excluded themselves in proposing topics.

All the attendees seemed to be heavily involved in their discussions!

Failure, creativity and innovation

I’ve got the feeling, that failure is allowed.

Employees poofed their creativity in leaving their comfort zone for their presentations.

The topics discussed were closely related to Synaxon’s daily business … So it’s hard to tell about innovation. But since failure and creativity are vibrant parts of Synaxon’s culture – innovation shouldn’t be an issue.

My conclusion: In Germany definitely one of the most advanced 2.0 enterprises! And with this BarCamp they’ve installed their next tool to drive progress within their company.


And at the very end let me point out some details which made the BarCamp – among all the other things mentioned above – to a huge success:

  • the right food at the right moment is as important as a dose of fresh air once in a while
  • if you feel limits aren’t reached yet, push them a bit further
  • challenge the participants to step out of their comfort zone
  • include fun – e.g. something as the first SynEi Award
  • have always some music ready
  • never take things for granted

The day ended with finger food and drinks.

The biggest challenge for me at this time: to find a corkscrew for a great Italian red which we discovered among all the beer …


Synaxon is one of the most interesting companies in Germany’s 2.0 landscape – at least in my eyes. I’ve been following them for years now – for various reasons:

  • they started a very tool-driven 2.0-approach years ago (while Coremedia these days started out with a value-driven one – and they didn’t succeed in transforming their company into a modern, 2.0 embracing entity, I guess many people would say an enterprise 2.0)
  • I like their CEO Frank Roebers with whom I’ve done a couple of interviews – all in  German though. He is a very analytic, focussed guy – absolutely willing to give up power for the best of the company – if he is convinced. 😉
  • They follow John Hagel‘s “Power of Pull”-advice and make “small steps wisely without loosing the big vision” – a big vision they truly have. I’ve ever seen a company with such a detailed and specific mission statement. Just recently the entire staff has re-written the old statement … the new one is just about being launched with the Synaxon Culture Book.
  •  The structure of the company itsself is somehow unique. Synaxon is Europe’s biggest IT-reseller (franchise-system) – on one hand. With its brands AKCENT, iTeam, MICROTREND and PC-SPEZIALIST it reaches 3 billion Euros total revenue/year. On the other hand Synaxon provides a huge range of special services for its partners and collaborates with them on different layers.

Next week they’ll have their first internal SynaxonBarcamp. And together with my dear colleague Dominik Wind I will moderate it. I am pretty curious to learn more about Synaxon and its staff – especially to experience and feel what I’ve only heard so far from Frank, Synaxon CEO.

Really looking forward to share this experience with all of them.

The range of topics is broad:

  • from HR development to customer care
  • what does it mean to be a SYNAXON partner?
  • Homeoffice – why is it a problem?
  • Quality in software design
  • Wikis vs. GoogleDocs
  • Standardization of services
  • Salaries
  • ….

And I am sure Dominik and I we’ll challenge their creativity in presenting their ideas and results at the end of the day – and even further important we’ll make sure that there is room and space to follow up and transfer these ideas into their future daily business.

And by the way I don’t think it’s normal that a CEO makes all these things public available, transparent …

The Global Citizen

Dennis Snower is President of the Institute for World Economy in Kiel. He is founder of the Global Economic Symposium which he describes as follows: “The GES is about creating a neutral open space in which we can understand that we are a global community; in which we are prepared to take on global responsibilities and understand that as the world has become interconnected and globalized, we have become interdependent in various important ways. Because we are creating global problems like climate change, like the financial crisis, that no country can address on its own. So these problems are orphan problems that remain unaddressed even by many international organizations which are arenas for pushing national interests. The GES grew out of the realization that we must come together as a global community – that we are increasingly a global economy, but not a global society. Every one of us living on this planet has many identities. We have an identity within our family, an identity within larger social groups. Now, perhaps for the first time in human history it’s vital for our very survival as a species that we also forge a global identity. The GES is an attempt to establish such a global identity.”

The conference will take place early October 2011 in Kiel. This years topic is “New Forces in Global Governance!”. I am currently working on a magazine which will be published for the GES covering various fields in politics. economy, society and education in which these “New Forces” became really strong.

To help people help themselves …

… should be the ultimate goal of each and every NGO. But this is not always easy, especially when you’re working in highly insecure areas – such as Aghanistan. Asuntha Charles, head of Oxfam office in Kabul, knows what she is talking about. In this interview she is referring to all of the more than 300 international NGOs in Afghanistan and she is trying to explain what are the challenges and what are the opportunities to build sustainable structures. The situation today in Afghansitan is a structure of dependencies which most likely will put thousands into unemployment when international help will step back from Afghanistan in the years to come. Asuntha argues that it is very hard for development workers in Afghanistan to design successful solutions because they have almost no direct contact with those the programs are designed for. (The obsession with) Security destroys many things … But security and how to deal with it is a different discussion.

Asuntha gives us some great insights into her daily work. For her – as for many others we’ve spoken to – education is key to improve people’s lives. The GREAT IDEA project is her first education project – she sees huge potential in the field of mobile learning.

Her over all outlook into the future of Afghanistan isn’t though really optimistic!

Assumptions to improve the status quo (from my naive point of view):

  • bridge the gap between locals and expats
  • decentralize
  • build “with” the locals, not “for” them
  • design communities, not just bureaucracies
  • avoid economic dependencies
  • provide max. transparency in all your activities
  • respect and accept cultural differences – the “western” model doesn’t necessarily work everywhere in the same way
  • work “for” the people and NOT for your own interests

Talking about a Revolution: Tunisia

Netizens are deeply concerned about repressive measures used by Tunisian authorities in response to the current protests and political unrest in the country. It urges the government to refrain from the unnecessary use of force against peaceful protesters and to respect the fundamental rights of its people, including the right to freely express dissenting opinions.

The unrest began nearly two weeks ago when a young Tunisian man, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire to protest the country’s high unemployment rate. The incident, which took place in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, became the catalyst that sparked widespread protest and riots that have become a referendum on the government of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Protesters are calling for an end to corruption, nepotism, and restrictions on basic freedoms. There have been reports of Tunisian security forces opening fire on protesters as well as large scale arrests and torture of prisoners. Although traditional media in Tunisia is heavily restricted and authorities have sophisticated methods for repressing internet freedom, reports of the protests have spread through non-traditional forms of media as bloggers and regular citizens have been tracking the events.

And – this is what strikes me most – hardly any news on this in “western” media.

So I felt very happy yesterday, when I got the chance to interview Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian Teacher Assisstant of linguistics at Tunis University and a blogger. Thanks again to Hisham who connected us. Lina is mainly blogging about freedom of speech, human rights (especially women rights and students rights), social problems, and organ donation awareness . She likes photography, reading, writing, watching movies. Lina is also an athlete but within a special team: The Tunisian National Organ Transplant Team.

Here is the mp3 file is here , the sound quality is not really good, but it is O.K.
A transcript will be available next week as part of the latest issue of we-magazine.

Leadership In A Flat Organization

JP Rangaswami is an outspoken advocate of open source and using emerging and disruptive technologies to improve information sharing, education and collaboration. I first heard him talk when he was Chief Scientist at British Telecom, a position he now is holding at What I truely like best about JP is his engagement in education: He is currently chairman of School of Everything which brings teachers and students together in a disruptive way.

In our conversation last week we were talking about leadership and the impact the Internet has on various leadership models. I’ve cut the video into 6 parts, you can either click on the links or simply use the player below;-)

JP_Rangaswami01 – Introducing himself

JP_Rangaswami02 – Designing for Loss of Control
JP_Rangaswami03 – The Matrix Organigram
JP_Rangaswami04 – Team Incentives
JP_Rangaswami05 – Role Based Leadership
JP_Rangaswami06 – The Cultural Shift

Here is the interview in full length (42 min.)

Michael Moore argues that Wikileaks is pro Democracy

I think these are great statements by Michael Moore, an Amercian Academy-Award winning filmmaker and best-selling author. He posted bail money for Julian Assange, the founder and head of Wikileaks. Here are some arguments why he posted the money:

“We were taken to war in Iraq on a lie. Hundreds of thousands are now dead. Just imagine if the men who planned this war crime back in 2002 had had a WikiLeaks to deal with. They might not have been able to pull it off. The only reason they thought they could get away with it was because they had a guaranteed cloak of secrecy. That guarantee has now been ripped from them, and I hope they are never able to operate in secret again.

So why is WikiLeaks, after performing such an important public service, under such vicious attack? Because they have outed and embarrassed those who have covered up the truth. The assault on them has been over the top:

– Sen. Joe Lieberman says WikiLeaks “has violated the Espionage Act.”

– Sarah Palin claims he’s “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands” whom we should pursue “with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.”
– Democrat Bob Beckel (Walter Mondale’s 1984 campaign manager) said about Assange on Fox: “A dead man can’t leak stuff … there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch.”
– Republican Mary Matalin says “he’s a psychopath, a sociopath … He’s a terrorist.”

And indeed they are! They exist to terrorize the liars and warmongers who have brought ruin to our nation and to others. Perhaps the next war won’t be so easy because the tables have been turned — and now it’s Big Brother who’s being watched … by us!”

I was in London yesterday (and I am still there) – and it was only by coincidence (some of you asked me) that this day Julian Assange walked with a smile and a short statement of quiet defiance, free from custody and into the kind of media scrum more commonly seen after a decades-long prison sentence, rather than nine days on remand.

Nobody knows right now about the impacts wikileaks will have on our governments, on our society. It is a brand new situation for all of us. For us as citizens and for our governments. Are we people able to deal with these kind of information and are we capable to handle it? To make judgements based upon it? We don’t know yet.
Are our governments ready to deal successfully with this new kind of transparency? Aren’t they tempted to see more the threats than the changes? Indeed, wikileaks is challenging their fundamental ideas how they govern. At the moments it seems that they rather use it to restrict our civil rights such as freedom of speech, that they tend to control the Web even stronger than to accept the new terms of communication and transparency. We really don’t know where we are heading to. Nevertheless I do strongly support the ideas going along with wikileaks because I do think that transparency is a not a nice-to-have but a must-have in a lively democracy.

I have the feeling they we’ve reached for the very first time since the rise of the Internet a very critical and crucial moment for our societies as a whole, the Internet has heavily concussed the walls of our established systems – if governments and companies are continuing to control and restrict it, WE will fall way behind of what a great democracy could be.

And I only hope for the good that then a new Web will come into existence …

The Power of Pull – Interview with John Hagel III

John Hagel recently published the book: The Power of Pull, which
Hasso Plattner, Founder and Chairman of SAP Supervisory Board reviewed as followed: “This is a seminal work that explores the personal and professional implications of a powerful convergence of technologies, ranging from in memory databases for speed, massive parallel processing in the cloud, access via telephone for anything, anytime, everywhere. We are just beginning to understand what this means for us. The authors help us to understand where and how pull will change our lives and our work given the new digital infrastructures re-shaping our landscape. It offers us a roadmap that we neglect at our peril.”

I’ve had the chance to talk with John at the Aspen Ideas Festival:

See also “What the West Can Learn from the East” in our latest we-magazine.