27 May 2006

Interested in the History and Theory of Organization Development?

If so, have I got an opportunity for you!

"Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on Organization Development" is a course offered by the Adult Education Department of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, which is where I'm doing my PhD. The original course has been offered for over a decade in physical presence. In fact, it is among the most popular courses in the department, with a wait list that sometimes approaches 50% of the maximum enrollment. Professor Marilyn Laiken (my supervisor), who has taught the course for most of its life, wanted to create a distance learning version of the course, to both provide educational access to those who cannot attend in physical presence, and as a way of exploring and investigating the dynamics of online, distance learning environments for adult learners.

One of the main reasons for the popularity of the course presents the greatest challenge for a distance learning environment: The course is not so much about the content, as it is about creating a learning environment in which students can begin to experience the types of collaborative interactions that characterize contemporary Organization Development interventions and practice. I have been dissatisfied with the conventional, threaded-forum approach to online, distance learning since my years at the McLuhan Program, where I spent a good deal of time thinking about, and experimenting with, the issues of online, collaborative environments. Marilyn's desire to delve into distance learning presented an opportunity to take up the challenge of attempting to create a truly collaborative learning environment that (hopefully) would emulate the interpersonal dynamics that make AEC1141 so engaging, and so popular.

So, throughout the recent academic year, I developed a wiki environment that attempted to translate the physical presence course to the cyber-world for it to be offered to graduate students enrolled at University of Toronto (and especially OISE) in the coming fall semester. An early public sample of a few pages from the environment is here (the real course is a private wiki). I am ready for a test flight of the course that I will be running for four to five weeks through June, and I am looking for people interested in participating as if they were real students in the pilot. Here's what you will be expected to do:
  • Commit to participation for the duration of the pilot, approximately four to five weeks (a normal course runs thirteen weeks);
  • Read the (downloadable) readings each week, which would entail about three to five hours each week;
  • Participate in the weekly activities, that would involve contributing to both small group and large group wiki conversations throughout the week, entailing about three to four hours of time (that is, expect a total time commitment of six to nine hours a week, which is approximately the expected workload for a graduate course);
  • Participate in a group dialogue via a Skype-like VoIP technology (it may be Skype, or another similar service);
  • Freely offer feedback, comments, and suggestions about the process of the course.
What you will get out of the course is:
  • Full access to all the materials for the entire thirteen-week course. These materials span from the turn of the 20th century until today, covering a complete history of mangement thought and the progress of organization development, from Frederick Taylor and Max Weber, through the Human Resources Movement and T-Groups, past early OD and Socio-technical Systems Design, up to the Learning Organization, contemporary OD interventions, and future evolutionary changes in organization design and management (imagine a management textbook worth about $80).
  • Engagement with a group of interested and interesting people who share a common interest in organization development issues.
I will be facilitating the pilot, and Profs. Marilyn Laiken and Yasmin Gopal (an adjunct at OISE, University of Western Ontario, and Athabasca University) will be participating. I am aiming to have only a dozen people participate in the pilot, so if you are interested, please write to me and let me know what background (if any) you've had with either organization development, distance learning courses, or both. I'm looking to have a mix of those with experience and novices, for both the medium and the content.

Update (6 June 2006): Enrollment for the pilot course is now filled.
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Blue Gold, and the Right to Water

Last Thursday evening, Maude Barlow came to OISE to speak about what is one of the most pressing issues facing our world today, namely the commoditization, and privatization of water. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, in conjunction with the ecumenical organization for justice initiatives, Kairos, is sponsoring a campaign for global access to water. As part of the campaign, they have asked municipalities throughout Canada to sign on to the Water Declaration:
  • Water is a sacred gift that connects all life;
  • Access to clean water is a basic human right;
  • The value of the Earth’s fresh water to the common good takes priority over any possible commercial value;
  • Fresh water is a shared legacy, a public trust and a collective responsibility.
Maude Barlow spoke about the twin issues of the depletion of clean water resources and disruption of the natural hydrologic cycle, the “militarization” of water resources, especially in emerging economies, and the effects of the ideology of the primacy of global capital as it pertains to the most basic of human rights: the right to survive.

Fully two-thirds of the world’s population do not have access to sanitation and clean water. This is not only an ecological crisis, but a crisis of injustice and equity. In many villages, the standpipe that provided the only ready source of potable water has been commercialized – locked out by a meter that requires significant payment (relative to income) to access. Villagers are forced by poverty to either travel great distances for water, or worse, to resort to dirty, disease-ridden sources. Those who cannot pay are cut off, with the resultant rise in sanitation-related diseases, such as cholera and chronic diarrhea. As Barlow describes it, this is not merely a problem for the so-called Third World – there is a First World in the Third World, a tremendously privileged class with an increasing share of an emerging country’s wealth, and a Third World in the First World: last year, over 40,000 people in Detroit, for example, had their water cut off for lack of payment. This subsequently resulted in families having their children abducted by social services agencies for the family’s inability to provide the necessities of life that had been cut off by commercial interests. A crisis of injustice and equity, indeed!

What is perhaps more frightening is the interruption of the natural hydrologic cycle, that results in the permanent loss of fresh water from the planet. Because of the massive, uncontrolled industrialization in emerging countries, combined with lassitude in developed countries’ environmental regulations, both surface water and ground water are becoming polluted at alarming rates. For example, 90% of ground water beneath urban centres in China is polluted. California is said to have less than 20 years of fresh water left in springs and aquifers; New Mexico, a scant 10 years. Here in Canada, the Athabasca Oil Sands project depletes fresh water resources at the rate of one unit of water for every unit of oil produced. And that water is lost to the hydrologic cycle forever.

The bottled water and soft drink industries are taking up ground water at a greater rate than it can be replenished; indigenous water sources that have supplied rural areas for millennia are being diverted to urban areas and commercialized. This has resulted in the so-called militarization of water by companies such as Suez and Vivendi. Snow melt in South America, for instance, is being captured in commercial plants that are built as armed fortresses. Locals are forced to either purchase what has been for all of history, nature’s gift, or succumb to illness and possibly death. Bolivia successfully managed to throw out Suez as the usurper of its water resources (that was initially brought into the country by a previous government as one of the onerous, neo-colonial conditions set by the World Bank). Even when such companies agree to conditions that would nominally alleviate some of the problems by committing to develop projects for the social good, such as sanitation and sewage-treatment plants, they invariably do not fulfil those commitments, and remove millions of dollars from local economies, leaving thousands of people thirsty, sick, and dying.

It has become a strategy of the privileged and powerful to commercialize water globally. What started for Maude Barlow as a special report has now become a book. In it, she calls for the fundamental human right to water, delivered by a government, or governmental agency, not to be denied by a person’s inability to pay:
The right to water is the entitlement of everyone to access to sufficient, affordable, accessible and safe water supplies and sanitation services. It places an obligation on states progressively to realise the right to water for all people without discrimination and on the basis of equality between men and women.

The right to water is a fundamental human right in itself, necessary to fulfil basic needs such as hygiene and sanitation. It is also essential for the realisation of other human rights, including the right to food, the right to health, the right to an adequate standard of living and, perhaps most obviously, the right to life.

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23 May 2006

Ethics, Responsibility and Net Neutrality

For a non-ninja explanation of the network neutrality issue, have a look at this video - The Death of the Internet:

What gets me about this video is Ed Whitacre, CEO of the "new AT&T" (which seems to be more like its old fashioned telephone company roots than the new-fangled Internet company pre-merger AT&T had become, likely because of Whitacre's SBC corporate culture). Whitacre says, "Net neutrality? I don't even know what that means!" My question: Is the man really ignorant, or is he choosing to be ignorant in order to set up his own, self-serving rhetoric? I really hope it's the former, that the man is just plain ignorant, because the implications of the latter are truly frightening.

You see, a person who chooses ignorance - that is, literally to ignore the key and salient issues and effects surrounding, and resulting from, a business decision - is a dangerous man. He is a person who willfully disregards the societal outcomes of decisions in favour of personal benefit, or benefit to his company, or (most likely) both. Whether it is the telecom industry, the oil industry, health care providers, tobacco companies, gun manufacturers or soft drink marketers (compare this and this) - willful and deliberate ignore-ance of inconvenient truths is unethical and irresponsible - for plain-speaking folk, simply wrong. What's worse is the unfortunate reality that ignore-ance is a contagious disease: It is passed via lobbyists from corporate executives to legislators.

Don't get me wrong: This is not an anti-corporate screed. Rather, it is a call for the type of honest disclosure that comprises effect-ive theory, that is, the active engagement with, and explicit articulation of, the totality of effects created through business decisions and legislative agendas.

By the way, if you live in the U.S., please do us all a favour and sign the petition over at Save the Internet. Thanks!
(Thanks Gianluca!)
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21 May 2006

Movie Time

No, not the Da Vinci Code (which Rotten Tomatoes rates as only 18% - ouch!). I went to see Thank You for Smoking over the weekend – the wonderful satire about lobbyists for the “merchants of death” industries, like Big Tobacco. Before the film, the audience was treated (although I admit that in the context of the subject matter, “treated” is an odd word to use) to the trailer for the upcoming film, An Inconvenient Truth (which opens in Toronto on June 2):
Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.
So what’s the connection with the lobbyist satire? Well, just as the smoking lobby satire had its fictional Academy for Tobacco Studies, the Oil Industry lobbyists have their Competitive Enterprise Institute. And the CEI, which is apparently funded by Big Oil, has launched its own (inadvertently funny) television commercials to attack the message of An Inconvenient Truth. Their claim? “CO2 – they call it pollution, we call it life.

Put this one on the top of your “must see this summer” list. In fact, why not support the message by going to see it on opening weekend? It’s going to be a long hot summer… and potentially fall and winter, too.

Update (24 May 2006): Here's the LA Times on the politics of the film:
In "An Inconvenient Truth," Gore seems to have miraculously shed his political skin — he exudes passion and inspiration. For many viewers, the contrast is inescapable. If voters had seen this gospel fervor in 2000, Gore might be president today rather than the guy from Texas who's been rolling back environmental regulations left and right.

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17 May 2006

Nanomaterials in Cosmetics = Mega-Concerns

Friends of the Earth has just released a report that will make anyone who uses cosmetics or sunscreens think twice about the products they are buying:
The report, titled “Nanomaterials, Sunscreens and Cosmetics: Small Ingredients, Big Risks,” details the extensive use of newly developed and poorly understood substances called nanomaterials in more than 116 sunscreens, cosmetics and personal care products currently on the market—despite a lack of independent safety assessment and regulation. The report also surveys a growing body of scientific research showing that many types of nanoparticles pose risks to consumers, workers and the environment.

Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of materials and the creation of structures and systems that exist at the scale of atoms and molecules. A nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter. By way of comparison, a DNA molecule is roughly 2.5 nm, a red blood cell 7,000 nm and a human hair cell a whopping 80,000 nm wide. The existing body of toxicological literature indicates that nanoparticles have a greater risk of toxicity than larger particles.

Cosmetics companies are using ingredients that include nano-scale metal oxides, carbon spheres called “fullerenes,” and “nanocapsules” designed to penetrate deeper layers of skin. Friends of the Earth believes its survey represents only a small sample of the cosmetics and personal care products containing “free” engineered nanoparticles now on store shelves...

In a 2004 report, the United Kingdom’s Royal Society—one of the oldest and most respected scientific bodies in the world—recommended “ingredients in the form of nanoparticles should undergo a full safety assessment by the relevant scientific advisory body before they are permitted for use in products.” Despite this warning, companies are rushing to incorporate nanomaterials into their products and cosmetics in a vacuum of independent safety testing. Two years after the Royal Society’s report, there are still no laws governing the use of nanomaterials in consumer products to ensure they do not cause harm to the public using them, workers producing them, or environmental systems into which waste nanoproducts are released.
It doesn't take a microbiologist (or a nanobiologist, either) to realize that nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and carbon fullerenes - all of which are now found in many moisturizers, cosmetics and sunscreens - can easily penetrate not only cell membranes, but the cell nucleus where they play havoc with mitochondrial processes (cell metabolism) and DNA. The likelihood of toxicity and mutations - that is, cancer - is just too great to be ignored. But what are Health Canada, the FDA, and similar agencies in other countries doing about this issue? IGNORING IT! That's right, boys and girls - these nanosubstances, which should be classified as new chemicals because their nano-size changes their chemical and biological reactivity, are considered no different than their relatively macro-sized precursors.

Here is the full report, Nanomaterials, sunscreens, and cosmetics: Small ingredients, big risks [pdf]. It makes for frightening, but tremendously important, reading:
In one of the most dramatic failures of regulation since the introduction of asbestos, corporations around the world are rapidly introducing thousands of tons of nanomaterials into the environment and onto the faces and hands of millions of people, despite the growing body of evidence indicating that nanomaterials can be toxic to humans and the environment.

Our research demonstrates that nanoparticles have entered just about every personal care product on the market, including deodorant, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, hair conditioner, sunscreen, anti-wrinkle cream, moisturizer, foundation, face powder, lipstick, blush, eye shadow, nail polish, perfume and after-shave lotion.

Memo to L’Oreal, Revlon, Estee Lauder, and the other cosmetic companies using such technologies: Aren't you the least bit afraid of the inevitable lawsuits? Or do you think that you'll get off by claiming insufficient scientific evidence linking nanomaterials to cancer? Or, let me put this another way: Would you let your wife or daughter use such stuff?
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Dose is Toast

The free daily tab, Dose, is gonzo - but not in a good way.
Peter Viner, President and CEO of the Fund's operating entity, CanWest MediaWorks Limited Partnership [said,] "In this very competitive newspaper market, we feel the printed publication will not produce the financial results we expect over the long term.
This saddens me because Dose was very cool - in both senses of the word.

As the 24-hour news cycle of the electronic world has created a constant stream of news, newspapers no longer serve the function of providing news. Rather, they do what magazines used to do: provide contextual depth in a way that television news, or wire-service feeds, cannot. Dose (attempted to) take a new spin on that idea, providing a (pop) cultural context for its daily theme, strongly supported by its innovative design, and hip sense of style. Unfortunately, it couldn't quite pull it off, distracted, as it was, with too much emphasis on "monetizing eyeballs," as the cliché goes. Perhaps a more experienced publisher would have done a better job with the concept.

The intention is for Dose.ca to continue its online presence, that is to say, its cash register, but it's not at all clear to me that out of (daily) sight won't mean out of mind - and eventually out of business completely. There's value in providing context; there's value in creating collaborative creative and social spaces. Being primarily an excuse to sell ringtones doesn't provide value.

Update (18 May 2006): My comments are quoted in today's Star.
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13 May 2006

Ask a Ninja: Net Neutrality

For anyone still wondering about the issue of net neutrality, why not ask a ninja?

So what's the big deal? Well, for one thing, if the types of controls and provisions now being contemplated by the big telcos, the US Congress and Administration, WIPO, and the content cartel had actually been in effect, say, five years ago, and most definitely ten years ago, you wouldn't have been able to ask a ninja, or even read this blog, since it is highly unlikely that either blogging or services like YouTube would have been developed.

Or, I can put it a different way: How many of you reading this right now own a television or radio station, or a newspaper? How many of you own a blog (or a MySpace, LiveJournal, Xanga, etc.), or post to Flickr, YouTube, del.icio.us, or the like? That's the difference.

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10 May 2006

License to Kill Cigarettes and Shards O'Glass Freeze Pops

This semester, I'm taking a course in corporate ethics, but not from a business school perspective. Issues of corporate social responsibility, governance, accountability, and transparency are so much more interesting - and a lot more fun - when done from an activist and critical ground. Naturally, the movie, The Corporation, is on the course's bill of fare (which, as long-time readers might recall, I consider a pro-corporate movie). As well, we've been pointed to the newest - and most honest - tobacco company to be incorporated, License to Kill, Inc, whose company slogan reads as "The beauty of the tobacco business is that people pay us to kill them. That's why our motto is "We're Rich. You're Dead!"" Meanwhile, I directed my colleagues to the wonderful corporate responsibility site of Shards O'Glass Freeze Pops:
At Shards O' Glass, our goal is to be the most responsible, effective and respected developer of glass shard consumer products intended for adults. Our Shards O' Glass Freeze Pops are the nation's top-selling frozen treats containing glass shards. Little wonder, considering all we put into them! Enjoy your stay here. And remember, Shards O' Glass Freeze Pops are for adults only.

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08 May 2006

And While We're On the Subject of Inappropriate

I noticed this item about misogyny in an academic department over at Jill's blog. Check your whats at the door?!! A comment like the one made by the history prof in question, made around these parts, would likely register at least a 6.5 on the Richter scale - can be destructive in areas where people live. Indeed.
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Discover Your Inner Racist

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival's theme this year is "Discover your inner Jew." The festival has a number of publicity posters that, for the most part, depict people who don't particularly look Jewish wearing some Jewish paraphenalia, like the South Asian man wearing a kippah and tallit, or a mullet-coiffed guy with a "Beast" t-shirt smiling and wearing a kippah. Cute.

What's not so cute is the depiction of what the organizers must refer to as "afrojew" (based on the filename of the jpeg, to which I will not link). It shows a man of African or Caribbean descent, with a googly-eyed, bojangles-ish grin, wearing a caricature wig with pais (the long side-locks that typify caricatures of Orthodox jews) a shtetl hat, and black horn-rim glasses. What a "great" mashup of two racist stereotypes!

Racism and racist depictions in this day and age - and especially in this city - are shameful. It is not merely inappropriate, it should be considered as socially stigmatizing as spitting on the street, blowing cigarette smoke into someone's face, being a loud and obnoxious drunk in someone's home, or [you can fill in your own vision of distasteful, offensive, and objectionable behaviour].

To those who would advise me to get a sense a humour, I would remind them that the process of dehumanizing, and then demonizing, begins with ridicule. It is precisely the wrongly assumed acceptability of this debasing form of humour that landed former Mayor Mel Lastman in hot water, so to speak. To those who would cry "freedom of speech" I would respond that, of course the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is free to participate in this kind of speech, as dubious as it may be. They are also free to demonstrate their insensitivity, and their ignorance of an issue that directly affects the Jewish community (and has done for decades in this city, and hundreds of years throughout the world), both of which they have done stunningly - and shamefully - well.

I am very much in touch with both my inner and outer Jew. And both are mightily offended.
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05 May 2006

What is Public Broadcasting When Media is By The Masses

Antonia reports that the innovative, and positioned-for-the-future show Zed on CBC has been axed. CBC TV VP Richard Stursberg - not surprisingly - is applying a commercial broadcaster rubric to a public broadcaster. And clearly, at least to my mind, he fundamentally does not understand the change that has occurred in mass media - no longer media for the masses, but media by the masses. In fact, he says, "CBC is committed to ... a greater sharing of Canadian stories and experiences..." Well, as I wrote during the management lockout of CBC workers,
But under conditions of instantaneous communication, consumers of culture become producers of culture, and collaborative producers at that. This suggests that for the CBC to fulfil its mandate of promoting and preserving Canadian culture, it should become the vehicle through which we tell our stories to ourselves.
And that means more programming like Zed, not merely commercial productions of glossy, ratings-grubbing comedies, movies and miniseries. But then again, that would take leadership.
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02 May 2006

Shameful Deterioration

Two members of my department at OISE, Prof. Shahrzad Mojab, and my Ph.D. colleague, Soheila Pashang, have an article in today's Star describing the shameful tactics used by immigration officials to clamp down on non-status people, and the devastating effects it has on the humanity that once contributed to Canadians' self-construction of identity:
It is widely believed that Canada has a reputation for opening its doors to immigrants and refugees from many parts of the world. In fact, Immigration Minister Monte Solberg recently stated that, "We (in Canada) probably have the most generous immigration system in the world in terms of being compassionate."

[But,] Non-status people have always been denied the basic rights enjoyed by other Canadians, and continuously live in fear of deportation; lack access to public and social services; and face exploitation, discrimination, abuse, violence, unemployment or underemployment, and insecurity. The fact that Canada turns a blind eye to the plight of non-status persons has severely damaged our reputation as a compassionate state. ... As such, the recent increase in deportations has damaged their already atrociously low quality of life. Many have quit their jobs, pulled their children out of school, and avoid leaving their homes to go grocery shopping or to access medical or other essential services. Some families have decided to relocate while others are breaking up so that if one parent is arrested by immigration authorities, the other parent can protect the children. Many non-status people are marginalized in the labour market, earn low wages, work long hours, perform dangerous tasks, work in impermanent, insecure jobs, and face abuse from employers — including not being paid.
While it is unfair to blame the current Harper government for the systemic problems that had taken root during previous Liberal governments, the aggressive terror tactics employed by immigration officials in recent days - in which school children are effectively abducted by (Harper) government agents and held as "bait" to flush out their parents for deportation - is an atrocious and shameful deterioration of public policy, enacted by what is increasingly being demonstrated as a heartless and uncaring government, aimed at benefiting the privileged, under a false rubric of so-called fairness.

A just society is not measured by the affluence of its populace, but rather on how well it cares for its weakest, and most disenfranchised, members.

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The Many Faces of Spirituality

The Spiritual Youth project has begun with some fascinating stories and reflections:
The concept of God has never appealed to me, and I don't think that there have been any instances in my life where believing in a god would have comforted or helped me. I do believe that one can be spiritual and not have religion as a part of their life. When I was around 13, my friends and I thought we would become Wiccans. We took it seriously, but it proved to be a phase. I am also taking a world religions course (gr. 11) and out of all the religions we have studied (African and Native American religions, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Budhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam,) I have most identified with the the animistic Native and African religions and Budhism. I have huuuuge problems with people who make derogatory comments about religions (other than Christianity). Most people have absolutely no knowledge of eastern religions, or any for that matter, and still make assumptions and generalizations and say stupid things. If anything, I guess nature takes the place of religion in my life.
Here's an excerpt from someone who relates a long, spiritual journey, and reawakening:
Shortly after my return from Nepal and India, I enrolled in a Kabbalah course and began learning about Jewish spirituality and philosophy. I was struck by the similarities (l'havdil) between the deeper Buddhist philosophies and Judaism, I really could not believe that Judaism had such depth of logic and thought. I continued learning about Jewish spirituality for several years, however I lacked belief in G-d and this began to be a very frustrating point. Why should I become a religiously observant Jew when I have a perfectly good path in Buddhism?
And there are these "droplets from a Swami":
One droplet sat quietly aside till the others pestered him into answering, “Where would you fall?” The droplet answered, “I would like to fall on the sand in the blazing hot desert”. The others shocked, exclaimed, “But you will instantly vaporize in pain!!” The single droplet answered, “I know, but if for that moment that one grain of sand feel relief, my purpose is served.”
If you are, or know, a person between the ages of 12 and 25, please visit the Spiritual Youth site and share your reflections on your own relationship with religion and spirituality. Here are some possible starting points for reflection.

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