What’s with the lines and boxes and backstory?

Tuttle in boxes and lines

What’s all this about then? Well it’s becoming clear to me that there are two things that I need to do that I’m not doing enough of. First is that I should be writing more publicly about what I’m doing and how. But also that the connections between seemingly different bits need to be articulated too.

Wait. There’s something else we need to sort out first. This isn’t about me. I mean obviously it all is but that’s not because I think what I’m doing or thinking is particularly important or even interesting but because it’s the material that’s closest to hand.

I am interested in how stories get told on the internet and the rest of the world, and how storylines can move between the two. How narratives can carry over from blogs to films to games to comic-strips to conversations down the pub to a picture on the wall. That’s what transmedia storytelling is to me. Many definitions of transmedia include the word “fictional”. I think it’s valuable to operate at a higher level of abstraction and include elements that might be fictional or might be factual or maybe predominantly factual but include elements that are wholly and explicitly subjective interpretations of the “facts”.

And social art field trips like Tuttle2Texas are non-fictional transmedia experiences. And I know that it’s sometimes difficult to explain or understand what they’re for. They’re not *for* anything. They’re not a means to an end. They are deliberately at such a level of abstraction that their primary purpose is to help illustrate how stories (fictional or otherwise) might be co-created and told, because we don’t know that well enough yet – and if we operate only at lower levels of abstraction it’s much harder to learn what works and to transfer that learning between domains of interest.

So what I’m trying to here before my brain explodes is to shift up yet another level and say OK, if you take #tuttle as an element and #tuttle2texas as an element and that consulting work we did last year as an element, how do they all fit together?

Not “How can we find the common thread so that we can present a coherent marketing pitch?” But rather, given that this stuff is as coherent and congruent as anything else, what connections need to be articulated to help you suspend your disbelief? What needs to be explained? How wide and empty can the gutter be? What might I fill the gutter up with to help you across? What backstory is useful that helps you get to the beginning. And what is the beginning? Where do you start? Because when you’re telling this kind of a story, each element may have a beginning, middle and an end, but the great thing about having near infinite capacity to co-create and store stuff is that we can stretch the story out as long as our patience and interest and attention can last.

And if we can work it out at this level (and I’ll only do that by doing it) then perhaps there are valuable lessons that are more generally applicable.

I think.

Backstory: The Audit Commission – Part II

So after I graduated, in the summer of 1996 (see there’s a whole story there about why I was graduating in 1996 at the age of 31…) I went back as a Research Associate, no, do you know what? I don’t think I was a Research *Associate* because that was a defined job for people with more experience and stuff, I think my title was actually Research Assistant. Anyway I went back and settled into doing very similar work as I’d done when a student, except for half as much money again and on a study of public libraries and with the knowledge that I was probably here to stay.

Until I saw an advertisement. I don’t know exactly when it was but it wasn’t long in. There was an internal advertisement for Information Manager for the newly-formed Joint Reviews of Social Services, a team to be jointly managed by the Commission and the Department of Health. A team had already been working for a year on developing a methodology for carrying out wholesale reviews of an Authority’s Social Services function from a service-user’s point of view. The idea was to blend the “professional judgement” of the Department with the “analytical rigour” of the Commission.

The project director was Andrew Webster who went on to become Director of Social Services at Lambeth and Surrey. I asked people in the pub about Andrew and the project and what I should do. And got a whole-hearted shove in the right direction. I felt terrible about jumping ship so quickly, but the job really did have my name written all over it. It was to design and manage information systems to collect data both from national statistical collections and from individual reviews and provide data analysis support to the professional social workers and auditors who formed the review teams.

I got the job and started work on the team in a little office in Grosvenor Gardens, next door to the Peanut Council of America and other luminaries.

Just before I started, my (now ex-) wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. The kids were 3 and 5 and although I’d just got a dream job iI faced losing my partner and bringing the children up on my own. I took as much time off as I could while she had her surgery and recuperated. She, we now know, lived long enoughh to become my ex-wife 10 years later and continues to thrive cancer free. At that time, however, I had no idea how this was going to turn out. My reaction was to throw myself into work. In the time up until Christmas, I worked on an analysis tool for the team to be able to get a statistical picture of an authority’s performance before a review started.

I pulled it altogether in a spreadsheet containing a database of the core performance indicators that the team had identified as important. For most of these indicators we had three years of data. the Commission had, at the time, defined “families” of authorities for profiling, putting similar authorities (based largely on demography) into groups.

My tool presented the data for a particular authority in the context of its family group and a particular indicator in the form of a boxplot for three years. You could see quickly, once you understood the format, what trend an indicator might be following in relation to other similar authorities. You could also see where an authority fell within the middle half or above or below the quartiles for its family and statistically where they were outliers (this really needs an illustration doesn’t it?). The central team loved it, got it straight away. It took a bit longer for some of the other reviewers to catch up.