H1N1: Mountain or Molehill? Health debate 10.09.09

The first surprise in last month’s Thinking Tank was that 80% of you feel that swine flu is “no big deal”. This, despite the fact that 60% had friends and family who had contracted the disease (presumably with no serious consequences).

The discussion took a philosophical turn with much reflection on swine flu:

As a symptom of society

  • Yes, the resilience of the human race is encouraging. We will find new energy solutions, we will cope with changing family structures etc We always have…

As a message to improve the way we run our world

  • that’s a benefit of the whole event, reminds us that we’re all human, all basically in the same boat and should find solutions for all
  • slows down the rat race we are in for a while
  • We can have our mobile phones and home entertainment, but at the end of the day we are still all codependent. So when some thing goes wrong for one group it still affects us

And as a way to identify lifestyle risks

  • When we choose to exploit (pigs, land, food distribution) we don’t get away with it. We may seem to in the short term, but sooner or later it catches up with us. We need to think bigger and wider
  • maybe drives us apart – “I would help you but if I touch you I might get your germs

There was quite some scepticism about the real danger of the disease but an acknowledgement that there were some useful lessons to be learnt

  • pandemics sell papers
  • prepares all systems for a real alert, like a test-case

Some actions

Encourage sustainable farming:

  • give negative tax on organic produce
  • Increase transport costs and incentivise local consumption of local food

Manage the media:

  • Next time: try to control the media hype a bit. Because if people have had this experience twice, they will not believe a warning the third time anymore, and not respond to measurements.

School’s out for ever. Education Tank 05.08.09

The word cloud for the whole debate looks like this (the bigger the word, the more it was used / supported)

In our debate on education we covered the good and the bad of the current system, the values we felt education should have and the ways forward—advice to the education minister. Participants came from USA, South America and Europe; they were about 50/50 teachers and parents. More than 70% think the current system needs a “radical rethink”

Pros and cons of current system

In the opening poll, more than 70% felt that education needed a radical rethink—not just some improvements.

  • The world has changed dramatically and education is pretty much business as usual. Needs major rethink
  • our entire social model requires revamping to take into consideration things like this system, Synthetron

There was not a high level of agreement on current strengths, though winning benefits were social skills, discipline and ability to analyse. Highest ranking concerns were focus on memory not understanding, under-supported teachers and under-involved parents.

  • Students are taught to learn, not to think!
  • Not enough preparations for the teachers
  • not enough discipline at home

The future we want

When we asked What is education FOR?, the strongest statements were very much about the human beings rather than their academic achievements

  • to produce grownups adapted to reality with values
  • to produce well-balanced adults who are confident in their abilities, aware of their limitations, and have a strong trust engagement with friends and community

The strongest supported statement from the whole debate (over 90% support) was on the values we think the education system should live by

  • A real respect for diversity, and values individual achievements at all levels

Other values that rated highly included ethics, integrity, social responsibility, confidence. Academic achievement was barely mentioned during the debate

Action points and advice to the leaders

  • Set an example … by acting like a responsible professional. Never stop learning.
  • teachers need to get training, coaching and other kinds of help to stay on top and be always prepared to deal with new challenges
  • [parents need] to be active in the school where your children are being taught

15 people took part in the discussion including individuals from USA, South America and Europe. They were three times as active as average Synthetron participants and made and ranked 350 statements and ideas between them. They showed an average level of convergence on key points (26% of the statements made became Synthetrons— including all of the statements quoted here)

Do we have to suffer to be beautiful? Health debate 07.07.09

The conversation was dominated by concerns about body weight—plastic surgery, tattoos, piercing were barely mentioned. There was a spirited defence of heavier bodies by some  and almost universal disapproval of extreme thinness and its promotion.

The beauty industry has more effect on our body image than partner, family and friends, but 40% still feel their own point of view is the most important (all statements quoted here achieved at least 70% support).

The majority of the group felt it was “crucial to act” to address the issue of media pressure on all of us to look a certain way.

  • I like that eg mascara ads now say “with false eyelashes”. Its reassuring. All beauty ads should have to declare their fakeness.

Advantages of more body image interest

The group acknowledged that interest in how we look is not all bad…

  • it is a luxury and a privilege to be living at a time in civilisation when we can afford this indulgence in how we look – not just fighting to survive
  • focus on health and fitness

Disadvantages of more body image interest

But there were many more strongly supported statements concerning the disadvantages which included increased incidence of eating disorders among children, a tendency to be superficial and an

  • emphasis on appearance rather than being

Action points

There were mixed feelings on public education about healthy eating with some wariness of nanny state tendencies. But certainly interest in a more personal approach

  • Important to be with our kids and help them interpret these messages, reminding them they have a choice (and reminding ourselves too!)

Keeping the conversation going and extending to new audiences was seen as important too:

  • make this technology available for kids to have conversations too
  • ..and people working within the various beauty industries might benefit from the opportunity to participate in this kind of conversation

LINKS

Rosa, advocacy group for women and girls

Womankind Worldwide, development agency

Does corruption matter? Thinking Tank 04.06.2009

A lively debate at a time when corruption—particularly among politicians and business leaders—is often in the media. The group debated personal and public corruption, and the difficulty of defining what is acceptable (according to personal circumstances and cultural norms). A key conclusion was the need to instil a clear sense of right and wrong in young people today so they can operate successfully in an environment where corruption is increasingly challenged.

Top Comments (60%+ endorsement)

Personal responsibility was a key theme

  • Don’t tolerate it. Be vocal. Be transparent where you can, and be consistent in saying no
  • The solution starts with us, not with the government
  • It is about personal integrity and doing job you are paid for, otherwise don’t take the job
  • I was encouraged by a supplier to pay in cash to avoid vat – I felt dirty and disappointed in myself for even considering it

And institutional corruption and its underlying causes

  • it is scandalous for politicians to be corrupt
  • there is some intrinsic corruption due to bonuses , share price and personal ambition that makes important business leaders corrupted and take decisions that are not in the interest of stakeholders, but of their own bonuses..
  • government are responsible for putting the framework into place and checking the rule of law is applied

Cultural differences were discussed and the difficulty of standing up to endemic corruption

  • corruption is not just monetary, it can also be about how relate to other people – needs to become more of guiding principle
  • there are a lot of good people including in governments in very corrupt countries who wish the system was different – but they need help as becoming an outcast often means no food on the table
  • there still is very little protection for company “whistleblowers” ; mafia bosses who repent get far better treatment and do not end up be being sacked by their employers !

Suggested personal and public actions to tackle corruption included

  • corruption is most effectively attacked by the individual who suffers it speaking out and exposing individuals by name through the media including the web
  • Transparency is the way forward. Make public everything you do and hear as a public officer. Secrecy is the key foundation of corruption
  • Start from the base, kids need to learn integrity
  • Ensure that score cards or compensations do not corrupt decision makers to neglect important value considerations for stakeholders
  • Get politicians on Thinking Tank sessions
  • Give back the extra change, point out when we’ve been overpaid, don’t lie
  • I’ll talk about this with my kids over dinner – I’m interested to see where their views differ from mine and if any guidance is needed (probably from them to me!)
  • This has been a useful reminder that the NORMAL thing is to say no to corruption. IT’s not weird or unreasonable. Quite the opposite.

Christmas Thinking Tank Results 07.12.2008

Kids want happy families not presents, yet adults feel the pressure to spend!???

In December for the first time we ran two Thinking Tanks. One for under 16s and then one for adults. Children talked a lot about families, the sparkle of decorations and the feeling of excitement. Adults talked about the over-commercialisation of Christmas but recognised it only works because we buy into it. We concluded with some great ideas to buck the trend.

It’s not the way we want it

The general conclusion was this Christmas had lost some of it’s spark for adults. For some that was the declining religious significance while the majority rued the seemingly irresistible commercialisation of the event  – almost 60% of adults felt Christmas had less value today than when they were young.

  • Pity it as been turned for many people into a purchasing circus over the last 15 years
  • [I feel a] bit of guilt, as we are not celebrating it as it should be celebrated

What we like

The positive aspects of Christmas for the adult group were mostly around feasting—good food and wine, shared with family and friends. There was nostalgia for a simpler era when presents were homemade and there wasn’t the same pressure to spend.

  • human beings need rituals, especially those to do with change

In the young people’s group, the emphasis was also on family, though food was hardly mentioned! 60% of them felt that Christmas was most enjoyable for families (surprisingly, 20% thought turkeys!)

When the young people got to make a wish for Christmas, they went for peace, snow, health and love. Much lower scores for i-pods and quad bikes.

Offered a wish for the world, less environmental destruction, poverty and racism were unanimously supported.

  • racism to stop
  • don’t waste the world
  • people to recycle

When we forced the issue by challenging participants to limit to a £50 budget most adults chose to spend it on food. And many thought they might even enjoy it more

  • More. Because the reason to come together is not the gifts, the food, …. it is only the friendship
  • More value. Will have to be creative and invest personal time to find the right present and please the recipient

Hope for the future

In good Dickens tradition, at the end of our discussion we considered future Christmases and whether we might find ways to increase their value. 50% felt this would be possible.

Some of the more popular suggestions were:

  • I’m a great fan of the “random acts of kindness” school – if we ALL do it, it encourages others!!
  • ensure that we see giving of their time and presence as valuable as presents
  • maybe if we include a personal promise (eg to read a bedtime story, get home from work in time) in each Christmas card we send, word will get around

When the young people came up with their suggestions for improving Christmas they recognised adults need some help with enjoying themselves:

  • but adults are part of the family (!)
  • help each other more on Christmas day – my mum always says it’s exhausting
  • I think a lot of the magic that is “created” at xmas is FOR children – and maybe adults should enjoy that more, seeing children happy and excited
  • I think if it could be made a bit simpler and be more about being with people and showing the nice side of life, rather than consumerism all the time, it would be loads better.

The final word comes from the children’s debate on how to improve Christmas for everyone:

    be nice and share

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