Saturday, July 25, 2009


Massar People at the OIF event - photos by Kais


Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Postal service!

I've just ordered something on the internet, which has the following delivery option:

Royal Mail Special Delivery (TM) Next Day: £15.00
Estimated delivery: 3 business days*
Now is it just me, or is there a distinct difference between "next day" and "3 business days"?


Friday, July 17, 2009


Cultural Dimensions

Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions  - it's very interesting to look at Syria through these lenses, and to consider whether and how change in these areas might happen.

Power Distance Index (PDI) that is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society's level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. Power and inequality, of course, are extremely fundamental facts of any society and anybody with some international experience will be aware that 'all societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others'.

Individualism (IDV) on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, that is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The word 'collectivism' in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state. Again, the issue addressed by this dimension is an extremely fundamental one, regarding all societies in the world.

Masculinity (MAS) versus its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The IBM studies revealed that (a) women's values differ less among societies than men's values; (b) men's values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women's values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women's values on the other. The assertive pole has been called 'masculine' and the modest, caring pole 'feminine'. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men's values and women's values.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man's search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth; 'there can only be one Truth and we have it'. People in uncertainty avoiding countries are also more emotional, and motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions.

Long-Term Orientation (LTO) versus short-term orientation: this fifth dimension was found in a study among students in 23 countries around the world, using a questionnaire designed by Chinese scholars. It can be said to deal with Virtue regardless of Truth. Values associated with Long Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance; values associated with Short Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one's 'face'. Both the positively and the negatively rated values of this dimension are found in the teachings of Confucius, the most influential Chinese philosopher who lived around 500 B.C.; however, the dimension also applies to countries without a Confucian heritage.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009


More images from the activities




We are just coming to the end of two weeks of outdoor activities on the site of our future discovery centre, which have been a huge success. By the end of this week around 15,000 people will have visited, and the profile of Massar has suddenly shot through the roof. Some of this is because the President visited a few days ago, but a lot is just due to the fact that the activities are fun and worthwhile, they are free and convenient, and they are happening in the very centre of the city.

The weather has been unkind in making the second week very windy, which has ruined a spectacular water and light show we had planned to run each evening, and some of our activities have had to be cut short, but the enjoyment goes on. Very very hard work, but extremely rewarding. The essence of Massar captured.


Monday, July 06, 2009


Involving young people in the process

The challenge for Massar is to increase the direct participation of young people – the consumers of Massar – into the process of design and content development for the Discovery Centre. This means much more than just involving them in testing and prototyping. While that is all useful and in many ways an expected part of an effective design and content development process, our aim is for us to go further than that. In principle and practice we are hoping to see the “glass wall” between the design/development process and the end user removed as far as practical. In other words, we are asking all of those involved in this process how we can make young people direct participants in shaping the final experience. Not just as a means of evaluating whether “we experts” have got things right for “them amateurs” in what continues to be “our” process, but as a way of removing the distinction between us and them, and making the process shared by everyone (within reason!). In this, we are seeing the process of developing the final discovery centre experience much like any other Massar interactive programme, and asking all the team to find ways to make this activity as rich and involving as possible for our target beneficiaries.

We discussed some of the risks inherent in this, and it will be important for all involved to be clear what the windows of flexibility are as they apply differently to hardware, software and programmes, and when we need to finalise and close down discussion. It is understood that this may well be a less clear-cut (for which read more messy) process, and we may possibly end up with some stuff that is not what we would have done if left to ourselves. And there will be occasions when the functional interest of establishing something that will have a reasonable shelf-life will override a currently popular proposal from the children. So there will have to be a readiness from all for a little give and take.


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