Reviewing Narakeet

What is Narakeet?

Narakeet turns PowerPoint presentations into videos. The slides become the visuals and the notes are narrated into a voice over.

It has twenty languages, lots of different voices to choose from, subtitles, and background music. Pretty much everything you need to create a video.

My use case

I want to create short instructional videos for guiding people through a process on a charity website. But I can imagine all kinds of other uses.

Using Narakeet for the first time

I started by trying to upload my PowerPoint presentation without signing-up and get a message that my file size is too large so I should sign up for an account.

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I sign up with Google.

Once signed in to my account I get some instructions. I check the file size of my PowerPoint and continue with uploading my file.

As the file is imported this screen shows me the progress.

My PowerPoint had animations (because I wanted to test how Narakeet would deal with them) so I got a warning message to tell me that the animations would be ignored (test successful). I continued.

I have a choice, continue with creating the video with the default settings or edit the settings. I want to see what settings there are so I click ‘Edit the settings’.

The settings allow me to customise the size, language, voice, volume, speed, music and subtitles. I change the voice and switch on the subtitles.

As the PowerPoint file is converted into video this screen keeps me informed about what’s going on. My video is only 50 seconds long so it converts quick quickly.

I watched the video, was happy with it and so downloaded it.

The results

Other than not paying attention about the file size upload limit and trying to upload a file before creating an account, the entire process was simple to follow with good instructions.

Narakeet is a simple idea but so needed for charities, small businesses and individual creators that can’t afford expensive video creation.

Towards a stigmergy for third sector transformation

Create a stigmergy, not a strategy

Sector transformation doesn’t need a strategy. A strategy requires a single coordinated vision and centralised control. The sector doesn’t need that. It needs different thinking. So, instead of a strategy, the sector needs a stigmergy.

A stigmergy is a “mechanism of spontaneous, indirect coordination between agents or actions, where the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a subsequent action. Stigmergy enables complex, coordinated activity without any need for planning, control, communication, simultaneous presence, or even mutual awareness. The resulting self-organization is driven by a combination of positive and negative feedbacks, amplifying beneficial developments while suppressing errors” (Heylighen, 2015).

Originally a term was used in biology, and then the early 90’s saw the notion applied to other self-organising systems. Soon it became a useful model in a number of fields that attempt to understand self-organisation including artificial intelligence. A stigmergy offers an understanding of how to enable a self-organising movement to create change where no single vision for that change can either be agreed or coordinated. It offers a different way to consider change from our tendency to regard change as successful when everyone has agreed, actioned and conformed to the same change. It allows us to consider our notions of change more diversely and encompassing a range of actions, opinions and attitudes, to accept that perhaps change can be different in different circumstances but still be considered successful.

How can a stigmergy be created? Easy. Accept a diverse range of voices, opinions, ethics, values. Even those that at first glance appear in conflict with others. Don’t allow a single voice or opinion to dominate. Don’t look to leaders to make change happen. Avoid leadership in all it’s forms. Do lots of different things. Collaborate. Share. Co-create. Encourage everyone to look and listen to what is happening across the sector. Let simple, and even unconscious, ‘rules’ emerge from the actions and interactions people have. Let actions be seen by others, and responded to, creating feedback for the actors, and driving more action. From this others are inspired to act, to do their thing, sometimes in concert, sometimes in conflict. The positive actions, those that the sector accepts and amplifies through feedback loops gain ground whilst those attempts that fail become diminished and lost.

But…

Favour collectivism over individualism

Pandemic times have shown us that our society that prides itself on individualism (Hofstede, 2020). Every person that went to a crowded beach or didn’t wear a mask in a shop did so because they live in a society that, even if it doesn’t say so explicitly, values individual rights over collective responsibility.

Third sector people and organisations are no different. Individualism is ingrained in everyone one of us, every organisational strategy, every decision that each employee takes. It is how we have been trained to think. The Charity Commission’s rules on what makes a charity state that, “Your organisation’s ‘purpose’ is what it is set up to achieve… to be a charity your organisation must have charitable purposes only. It cannot have some purposes that are charitable and some that are not.” (Charity Commission, 2013). This tells charities that they have a legal obligation to look inwards, protect their own resources, focus on their individual mission. This is just one example (there are more) of the mindset that subtly compels organisations to prioritise their own (perceived) needs ahead of those of the sector, society or the whole world.

If the mission of all third sector organisations was to first ‘make the world better’; to save the planet, tackle the inequalities in society, etc… before then attending to their individual mission, then we’d see a very different third sector.

It’s easy to blame individuals. And why not, after all what is an organisation if not just a collection of individuals (Heath, 2020). But it’s important to remember that those individuals are as constrained by the systems of the sector and society and everyone else. Individualism is the problem, not the individuals. To think that change can be brought about by changing the individuals is to fall into Pirsig’s rationality trap.

Pirsig said, “But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government.” If the systems that created that individual remain then another, similar, individual will come to replace them.

The problem is not the individual charities and third sector organisations either, the problem is the individualistic thinking that occurs in them. The established organisations are not the enemy of the sector, they are as much part of and victim of the worldview that the dominant voices of our society hold. Charity laws express that same thinking. The theoretical models applied to our economy express the same thinking. Individualism is deeply ingrained in our worldview.

How can a mindset be changed to be collectivist? Not so easy. It takes decades or even centuries to change the worldview of a society, but if ever there was a time to start that change, it is now. Charities and third sector organisations can think about the needs of other organisations along with their own. They can develop innovation eco-systems that work together and share resources. They can collaborate. Sometimes they can make self-sacrificing decisions that are better for communities or the environment. They can partner with other third sector organisations that might need support. They can think about whether the notion of a charity as focused on a single charitable purpose is really fit for the future.

Go forth and spontaneously act positively

To change the sector is to change society. To improve the sector is to make our society better. To lead the way is not a small task. But the third sector has a huge part to play in creating a better world. It cannot be left to politicians and billionaires, so who else is going to do it?


References

Heylighen, F. 2015. Stigmergy as a universal coordination mechanism I: Definition and components. Cognitive Systems Research. Volume 38, June 2016, Pages 4-13.

About charitable purposes. 2013. What makes a charity (CC4). Charity Commission.

Heath. J. 2020. Methodological Individualism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The role of charities in the Democratic Society system

How the three domains of a democratic society system interplay and how the charity sector can choose to have an impact on society.

If we want to understand where charities fit into our contemporary democratic society, now and in the near future, we need a means of seeing them in relation to other parts of the system of our society. 

The domains of our democratic society

The Democratic Society system can be thought of as having three ‘domains’, the State, the Market, and Civil society. 

The State domain is the central governing function for society. It creates operating rules through regulations and laws. It’s important not to confuse state-run services such as the NHS, or particularly political parties, or government institutions with the State.

The Market domain can be thought of as somewhat synonymous with the economy. Its operating rules are those we associate with business and the economy, such as competition, supply and demand, and wealth distribution.

The Civil domain is concerned with communities. Its operating rules include a sense of belonging, shared aims, beliefs and values. The WHO defines Civil society as “the space for collective action around shared interests, purposes and values, generally distinct from government and commercial for-profit actors. Civil society includes charities, development NGOs, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, social movements, coalitions and advocacy groups”. Again, we don’t want to confuse how a single organisation operates within the Civil domain with how the Civil domain operates. And we should accept that any organisation, charities included, will be subject to the operating rules from all three domains.

If it seems that ‘the individual’ is conspicuously missing from these domains of society then that is correct. Whilst society can be defined as a group of individuals with persistent social interactions, an individual isn’t capable of initiating operating rules separate from the three domains at sufficient scale to impact on the checks and balances of the wider society system. An individual can make choices about following laws, buying from businesses, and contributing to a community, but they can’t make their own rules for society to operate by. 

All three domains interact, often in achieving the same things, but there isn’t a clear boundary between the responsibilities of each domain, all are responsible for the functioning of society. The difference between them is in how they work. The state might favour regulations as a means of exercising some level of (but never absolute) control, whereas the market uses competition mechanisms. The nature of this society as a network means that all others can be affected by all other parts of the system.

It’s hard to find a meaningful way to compare the three domains. Should it be by how much they spend, how many people work in them? There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to compare them, but suffice to say that the State and the Market dwarf Civil society by any measure.

Why do we need all three domains with their three different operating modes? To create an interplay between them, to create imbalance and address imbalance created by the actions of others. Without that interplay society would stagnate and not change over time. 

How does democracy work?

Ignoring what we may think personally about contemporary Western society’s implementation of democracy, democracy, as an ideal, as a mode of organisation for a society has two big principles; 1, include everything, and 2, allow everything to be affected by a multitude of checks and balances.

So, for example Fascism isn’t outside of and separate to democracy. In a Democratic society Fascism is included, it is allowed to exist. To try to prevent it would fail the first principle. But there are checks and balances in place to give the people the means to decide whether to accept or resist Fascism, or any other idea, concept, behaviour, technology, etc. All things are included and then through balancing mechanisms adopted to a greater or lesser degree, and in some cases fade to non-existence. 

These democratic checks and balances allow the people to decide what is and isn’t included in our society. 

We tell ourselves that voting is the only democratic action available to us but that just isn’t true. Voting is one of the means provided by the state, along with other means such as laws and the choice of whether to obey them. We think that democracy is purely within the domain of the state but that isn’t the case, all three domains make up and are necessary for a democratic society.

Which businesses we choose to buy from and what products we choose to use are democratic choices that drive the competition mechanism in the market domain. And businesses can use advertising to convince the people to buy from them, which is another balancing mechanism attempting to tip things in their favour. 

When a group of people join together to achieve an objective they act as a balancing mechanism within the Civil domain and affect other mechanisms in the same and other domains. Whether they are joined as a WhatsApp group for their street or joined anonymously to each other through their support of a charity, their actions balance other actions that affect their street or the cause that the charity supports.

Every action performed within a democratic society is the result of a balance acting on it, and becomes a balance for some other action.

Of course, different mechanisms are available to different people and in different circumstances, and with different levels of effectiveness in achieving their aims. I’m not suggesting that democracy is about achieving ‘fairness’ or ‘equality’ within society. Those things are value judgments of the people in the society and of course are subject to the balancing mechanisms of society, but they aren’t the objectives of the Democratic Society system. If enough people want equality, say for example for all races and colours, then the choices they make and the actions they take can tip the balances in favour of that objective, and this is how society evolves over time.

No mechanism can achieve absolute control because other mechanisms, from other domains, prevent it.

Nations that have tried ideologically to have only the state in power, and so controlling the market and civil society (if there is any), quickly find that their attempts at the single centralised control of as complex a system as a society fail.

The Civil domain in a Democratic Society system

A strong civil society is essential for the effective functioning of a democratic society.

Civil society introduces a number of different mechanisms that wouldn’t exist in the state or market domains. Coordinated collective action is one such mechanism. When a group of people want to affect a change that could not be achieved as a consumer in the market domain or as a voter in the state domain, they can turn to collective action in the civil domain. We see this in protests about climate change. Protests are a civil society mechanism for attempting to tip the balance in favour of what those people want. In a non-democratic society one group of people can get what they want regardless of what anyone else wants, but in a democratic society there are other checks and balances going on, in the example of climate change, the money introduced into the economy by the companies drilling for oil. We also see it in fundraising for charities where funds raised by coordinated individuals are used to pay for things that fall outside of what the state takes responsibility for and for which no market mechanisms exist to allow a business to undertake (no way to make a profit).

Why do we need to have some understanding of the interplay of the democratic society system in order to understand what role charities play in society? Because we need perspective and context. We need to see that charities don’t exist in isolation from other parts of society, and we need to appreciate the systems thinking that allows us to see how all the parts of the system have a complex interplay.

Where charities fit in the Civil domain in a Democratic Society system

Charities are one part of civil society. As we saw from the WHO definition civil society also includes development NGOs, community groups, faith-based organizations, social movements, and advocacy groups. If, as we said above, Civil society involves organising groups of people into communities towards achieving an aim, then all of these examples are types of organisations, different ways of organising people, and each with different characteristics.

Social movements are decentralised in nature, providing people with a context to organise within and contribute to a cause, but without a central body or organisation coordinating their actions. This type of organisational model has its strengths, including the speed at which it can grow and spread, but it has weakness too. This can be seen in the Black Lives Matter movement where people wanted to support it through donating money, but there were no centralised controls to direct the funds raised in ways that help the cause.

Where more coordination than might be achieved by a decentralised approach is required, then organisations like charities have a role to play. An example might be with specialised medical research that members of the general public do not have sufficient knowledge to make decisions about where to direct funds and so a formal and structured organisation that is able to recruit experts to make those decisions about which research should be funded is more effective.

Charity, as a type of organisation, has a role to play in civil society, and the work charities do, whether it is lobbying for changes to laws or supporting individual members of society, has a role to play in providing yet further balances in the Democratic Society system. How the civil domain is made up is also affected by balancing mechanisms within the wider democratic society system, and so changes over time. An increase in grassroots social movements may seem like a threat to charities but they shouldn’t feel in competition with this or other ways of organising people, but instead should focus on their own relevance.

Participating in the civil domain isn’t a zero-sum game. People participating in a social movement because that is the most relevant way for that group to be organised doesn’t prevent the same people from also supporting a charity that organises people in a different way in support of the same or a different cause.

The interplay of balances in the Democratic Society system may result in other means of organising groups of people arising but this doesn’t prevent charities from leveraging the strengths of their way of organising people for the benefit of society at large.

The moral choice of charities

When considering how to contribute in civil society, charities have some big moral choices to make at a number of different scales. Should they do things that tip the balance in favour of their organisation? Or should they act in the best interests of the charity sector, even if that means some self-sacrifice for their organisation? Should they act in the best interests of the charity sector if that inadvertently suppresses other types of organisations within civil society? Should they do what they believe is right for the Civil domain to grow and ensure it continues to provide balances against the actions of the State and Market domains, even if that would damage the charity sector?

These are impossible questions to answer, and in a complex system predicting the outcomes is impossible, but making the best choices possible is essential for the system to balance and evolve.