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I started in 2000 with a process of understanding, developing and discussing a complex conceptual framework I called “The Social Computer”.

This could be seen as a thought experiment along the lines of – What can a society achieve if it was more “reprogrammable”, and what could a building achieve if designed with all the “new programs” in one place. So dream of a better future, but follow up by designing and testing that potentially better future.


It covers all kinds of things from art/science/technology/inclusion etc.

There is a buzzword-list a mile long. But hey, that’s what will populate the events/locations once they are there. Suffice to say that whatever the different threads in a city/country/society/group are wanting to achieve are brought together in this space.

Okay, so the early years, a lot of time was spent on the magic of the theoretical framework. An amazing experience and one that showed me that manifesting a “light conduit” on earth is possible. No less, it is a receiver/tranceiver of hopes and dreams, but with the responsibility of having to follow through and construct the outcomes – and test them.


In this process, as the designer, I invented a wide array of solutions for society – such as alternative democratic, marketing, technological, groupware, virtual, education forms (etc). The lines between the “different” subjects tends to blur but I think this is where so-called “Genius” can sprout.

The group contains genius, and as a whole there is a lot of power in the larger group. We haven’t yet developed ways to harness and fulfil this potential, but I believe this project is one of the significant steps in that process. It’s a modern form of something that has existed before in fragmented disempowered ways and it’s my job to manifest this as a transparent city upgrade – ie any city can build one and they connect to each other.

This City Upgrade is the central focus to the outcome of all this research.

A new building-type that a city can allocate as a service to it’s citizens. I used to call it a Social Computer but this was confusing and not very accessible as a title. Last year I came up with the title “The Civil Sandbox” which is a new type of building a city can create.


Here are some one-liners you can use to describe/understand the Civil Sandbox city upgrade:

  • A collective city project built and owned by the citizens.
  • A Civil-Power station.
  • A representation of the virtual in physical form.
  • A tranceiver of hope and capacity in a positive future.
  • A cross-border development capacitor. (i hope you like metaphors hehe)
  • An open-source city improvement (there are many others of course, but I’ll stop on that one).


The concept of a Social Computer

I would often begin by getting people to visualise a city or a building as a computer. You have hardware (pipes, roads, wires etc) and you have software (the rules of operation, traffic rules, organisational structure etc).

This is an example of a Social computer. The city computes, the building computes. The organisation is a Social Processor which has inputs and outputs and achieves it’s operation through sets of rules.

This is not a unique idea in itself, but I found that out 12months after I came up with it. Someone had written a few years before in his book “A company could be seen as a Social Computer”.

In practical use, society is a hugely complex set of processes. Imagine that you could create a mini-version of this process that is designed to be re-programmable by anyone and work in parallel to the bigger systems.

It’s something akin to the micro computer concept when that first came out, but it’s more Linux thinking than MS-Dos (open source). Society is running on a legacy software infrastructure, like DOS is today. It’s inaccessible and hard to reprogram.

My work is about updating that software in a big way, but in an enclosed way so it doesn’t break the existing system and has more freedom to be exploratory.

Last year, a group of IEEE scientists wrote about the idea of Social Computing as an informational science.

This is great for me as it gives some scientific backup for the whole project. It’s hard to explain something like this – the best example I can give people is – Try explaining a computer to someone in 1940, where would you start?! So it’s exciting for me to see their approach to explaining it as it is much more based in Academic thinking than what I have been saying all these years.

My work, is more focussed on the variety of ways people perceive such a concept and how they would like to see the city upgrade implemented. 

This involved a huge variety of ages, status, income, job-roles and level etc etc. I’ve spoken at length with people from all over the world from all kinds of backgrounds and activities. Each requires a different approach and a different explaination of the benefits and angles of entry to such a concept. This, however, is it’s greatest strength (and mine). Understanding how to implement something that works for everybody is a very different job to implementing such a project which is my next big challenge.

There were several offshoot projects that could be a commercial base to go ahead with. For example, a massively multiplayer “ship’s computer”. Imagine the potential of a massively multiplayer gaming engine, but without the 3d, monsters or other crap and apply it to a building, to support real world activities. This is one of the potential outcomes I’m following up, but not the big one.


The main project that has finally crystallised is called “The Civil Sandbox”.

This is easier to understand since the title is not a thought experiment.


  1. Of, relating to, or befitting a citizen or citizens: civil duties
  2. Of or relating to citizens and their interrelations with one another or with the state: civil society; the civil branches of government
  3. Of ordinary citizens or ordinary community life as distinguished from the military or the ecclesiastical: civil authorities
  4. Of or in accordance with organized society; civilized
  5. Sufficiently observing or befitting accepted social usages; not rude: a civil reply. See Synonyms at polite
  6. Being in accordance with or denoting legally recognized divisions of time: a civil year
  7. Law Relating to the rights of private individuals and legal proceedings concerning these rights as distinguished from criminal, military, or international regulations or proceedings


  1. A protected, limited environment where applications (e.g. Java programs downloaded from the Internet) are allowed to “play” without risking damage to the rest of the system
  2. A term for the R&D department at many software and computer companies (where hackers in commercial environments are likely to be found). The term is half-derisive, but reflects the truth that research is a form of creative play


The current roadmap I aim to follow is summarised like this: 

1a: Research process – I need a backer (not a beurocracy) to get the best in a room and formulate a framework for the entire scope of the project (5yrs, 10yrs, 15yrs).

1b: Presence in other events to generate better understanding/team/workflow/research.

2: “Sandbox Festival” events in different cities (prototyping the building concept).

3: Design and implement 3-4 trial locations.

4: Finalise the design and complete the project – which is then ready to be implemented in any city.

The project is a culmination of hundreds of solutions, so the best way to get them across is to answer questions.

Please help me enrich this blog with Q&A as this is more interesting than any document I might have written.

I’ll post news and archive items here over the coming weeks.

Thanks for reading 

Author :
EurActiv Network