martin hoffmann

I do cool things. With cool people.

ProG II: What I learned in the Ardennes


With all the daily routines and permanent learning nowadays, it sometimes feels like a bliss to actually meet new and inspiring people in real life. I am thankful for being a member of such a small network since half a year. The ProG – Project of our Generation, founded by two long-time education companions, is a thinking and inspiration space that brings together doers, thinkers, researchers and enthusiasts from all different fields. In December we met in the wildest outpost of the Belgian kingdom.

Project of our Generation II

During a weekend in the beginning of December, roughly 30 people from different fields met in Limerlé/Gouvy in the south of Belgium. Having gathered computer developers, doctors, HR-experts, lawyers, political researchers, architects and people with other backgrounds, the weekend promised to be an inspiring hub for sharing thoughts and ideas about currently pressing topics as well sharing ideas that usually wouldn’t cross your mind and thus finding inspiration outside of your thinking patterns.

As this was the second meeting within the ProG network during the last months, it was nice to see that the concept had developed, and also that the actual circle of people was expanded. Whilst we weren’t really sure what to do with such a melange of creativity during our first gathering in fall 2013, the meeting in Limerlé was clearly accepting this diversity in content, yet focusing on particular outcome at the end.

Having a mix of talks, presentations and workshops, the content ranged from self-development to morals, as well as discussing the future of data mining as well as protecting your data online; there was a talk on how movies shape our reality and various physical exercises.

There were three blocks that struck me the most and gave my little head some food for thoughts.

prog II-3

One talk presented the work of La Bolleur, a Dutch collective of artists and designers. Having started in an old bordel in 2005, they have been focusing on creating their own parties first and have now grown into a collective for cultural and social intervention. Whilst they are now able to live from commissioned work, they are still eager and able to make their own ideas happening that all have a special character of nonconformance while still being focusing on social realities. I was particularly impressed by ‘lopend vuurtje’, where they would organise a public bonfire. Yet the trick was that the invitation to the event was the actual firewood and they would go through the city to hand out pieces randomly and thus bringing people together that wouldn’t meet otherwise.

Another project was a cultural intervention in Sālsmaize, a small town in Latvia, that suffered tremendously from brain drain and outflow of people. Thus nowadays the city would have little interaction among its citizens – a problem most small towns and cities in central Europe will be facing in the next decades as well. La Bolleur was invited by the Riga Technical University (RTU) to create and event that would bring together the people of the city to eat and simply have a good time – which might end up in a revitalisation of the social life in town.

Jonas gave a talk about the general understanding of big data and how non-IT-companies are using its potential already and what perspectives for future usage we can already grasp. Though that was little surprising, heated debates about data protection came up, fired up by the recent surveillance revelations, concluding that stronger awareness is needed on when and where to give personal data.

Yet, most of us use and cherish the advantages of cloud services and big data applications. And during most public debates in the last weeks, the discourse mainly developed into a blaming-and-shaming-game, advising users and customers to be careful and afraid and to use as little personal data as possible. But we thought it the other way round: what if we not draw back from the web, but instead strengthen and foster one’s position in terms of data protection? What if signing up for a service is not only sign-it-or-leave-it-terms of usage but we actually have a way of negotiating? I’ll have a bit more thinking about this soon.

Project of our Generation II

Last but not least we further had a look at the vanishing of educational monopolies by Christian, who introduced the Open Badges project by Mozilla. In the past I have been thinking about the loss of determining power of traditional educational institutions already, and the recent growth in online learning platforms shows that education and qualification don’t have to go the same ways anymore in future.

The basic idea of digital badges is to create visual acknowledgement for someones skills. Getting away from a piece of paper you have to get from on institution, this is a basis for an open source peer-to-peer education where members of a community can give credentials based on what somebody is able to do, not necessarily what education they had. Just think about the possibilities for such a system in a smaller community, or maybe an organisation/company. And how this could change the way we apply for a job in future!

My contribution to this open space weekend was rather practical orientated. As I didn’t prepare any topic or talk, I improvised and offered a light painting workshop in the basement of the place. At least some people got their christmas cards done.

Project of our Generation II

So, these are thoughts from ProG II. I am looking forward to the next editions, and I am happy that this network made a valuable and fruitful addition to my life this year.



Author: hoffmann.martin

cultural engineer and education hacker | interested in design, media, politics, learning, teaching, understanding

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