Quilting Resistance: Fabric, Humanity, Serendipity & Cybernetics

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog. I continue to research, to map, to watch talks and prop myself up reading books about resistance. A friend told me I needed to take a break and get some perspective-to MAKE something.

Eventually, I did. I spent a few weeks making a quilt for a colleague who is expecting her first child. I viewed it as a meditation on hope for young people coming up, those who might work together to build a future that acknowledges past harms, rectifies injustice, and creates space to be otherwise.

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As I stood over the cutting mat,

sat at the kitchen table with my foot on the sewing machine pedal,

crouched on the quilt inserting basting pins, and

hand-stitched the binding,

I fought a growing sense of alarm that keeps rising in my chest.

So many stories coming through my social media feed attest to the fact that Big Data, Big Brother, and global finance are on the move.

  • Pearson joining with Tom Vander Ark’s Learn Capital on a $50 million venture fund advancing innovative education enterprises prioritizing augmented reality. Here
  • DataKind and Commit!, Strive’s partner in Dallas, making plans to run the data of the school district’s 500,000 children through machine learning to see what patterns they can discern. Here
  • A story about income sharing agreements funding tuition for higher education. Here
  • Former McKinsey Mayor Pete’s South Bend, Indiana being set up as a pilot cradle to grey “City of Lifelong Learning” via the Drucker Institute-yeah, Peter Drucker the father of management science and mentor to Saddleback Church’s Rick Warren and Bob Buford (deceased), the Institute’s Board Chair Emeritus, Texas television tycoon, and mega-church consultant. Here

We are striding towards a cybernetic reckoning, one that aims to meld people with machines in service of viciously lean efficiencies that profit the global elite. Power players in finance, tech, faith communities, and the government want nothing more than to engineer a future for the masses that allows them to maintain control and preempt insurgency. To them the poor are numbers, 1s and 0s set up to be harvested and poured into algorithms for “impact” data visualization.

Early in my research I stumbled across the work of twin brothers Douglas and David F. “Wrench in the Gears” Noble. Doug’s book “The Classroom Arsenal” gave me a solid grounding in the militarized history of computing and the ways digital systems have been used to structure human behavior. David’s books helped me understand technology and capitalism. Their life choices embody the uncompromising resistance we so desperately need, and I am grateful for their activism and their writings. Lately, I’ve also been mulling over Yasha Levine’s book Surveillance Valley.

Norbert Weiner is featured in Levine’s book and has been on my mind a lot. Weiner was a child prodigy who essentially worked as a human computer, calculating trajectories for anti-aircraft guns during World War II. He spent his career at MIT where he helped develop the fields of cybernetics, cognitive science, and robotics. In addition to being trained in mathematics, Weiner had been a student of philosophy, and as he grew older he came to recognize the dangers of his research, especially its military applications. You sense this in the transcription at the end of this piece. I hope you will read it. In his later years he advocated for organized labor and peace, was labeled a Communist and followed closely by the FBI. Levine’s book states:

“He (Weiner) increasingly hinted at his insider knowledge that a “colossal state machine” was being constructed by government agencies ‘for the purposes of combat and domination,’ a computerized information system that was ‘sufficiently extensive to include all civilian activities during war, before war, and possibly even between wars,’ as he described it in The Human Use of Human Beings.” Surveillance Valley, page 46

Well, here we are-not in a totally new place, but a point further down the continuum of digital surveillance and behavioral conditioning. A year ago I visited the MIT Media Lab, an experience that prompted me to write “Our Future As Social Machines.” I’m not sure how to extricate myself from this mess, but neither am I willing to quietly submit. So, I keep talking and thinking out loud with all who tolerate my musings and are willing to sit with me as I process new information and attempt to place it within the emerging schema I have devised to grapple with the particular brand of evil that is social impact / high-tech human capital financialization.

I talk about this stuff at work. So much so that when the quilt was presented, another colleague shouted from the back of the room that I must have sewn some data-protection armor into it. Sadly, there is no information deflector inside. But I harbor the idea that creating handmade things is a form of resistance, of showing that what society normalizes today doesn’t have to be what is normal tomorrow. I want to believe that future generations can hold onto things that while they may verge on obsolescence, hold space to bring the useful parts of the past into the future. That the things we create and put ourselves into have a meaning that carries forward. Maybe in future years this quilt will be a force field for this baby, a haven, a place to snuggle with a good book. Maybe the patterns of this quilt will spark imaginative daydreams.

I can hope.

My quilts are serendipitous. I lay scraps of fabric out over the kitchen floor to get just the right composition of colors and patterns. I try and choose prints that convey a particular sentiment-that fit the intended recipient. I use little bits of fabric, so a quarter yard can last a long time. I have my favorites. They are like old friends. I have a sense of what I want my quilt to look like when I start, but it evolves. There is no set pattern, no rules other than the size of the blocks-in this case 8 inches across.

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At first I thought this one would be pin wheels, but it didn’t want to be a pinwheel quilt. Instead, the blocks of color fitted themselves into diagonal rows that speak to the furrows of land on the farm where this friend works. The quilt knew what it wanted to be, it just needed time to coalesce.

The back? Well, I ran short on the fabric that I ordered. I ended up piecing together leftover blocks with other bits I had on hand and they looked like farm field, which was just exactly right. And when I handed it to my friend the other farmer said-these blocks are just like our three fields. I didn’t even know that was the lay out of the farm, but something guided that placement. It wasn’t planned in advance. It happened as it was meant to.

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That serendipity, that human error, miscalculation and redemption is what I want to hold fast to. If we had put this quilt on a “pathway” according to a some “Swiss” model, as some are trying to do with middle school children, it would not have the life and vitality it has. Sure, it might be functional, but it wouldn’t be fully developed.

Perhaps it is a stretch to compare the creation of a quilt with the evolution of a life. But I think there is merit in contesting pre-set patterns and plans, especially when such plans are imposed by powerful forces to serve their own ends. For the time we have left and for this coming generation. I want to stave off the cybernetic battalions Dr. Weiner came to fear. I want to deploy force fields of quilts imbued with solidarity and create sheltered spaces where predictive equations and human systems engineering may not enter.

What follows is a transcript I made of a portion of a talk Norbert Weiner gave in 1950 to the New York Academy of Medicine. I don’t know if the genie is out of the bottle yet. Let us try to keep the machine in the bottle as long as we can. Resist and regroup as needed, preferably under a quilt with a good book.

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Linsley R. Williams Memorial Lecture

“Men, Machines, and the World About”

WYNC, New York Academy of Medicine, Dr. Norbert Weiner, Timestamp 42:36

The Galbraiths had the idea that man was not working anywhere like full efficiency in its ordinary operations. They thought that families of a dozen were had by people (referencing the movie Cheaper By the Dozen), simply because of the stupidity of people in running their daily tasks, which could be avoided by a better order of their tasks. That was the motive behind the large family. That was the motive behind the systematic bringing up of all those children. Now, however, when you have simplified a task by reducing it to a routine of consecutive processes, you have done the same sort of thing that you need to do to put the task on a machine, and run that process completely on an automatic machine.

The problem of industrial management and order, which was handled by Taylor by the Galbraiths and so on, is almost the same problem as that of the taping of a control machine. So that instead of actually improving the conditions of the worker, it has telescoped the worker out of the picture.

That is a very important thing, because it is taking place now (1950).

I want to say that we are facing a new industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution represented the replacement of the energy of man and of animals, and the power, with the energy and power of the machine. The steam engine was it-simple. Well that has gone so far that there’s nothing that a man with a pick and shovel can do but glean after a bulldozer. There is no rate at which pure pick and shovel work can be paid in this country, which will guarantee the man doing it a living. It is simply economically impossible to compete with a bulldozer for bulldozer work.

The NEW industrial revolution, which is taking place now, consists primarily in replacing human judgment and discrimination at low levels by the discrimination of the machine. The machine appears now, not as a source of power, but as a source of control and a source of communication. We communicate with the machine, and the machine communicates with us. Machines communicate with one another.

Energy and power are not the proper terms to measure. Well, if we in a small way make human tasks easier by replacing them with a machine execution of the task and in a large way eliminate the human element in these human tasks, we may find that we have essentially burnt incense before the machine god.

There’s a very real danger in this country in bowing down before the brazen calf. The idol is a gadget. I know very great engineers who never think further than the construction of the gadget and never think of the question of the integration between the gadget and human beings in society.

If we allow things a reasonably slow development, then the introduction of the gadget as it comes in may hurt us enough to provoke a salutary response. So that we realize that we cannot worship the gadget and sacrifice the human being to it. But a situation is easily possible in which we may have a disastrous result.

Let us suppose we go to war tomorrow with Russia. Now I think that Korea, if they have shown us anything, they have shown us that modern war means nothing (undecipherable). The problem with occupying Korea is serious enough. The problem of occupying China and Russia staggers imagination. But we shall have to prepare to do that if we do go to war. At the same time we have to keep up an industrial production to feed the army. I mean feed it with munitions as well as ordinary food and ordinary equipment, second to none in history.

Second, we shall have to do a maximum production job with a labor market simply scraped to the bottom, and that means with the automatic machine. A world of that sort will mean the machines will be putting a large part of our best engineering ability in developing the machines within the next two months, probably.

Now, it happens that the people to do this sort of a job are there. They’re the people who have been trained in electronic work. In the last war they worked with radar. We’re further on with the automatic machine than we were with radar at the beginning, at Pearl Harbor. Therefore, the situation is that probably in two or three years we’ll see the automatic factory well understood and beginning to be in self-introduction, and in five years or so would see it-something of which we possess the complete know how and of which we possess a vast backlog of parts.

Also, in war, social reforms do not get made. At the end of such a war we’ll find ourselves with a tremendous backlog of parts and know how, which is extremely tempting to anybody who wants to make a quickie fortune and get out from under and leave the rest of the community to pick up the pieces. That may very well happen. If that DOES happen, heaven help us, because we’ll have an unemployment compared with which the Great Depression was a nice little joke.

Well, you see the picture drawing together. Now I suppose one of the things that you people would like will be consolation.

Gentleman, there is no Santa Claus.

If we want to live with the machine, we must understand the machine. We must not worship the machine. We must make a great many changes in the way we live with other people. We must revalue leisure. We must turn the great administers of business, of industry of politics into a state of mind where they will consider that the leisure of people is their business and is not none of their business. We shall have to do this unhampered by slogans, which fit a previous state of society and don’t fit the present.

We shall have to do this unhampered for the creeping paralysis of secrecy, which is engulfing our government, because secrecy simply means we are unable to face situations as they are. The people who have to control situations are in no position to handle them. We shall have to realize that while we may make the machines our gods and sacrifice men to machines, we do not have to do so. And if we do so, we deserve the punishment of idolaters.

It’s going to be a difficult time. If we can live through it and keep our head, and if we do not get annihilated by war itself and our other problems, there is a great chance of turning the machine to human advantage. But the machine itself has not particular favor for humanity.

It is possible to make two kinds of machines. I will not go into detail. The machines whose taping is determined once and for all and the machines whose taping is continually being modified by their experience. The second sort of machines can in some sense “learn.”

Now gentleman, the moral problem of the machine differs in no way from the old moral problem of magic. The fact that the machines follow laws of nature, and magic was supposed to be outside of nature is not even an interesting (undecipherable). Sorcery was condemned in the middle ages. A certain type of modern gadgeteer would have been burned as a sorcerer under the ethics of the middle ages. And the interesting thing is that the middle ages, to a certain extent and I don’t mean in the favor for the flame, but it was disfavor for the gadgeteer, as a point of being right. Namely, sorcery was not supernatural. It was the use of human power for other purposes than the greater glory of god.

Now, I am not a theist when I say the greater glory of god. I mean it for some end to which we give a justified moral value. I say that the medieval attitude is the attitude of the fairy tale and many things. But the attitude of the fairy tale is very wise in many things that are relevant to modern life.

If you have the machine, which grants you your wish, then you must pay attention to the old fairy tale of the three wishes, which tells you that if you do make a wish that is likely to be granted you’d better be VERY sure that it is what you want and not what you think you want.

If you know the story of the monkey’s paw, Jacob’s story, the talisman grants the couple three wishes. The first is for 200 pounds. Immediately a man appears from the factory saying their boy has been crushed in the machinery, and although the factory recognizes no responsibility, they will give a solace of 200 pounds. Then the next wish is they wish the boy back again, and his ghost appears, and they wish the ghost away. That finishes that story. That is common in folklore and it is quite significant in regard to the machine as it is with regards to any other magic.

The other thing is that the machine that can “learn” is essentially a genie, and you all know the story of the fisherman and the bottle. He opened the bottle, and the djinn appears, the genie appears, and tells him that. It tells him it has decided to kill the man that opened the bottle. The fisherman talks the genie back into the bottle.

Gentleman, when we get into trouble with the machine, we cannot talk the machine back into the bottle. (applause)

 

Philadelphia’s 5th District City Council Race: A Call For A Town Hall on Social Impact Investing

The image above was taken at a fall 2017 protest at the ribbon cutting for the Vaux Big Picture School in the Sharswood neighborhood of North Philadelphia, a HUD “Choice Neighborhood.” The middle school was closed for several years and reopened under the management of a private operator (though titularly still a “public” school). Big Picture is an international franchise and partner in the first education social impact bond in the UK. Additional information on the Doncaster / Big Picture SIB available at the Innovation Unit, UK website here. What is taking place in the 5th City Council District of Philadelphia is part of a much larger move towards the global financialization of public services, including education. It is imperative that we talk about this.

The 5th Council District of Philadelphia embodies economic inequality. Extending from North Philadelphia, a bastion of Black culture battling an onslaught of post-redlining gentrification, to Rittenhouse Square, a district of penthouse views and high-end retail; it contains neighborhoods where parents can raise $100,000 to pay for extras that have been cut from school budgets AND Black and Brown communities where most of the neighborhood schools have been closed or taken over by charters.

It runs east from the Rocky statue, through Spring Garden, Yorktown, and Northern Liberties, ending in the hipster enclave of Fishtown. “Investing in Opportunity Zone” census tracts spread across Brewerytown, along East Fairmount Park, and up North Broad Street (interactive map here, zoom in). Real estate development and new businesses launched within these zones and held for ten years pay NO capital gains tax upon sale. Temple University exerts a powerful influence over the northern part of the district, its overreach resisted for decades by vigilant community activists, the most recent wave led by Stadium Stompers and the No Stadium, No Deal Coalition.

It is a district of gourmet food halls and food deserts; unsheltered people dying in underground corridors of transit stations a stone’s throw from high-end coffee kiosks; row homes left to disintegrate by absentee landlords and vacant luxury lofts purchased by overseas investors. The district is a study in contrasts: the Comcast world headquarters/the John Coltrane House, City Hall/Church of the Advocate. It contains seats of power and sites of resistance.

Fifth District

I’m a registered voter in the 5th District and have been for 21 years. Almost that entire time my city council representative has been Darrell Clarke. A long time aide to former Mayor John Street, Clarke took over his mentor’s seat in 1999 and has served as President of Philadelphia City Council since 2012. The 5th District seat has been contested on occasion, but it takes considerable resourcefulness and/or resources to go up against Clarke.

Two challengers, thus far, have filed paperwork indicating their intent to secure spots on May’s primary ballot. In the resourcefulness corner is Sheila Armstrong, a community activist for the underserved and former legislative aide who now lives in PHA housing and intends to run a campaign lifting up concerns of low-income people in the district. In the resources corner is Omar Woodard, executive director of the venture capital-backed GreenLight Fund and former policy advisor on Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams’ mayoral run. Williams, of course, is a well-known advocate of education privatization.

Omar Woodard

Woodard, a graduate of Girard College, attended George Washington University where he completed a BA in International Affairs and MPA in Non-Profit Management, building strong ties to the university’s trustees as head of the student association and later as an administrative fellow. His background as a lobbyist, healthcare consultant, venture capital analyst, and political operative combined with the GreenLight Fund’s deep-pocketed national network, means his campaign is positioned to tap into a network of influential contacts.

GreenLight was created by Boston venture capitalist and former medical entrepreneur John Simon in 2004 in partnership with Margaret Hall. Simon previously started a college prep program called the Steppingstone Foundation modeled after New York City’s Prep for Prep initiative. He and friend Michael Danziger spun out several satellites, including the Steppingstone Scholars program in Philadelphia before hitting a wall. Simon decided rather than building programs from the ground up, it would be more cost-effective to establish social investment incubators to bring “evidence-based” interventions to scale. It was a decade before the original Boston office launched its first outposts in Philadelphia and the Bay Area. Additional offices have since opened in Detroit, Kansas City, Cincinnati (Strive/Knowledgeworks), Charlotte, and Atlanta. GreenLight’s national portfolio, seen here, features organizations offering health system text messaging, home visits, mentorship, college advising, and school and professional development “turnaround” services.

John Simon

Partners in Simon’s original Boston office are featured in the map below. I hope to write this up in greater detail, but for the purposes of this post I want to point out the involvement of the Tudor Foundation and James Pallotta, who worked for hedge fund trader Paul Tudor Jones for many years. Tudor Jones, founder of the Robin Hood Foundation, collaborated with fellow hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller for two decades refining impact metrics for “poverty solutions” within the boundaries of the Harlem Children’s zone. They then dispersed the program nationally through Geoffrey Canada’s consulting arrangements with hundreds of Promise Zones. For more information on how outcomes-based finance is linked to privatized social services see this series of posts.

Paul Tudor Jones and Bill Gates Gala

Tudor Jones was one of the initial backers of Robert Dugger, James Heckman, and Arthur Rolnick’s “Investing in Kids” Working Group, putting a million dollars into their pre-k investment plan way back in 2005. Those efforts eventually led to the ReadyNation Global Business Summit in New York last November where, after ringing the NASDAQ bell, the venture capital crowd proclaimed the early-childhood education and workforce training impact sectors open for business (more here). Bottom line: there is a lot of money and program infrastructure behind the GreenLight Fund.

GreenLight Boston

Interactive map of GreenLight Boston here.

RN Global Nasdaq

It will be interesting to see how the three candidates navigate this landscape of haves and have-nots in the coming months: the incumbent, the spokesperson for the poor, and the social entrepreneur executive. The wealth gap in the 5th District has increased significantly over the twenty years of Clarke’s tenure. As enhancements to affluent and gentrifying sections have been made, often with assistance from public-private partnerships, neighborhoods like Strawberry Mansion continue to suffer. Some have been subjected to catastrophic urban renewal tactics, such as Sharswood/Blumberg, a HUD “Choice Neighborhood” where over a thousand properties were seized through eminent domain.

A pressing question when strategies to “ameliorate” poverty are proposed is whose voices take precedence? Who holds the power? Who calls the shots? Whose lives hang in the balance? Are the interests of a mostly white elite class being advanced as the rights of under-served Black and Brown people are undermined? When deals are done, are they arranged behind closed doors? Is the public brought in at the last minute for a perfunctory consultation, just to maintain appearances? Candidates for this council seat need to realize residents of the 5th District are paying attention and, as shown by the No Stadium, No Deal Coalition’s considerable success, are prepared to mobilize and fight for solutions that put community needs first.

Girard Protest

No more closed-door meetings. The image above is from a January 2018 protest staged outside Girard College as Chamber of Commerce members gathered at a closed-door reception to discuss the role of Philadelphia’s business community in schools. Details in this post, “Last Night We Lay Down In The Street.”

I draw your attention to a map I created of advisors to the Philadelphia’s GreenLight Fund. This is not all of them (for a complete list follow this link), but it shows how the various interest groups interlock to drive the impact agenda forward. Ultimately, the system is meant move venture capital (left side), betting on the lives of poor people who are compelled to perform and deliver data for the deals. There are ancillary industries that will benefit financially: tech and telecommunications companies that provide infrastructure; law firms drawing up “pay for success” contracts; and consultants evaluating the deals. It is a system that requires cooperation from elected officials, foundations, non-profits, pseudo-governmental bodies, media cheerleaders, and higher education. All of these interests intersect at GreenLight. All are part of Woodard’s network.

GreenLight Philadelphia

Interactive map of GreenLight Philadelphia here.

Poverty is a critical issue in Philadelphia and the 5th District. Venture capitalists, many of whom live outside the city, see deep poverty as a prime business opportunity. Our city is poised to become an experimental laboratory for “innovative” financial schemes promoted through Wharton’s alumni network. In the near future, proposals will be floated for outcomes-based, pay-for-success government contracts tied to “measurable social benefits.” The Reinvestment Fund, represented by Andy Rachlin on the GreenLight Fund’s advisory council, has a whole webpage outlining how these deals are structured. Mind you, the Reinvestment Fund funded the “Welcome Home” SIB in Santa Clara County, the one with Palantir doing the data evaluation! And now Project Home is taking part in a pilot PFS program for supportive housing with help from the Social Innovation Fund. Hmmm…. Opportunity Zones are a major area of interest as seen on the preliminary agenda for the second annual Total Impact conference planned for May 1-2, 2019.

Total impact agenda 2019

Total Impact May 1 2019

Yes, communities need resources, but at what cost? We need public funds supporting the public good, not private “investments” that perpetuate continued outsourcing and narrowed service delivery. Impact “solutions” pose very grave dangers to those most in need of help. This economic model is designed to run on Big Data and predictive profiling. The lives of poor people, our fellow citizens, are being conscripted to fuel it. Offers of “help” will come with “digital strings,” attached; download an app, fill in this online form, allow your data to be harvested without recourse, accept behavioral regulation. Remember, it’s all being factored into your “hustle-score.” This is no joke.

The screenshots below are from the website of the Family Independence Initiative. The organization has ties to New Profit and is part of the GreenLight Fund’s national portfolio, though it is not in Philadelphia yet. It seems like something straight out Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You.” Such hubris, compelling families to upload personal details of their “income, savings, health, education, housing, leadership, and connections” to the “UpTogether” software platform, so they can “take control of their own success” through the wonders of data analytics and profiling. It is Orwellian; it is horrific.

Hustle Score

UpTogether Data

What does Omar Woodard’s arrival on the political scene portend? Is this a sign the region’s social impact investors are ready to take their game to the next level now that the Foundations in Evidence-Based Policymaking legislation and Investing in Opportunity Zones are in place? It is important to assess Woodard’s bid within the context of the region’s broader social impact landscape, one that stretches from the Rockefeller-funded B Lab in Berwyn, where the impact metrics that underlie this new market were created; to Penn’s campus in West Philadelphia where research into finance, behavioral economics, social science and impact investing are being carried out; and down to the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia where Ben Franklin Technology Partners is providing capital and support to industries designing the tech that will capture and visualize the data to run these new financial markets.

Woodard has led the Philadelphia satellite of the GreenLight Fund since 2016, the year ImpactPHL went public with its plans to create a “safe point of entry” for venture capital and local foundations to acclimate themselves to social impact investing. Tony Abraham’s article in Generosity, “How the heavy hitters behind the newly formed ImpactPHL want to revolutionize capitalism,” states key players spent two years “behind closed doors” getting ready. Of the eight founding members, six were white men. Those most often targeted for social impact interventions? Yes, people of color. That power dynamic must not be overlooked.

ImpactPhl Behind Closed Doors

Source

The map below shows the people, organizations, and companies aiming to make Philadelphia a “pioneer in impact investing.” Two of the individuals, Richard Binswanger of Clearview Group, and Maari Porter of the Philanthropy Network of Greater Philadelphia, served on the advisory board of Philadelphia’s GreenLight Fund.

ImpactPHL Advisors Partners

Interactive version here.

According to the Economy League of Philadelphia’s 2016 whitepaper, our region is a prime candidate to become the next “Silicon Valley” of the impact economy because: 1) our history of public-private partnerships dates back to Ben Franklin; 2) we enjoy a great location between New York’s money and Washington’s politics; 3) our wealth managers are really interested in innovative finance (Wharton); 4) professors here are eager to carry out supporting research and evaluations; 5) there’s a large pool of potential customers (read desperate governments starved of public funds) seeking “new solutions;” and 6) receptive government officials have already authorized pay for success and benefit corporation legislation.

But really, Philadelphia is poor. Many are barely surviving deep poverty. By asserting a “doing well by doing good” refrain, the haves intend to turn this grim reality to their advantage, branding poverty-mining the have-nots as a charitable act. So by way of disrupting this framing I hope you will consider the following questions:

How many residents know about “Growing the Impact Economy in Greater Philadelphia?”

And are we on board with this? Because it seems there should be discussion beyond ImpactPHL, the B Lab, and Chamber of Commerce before proceeding, right?

What would it mean for Philadelphia to become a leader in a predatory investment sector that rewards venture capitalists for imposing data-driven solutions on poor communities? That’s not something to be proud of.

In this city of “brotherly love,” does anyone believe it’s ethical for the rich to view the poor as human capital investments?

Why are the human beings who will be caught in the crosshairs of this new system of innovative finance not being consulted? How comfortable are they turning over the data of their lives to third party evaluators so the wealthy can pile up more money?

Do we expect targets of “impact” interventions, real people with real problems, to welcome social entrepreneurs with open arms?

Do we want to build a tech sector around monitoring and predictively profiling marginalized populations through “smart” infrastructure?

Don’t the scalable solutions proffered by venture philanthropy generally sidestep thorny issues of structural racism embedded in Philadelphia’s past, favoring individual fixes over systemic restructuring?

When did investors ever create a market designed to self-extinguish? Never.

Social impact investing will only reinforce austerity budgeting, privatization, predictive profiling, surveillance, and more poverty.

We must talk about this Philadelphia. We need to drag all of this out into the open and have a very frank conversation about what it really means for Philadelphia to be the “Silicon Valley” of impact investing. Poor people HAVE to be active participants in this conversation. They have the right to know about the data profiling tied to impact investing and “smart city” infrastructure being rolled out in Silicon Valley and what it could mean for their futures.

I am calling on Darrell Clarke, Sheila Armstrong, and Omar Woodard to convene a town hall this spring to begin to unpack the intersecting issues of social impact finance, outcomes-based contracting, Big Data government, and “smart” city (surveillance) infrastructure. Enough with the closed door meetings.

If you need help getting it set up email me.

 

3rd Grade Reading Guarantees: Impact Investors Build System To Terrorize Eight Year Olds

I know a number of activists out there are working to raise awareness around the brutality of third grade reading guarantees. These laws demand students achieve a specific score on standardized reading test. If they do not, they can’t advance to the next grade. I wrote this short introduction with the idea that it could be shared with people  who are not yet aware of the speculative financial underpinnings linked to these laws.

“Pay for success” was embedded into federal education law with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Public-private partnerships, in coordination with investors, are embracing this form of “innovative finance,” catalyzing new markets in human capital. Digital platforms, including ed-tech and online behavioral services, are designed to generate data for the evaluation of outcomes-based contracts. That is what is behind the push for expanded screen-time and benchmark testing in schools.

It’s known as “collective impact,” and the Strive Network based in Cincinnati is working with United Way chapters across the country to advance data-driven education and social services to meet the demands of this burgeoning investment market. Children are being turned into data so the debt associated with funds allocated to provide education and social services to them can be traded on global markets (like bundled mortgages prior to the 2008 crash).

A “cradle to career roadmap” with set achievement metrics has been created with benchmarks where impact evaluation will be imposed as a requirement of outcomes-based contracts. These include: kindergarten readiness, fourth and eighth grade reading scores, and graduation rates. While the early phase of this investment market focused on social impact bonds (SIBs), other, more flexible, contracting arrangements are being piloted now. Billionaire, now Illinois governor, JB Pritzker backed the Chicago pre-k SIB. It was among the first to include a pay out based on third grade literacy scores. Source

Chicago pre-k sib 2

National campaigns to “Read by Fourth” are cultivating this impact investment market. It’s not about helping children read. It’s not about reducing class size, or hiring certified reading teachers, or restoring school libraries, or providing students access to abundant books of their choice. No, it is about plugging students into digital interventions that will profile them and harvest academic and behavioral data to feed investment markets. Hedge funds intend to literally gamble on children’s futures (life outcomes data), and they have no reticence about plugging students into devices to accomplish this goal. Third grade reading guarantee legislation is an integral part of the plan.

We must recognize that those in charge understand it’s developmentally inappropriate and harmful to children, teachers, and the learning process. They simply don’t care. They’ve been charged with building a machine to keep global capital moving. They are following orders. To stop this will require a broad campaign of non-cooperation at all levels: parents, students, and educators. That is where your power is. Spending time to educate those imposing this system of human capital speculation, thinking that somehow they don’t already know the truth, is not a good investment of resources. Talk to one another. Tell them about the “collective impact” human capital machine. Get your wrenches and be prepared to take direct action. Do it now. Time is of the essence.

For more information:

Gambling On Our Futures-Social Impact Bonds: Here

Strive and Human Capital Supply Chains: Here

Interoperable Databases and Commodities Trading: Here

Read By Fourth Campaign: Here

Shorting The Lives of Children: No Small Matter

As I wrote in a previous post, “Don’t Let Impact Investors Capture the Non-Profit, Activist Media,” documentary film has been hijacked to advance the social impact investment agenda. I touched on it in a piece about Ted Dintersmith’s, Most Likely to Succeed. Dintersmith launched a Sundance-affiliated program, the Catalyst Fund, matching social justice minded filmmakers with venture capitalist backers. Other “impact” films making the rounds are Invisible Heart, raising awareness around social impact bonds and No Small Matter, a film the Pritzker-backed Choose Children campaign screened widely in advance of California’s elections last fall.

This post unpacks the financial interests behind the latter documentary, which at first glance seems like an innocuous vehicle promoting the importance of early childhood education. That “cradle to career” human capital pipeline Strive has planned? The one intended to move hundreds of millions of “social benefit” venture capital? Well, someone has to rough in plumbing to the nursery, and that’s the job No Small Matter is meant to do. Investors hope strategic screenings for audiences primed to receive their carefully crafted messages will put voters in the proper mindset to act with a sense of urgency when intended legislation surfaces. When targeted bills come up, these influencers will be eager to press their elected officials to pass them.

The transactional nature of the financial arrangements between documentary filmmakers and social entrepreneurs is made clear in a panel presentation from the 2012 Social Enterprise Conference, which was held at Columbia Business School. During the panel, “Media as Catalyst: Story Telling and Social Action,” Diana Barrett, former Harvard Business School professor and founder of the film production venture The Fledgling Fund, articulated her strategy. The Fledgling Fund backed the Invisible Heart SIB film.

“So, we’ve become very strategic. We look at inflection points and kind of leverage points where strategically we can really make a difference. We’ve become very, very systematic…

“… We are all about impact. Every film is chosen, because we think that for one reason or another it can reach audiences, change minds, change laws, which I’m not supposed to talk about…um, um, because we’re not supposed to do that, but it does. And I’ll talk about that specifically. And so we look at every possibility (laughter in audience…another voice “the Internal Revenue Service”)…exactly!” Starting at timestamp 7 minutes 30 seconds.

Diana Barrett Fledgling Fund

We know Gavin Newsom’s proposed California state budget includes significant appropriations for early childhood and ACE screenings. In the pipeline is a slate of bills backed by EveryChild California: Association of Leaders Advancing Early Learning that will channel those allocations. A briefing summary dated February 3, 2019, available here, shows twenty-six separate pieces of legislation under consideration.

Certainly, all families deserve affordable childcare that is developmentally appropriate and staffed by trained caregivers who are adequately paid for this important work. But we also know there are plans afoot to build a national universal pre-k infrastructure from the ground up that will, if not actively contested, have “innovative finance” inextricably woven into it. Once in place, public-private-partnership funding mechanisms will impose exhaustive digital profiling on children, families and service providers. In reviewing the bills listed in that briefing, I find the following three to be of particular concern:

AB23: Incentivizes linkages between education and workforce training programs

AB347: Sets up CA Preschool Investment Fund (private investor) and a 5-county pilot program

SB2: Expresses legislative intent to create a P20 longitudinal database to facilitate innovative approaches to “cost-effective” education

Those bills indicate the state of California intends to embrace Strive’s data-driven, “collective impact,” engineered workforce approach to P20 education. Propaganda films like No Small Matter are yet another profit center that has been vertically integrated into this vast machine, another tranche of investment for those who hold so much wealth they must devise ever more brutal instruments of financialization to keep their abundant capital moving.

As Barrett states later in that discussion:

“And now I am very, very methodical about how we work with filmmakers, how we look at NGOs, how we put money into the field. I think of it much more as tranches of investment, much more like a venture capital model. When people say you’re a philanthropist, I go ‘no, not really.’ I personally don’t think of myself as a philanthropist. I think of myself as someone who has a lot of business background and a real interest in changing the world in my own way.” Timestamp 31:25

So how did No Small Matter find its way onto the big screen? If you accept at face value the film’s origin story, presented here, inspiration came after co-director Greg Jacobs spent a week at a Chicago-based Educare preschool. He’d been making a video for the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a client of his firm Siskel (Jon Siskel, nephew of film critic Gene Siskel )/Jacobs Productions. See trailer below.

But there was more going on than simple “inspiration.” You see there’s a lot of money riding on people unquestioningly embracing the message this film advances. Diana Rauner is the president of Ounce of Prevention, a public-private partnership with a $74 million annual budget devoted to “research-based” programs for “at-risk” children and families. She’s the wife of Bruce Rauner who served as Governor of Illinois from 2015 to 2019 during which time the state established a Blockchain birth certificate initiative and a taskforce devoted to laying out options for Blockchain government. Cab Morris, who was the strategy lead for the Blockchain Task Force, has previously worked as Deputy Field Manager for Citizens for Rauner.

In 2012, Diana Rauner participated in a working group on innovative early childhood education finance run jointly by Robert Dugger on behalf of ReadyNation and Robert Litan of the Kauffman Foundation. Key players in outcomes-based finance also participated such as Jeffrey Liebman, George Overholser, and James “I’ll get you a 7-13% ROI on ECE Investments” Heckman. The press kit from No Small Matter states the film’s goal was to make Heckman’s research accessible using messaging set out in the Frameworks Institute’s toolkit “Talking About Early Childhood Development.” That toolkit was funded by the Mailman Foundation, which, according to Crunchbase, also invested in SixUp, a for profit software platform offering debt-financing for “under-banked” students.

PKSE ECE Working Group

The working group’s report discussed the lack of public resources available for early childhood development, emphasized the economic importance of investments in social-emotional and cognitive training for children ages five and under, and advanced a strategy that innovative financial instruments such as social impact bonds would be used to pay for the interventions. The group identified the following challenges that had to be overcome in order to realize their vision: they needed corporate and philanthropic support; local buy-in that would advocate for such things as quality rating systems; statistical studies affirming the principles of SIB finance; legal infrastructure; enforceable contract models; a common language for bond offerings that was comfortable for investors; and good investor relationships. A slideshare of content drawn from that report specifically states the groups intention to securitize debt related to pre-k service provision so it could be traded on global markets.

Kauffman ReadyNation SIB 2

Twelve years earlier, Rauner’s Ounce of Prevention Fund, in partnership with the Irving Harris Foundation, launched Educare in Chicago. What started out as a single school serving “at risk” children and family grew into a national network with some rather influential backers as you can see in this diagram of the funders supporting Educare at Silicon Valley.

Educare Partners Silicon Valley

Interactive map of Educare at Silicon Valley Partners here.

In addition to your normal complement of community representatives (banks, Junior League, local college, etc.), you have a slate of tech giants, national philanthropies, even a legal firm with ties to the Chicago Blockchain Center. Government partners include, no surprises here, Santa Clara County and its office of education. The Educare program there is linked to the Franklin McKinley School District in San Jose, a test bed for Datazone and a new concierge model of family health and education services proposed by consultant and Rocketship Charter Schools board chair Fred Ferrer.

There’s a reason influential backers flocked to Educare Silicon Valley. To be part of the project is to get in on the ground floor of a whole new investment market. Rauner has ties to the Bay Area having received her MBA from the Stanford Business School in the late 1980s. She served on the school’s management board during the time Dugger’s innovative finance group was active, between 2012 and 2017. This was just as pay for success finance was getting off the ground in the US. Two of Rauner’s years on the board overlapped with her husband’s time as Governor of Illinois, home to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), commodities futures. CME is heavily invested in the early childhood sector and was one of the sponsors of ReadyNation’s Business Summit on Early Childhood in New York last November.

CME ReadyNation

It’s chilling to look at the Stanford Graduate School of Business’s initiatives, which include innovating value chains, behavioral marketing, data analysis for hedge fund trading, and social innovation, and consider how that research will pave the way for a futures market in human capital data. The business school’s efforts must be considered in conjunction with other university efforts focused on school redesign, competency based education, innovative assessments, data-driven accountability, human-computer engineering, and venture philanthropy. Former students and alumni leading ed-tech and impact investing campaigns are cropping up across the country. Among them, Doug Burgum in North Dakota and Steve Ballmer of Ballmer Group.  None of this bodes well.

Diana Rauner Stanford Yale-2

Interactive map of Rauner’s ties to Stanford and Yale here.

Rauner’s original Educare school maintains a close relationship with the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute and its affiliated charter school. In 2009, they jointly developed a “Birth to College” model with a goal of expanding it nationally. The program has an aligned pre-k curriculum that feeds three-year olds directly into privatized K12. Educare attempted to launch a pre-k charter school in Washington, DC in 2014 with the support of billionaire impact investor JB Prtizker, but it was not approved.

Last week, however, the issue of charter pre-k programs surfaced again, this time in Dallas. Strive Together has an influential network partner there in Commit, led by retired Goldman Sachs partner and Wharton alum Todd Williams. While not specifically linked to Educare, the Dallas pre-k proposal would make expanded pre-k contingent on outsourcing management to non-profits under a charter arrangement. A February 14 article in the Dallas News notes a number of trustees expressed concern about this structure as it would create a system to funnel pre-k families into affiliated charters.

There are quite a few cities with Educare schools that do not have Strive Network programs going, as well as many Strive cities that do not yet have Educare schools. I do, however, sense a synergy between the two, since both promote a human capital, “cradle to career,” “collective impact” strategy. I did a comparison and found the follow cities have efforts underway on both fronts. If you live in one of these cities, you’d better get up to speed on early childhood and workforce impact investing right away:

Washington, DC: Raise DC / Educare Washington, DC

Atlanta, GA: Learn4Life / Educare Atlanta

Tulsa, OK: Impact Tulsa / Educare Tulsa, three schools

Chicago, IL: Thrive Chicago / Educare Chicago

Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Succeeds / Educare Milwaukee

Seattle, WA: The Road Map Project / Educare Seattle

Phoenix, AZ: Thriving Together / Educare Balsz School District

During the time director Greg Jacobs was finalizing No Small Matter, he was also a New America Fellow. New America, a think tank based out of Washington, DC with satellites in New York and the Bay Area, was started in 1999. Among its major backers is Eric Schmidt, former chair of Google and Alphabet. In the fall of 2017 the extent of Google’s influence was made very clear when Barry Lynn, a researcher in the organization’s Open Market’s program, criticized the powerful company. This resulted not only in Lynn’s immediate removal, but the elimination of the entire project including 10 other staff members. Heavy hitters in social impact investing like the Gates, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations and the Omidyar Network are other major funders.

New America Funders

New America is pursuing initiatives in global impact investing via its Bretton Woods II effort and has launched an accelerator to advance Blockchain R&D. Blockchain identity is a key element in human capital impact investing as it will allow longitudinal tracking of social service inputs versus economic outputs over time. Using MIT’s Engima software, impact investors will be able to conduct queries even on encrypted data. IXO Foundation with support of Omidyar Network has already developed a proof of concept for this with Amply, a pre-k digital identity reimbursement app in Cape Town, South Africa (more here). Several pending bills in California have to do with standardizing pre-k reimbursement systems and investigating alternative payment structures, though as far as I know there are no blockchain identity efforts are underway in the state yet.

New America has its hand in digital learning and workforce development, too. It incubated Opportunty@work whose home page proclaims “It’s time to rewire the labor market.”  It promotes career pathways and FINANCING (debt) for training costs and is affiliated with the Connecting Credentials Initiative and the Workforce Data Quality Campaign. Lisa Guernsey is New America’s director of early learning and learning technologies in their education division. Her focus is on closing the digital divide, even for young learners. Last year the Silicon Valley Community Trust interviewed her for their “Philanthropy Now” podcast, which focused on the importance of technology. From the screen shot of a 2018 tweet, you can see New America is very interested in tracking human capital. Platforming education accomplishes that while creating value for their tech and venture philanthropy backers.

Greg Jacobs New America

Interactive Map of Greg Jacobs / New America here.

Human Capital Investment Lisa Guernsey

I have not yet had the chance to watch Jacobs’ documentary, but I’ve spoken to people who have and was told it downplays technology. This is worth noting since the film is funded, in part, by the Gates and Bezos Family Foundations. The press kit mentions iconic characters like Cookie Monster and a quirky, lovable teacher, Ms. Giannini, who adds pathos to the storyline, because she has to work side jobs to make ends meet.

The involvement of Sesame Workshop should raise a red flag. They’ve partnered with the International Rescue Committee, IBM, and the UK nudge unit to test digital AI literacy interventions and technology-based home visits on Syrian refugee populations with a $100 million award from the MacArthur Foundation, more here.

Muppet Data Extraction

And while Ms. Giannini did spend four years as a preschool teacher, according to her LinkedIn, she left that position in 2015 and has since made a reputation for herself as a video blogger and content producer for the Kindling Group and the Chicago Children’s Museum. In the clip she’s pitching the need for children to cultivate executive function, the holy grail of SEL impact investors.

The press kit for the film is a treasure trove of information. It lists the film’s funders as well as those either featured in it or who supported it as partners. In closing, I’d ike to share two maps I put together.

Funders first: in addition to the Gates and Bezos Family Foundation, the map below shows financial support came from:

Einhorn Family Trust: Supports Solutions Journalism Network (impact media)

Irving Harris Foundation: original sponsor of the Educare network with Ounce of Prevention and supporter of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading (3rd grade literacy test score impact investment metrics)

Kellogg Foundation: grants to Knowledgeworks and the National Skills coalition as well as promoting early childhood workforce training

Overdeck Family Foundation: invests in social-emotional learning and digital education with ties to the Robin Hood Foundation

McCormick Foundation: Chicago-based foundation that funds Educare and promotes education privatization interests

Packard Foundation: involved in California early childhood education funding and supports efforts to implement the Datazone project at Franklin McKinely in Santa Clara County

Pritzker Family Foundation: supporter of the first US pre-k SIBs, funded the Heckman toolkit and the Choose Children campaign at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, as well as the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard

Funders No Small Matter

Interactive map of Funders of No Small Matter here.

The list of partners on the film is extensive. The map lists many, but not all, of them. These highlights convey the breadth of the interests involved.

America Forward: initiative of New Profit, hosted kick off to national social impact campaign at Monhonk Mountain House outside New Paltz, NY in 2005, partner in Results for America and sponsor of the SIPPRA celebration

30 Million Word Initiative: University of Chicago-based program that focused on the “word gap” piloted at Educare

American Enterprise Institute: neoconservative think tank

Center for American Progress: liberal, Clinton-affiliated think tank

Ascend, Aspen Institute: two-generation approach to social impact investing

Bipartisan Policy Center: supports implementation of recommendations of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking

Center for High Impact Philanthropy: program to advance social impact investing based out of the University of Pennsylvania and affiliated with Wharton Business School, maintains database of finalists for the MacArthur $100 Million and change competition

Center on the Developing Child, Harvard: funded by all the usual suspects with R&D accelerator focused on scaling “evidence-based” interventions that promote self-regulation and executive function

First Five Years Fund: California funding for early childhood from cigarette taxes

iLab at the University of Washington: Gates and Bezos funded neuroscience research institute focused on digital tools for early learning

National Governor’s Association: promoter of Common Core, competency based education, SEL and “what works” government

National League of Cities: Supports career ready social emotional learning, out of school learning, smart city implementation and has partnered with Third Sector on Pay for Success programs

New America Foundation: tech and impact investor backed think tank promoting workforce-aligned digital education even for young learners, digital economic systems and Blockchain programs

Nurse Family Partnership: non-profit with first proof of concept for “pay for success” home visit program tested in South Carolina via Medicaid

Ounce of Prevention Fund: Diane Rauner’s Chicago-based vehicle to advance “evidence-based” interventions for “at risk” children and families 

Sesame Workshop: global NGO/media organization promoting digital learning (edu-tainment/gaming) via the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, partner in the winning submission to the MacArthur competition, investor in ed-tech via Reach Capital

United Way of America: conduit for social innovation funds and promoter of “collective impact” human capital investing programs nationwide, dealmaker

No Small Matter Partners

Interactive map of Select No Small Matters Partners here.

No Small Matter was produced as a vehicle to mobilize people to support early childhood education unconditionally. The film’s website encourages people to make donations, sign petitions, and contact legislators-all elements that are tracked as part of the “impact media” structure. There is a “take action” page where you can sign up to host a screening, attend a town hall, or write and op-ed. But if you don’t have that much time, maybe you’ll settle for simply downloading a parenting app?

I will state once again that families must have access to affordable, developmentally appropriate childcare and preschool provided by caregivers who are treated as professionals and compensated in accordance with the important work they do. But we must recognize that early childhood education and healthcare are being transformed into a pipeline intended to channel vast quantities of venture philanthropy linked to outcomes-based government contracts. The financial and technology interests that aim to capture and analyze sensitive data to inform speculative investments are the ones who will benefit. Not children pushed onto surveillance play tables so their data can be harvested. Not mothers forced to track their “goals” on an app created by a social entrepreneur.

We demand care for children and families that is humane and publicly funded with no strings attached. We vehemently refuse the very premise of human capital investment markets. Allowing hedge funds the opportunity to short the lives of toddlers and poor families is unconscionable. Read the fine print of these bills and fight for justice. Films like No Small Matter should not be allowed to obscure the truth of what is happening. This is what is happening. Pay attention and fight.

Hatch Education

Goal Mama

 

 

 

 

Boiling Frogs & Building Brands: P&G’s Partnership With Strive

This is a follow up to my previous post about Strive Together’s plans for “cradle to career” collective impact. Pursuing this work is a curious experience. Most times I can’t tell what, if any, progress I’m making. Yet I continue to forge ahead and regularly stumble across guideposts that seem to affirm I’m doing the work I’m supposed to do. So, I sit back down at the kitchen table and keep going, as my friend Chris says, a Jeremiah warning of the coming Babylonians.

A recent sign for me had to do with Strive (and Knowledgeworks) being based in Cincinnati. It’s not a city most people think much about, but it holds a prominent place in my childhood memories. You see, my dad was a career executive at Procter and Gamble (P&G), which is headquartered there. His job, selling Folgers coffee, was our family’s ticket to a comfortable suburban life, far different from his own unstable childhood as the son of an often under-employed mason and cashier. It seems somehow fitting that I step up now to call this company out on its efforts to set up an infrastructure of cybernetic biocapitalism.

Strive worked closely with executives at P&G in setting up its “collective” impact roadmap as seen in the following excerpt from the report, “Putting Collective Impact in Context,” prepared for the Wallace Foundation by Teachers College, Columbia University in 2015. The cradle to career pipeline is being constructed with specific metrics that will underpin speculative investment markets in human capital. Everyone was given marching orders. Comply with the established metrics or you’re out of the club.

Road Map Procter and Gamble Strive

Jeff Edmonson who, with Nancy Zimpher, helped set up this framework, is now managing director of the Ballmer Group, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s investment company. Steve’s wife Connie serves on Strive’s board along with Edmonson. With the pipelines hooked up to schools, abundant capital is ready to flow. Just this week Kansas City schools announced their plan to use Social Solutions software to share student data with local non-profits. Ballmer put $59 million into the company last year. While Kansas City is not part of the Strive Network, its “Turn The Page” literacy initiative is part of FSG’s “collective impact” program.

Social Solutions Ballmer KS City

“Striving Together,” a book written by project lead and former president of the University of Cincinnati, Nancy Zimpher, notes Nancy Swanson of P&G chaired the partnership’s executive committee. Swanson reported directly to P&G’s CEO and also served on the board of the Cincinnati Foundation. Her LinkedIn touts expertise in efficiencies, staffing reductions, data-driven decision-making, and digital marketing-an outlook well suited to creating a “just-in-time” workforce pipeline catering to corporate interests.

Strive’s focus on social-emotional competencies should then come as no surprise, since the goal appears to be a compliant labor pool ready to be re-skilled as needed, engineered to precise specifications and sold at the lowest price possible. I envision a mash-up of Frederick Taylor’s scientific management principles with Ithiel de Sola Pool’s goal for machine-human symbiosis, all operating under conditions of peak neoliberalism.

I dread the prospect of cybernetic libertarianism and can only recommend folks get Yasha Levine’s new book Surveillance Valley. Read chapter two “Command, Control and Counterinsurgency” for a deeper dive. It’s important. I cannot do it justice here, but the quote below gives you a sense of where we are headed. In fact we may already be there.

“Pool saw computers as more than just apparatuses that could speed up social research. His work was infused with a utopian belief in the power of cybernetic systems to manage societies. He was among a group of Cold War technocrats who envisioned computer technology and networked systems deployed in a way that directly intervened in people’s live, creating a kind of safety net that spanned the world and helped run societies in a harmonious manner, managing strive and conflict out of existence. This system wouldn’t be messy or wish-washy or open to interpretation; nor would it involve socialist economic theories. In fact, it wouldn’t involve polities at all but would be an applied science based on math, “a kind of engineering.” Surveillance Valley, page 67

If Frederick Taylor were still alive, I’m sure he’d be giddy over machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT) labor tracking, and xAPI data capture. Turns out Taylor refined his efficiency program in Nicetown at the Midvale Steel Works. Another guidepost-what’s left of the factory is just a stone’s throw from where I live. If the collective impact crew intends to track human capital and competencies as a global knowledge supply chain, IoT, screen based learning, and wearable tech will be key.

We know Silicon Valley’s oligarchs including Bezos and Zuckerberg are busy patenting technologies to track the movement of workers. Going forward it seems clear that digital learning will start to adopt such “innovations,” transitioning from screen-based learning to immersive digital environments designed to practice work-based skills. The images below show what a VR (virtual reality) / AR (augmented reality) training scenario for a young student could look like and the taxonomy of data they intend to capture.

AR Simulation Training

AR VR Taxonomy

A slideshare from JCA Solutions, a company based in Orlando, which also happens to be the home of the military division of Advanced Distributed Learning, describes how xAPI data can be captured from simulations to assess targeted competencies. Once successfully demonstrated, those skills get uploaded as badges or micro-credentials to learning lockers using specifications set by IMS Global (more here). Yet Analytics based in Baltimore is partnering on xAPI and human capital analytics now in conjunction with HP, Khan Academy, and the Learning Accelerator. With xAPI, all “learning” must be reduced to simple noun-verb-object statements. You can see how this works in this 90-second video “we can track it.”

We Can Track It

The tag line at the end of the video, “Learning Happens Everywhere,” is timely since the state of New Hampshire is rolling out an initiative by the exact same name. Under the Learn Everywhere banner, students receive credit towards graduation when they attend out of school activities, like a music class offered by the Boys and Girls Club. A FAQ attempts to head off anticipated criticism around lack of requirements for credentialed instructors and inequitable treatment of families based on income, since many opportunities are fee based. The New Hampshire Department of Education website touts the program as an unbundled opportunity for budding entrepreneurs offering flexibility while downplaying lack of regulation and potential for abuse.

Learn Everywhere NH

What is not being said is that while real-life community-based projects may be the first wave of “learn everywhere” initiatives, digital simulations will be waiting in the wings. Hedge funds and social entrepreneurs plan to bet on “impact,” and “success” will likely be defined in terms of the number of stackable credentials earned rather than the more difficult (impossible?) metric of living wage jobs attained. The skilling and reskilling of people is what will keep global capital flowing in the coming years, even as rising automation means few workers ever attain stable employment.

Mozilla Badges

Our value as “human capital” will be successfully demonstrating competencies (cognitive and non-cognitive), whether or not they are ever productively utilized. As a result, those charged with providing “evidence-based” training funded by social entrepreneurs must develop inexpensive ways to deliver the multitude of badges that will be required by the financial markets. Mass digital learning is the way they intend to accomplish this task. As seen in the screenshot below, simulations will be far cheaper, even than disreputable MOOCs. They are counting on taking their profit from that cost savings.

Simulation Cost

The JCA Solutions slideshare describes a simulation that assesses the sample task of learning to pet an unknown dog safely. Using augmented and virtual reality, data is captured via a laptop, headset, motion sensors, controllers, and a heart rate monitor. In the simulated setting, the computer determines if the individual demonstrates the competency. Did they complete the steps in the right order? Were they nervous? Where is the student looking? Which dogs do they ask to pet? Do they refuse to approach any dogs? Do they pet the dog too long? Do they not correctly position their hand? Do they never complete the task? All of this data is logged and captured and added to the student’s digital profile. Of course this seems somewhat ridiculous now, but consider the image of the student the yellow vest and VR goggles in the warehouse above. This is the planned future if we don’t begin to contest it now. We must refuse digital education, social-emotional data collection, and career pathway profiling. To pretend it’s not happening will seal the fate of future generations.

This type of virtual “learning” relies on Internet of Things technology. It is the sensors that transmit the data that is captured for the learning lockers. It turns out that P&G played a pivotal role in the development of IoT, bankrolling a proposal pitched by Oil of Olay product manager Kevin Ashton who sought to use RFID technology (radio frequency identification) for inventory management. Ashton had noticed that a particular brand of lipstick was chronically out of stock when he made his sales calls and envisioned embedding information in micro-chipped tags to improve global supply chains. They evolved into versions you can find today, sewn into clothing, embedded in credit cards and the hands of Swedes who seem keen on using them to unlock doors at the office or hold payment information.

Swedes chips

P&G loaned Ashton to the Auto-ID Center based at the MIT Media Lab in Boston. There, he continued to refine RFID technology, which became the foundation of the Internet of Things, ubiquitous computing environments consisting of networks of sensors that electronically transmit real time data. Auto-ID Lab grew to a network of seven other facilities over twenty years. There are now additional nodes working on globalized supply chain management in the UK, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, Korea, and China. In recent years research has focused on behavior-tracking apps, Blockchain data storage, and digital payment systems. This 2016 paper out of the St. Galen lab describes IoT and Augmented Reality in considerable detail. See a complete list of publications here.

Auto ID Lab

Interactive map of Auto-ID Lab here.

A second prominent P&G member of the Strive team was Jim Bechtold, a marketing executive who, with his wife another P&G staffer, leveraged their branding expertise to grow Crossroads into a regional mega-church franchise.

Jim Bechtold Strive Procter and Gamble

Mya Frazier’s eye-opening piece, “What Would Jesus Disrupt?” describes the church’s forays into venture capital efforts backing faith-based tech start ups through an accelerator called Ocean. While at P&G, Bechtold developed media partnerships with Walmart and went on to manage the Alliance for Family Entertainment, an arm of the Association of National Advertisers comprised of a coalition of 500 national brands. In the coming era of “anywhere” (online) playlist “edu-tainment,” it’s not hard to imagine a mode of teaching and learning largely disconnected from physical schools and human instructors, where consumer brands (and possibly religious doctrine) brazenly dominate knowledge acquisition.

Procter and Gamble

Procter and Gamble Jim Bechtold

Interactive map of Procter and Gamble / Bechthold family here.

Globalized trade was the backdrop of my childhood, but I’ll admit that until recently, I’d never stopped to reflect on where Folgers’ coffee beans came from or how the expectation of a properly caffeinated morning shaped brutal US economic and foreign policies in Latin America. It’s not the type of thing you’re expected to think about growing up in a corporate enclave on a quarter acre plot laid out over fallow farm fields. I’ve been thinking a lot about supply chains lately, because my research indicates an economic shift is underway, one where labor and productivity will be reimagined as an ongoing process of digital brand curation. Moving forward, unless we choose otherwise, we will be the commodities of the “knowledge economy;” we will be the coffee beans, but our value will not be caffeine and aroma but badges and micro-credentials.

In this brave new world, financial speculators, multi-national corporations, media outlets and social welfare programs aim to channel our daily activities onto virtual assembly lines where vast quantities of data will be aggregated, machine read, and used to fraudulently predict our futures. This process, writ large, will inform vast predatory impact investment markets pursued even over encrypted data using MIT’s Enigma software. We’re told to welcome this opportunity to “own” and sell access to our data through self-sovereign digital identity systems. While I’m not anti-privacy, somehow reducing my life to a digital brand for sale to the highest bidder holds no appeal. I don’t want to be paid in Blockchain tokens for my social media activity or attention, not for meditating or improving myself as promoted by the Highvibe Network (see screenshot). While many feel secure digital identities are a great answer, I must say Tim Berners Lee’s pitch for PODs (personal online data stores) leaves me cold. Will we all be reduced to the contents of our PODs? Sounds rather grim.

HighVibe Blockchain

Surely there must be another option that isn’t advancing the interests of tech-oligarchs. I’m fifty years old. My “brand” has evolved over time. I’m a very different person from the high school kid earning pocket money folding polo shirts at the mall. My worldview continues to evolve. I’m not even the same person I was three years ago. But will my child get the chance to change of her own free will? Or will the digital corporate “mindset” assembly lines that are systematically being swapped out for authentic social engagement reinforce brands of youthful selves before they can be challenged by broader worldviews and experiences that could change us in fundamental ways?

Will generations be caught in feedback loops, harnessed to foster consumption, fragmentation, obfuscation, and surveillance? Will there be economic options other than to sell our digitized selves? The time to ask these questions and refine alternatives is now, and if you want to get in the right frame of mind to consider the question, I suggest grabbing a copy of MT Anderson’s Feed. Spoiler-one of the main characters, a homeschool student, actively confuses her branding by intentionally shopping for and trying out random, unrelated items. When she faces a health crisis towards the end of the book, no one will invest in her health; she has become uninsurable because she doesn’t have a clear brand. This is echoed in the image below, a slide taken from a 2017 talk by Vinay Gupta on Blockchain Identity. “In this new world, as long as someone will insure you, you exist.”

Zong Blockchain Insurance

Procter and Gamble has long been a leader in supply chain management, industrial efficiencies, branding and the construction of consumer markets. They’ve cultivated partnerships with government researchers at Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs to refine production capabilities. I recently found out from Yasha Levine’s important new book “Surveillance Valley” that Eisenhower’s first Secretary of Defense, Neil McElroy, had been president of Procter and Gamble at the time. In 1958 McElroy, a very good salesman, initiated ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) which evolved into DARPA, which of course spawned the Internet.

Procter and Gamble deals in data. A 2011 report prepared by McKinsey states, that in their corporate relationships they use data as a currency. Their goal is to be the most digitally enabled company in the world, and they are a mammoth company touching over four billion consumers daily. They are working with Strive in Cincinnati, which is also, interestingly, home to Hobsons. Hobsons is a HUGE source of data. It owns Navaiance, the data-gathering platform that elicits strengths surveys from middle schoolers and offers college “guidance” to high school students, as well as Starfish, a platform that manages retention in higher ed. Hobsons in turn is owned by The Daily Mail and Telegraph in the UK, who has investments in Innovation Edge.

Innovation Edge helped to launch the Amply pre-k identity app in Cape Town, which is the proof of concept for social impact investing on Blockchain. Procter and Gamble is working with Consensys on Blockchain social impact initiatives. Cincinnati seems to be a massive net of advertising, sales, branding, tech, Blockchain, social services, and Big Data. Collective Shift is also active in Columbus with an LRNG pilot and Global Scholars Diploma, a Competency Based Education initiative sponsored by regional industry backers. LRNG’s new partnership with Southern New Hampshire University makes it appear likely that as early childhood investments are being made on the cradle end, impact capital will be headed towards the career end of the pipeline as well. The map below lays it out these interconnections as well as links between Hobsons, SIIA, and Project Unicorn, the interoperable database that will create the data lakes to enable the cost offsets.

Strive and P&G

Interactive map of Strive and P&G here.

Global Scholars Diploma

It’s late, and so I will bring this to a close. In case this all seems a bit far-fetched, I’ll just say that people are starting to pay a more attention to my Jerimiads lately. It may have to do with the media attention Shoshana Zuboff of Harvard has been recieving for her book “Surveillance Capitalism.” I really loved her long read in the Franfurter Allgemeine from 2016, which you can read here, but have cooled somewhat after watching her participation in Wharton professor and Blockchain and gamification expert Kevin Werbach’s conference “After the Digital Tornado” in the fall of 2017. It felt like she was set up to be the “good cop” in that production. Obviously she’s a Harvard professor with a literal seat at the table. So, how much of a dissident can she be?

Nevertheless, she has bolstered my credibility, and I appreciate that. I’ll finish with a transcribed statement Joseph Turow, a Penn Annennberg Professor of Communications, delivered following Zuboff’s presentation at that 2017 Digital Tornado Conference. It confirms what I have laid out regarding IoT, branding, and the ways government policies and human capital management are being inappropriately influenced by powerful corporate interests. Why are we all not shouting this from the rooftops? What exactly are we waiting for?

After the Tornado 12 – Humanity 2

Joseph Turow, Annenberg School of Communication

Video clip here.

“They both reminded me of two industry experiences I had directly relating to this that will lead to a comment about the nature of policy. I was at an industry conference about a year and a half ago, two years ago maybe, and people were talking. It was a conference on the use of the Internet of Things in business, particularly in retailing. And one of the people at the conference who was an executive at the WPP, one of the major advertising holding companies, said: “We have to treat people like a frog in boiling water. We have to figure out a way to make them slowly get used to the idea of what we’re doing, because otherwise they’ll resist.” There’s this myth, I think it’s a myth, that if you put a frog in water that’s boiling it will jump out. If you put it in the water and it slowly boils, it will get used to it. He didn’t want to kill his audiences, but he wanted people to get used to the ideas that they were formulating.

Not too long after he spoke, a researcher for one of the big advertising holding companies got up and showed slides with trend lines that by 2024 half of Americans are going to have a chip in their arm, so when they walk down a supermarket aisle, the supermarket will know that they feel nervous when they lift a product up, and they might be able to get rid of that nervousness by lowering the price directly for that thing, and thereby know how to sell that product. He then added that he thought by 2050 everybody in the United States would have this chip. The first guy, I felt bad for him, I didn’t put his name in the book. The second person, because it was online I figured it was fair game. Apparently, they’ve taken that slide off.

But the larger point that I am trying to make here is that there are industrial logics that are taking place that really relate to a kind of policy that we’ve been, that has been underplayed in the last couple of days. It’s been implicit, but I still think I’d like to foreground it, which is corporate marketing and commercial policy. Companies have ideas about where they’re going. And it’s networked systems of companies, particularly in the marketing arena, that are shaping the kinds of things we’ve been talking about in the last couple of days. They also shape government policy in very strong ways, and I think it’s terribly important to realize how these things interconnect with one another.

A year after the Tornado piece came out (1998), Procter and Gamble had a conference called FAST, and it was in Cincinnati in their headquarters and it stands for “Future of Advertising Stakeholders,” and I was at that conference. And they invited their competitors. Unilever was there, which is pretty amazing, and a whole lot of people from ad agencies and media buying companies and stuff like that. The goal of the conference was to get the Internet workable for Procter and Gamble. They didn’t think that the Internet was acceptable to them at the time. It was too slow. It wasn’t viable for commercials. They didn’t know what the metrics were, and they wanted to set up a way to set that up.

They invited Steve Case to give a talk, Steve Case the head of AOL, at lunch. He freaked a lot of people out, because during the talk he said Americans do not want broadband. P&G wanted broadband, see, to show the commercials. He said Americans don’t want broadband, and they don’t care about broadband, because AOL, and he didn’t say this, because AOL was really dependent on the idea of dial-up. But from that time on P&G, which had already started the interactive advertising, it was then called the Internet Advertising Bureau, really decided together with other companies to set the policies that a lot of people the past couple of sessions have been talking about. The notions of personal assistants, the notion of AI, the notion of how advertising messages are going to be conversational-what I would call “conversational advertising,” based on who we are. The industrial constructions of audiences is not just an issue of government policy, it is an issue of interconnection of government policy with the logics and desires of the industries that relate to them.”

November 2017

Kevin Werbach, After The Digital Tornado Conference

After the Tornado 12 – Humanity 2

Discussant: Joseph Turow, Annenberg School of Communication

Presenters: Shoshana Zuboff, Harvard, and Brett Frischmann, Villanova

Home Visit Legislation: A Sales Pitch For Family Surveillance?

I’ve heard rumblings from folks in a number of states about pending legislation to establish home visit programs for expectant families or families with newborns or pre-school age children. So many families are struggling. Poverty is at an all time high. When hearing about such bills, those who have not been faced with the challenge of navigating impersonal bureaucracies, will likely think, “Thank goodness! Our elected officials are recognizing how hard things are and are stepping up to do something for those people.”

For those who think that, I wish you were right, but the reality is considerably more troubling. I follow money, and it tells a different story. It tells the tale of a sweeping program of “collective impact” cultivated by consultancies like Third Sector Capital Partners, FSG, and the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Strive Together, a non-profit program incubated in Cincinnati, OH under the wing of Gates Foundation-funded Knowledgeworks (promoter of learning ecosystems), will carry out the program.

Strive Together Board

Interactive map of Strive Together board here.

This initiative has been brought to scale with support from influential banks and foundations led by Living Cities, the United Way, and representatives of the Federal Reserve. Through carefully chosen “backbone organizations” and “conveners,” Strive Together’s pathways are being set up to channel tens of millions of private “impact investments” while harvesting personal data on an almost unimaginably vast scale. Central to this enterprise is the Annie E. Casey Foundation (UPS money) that sought to leverage a treasure trove of “Kids Count” data and trigger an expansive program of impact investing via the creation of Mission Investors Exchange back in 2005. The organization now boasts over 120 members.

Living Cities Funders

Interactive map of Living Cities funders here.

Members of the Strive Network, and its deep-pocketed backers, seek to track human capital “from cradle to career,” reaping profits from digitally managed lives every step of the way. This is becoming possible as ubiquitous computing through mobile devices and wearable technologies is normalized. Digital profiling doesn’t have to be anything fancy; smart phones, tablets, and maybe some type of virtual assistant (digital minder) will suffice.

Strive Together

It is a model that outsources public services (via austerity-enforced privatization) to non-profits that are funded through “pay for success” contracts. These services then push people’s interactions online as much as possible to generate required “impact” data. Debt taken out to pay for the services is securitized (like those toxic, bundled mortgages that precipitated the 2008 economic crisis), which permits hedge funds to legally gamble on human misery in real time. Profiling the poor is a central feature of this system. It is fueled by poverty. Thus, logic dictates, it will never eliminate the source of its profit. Instead, proponents will attempt to shift responsibility for economic violence back onto victims, insisting they simply “make better choices,” preferably with the assistance of a behavior-tracking app.

All of this is tied into the “what works” “Moneyball for Government” agenda my colleague Carolyn Leith helpfully lays out here.

While predatory financiers think they can “short” the lives of the poor with impunity, I choose to believe those who know the truth can disrupt the disrupters. We must commit ourselves to pulling back the curtain on these neoliberal programs masquerading as “progressive” policy, expose the poison pills embedded in them, and fight for the care people deserve as fellow humans, not commodities whose futures are fodder for speculative trading. If this is new to you, and you need more information, see this series and my video “Gambling With Our Futures.”

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer knows the plan. His wife Connie serves on Strive’s board, and his investment firm just put $59 million into Social Solutions, a software platform to track performance measures in social service delivery. They’ve also directed $50 million into Blue Meridian Partners, a “results-oriented” philanthropy focused on children and youth. Wink, wink, Ballmer’s not just in it “for the kids;” he’s in it for the kids’ data.

Social Solutions Ballmer

Blue Meridian .jpg

Interactive map of Blue Meridian Partners here.

This sheds light on why home visit and ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) scoring protocols are being fast-tracked as “emergency” bills in Washington State right now. The state hosts three different Strive partnerships (Bellvue, Tacoma and South King County, South Seattle) including the Road Map Project, one its first proofs of concept. Last spring, the Ballmer Group brought Andrea (Andi) Smith on board. Smith had previously served as Governor Jay Inslee’s director of external affairs, acting as a senior policy advisor on human service issues. She’s now charged with strategic planning around Ballmer’s “civic activism.”

Steve Ballmer Dallas Commit Strive

Watch Ballmer’s speech from a 2017 Dallas County Education Investors meeting in here.

Strive’s influence extends to early childhood, early literacy, and community school programs in nearly seventy communities that touch 13 million children. Click here to see the list of participants: urban and suburban, affluent and poor spread across every corner of the United States. Those funding home visit programs, the foot in the proverbial “cradle to career” door, are the very ones behind the tech takeover of public schools and the development of global impact investment markets.

Home visits are key, because that is where baseline data, including ACE screenings, will be collected on each child. Without comprehensive baselines, it will be hard for the backers of so-called “evidence-based” interventions to take credit for (and profit from) “fixing” children who will be “risk-scored” from birth onwards. This push to lay the groundwork for “collective impact” is also, I believe, a driving force behind California Governor Gavin Newsom’s “child-focused” state budget. He was involved in a “collective impact” program, HOPE, during his time as mayor of San Francisco. Newsom knows what lies ahead, and his Bay Area fin-tech base will be well served if a comprehensive data collection system starting in infancy comes to pass.

Human Value Chain Infographic

When considering how home visit programs are likely to play out, it is important to recognize healthcare and social service sectors are experiencing data-driven, austerity-imposed, digital hostile takeovers not unlike what we have seen in public school classrooms. Medical professionals and care workers, like teachers, are losing autonomy to standardized protocols, rubrics, imposed scripts, and oversized caseloads. Cameron’s Graham’s compelling brief offers important insights into the chilling reality of social workers, called navigators, who attempt to work with the confines of the St. Mungo’s homeless social impact bond in the UK.

As much as these workers may want to do the right thing by families, their ability to do so will be severely constrained unless they can collectively push back against financialized, privatized service delivery. I eagerly await the day rank and file teachers, nurses, and social workers realize what is happening, make common cause, and unite to fight the tech-surveillance “collective impact” agenda.

Clayton Christensen, Harvard business professor and promoter of blended learning, has targeted both education and healthcare for disruption. Data is the new oil and much of it flows through schools and care settings. They are coming for it. “Pay for success” programs in Santa Clara County, California, which include Strong Start and the Big Lift, were catalyzed by Fred Ferrer who brought Christensen in to pitch outcomes-based contracting. Ferrer spent his career at The Health Trust, focused on public health, during which time he also served on the board of Rocketship Charter Schools.

As a consultant to Santa Clara County, Ferrer prepared a 2018 report, Universal Access to Early Childhood Care, Education and Health Services, in which he pitched a concierge model of school-based social workers that would work with families in two of San Jose’s low-income school districts. The catch is that the county ALSO hosts an interoperable data warehouse funded by Mark Zuckerberg and is the target of significant impact investments via the influential Silicon Valley Community Foundation and other venture philanthropies.

silicon valley regional data trust upenn

datazone chan zuckerberg

It seems entirely possible Ferrer’s recommendations, while appearing benevolent, are actually setting vulnerable families up to be exploited by social service agencies through data profiling. All sorts of data are being co-mingled for analysis: mental health, judicial involvement, health, and academic. With predictive analytics on the rise in child protective services here and abroad, people should be concerned.

Last week, the UK’s “What Works Centre for Children Social Care,” led by former head of New York’s “nudge unit,” shared plans to begin a program of machine learning on data collected by caseworkers, which has raised considerable alarm. Understanding the ways social services have historically been used as weapons to control the poor, particularly Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, it is easy to see how something as seemingly innocuous as a home visit, could go terribly, terribly wrong. If you can’t picture it, I suggest reading Louise Erdrich’s short story, American Horse, and imagine that scenario today with the addition of Internet of Things tracking and AI enforcement.

See my previous post on Silicon Valley pay for success here.

Ferrer Report Health and Education SCCOE

Interactive version of the map below here.

What would the home visit / social work equivalent of a Rocketship charter school model be? Caseworkers assigned tablets and tasked with gathering copious data via screening tools tied to a child’s unique identifier? Maybe a slew of parenting apps are part of the picture? Parents monitored to see if they download recommended programs and participate consistently? Will new moms be leaned on to accept listening devices like the LENA “talk pedometer” (below) in their homes? Will parents be sold on the supposed benefits of online pre-k? Will subtle product placements for affiliated charter franchises be casually inserted into conversations?

LENA Combo

In a January 2019 report on early childhood trends, Big Ideas, Little Learners, the Omidyar Network outlines many investment opportunities in early childhood education and health. Technology-mediated brain training is touted, because research (much of it underwritten by hedge fund interests) indicates it’s more cost-effective to shift non-cognitive data than academic knowledge. Hedge funds need dynamic data to enable their betting. For that reason SEL data is where investors are directing their efforts, underwriting rubrics and systems to productively manage behavioral “success” at home, in the grocery store produce aisle, in pre-k, in classrooms, and on playgrounds.

Omidyar 2019 ECE Megatrends

That’s what KIPP charter schools have been up to all along; their franchise, an enormous test bed of behavioral conditioning. They were tasked with refining cost-effective techniques for broader roll out. Now, it seems, with the passage of the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act that time has come. We’re looking at pre-k charter proposals now. Surely that influence is going to trickle down into home settings soon enough. The drumbeat of digital bootstrapping grows louder and louder as messaging around “growth mindset” and “resilience” for parents and children butts up against the dire realities of lived experience with increasing force.

Strive Malleable

Source: Beyond Content: Incorporating Social and Emotional Learning Into the Strive Together Framework, 2013.

Omidyar ACEs Brain Engineering

In this uncertain 4th Industrial Revolution future where the entire concept of “work” remains fraught and uncertain, investors plan to continue concentrating their wealth by distracting the public and selling them on the importance of “soft skills,” “whole child education,” and “brain training.” They will, of course, downplay the digital tracking, profiling, and surveillance that comes along with it. In 2013, Strive created a task force to examine metrics for social-emotional learning and figure out which traits were “malleable.” That the report dismisses “critical thinking,” because it is not correlated to academic “success,” is quite telling. In retrospect, though, it shouldn’t come as a surprise given that public education (now extending to early education for toddlers and even infants) has historically been used to reinforce social stratification undergirded by structural racism, a case laid out by Tim Scott in his post “Common Schools and the Nationalistic Aims of Public Education in the U.S.”

Critical thinking SEL

Omidyar Medicaid

Omidyar Network, author of the Big Ideas, Little Learners report is a global impact investor focused on ed-tech, digital identity, fin-clusion and e-government “solutions.” Its founder is Pierre Omidyar of eBay. The organization has its fingers in many pies: pre-k digital identity (Amply), prison labor impact securities (The Last Mile), Blockchain credentialing (Learning Machine), and behavior-tracking apps (Hopelab). The organization heavily invests in disruptive education and early childhood models that center on technology (Bridges International Academies online scripted curriculum for Global South clients) and data surveillance (Zamzee, family activity tracker). While their pitch for early childhood education sounds compelling at first blush, the image below, a pre-k model advanced by one of their grantees in South Africa, tells the tale. You can paint a cargo container and put in a few windows, but that doesn’t make it humane. When they pitch poverty apps, look beyond the “shiny” and remember Innovation Edge’s cargo container pre-schools.

Pre-K Cargo Container

Pierre Omidyar’s wife Pam launched a “scientific” enterprise called Hopelab that employs gamified social science research to change behaviors from medical compliance, to emotional regulation, to family fitness. They’ve also partnered on the Nurse Family Partnership’s pay for success home visit pilot program in South Carolina to test Goal Mama. This app was designed to deliver digital nudges to pregnant moms deemed to be “at risk,” because we all know the only thing that stands between a low-income parent and economic stability is well-designed software…

Click here for the slide share the South Carolina Nurse Family Partnership used to pitch the Goal Mama program.

Goal Mama Hopelab

Interactive map for Hopelab / Goal Mama and Omidyar Network’s projects here.

Goal Mama

The screenshots from Omidyar Network’s report show how it has positioned itself to benefit from the growing number of impoverished families who rely on social services like Medicaid, the infants pawns in a brazenly calculating scheme. It should be noted that Omidyar Network is not merely an individual investor, it is a key player in a larger social impact network that includes even more powerful interests like the Vatican. Social entrepreneurs, benefit corporations, and venture philanthropists have been extremely busy over the past decade crafting markets for digital interventions that will shape behaviors to benefit tech companies and the impact investors who partner with them to achieve what they call “measurable social benefit.”

Omidyar Gaps

For this market to function, all the players must agree to comprehensively screen poor families, identifying them within a deficit framework as having “gaps” that are “fixable.” The “solutions” for these gaps must be ones that focus on altering individual behavior, never systemic causes that could lead to radical solutions that would be true solutions. Technological interventions, often supported by neuro-scientific “evidence,” are foregrounded. Deals will line up venture philanthropy backers who pay for the digital services. Everyone then sits back to wait while “majority minority” populations are compelled to create data later “harvested” for a tidy sum after conditions of the outcomes-based contracts are met.

Omidyar ECE 2019 Nudge

Omidyar 2019 ECE IMpact Investing

South Carolina’s Nurse Family Partnership’s home visit program is the intended model to scale as noted in a 2017 project overview prepared by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. It was funded in coordination with the state’s Medicaid program as a pay for success venture with support from the Harvard Government Performance Lab.

SC PFS Nurse Family Partnership

South Carolina Pay for Success, Nurse Family Partnership Home Visit interactive map here.

With the passage of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEPA), home visit programs are an impact investor’s dream-come-true. I know. I was in DC for the bipartisan celebration of the Social Impact Partnerships Pay for Results Act, which allocated $100 million to get the pay for success party started. Home visits were front and center.

SC Pay for Success Home Visit

SC Home Visit Players Results for America

The Nurse Family Partnership is a venerable institution that’s been around for over 40 years and annually serves nearly 35,000 families in 42 states. I’m sure it has done commendable work, but in anticipation of a vast expansion of home visit services, an examination of their current funding sources is warranted. The following funders are among those that have contributed $10,000 or more in the past year according to their website.

Nurse Family Partnership Funders

Nurse Family Partnership Major Donors, interactive map here.

Arnold Foundation: John of Enron fame and his wife Laura are major backers of “evidence-based” “what works” “outcomes-based” contracting, supporters of secret policing surveillance programs, and developers of racially biased bail algorithms. They were key players in advancing the passage of FEPA and SIPPRA.

Ballmer Group: The investment fund of Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, whose wife Connie is on the board of the Strive Together “collective impact” network and who has invested in social solutions impact measurement software. Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn and its ties to the LRNG badging program gives it an advantageous position with regards to youth digital workforce portfolios.

Bezos Family Foundation: Amazon Web Services, with its multitude of national security contracts, would probably love an expanded system of data collection on poor families. Jeff’s mom, Jacklyn has shared a stage with human capital economist James “I’ll guarantee you a 10% ROI on early childhood investments” Heckman at a recent Aspen Institute event and serves on multiple committees of Paul Tudor Jones’s Robin Hood Foundation.

Blue Meridian Partners: A collective fund of a half billion dollars for “high-impact” youth serving programs chaired by Stanley Druckenmiller, hedge fund manager and close friend of Paul Tudor Jones, founder of the Robin Hood Foundation.

Duke Endowment: It has invested $50 million in Blue Meridian Partners.

Google.org: The philanthropic arm of the big data behemoth that dominates cloud-based software in US classrooms, has its eyes on Internet of Things managed healthcare delivery through it’s “smart city” spin-off, City Block, and a hand in prison-based.

The New Venture Fund: Has ties to the Connected Learning Alliance, digital badging, and workforce pathways programs.

Non-Profit Finance Fund: Consulting firm formerly headed by George Overholser, now of Third Sector Capital Partners, that promotes use of pay for success nationally.

Oak Foundation: Another “next-gen,” digital learning proponent.

Overdeck Foundation: Major supporter of social-emotional learning interventions that embrace interventions targeting “malleable” traits that promote academic “success.”

Schwab Foundation: Supports Summit Learning, charter schools, redesigned “innovative” education models including work-based learning programs.

Tipping Point: David Lurie has set up this organization as Robin Hood Foundation West with support from Silicon Valley tech moguls.

We live in an era where data is gold. Poor people needing services (or education) are seen as potential goldmines by predatory financiers, assuming their poverty can be “profitably managed.” We are sliding into a new economic paradigm, one where people are valued as consumers of social services and producers of “impact data.” If we don’t speak out, eventually large segments of the population will be tracked via screen and wearable technologies, generating data linked to public benefits whose value is contained and regulated through digital platforms.

Picture linking up Sesame credit, nudges, surveillance of the public sphere, and dynamic pricing to digital housing vouchers or SNAP benefits via government issued smart phones. It’s not a far-fetched plan. The Gates Foundation, among others, is pushing a shift towards “government to citizen” digital payments through the Better than Cash Alliance.   They equate it to investing in public infrastructure, only with the added benefit of being able to impose de-facto digital surveillance on populations that, when unified and motivated, could upend the status quo (or at least eject the likes of Amazon from their communities). Their goal? Manage people as individuals. Make it about pushing the poor to make better choices. Keep the poor accountable rather than the systems designed by oligarchs to impose poverty and concentrate wealth.

It is a horrible situation. It is hard to get up every day knowing this is coming, and yet it is undeniable that this machine is advancing at full tilt. I believe those at the top think that with slick branding and enough money to offer “seats at the table” to anyone who might be inclined to say, “hey, the emperor has no clothes,” they will get away with it. The fact that this is coming with bipartisan support, perhaps even more so that it is coming from the liberal corner means to fight it, people must have a deeper understanding of the nature of social justice and racial capitalism.

People of privilege, people holding onto a “white savior” mentality are going to have a hard time understanding the dangers behind these “helpful” home visit programs. People who think Democrats can do no wrong are also going to have a hard time calling it out, because it is baked into many of the supposedly “progressive” policies that the liberal main stream has been promoting for years, not realizing how fin-tech and impact investing were inextricably woven in. How do we have conversations about systems of paternalistic technocracy that are swiftly deploying programs of toxic whiteness under the cover of progressive ideals? In this moment of meme culture and knee jerk reactions, I’m not sure, but I’m willing to try.

It is crucial that we try.

Based on all of my research it seems clear that unless home visit legislation can be structured to support the interests of the people over investors, home visit campaigns will be a colossal set up to harvest data from the poor; sell them on digital non-solutions to economic dispossession and structural racism; and profile their children into suitably low-level slots in the cradle to career human capital pipeline.

If home visit initiatives truly wanted to be supportive of all families they would:

1) be optional

2) not be conditioned on data collection or reliant on longitudinal data systems

3) not involve assignment of unique identifiers to parents, children, or care providers

3) guarantee families the right know what data is being collected, review it, challenge it, and delete it at will

4) not advocate digital interventions or monitoring

5) prohibit machine learning on and / or AI processing of collected data

7) offer support that is culturally-responsive

8) treat caseworkers as professionals, ensure they receive a salary with benefits commensurate with the importance of this work, and provide training and support grounded in face to face relationships not CBE online modules

9) require service providers be accountable to the communities they serve

10) prohibit use of “pay for success” finance and “outcomes-based contracting”

Addressing systemic conditions that engender poverty should be adopted instead of solutions that put primary responsibility on individual behavior. There is no one “correct” way to parent. Governments must not attempt to coerce families to conform to conditions of “whiteness” that reinforce historic systems of domination. We must do better. Please use this information to educate your communities about what is coming. We must work quickly to put protections in place.

 

 

ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) Scores: Part of the “Pay for Success” Plan?

A red flag for me in Gavin Newsom’s “child-friendly” proposed budget was the $45 million he allocated to screen children and adults in Medi-Cal for ACEs. I’m writing this post to express serious reservations I have about the process of developing ACE (Adverse Early Childhood Experiences) scores for people. ACEs are getting tremendous media exposure of late. While I believe this to be a crucial pubic health concern, my fear is that ACE prevention and mitigation interventions will become vehicles for “innovative” finance and will expand profiling of vulnerable populations.

I want to make it clear from the outset that I acknowledge childhood trauma does result in long-term negative health consequences for individuals. I’ve seen it in my own family. I also recognize that systems of structural racism have inflicted stress and violence on communities of color and indigenous peoples for generations, resulting in high rates of chronic illness that make them attractive targets for “social impact” schemes. People have a basic human right to treatment and care, which should not be conditioned on surveillance and having data harvested to line the pockets of social impact investors.

What concerns me about ACEs is the “scoring.”

Why should a standardized rubric developed under the auspices of one of the largest managed healthcare systems, Kaiser Permanente, label clients and structure the way a doctor, therapist, social worker, or educator can care for them? How did this tool come to have such a far reach, and whose interests will it ultimately serve?

Is a reliance on “scores” an intentionally-constructed framework that allows providers to limit their scope to “fixing” individuals and families rather than advancing a more radical approach whereby systemic causes of community trauma, trauma rooted in our country’s deep racist history, can be acknowledged, holistically assessed, and begin to be ameliorated?

And finally, will this “scoring” system be used to transform the treatment of childhood trauma into a machine for “pay for success” data speculation?

I believe it will.

A September-October, 2017 article for Academic Pediatrics, “Financing Mechanisms for Reducing Adversity and Enhancing Resilience Through Primary Prevention,” shows why ACE interventions will be an extremely attractive investment option for predatory social entrepreneurs. The authors note interventions that “prevent or mitigate the effects of ACEs can have impact across multiple sectors including: behavioral health, general health, child welfare, and “future criminal justice.” Every sector represents potential profit for investors. It appears there’s a lot of money in trauma remediation.

The paper references work done by the Washington State Institute on Public Policy (WSIPP) in which sophisticated cost/benefit models were created that estimate future cost savings across sectors so that the savings can be used to repay investors. WSIPP is one of eight data labs, operating under the purview of the NYU Gov Lab. Among the policy recommendations presented in this paper were: 1) setting “a conceptual framework to understand and account for outcomes across a broad range of public and private investment” 2) “validating metrics to estimate society costs and benefits” 3) adopting integrated budgets that combine health and social welfare finance and 4) disseminating information about innovative policies and finance mechanisms like “pay for success.”

The bottom line is that investors see children who have been harmed as potential sources of vast quantities of “impact” data, since the damage inflicted upon them extends across so many domains. The fact that the harm is so pervasive is, sickeningly, what makes so profitable. Interoperable databases are key to the program. All the data must be pooled in data lakes to claim the future cost offsets that enable the profit taking. WSIPP and its counterparts have been key collaborators in developing a national data architecture upon which impact investment markets will be built. More details in my post “Interoperable Data To Fuel Human Capital Hedge Funds.”

The ACE scoring system was developed under the auspices of one of the largest managed healthcare systems in the country, Kaiser Permanente in the mid 1990s, though the research began a decade earlier. The organization’s roots were providing managed healthcare to construction and defense workers in the 1940s and transitioned to managed care, with an emphasis on preventative care, in the post-war decades. It now has over twelve million subscribers, making it one of the largest providers in the country and very influential in public health policy.

Not only is Kaiser Permanente a healthcare provider, it is also a social impact investor. In May 2018, Kaiser Permanente announced the creation of a $200 million fund for affordable housing. They intend to generate both financial and social returns. In some ways this is consistent with their long-standing focus on preventative care and social determinants of health, but we are entering a new age where an individual’s compliance with preventative health protocols can be compelled through the imposition of wearable monitoring technologies and varied fee structures.

Kaiser 200 million

To say that healthcare delivery and insurance coverage in the United States are highly dysfunctional would be understating the calamity so many face attempting to access needed care without bankrupting their families. We cannot assume current systems will advance the good of the people over the interests of those directing $200 million investment funds. That simply isn’t logical, especially not in the Bay Area where Kaiser Permanente is based.

Bernard Tyson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, was named one of Time Magazine’s top 100 people for 2017 in the category of Titan. He was also tagged by Modern Healthcare as number two on a list of most the influential people in the field, recognized for disruption. He serves as chair of the Bay Area Council. Its board includes 160 people, many from the tech, finance, civic, and non-profit sectors who have direct interests in social impact investing. The council is a supporter of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Center for Early Learning, which advances early childhood education and early literacy initiatives. Tyson also sits on the board of Salesforce, which has made investments in SocialSuite, a software dashboard program geared to provide metrics for government contracting and impact investors. SocialSuite partners with IXO Foundation, backer of Amply the social impact digital identity pre-k app being piloted in Cape Town, South Africa. Interactive map here.

Bernard Tyson

Kaiser’s reach is international. In a climate of growing privatization, the UK National Health Service (NHS) has been in ongoing consultation with Kaiser Permanente to learn more about their managed care model. Initial connections were made around 2003, 2004. A 2010 article from BBC News described a three-day conference that was held to examine ways to make the NHS “more productive.” One of the key elements of the Kaiser Permanente program mentioned in the piece was the use of IT and remote monitoring to actively engage patients “managing in their day-to-day health.” The article noted that NHS expected to remain “in close contact” with Kaiser Permanente “to learn from their success.” Additional information on digital nudges in healthcare here.

After passage of the UK Health and Social Care Act of 2012, which advanced a market-based approach to healthcare, outsourcing services to private sector providers began to rise. According to a report from The King’s Fund, growth areas for outsourcing included community health and mental health services, both areas targeted for social impact investing by venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen and his cohort of hedge funders.

I correspond with a friend on the other side of the pond, and we’ve been comparing notes on pay for success contracting. In the UK the NHS (National Health Service) has begun to adopt “outcomes based contracting” and staggered payments to facilitate the outsourcing of a variety of services including mental health treatment. More information can be found in the report, “Better Outcomes, Better Value: The Evolution of Social Impact Bonds in the UK,” by Bridges Fund Management, Sir Ronald Cohen’s impact investing firm.

Social entrepreneurs have been putting the pieces in place to harvest profit from mental anguish caused by years of austerity and economic instability among large segments of the British population (cue Brexit). ARK (Absolute Return on Kids) is one of the most influential Academy chains (like charter schools) in the UK, funded by Paul Marshall who founded the Marshall Wace hedge fund. Several years back ARK developed an alt-cert training program for social workers called Frontline along the lines of Teach for America. They have been training harried, low-wage workers who are tasked with screening children and families and pushing them into portfolios of “impact” generating interventions to fuel the impact economy.

Frontline ARK

Such interventions are featured in the “Five Year Forward View for Mental Health” plan for Newham, a borough in East London with a sizable refugee population and high levels of poverty. In 2018, an agreement was made to deliver resilience training via headstart programs and parent academies and mental health services in schools and to young people in crisis. The services are financed through a social impact bond that requires clients be monitored for two years after they receive care in order to evaluate the “success” of the program. Treatment protocols include MST (Multi-Systemic Therapy for Juveniles). MST is a client of Steven Goldenberg of Caffeinated Capital who worked closely with Sir Ronald Cohen on developing social impact bonds while he served as Managing Director and Chief Counsel of Social Finance. This approach seems very much in keeping with the networks of services developed in Harlem Children’s Zone, which I wrote about here. Interactive map here.

Layard UK Wellness

The fiscal reasoning for the “pay for success” mental health outsourcing rests on research done by Sir Richard Layard, Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. Similar to James Heckman at the University of Chicago, Layard created an economic cost/benefit analysis that allowed the government to scale a vast expansion of mental health services through the NHS starting in 2006. By estimating the number of lost workdays associated with depression, anxiety, and addiction, the government was able to use the value of that labor as a cost off set to pay the impact investors.

As early as 2001, Layard developed the Wellbeing Programme at the Centre for Economic Performance where he sought to “establish happiness as a desirable and measurable goal of public policy in the UK and worldwide.” Early efforts included importing the Child Resilience Program that had been developed by Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Of course Seligman and his collaborator Angela “grit” Duckworth were the ones who developed the “character framework” used by the emotionally brutal KIPP “no excuses” charter franchise.

The Wellbeing Programme’s most significant contribution was launching Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT). Under this program drop-in “Happiness Centres” were placed in low-income neighborhoods where Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was offered, according to one Guardian article, as an “Ikea of the mind” where “the feel good factor was flat-packed for you to take home.” As cloud based computing began to take over the health-care industry, the pressure to digitize therapy grew more intense. In recent years the NHS’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has been investigating “evidence-based” digital therapies, delivered online or by app for depression and anxiety. The claim is that these platforms make therapy more accessible, but they also generate vast amounts of data as all the online interactions are captured in digital transcripts. As with “personalized” online learning, this transformation aligns closely with the needs of the “what-works” “data-driven” service delivery model.

Wellbeing Center

Another element that feeds into the social impact scheme is the growing practice of “social prescribing,” in which health professionals recommend patients pursue non-clinical services in community-based settings. The city of London is a big booster of the concept, aiming for every resident to have a social prescription by 2028. Such “prescriptions” are coordinated by community navigators. A recent example is a 1.7 million pound social impact bond to be implemented in Devon where a social prescribing service will be brought to scale to reduce dependency on health care. The SIB is one of 22 announced in 2018, financed through the “Life Chances Fund,” which is managed by The Big Lottery Fund on behalf of the UK Department of Digital, Media, Culture, and Sport. While the thought of coordinated services is appealing, its underlying financial structure means it can never truly serve the best interests of the clients. The goal is to track people in such a way that they will be denied future services. That is the model for impact investing-that public expenditures be redirected away from the public good.

In a 2013 discussion paper titled, “Mental Health: The New Frontier for Labor Economics,” Layard discusses the role mental health interventions play in national economic productivity. Layard chaired the World Economic Forum’s Council on Health and Wellbeing from 2010-2011, and during that time he, at the request of then Prime Minister David Cameron, developed a series of metrics of “national well-being and progress.” It is the framework Layard developed that will be used to scale financialized approaches to mental health treatment globally. To bring these programs to scale, services like tele-therapy and text therapy will be prioritized, because they deliver the data. Not coincidentally they also generate vast quantities of information about the mental health of populations that could be fed into machine learning systems to inform the decision making of governments, financiers, and multi-national corporations.

In the remainder of this post I will address digital “brain-training” mental health treatments that are being devised to sell app-ified “solutions” that supposedly develop “resiliency” and “executive function” in children identified as “slow,” “troubled,” or “delinquent.” Sounds a lot like what we see coming out of KIPP, doesn’t it? Of particular interest to the impact investors are children with high ACEs scores. When implemented with “fidelity,” the pitchmen for these software systems say their “evidence-based” interventions reduce addiction, unemployment, crime, and mental illness thereby relieving pressure on already burdened public services. I have a strong feeling Betsy DeVos’s financial interest in the discredited Neurocore, ADHD treatment protocol, had everything to do with planned growth in the digital “pay for success” brain-training market.

My UK colleague shared an experience attending a professional development program where supposedly “progressive” educators touted programs designed to “train” the brains and “enhance” the executive function of children with high ACEs scores. Remember the joint effort announced by the Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to create an R&D program to improve executive function in children facing “adverse life situations?” If you don’t, it was all about “innovation” that could be scaled cheaply with demonstrated impact; see image below. Yes, this is about moving the data around on the dashboard for benefit of the hedge fund speculators.

Chan Zuckerberg Gates Executive Function

If this sounding like a set up for a tech-driven social impact bonds, you’d be right! The school in question was Seven Sisters Primary School located in Tottenham, which according to a New York Times feature is one of London’s most diverse and deprived communities with a sizable immigrant population. The school has a “pastoral team” of ten staff members in addition to a handful of “Children’s Wellbeing Practitioners.” The online bio for the school’s health mentor notes that Seven Sisters is implementing two software behavior programs: My Cognition and Stronger Brains. See the screen shot below from the Stronger Brains website.

Stronger Brains-2

The company’s director, Wendy Haigh, trained at Harvard and Stanford and previously worked at the Benevolent Society where she advanced one of Australia’s first two social benefit bonds. She is deputy chair of the Capital Working Group of Impact Investing Australia.

Wendy Haigh Stronger Brains

Michael Merenzich is the research half of the pair. An emeritus professor of neuroscience at the University of San Francisco (UCSF), Merenzich started the company Scientific Learning whose flagship product is Fast ForWord, language and reading skills software used in schools across United States, Canada, and Australia. A 2011 meta-analyses of research on the program published in the Journal of Child Psychology, Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, indicated NO evidence that the program was “effective as a treatment.” He then went on to establish Posit Science that sells a cognitive training program called BrainHQ, which is being pushed via the 2019 Medicare Advantage Plan in twenty-four states. I imagine that’s a lucrative contract.

Merenzich maintains ties with UCSF, where there is considerable brain training neuroscience research underway. UCSF is home to Adam Gazzaley’s Neuroscape program, whose spin-off, Boston-based Akili, is in the process of developing a range of prescription video game therapies to treat ADHD, depression, and anxiety. The company slogan is “It’s time to play your medicine.” Seriously. Akili is backed by a dozen international companies, evenly split between pharmaceutical and tech-start up venture capital firms. For the past three years Gazzaley has been piloting executive function training games with Melina Uncapher in San Jose Schools. I’ve written about that project here and here.

Akili Time To Play

MyCognition is another program being foisted on the young students of Seven Sisters Primary. The company’s website states the platform provides assessment, “tailored insights” and “coaching.” But the coaching program is actually a video game called Aquasnap that can be used either at home or to cognitively train entire schools on laptops or tablets. They claim that embedded in the video game are “training tasks” “calibrated” to each student based on a preliminary assessment. Completing the tasks supposedly improves attention, working memory, episodic memory, executive function and processing speed.

Aquasnap school

The website includes an extensive overview of data being collected via the platform and how it is shared, but I wonder for a school that serves a largely poor, immigrant community how many parents are informed of their rights regarding this data before their children are signed up for the program? I wonder if they have a right to refuse this gamified cognitive “training?” Right on the homepage it states that the app supports the following sectors: medical, military, education, sport, corporate, and consumer. Tell me why primary school children should have their personal data fed into ANY of these systems? The only reason is to fill data lakes whose contents can be used to fabricate profits for impact investors and profile children to groom them to submit to corporatized government and consumer culture.

My Cognition

Now, back to our side of the pond. The state of Tennessee recently launched a massive “Building Strong Brains” campaign to raise awareness around ACEs and child mental health. It built off a summit hosted in 2018 by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. Note the language featured in the screenshot below. It was taken from a video documenting a display board from the conference: “What about it works?” “Evidence-based Practice,” and “Can you measure impact?” The commission hired Frameworks, the same organization that developed the Digital Media and Learning program for the MacArthur Foundation, to create a tool kit for this campaign. Included were trigger videos, reframing cards, talking points, and FAQs to help lobbyists “stay on message in the face of tough questions.”

TN Strong Brains

Al Race from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child presented, as did Donald Schwarz of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, a member of Living Cities. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child launched in 2006. The initiative manages a “Frontiers of Innovation” research and development platform to improve “life outcomes” for children facing adversity. The focus is on science-based interventions addressing such topics as: toxic stress, brain architecture, resilience, and executive function. The center’s top tier of “investors” at $1 million + features a who’s who of tech and social impact investors: Bezos Family Foundation, Buffet Early Childhood Fund, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (via their Silicon Valley Community Foundation Donor Advised Fund), Pritzker Children’s Initiative, Omidyar Network and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Interactive map here.

Harvard Center on Developing Child Investors

Results for America, one of the major groups that lobbied for the adoption of Pay for Success enabling legislation, last summer identified Tennessee along with Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington as states that were “leading the way with their data-driven and evidence-based examples. Former Governor Bill Haslam is featured as one of their “All Stars” along with Gina Raimondo, Jay Inslee, and John Hickenlooper. Tennessee has been on the leading edge of the so-called “community school” roll out. According to the Tennessee Communities in Schools website, their branch of the national network, came to the state during the 2012-13 school year and services 10,000+ students in Nashville and Memphis. The privatized wrap around services offered through the community school model will be used to fill the data lakes for the impact investors.

Moneyball for Government Governors

ACE scores are key part of Pay for Success infrastructure. Rather than getting the humane care they deserve, people who have experienced trauma will become targets for predatory mental health and brain-training interventions. The “treatments” offered will largely be digital, using online games and wearable technologies, that generate data to prove the programs “work.” Coordinated efforts are underway in the US, the UK, and Australia.

With the passage of Foundations for Evidence Based Policy Making Act some states are forging ahead with “What Works” “Moneyball for Government” initiatives to advance this investment program. We are seeing new legislation and budget appropriations for home visits and ACE screenings. I know of this happening in California, Tennessee, and Washington State. To create this market, the government needs baseline data, and they also have to set up data agreements and unique identifiers to track the children through the system. What can we do to ensure those who have experienced childhood trauma get the care they deserve and are not sucked into this awful machine of digital brain engineering? We absolutely must push back on the scoring system now, before the pay for success agreements are embedded into everything. I welcome your thoughts.

As an addendum I want to add a few items that have come to my attention via Twitter from folks in the UK who are reading this post. Thanks!

Research into use of machine learning in child social care by the What Works Centre. Source

What Works Child Social Care Machine Learning

Dartington Social Research Unit, Louise Morpeth’s 2016 presentation on working on Big Lottery funded social programs in Scotland. References involvement of Annie E. Casey foundation. Source