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Power to the ants!

With all the negative news coming out of Iceland, it’s important to keep in mind that there are loads of positive and inspiring things happening on a daily basis that tend to get shoved aside by the REALLY SERIOUS ISSUES like, say, the closing of the Icelandic McDonald’s franchise.

One such initiative is an upcoming National Assembly organized by the esteemed Ministry of Ideas and other related organizations, who collectively call themselves The Anthill. The premise behind the initiative is that the Icelandic nation is currently at a critical crossroads and we urgently need a new roadmap into the future. And of course it is impossible to create a roadmap to somewhere unless you know where you want to end up.

Enter The Anthill. This grassroots collective has now organized an event where 1,500 Icelanders, randomly selected, will converge for a full day in the Laugardalshöll arena to deliberate on what they would like the future in Iceland to look like. Those 1,500 invitees will be divided into small groups each facilitated by a moderator, the objective being to establish a set of core values that will guide the Icelandic nation into the future with some sort of established vision.

The event will be on Saturday, November 14, and the first half will be devoted to discussing the question “What core values will guide us in developing our society, and what is the purpose and future vision of the Icelandic nation?” The latter half of the day will be given over to discussing different facets of society, such as welfare, health, law and order, education and business, and how those can be engineered to manifest the values and aspirations defined in the first half of the meeting.

The name Anthill refers to the fact that anthills have some sort of collective wisdom that each individual ant does not have. For example if an anthill is located on the edge of a river and the riverbank starts to erode, the ants will collectively start moving the hill – even though no individual ant can actually see that the riverbank is eroding, much less give the command to start moving. Similarly, the organizers believe that the collective wisdom of the Icelandic nation can give us some sort of direction into the future, where single individuals fail.

The Anthill is made up of volunteers from all walks of society – some of whom are well known, like our Minister for the Environment Svandís Svavarsdóttir and Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of Auður Capital [the only investment firm in Iceland that not only survived the meltdown but was actually recruiting people in the midst of it]. And as far as I know, this has never been done before in any country – to assemble a statistically significant cross-section of the nation to determine the future vision of a country.

IT’S A GLOOMY LATE-OCTOBER DAY
It’s been so overcast, and at this time of year that can feel quite oppressive, since the days are getting so short. I dug out our SAD light a couple of days ago and have that on in the mornings now while I’m eating breakfast. Still, we can’t complain – thanks to climate change it’s still balmy temps out there, currently 10°C [50F]. Sunrise was at 9.03, sunset at 5.17 pm.

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  • Gary Gerdeaux October 30, 2009, 5:55 pm

    Great idea! Check out Dadi´s blog regarding this at:

    http://www.economicdisasterarea.com/index.php/features/a-curious-nations-meeting/

  • silvia planchett October 30, 2009, 6:01 pm

    Auður Capital might not be the best choice for new ideas:

    http://icelandtalks.net/?p=651

  • Eygló October 30, 2009, 6:14 pm

    Hi Alda.
    This is such a cool event and I got invited! The assembly could really benefit from your wisdom, so I’m hoping you got the invite too.
    Otherwise, have a good (and rainy) weekend.

  • kevin o'connor waterford Ireland October 30, 2009, 7:51 pm

    Probably a better idea than all the Antics your bankers got up to !!!
    Antics geddit ha ha, OK OK my comedian career never took off ,keep the day job,whoops I dont even have a job right now.

  • Joerg October 30, 2009, 10:16 pm

    The ants will have to work hard to overcome the sheep.

    http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/?cat_id=16539&ew_0_a_id=351247

    According to this article in the IR, a survey has resulted in 25% of the interviewees considering Davið Oddsson as trustful and able to lead Iceland out of the crisis. Quite a number of people still seem to live in denial, not caring for crossroads and roadmaps at all and prefering to continue on the old tracks towards perdition. Or is this just a spin, based on a biased survey?

  • Dorothy.Gale October 31, 2009, 2:48 am

    Speaking of McDo, the Onion even has a page on McDo leaving Iceland:
    http://www.theonion.com/content/amvo/mcdonalds_abandons_iceland

  • idunn October 31, 2009, 6:21 am

    I think it’s a lovely idea, and ever so curious to learn what they come up with.

  • Alexander E. October 31, 2009, 7:44 am

    The name Anthill refers to the fact that anthills have some sort of collective wisdom that each individual ant does not have. For example if an anthill is located on the edge of a river and the riverbank starts to erode, the ants will collectively start moving the hill

    an event where 1,500 Icelanders, randomly selected, ….the objective being to establish a set of core values that will guide the Icelandic nation

    As I’m not sure who contributes what part of the ideas above, I have to ask Alda.

    If it’s collective wisdom – why only 1,500 “ants” will decide the direction to move the hill to?
    What’s the difference between selecting – very randomly indeed – dozens of MPs and picking up randomly selected Icelanders?
    Why not just get those first fifteen hundreds who enters Bonus on next Saturday? For sure Bonus customers are more close to working ants than to boss ants.
    How can 1,500 generate better values for 300,000 then current political parties that represent at least 30,000 (relatives and friends included)? Etc.

    Eygló
    This is such a cool event and I got invited!

    I’m glad for you but… (nothing personal)… but why are you better then Doddsson? You haven’t screwed up anything yet? Then why not me?

    Why do people doing it again and again?
    Why do they talk about anthill and collective wisdom – then turn back to the old outdated system by DELEGATING their wisdom, experience and power to someone randomly elected or selected?

    I’m married for 25 years (yes I’m) and I predict what my wife will say and do pretty well. But I won’t delegate my right for decision even to her as we are somewhat different anyway (after 25 years in same “party”). And for sure she is less willing to delegate her rights to me 🙂
    So, Eygló, tell me why should I trust you?

    May be this is the time to use the wisdom of all us – small “ants” – and move the fokking hill away from the eroded banks?

  • James October 31, 2009, 11:31 am

    That concept sounds really interesting, but it’s an ambitious amount to cover in just one day. I hope the results will be summarised on IWR. If a successful format, the event could potentially be replicated in other countries (as long as participants are selected randomly, larger countries won’t need 0.5% of the population taking part in order to be statistically significant).

    “determine the future vision of a country”

    Wow, that meeting is empowered!

  • Thorunn Sleight October 31, 2009, 12:56 pm

    Alexander E has a point, I think, but then again, these are invitees to a mere brainstorming session that is planned, not representative delegates in a government. BIG difference!

  • Max October 31, 2009, 1:21 pm

    Have they got anything to do with Icelandtrain (http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/?cat_id=16539&ew_0_a_id=351268)?

    If this is real this sounds seriously exciting.

  • James October 31, 2009, 2:01 pm

    Alexander E. – The organisers may be assuming that the group will form a wise crowd ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wisdom_of_Crowds ) and potentially perform better than a small team of representative experts. Or the organisers may care more about the methodology of broader involvement, rather than the quality of the end result. Whatever the motivations, it’s an interesting experiment.

  • Valerie in San Diego October 31, 2009, 2:53 pm

    The Anthill sounds great – very brave and hopefully very interesting. But closing the McDonald’s sounds even better to this jaded American. It can only get better from here!

  • alda October 31, 2009, 2:57 pm

    Thanks for the input everyone!

    I’m not one of the invitees to the brainstorming session, but the plan is for me to do a live Tweeting session from their press room.

  • Alexander E. November 1, 2009, 5:02 am

    he event could potentially be replicated in other countries (as long as participants are selected randomly, larger countries won’t need 0.5% of the population taking part in order to be statistically significant).

    James.
    For the USA this would result in ONE AND A HALF MILLION people. Or ONE million if we count voters only.
    How do you think it’s possible – in practical term – to get them to “discuss” anything? I’m just curious.

    The organisers may be assuming that the group will form a wise crowd and potentially perform better than a small team of representative experts.

    The fact that it’s just a theory of James Surowiecki – who is not Isaak Newton of social behavior – but let’s say he is right.
    So the crowd’s wisdom is greater that the combined wisdom of its members. As such the wisdom of the selected group is greater than wisdom of those randomly selected Icelandic individuals. I agree.
    BUT what the wisdom of 1,500 has to do with the will, dreams, opinion of 300,000 other individuals?
    Why should I trust this crowd more than I trust Doddsson&Co?
    Why should I delegate MY power to them?

    Whatever the motivations, it’s an interesting experiment.

    Well, I have a little bit different opinion about relations between motivation and the experience resulted of that motivation. Believe me – you might not like some of the results….

    these are invitees to a mere brainstorming session that is planned, not representative delegates in a government. BIG difference!

    Thorunn, what difference do you see?
    This is not about difference. This is about HOPE that some random people might come out with something different and kannski better then “professionals”.
    My opinion – this is wishful thinking as best. Or cynical plan as worst.

    It really doesn’t matter how we select our representatives – electing them once in a while or randomly inviting. There is nothing new about it – just read the story about Althingi – the oldest Crowd The Wise 🙂
    So my point is – why should we delegate to someone our right to discuss, make decisions and take responsibility by ourselves?

    Very little needed for this – just to think different 😉

  • Dadi November 1, 2009, 6:46 pm

    It is amazing how eager people are to sign up for something like this without apparantly knowing the following:

    a) Who is behind the Anthill?

    b) How is the whole thing being paid for? Who is paying? Why?

    c) What will be done with the information gathered? How is the material gathered supposed to be “owned” by the nation?

    d) What is the follow through going to be like afterwards?

    e) Who is going to speak on the behalf of this gathering afterwards? How?

    f) How is the Nation’s meeting going to implement and spread the wisdom gathered?

    g) Who elects them to do so?

    h) If an idea is voiced at the gathering, could someone else use it to his/hers gain?

    i) Does the Anthill have employees? What happens with the donations it is gathering? Who is able to distribute its funds?

    j) What is Mobilitius? Why is the Nation’s Meeting presented by Mobilitus? Who is behind it?

    The people behind the Anthill are Gudjon Mar Gudmundsson, Maria Ellingssen, Halla Tomasdottir, Larus Ymir Oskarsson, Bjarni Snaebjorn Jonsson, Gunnar Jonatansson and curiously enough Svandis Svavarsdottir, minister of environmental affairs.

    Maybe I am just too cynical but I have sat through more than enough focus groups and strategic meetings in my life to question this whole thing. No matter what Capacent would like to sell you, these things are usually for show.

    The danger is that you’ll get a lot of people in one room who are eager to talk, but not listen.

    We the nation are supposed to have a representative body of 63 people you know. It would be much more interesting if Svandis Svavarsdottir would start a tradition of open and transparent government where experts on relative matters are called upon for consultation using scientific and Socratic methods, and open for innovation instead of meeting interest groups behind closed doors.

    I would be very wary of this event. It sounds like a great thing to put on the organizers’ CV to get them up on a TED stage.

    Yes, I am cynical. Nowadays I rarely gush about things without examining them thoroughly, experiencing the rise of the banking sector has taught me that. But more people should be critical and cynical in the current climate. People who attend should ask these questions of the organizers, seeing as some of them commissioned reports on the healthy state of the financial industry and have been spinning the banking crash to their advantage.

    Thanks for a great site Alda.

  • alda November 1, 2009, 11:56 pm

    Hæ Daði og takk sömuleiðis!

    These are thought-provoking questions, thanks for posting them. I know some of these people personally and so am perhaps not quite as sceptical as you – but nevertheless I think the questions are good and deserve an answer.

    Thinking it might be a good idea to get the Anthill people to answer them here on the site. Hm.

  • Alexander E. November 2, 2009, 2:37 am

    Yes, I am cynical.

    You are not the only one, Dadi 😉

    And I read your questions before you posted them here…Thanks to Gary!

    But! Let’s say that Anthill stands for good and nothing but the good. And the people behind are honest, decent, wise, experience, full of integrity and best wishes.
    Would that change anything? I doubt about it.
    Remember that “skyr and pot revolution” recently? Did it change your cynical life? 🙂

    So I’m really not interested in the answers. And you won’t get them anyway. I mean you can get a lot of “answers” and “explanations” but they might make you be even more cynical than now…

    PS. Two cynical minds can make any blog boring… sorry, Alda.