Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Institutions to Individuals

I went to the Northern New England Planning Conference in Woodstock on Friday. One of the workshops I attended featured Lorie Loeb, a Dartmouth College professor. Her students in the computer science department won a prize from Google after they had worked day and night to draw their entire campus in three dimensions using Google Sketchup. 3D Dartmouth is now featured on Google Earth due to their efforts.

Lorie is a engaging speaker. She described the process of recruiting students to work on the incredibly ambitious Google project. Lorie had gotten a little bit of grant money, and decided to use it to buy a refrigerator for the computer lab. Then she’d put some (cold) cash in the fridge for students to use to buy food for themselves. “At least I will feed you!” was her mantra. Lorie also cites good tools (computers, cameras) and good people (students who have that special something) as critical elements in the success of the team. It was obvious from watching her present at this workshop that her contagious enthusiasm and warm personality were an important ingredient as well. Lorie felt that an important outcome of this project was the community-building that occurred between the students and faculty members on the team.

Lorie’s work at Dartmouth also includes a Real Time Energy Display Project, in which dorms and other campus buildings are wired to provide energy use data. An animated polar bear frolics happily on the ice if the energy use is acceptably low; the ice cracks and the bear unhappily falls through if energy use is too high. Students can close a window, adjust thermostats, or take other measures to see if the polar bear will be affected. It’s a wonderful concept! I wasn’t able to find a link because I think it is still in the early stages. Please, readers, let me know if you have more info.

Allison Fine, author of Momentum, was the keynote speaker of the day. She talked about the “shifting of power from institutions to individuals” and the fact that so many young people are exemplary “social citizens” with high volunteer rates and dedication to charitable causes. I knew Allison was delivering a convincing speech when a friend turned to me and asked, “Do you think I am making a mistake to forbid my teenagers from creating their own Facebook pages?” Allison predicts that within 18 months a new tool will have taken the place of Facebook for the college crowd. We thirty and forty-somethings on Facebook will probably stay where we are.

One of Allison’s more important points as far as I was concerned was her advice to organizations and institutions in the age of individual power: Listen. Let the public help guide your work. You might think you don’t have time to process comments, suggestions and feedback from your constituents. But make the time, says Fine, because it is probably a better way to spend part of the day than some of that other stuff on your To Do list.


Anonymous said...

The concepts in Allison Fine's book seem right on to me. Here at the Snelling Center we are beginning to think about how to more effectively activate and empower our amazing network of Vermont Leadership Institute alumni(over 300 people)to help inform, design and implement our policy work and to organize themselves in other ways that are important to them. Allison is right - it is time consuming to figure this out, but essential for traditional institutions that want to remain useful and relevant in this new world.

Susan Mccormack said...

I didn't mean to be anonymous. Just pushed the wrong button when posting the last comment.

Karyn Vogel said...

I wrote to Lorie and she gave me this link to the energy project. I don't think you can see the animated polar bear this way, but you do get real-time data about the energy use of some Dartmouth buildings, plus some energy saving tips and info about the project.

lorie said...

For more information about the polar bear display, you can try this site

Or check out these articles: