Civil Sandbox

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What one sentence best describes your idea?

A new kind of city building that serves as a risk-free, continous city-improvement platform for big ideas.

Describe your idea in more depth. (maximum 300 words)

The Civil Sandbox is a name for a new kind of building. The building is a joint research centre and a public/community centre. You could see it as a kind of “theme park” where the concept is to change the city. Within there is a suite of current research tools and technologies provided by organisations looking for public research input.

The overall idea of Social Computing is to create new interfaces between objects in society. These objects could be buildings, technologies, organisations or ideologies. New interfaces provide experimental approaches that can be tested in practice before being presented or approved. The Civil Sandbox is a centre to manifest public research into better futures.

As well as being a sandbox for new ideas and a city-wide open research lab, the location must also include a wide variety of community and cultural events. This is to ensure that it is a living place where the citizens feel ownership. Technologies and ideas can be researched here, but by providing the products and services to a community.

If you see the building as a computer, you can imagine projects in there as applications. I have carried out several case studies and researched many potential applications, such as “open-source government”. The limit to these applications is dependent on the ideas present within the city.

I’m now taking the first medium-scale step in designing the platform – a city-wide event lasting one month. In this event, we will implement the Civil Sandbox in a prototype form, and use it as a case study for the eventual permanent city improvement.

Please read my introduction which is linked on the youtube video info.

What problem or issue does your idea address? (maximum 150 words)

The idea solves what I believe is one of the core problems: that there is no large-scale collective problem-solving device for when human society goes wrong! I’ve managed to develop a working thought-experiment that threads hundreds or thousands of different ideologies into one another in a constructive fashion.

Human society has reached the stage where we are so far away from the mechanisms running the world that we do not often know how to make a difference. In many random ways, a community can make small differences that are transferred to other locations if popular.

The overall aim of the building is to create a nurturing space for fragile projects which are futuristic in nature. Additionally the Civil Sandbox supports the development of corporate social responsibility programs through product placement and other methods.

If your idea were to become a reality, who would benefit the most and how? (maximum 150 words)

If successful to the extent I can imagine, humanity as a whole can benefit from the idea, most directly those with new ideas and those hungry for change. The impact on society could be similar to a temple in that it helps to increase hope in a better future.

Practical benefits include connective events, project research, product research, new visibility, large scale political action, innovation support, increased international participation, open education facilities and so on. Who knows what new applications will be built there within the first 10 or 100 years even.

What are the initial steps required to get this idea off the ground? (maximum 150 words)

I plan the first event in 2010 in Holland, Sandbox Festival. As a city-wide festival, we have the opportunity to define the “event space” as upgradeable. I have partners who are interested to step in, but I do not have money to create this myself. I am looking for the right kind of money to maintain a public domain approach within the project.

I have a decent number of directly interested partners, all of which are interesting networks in their own right (steve zuckerman gems,, noisia vision recordings, global forum, s333 architecture urbanism). Expanding this network and formulating commitments will be among the first key activities.

Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure it? (maximum 150 words)

I would implement the Sandbox city-festival in 2010. It is a prototype civil sandbox in which we can activate an entire city and, to an extent, a global community around the concept of upgrading the city.

In my dream-world, I would love to put your money in the bank and use this and the overall experience to generate the money I need for the event. If I can, I wouldthen give your money back as a way of drawing additional attention to the event. It would, however, be useful for salaries, travel and basic facilities and the financial strategy should be developed at the right time with your involvement hopefully.

Successes could be measured in terms of content generated, user involvement, successful new ideas published, overall press, positive environments, research for the next events and hopefully the blossoming of a whole new wave of innovation, creativity and research in the city.

Author :


  1. Here’s the final version, it is too late to change it 🙂 I did my best to get the idea across, I hope you find it interesting.

  2. Pras, Sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier, but have been very busy and I missed that the deadline was so tight.

    A couple of comments anyway – nothing you haven’t heard from me before, of course, but it’d be interesting to see other people’s comments on the same page.

    When you pitch the ideas, as in the 30 second video, I’d personally avoid stuff like “manifesting future ideas” and “creating new interfaces between objects in society … buildings, technologies, organisations or ideologies …”.

    All this is too ivory tower for me. In fact, it’s exactly what pete said he didn’t want to see happening to your project: academics discussing theoretical concepts in learned journals which noone reads. I’m absolutely in agreement. He was prescient.

    Mind you, you’ve come a long way since the turn of the century, when you were using the ‘society as computer’ metaphor. The city sandbox is a great metaphor for what you’re trying to do, and the tagline “because society should be open source” works for me.

    I think you need to use and develop these ideas more when you pitch your idea – something like:

    “A physical and online space enabling people to upgrade their city”

    or, slightly longer:

    “A physical and online playground where people, governments and companies can work together on upgrading their city”

    “A physical and online playground where people can try hacking upgrades into their city without breaking it”

    It would also help to point out that you were talking about social computing 6+ years ago (you are a thought leader here, but don’t think for a minute that others won’t try and nick that position from you).

  3. Thanks Mathew, those descriptions are definitely great. I see what you mean about the Ivory tower sounding words, I hope people will see that it’s actually the opposite end of the design process I come from.

    I definitely need help to capitalise on the position of “Thought leader”, any thoughts on that?

  4. Announce something often enough and it will become true! Michael Jackson became “The King Of Pop” simply by calling himself that – or rather by having his press people call him that.

    If you describe yourself as a “Thought Leader” in your online profiles, that is how the world will start to interract with you. And why not?

    Best wishes.

  5. Very true. But isn’t Mr Pras kind of far out there in the realms of thought leadership? I mean, he isn’t talking about the normal online topics – not by a long way.

    Or to put it another way, I’m not totally sure what he is describing…

  6. Yes, indeed, financial guy, you’re true. For having worked with Pras, I can tell you it’s one of the most imaginative and creative person I have ever met.

  7. financialguy: The problem precisely. I’ve been trying to figure it out for a while! But there’s some interesting stuff in there. And, more recently, quite a few people are talking about what he was calling the social computer in 2002.

    They’re calling it ‘societal computing’, of course. So bring on ’em ivory towers – such lovely cvenues for learned discussions on the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

  8. Hey I think that was me – Societal Computing, I realised that Social Computing wasn’t enough to describe the level of hacking possible in these devices.

    Regarding the Ivory Tower thing, it’s not what it’s called or how you say it – it’s about who you are and who you know.

    My project will never be ivory tower because I involve everyone. Although I know many people who are up in some tower or other, most of the people I talk to and involve in my work are proverbial serfs like myself.

    The project needs to be intellectually challenging for those that need that, otherwise it would just be another event. On the other hand, it needs to be inclusive, but that is something I’m very good at.

    I think a great idea can come from anyone, and most of the best ideas I’ve heard come from people who have been labeled “stupid” or “failiure” by their parents, school, job etc.

  9. I’d have to disagree with the ivory tower comment, i think a formulation along the lines of “A physical and online playground where people can try hacking upgrades into their city without breaking it” might not sound as wofty – but it sounds overly contemporarily metaphoric, 45-year-old-try-hard-internet-hipster instead. I dont think this will do anything to remove it from the academics circle and paste it into this ‘real world’ you speaketh of. One could say that the ivory tower way of saying it leaves something to be desired in practicalities, but why try to cover up the fact that your principal idea is something that can amount to a broad variety of ‘physical manifestations’ – excusez le mot? I even think that in order to further popularize the presentation of your idea steering clear from computing metaphores wouldnt be a bad thing, ivory tower and all. But then again, i always seem to appreciate Pras’ thought work when tailoring it to a certain audience hasnt become a priority yet, in other words; i like it fine as is.

  10. well, I am not quite 45, but I am getting there soon. As for wannabe-internet-hipster … well, I did launch blogactiv. Go back a bit further: I put one of the first database-driven sites by a European organisation online, in 1995. So I’m probably too experienced to be hip.

    I agree that the PC metaphor isn’t good – back in 2002, Pras was pushing it very hard, like relating some organisations to RAM, others to motherboards, or stuff like that. The whole City Sandbox is much better.

    As for using the hacking metaphor …well, you have a point. I provided other versions too. It all depends on the audience. In this case, it was Google.

    I still think it beats “manifesting future ideas” and “creating new interfaces between objects in society … buildings, technologies, organisations or ideologies …”. That’s the sort of waffle that seriously turns most decision-makers right off. Watch the interview with Pete, which I mentioned in my first comment. He’s right.

  11. PS Pras: add a ‘latest comments’ box to your blog. You’re getting comments, so display them!

  12. I apologise for being overly brash in my comments, there was really no need for it. I agree with you on most counts, it’s rather oblivious of me to attack you on a suggestion that was made just to illustrate a point. I think there is definately something to be said for both ends, maybe a formulation that is more ‘middle-ground’ would be in order? Less digital metaphores, but also less wofty big words. More ‘Pop’?

  13. Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for the great feedback.

    It’s worth mentioning that although I need to employ the right words as best I can, this does not make the project over academicised. I have some documents, but it’s built on thousands of discussions with real people at all levels and from all kinds of backgrounds, from all over the world.

    I’m not trying to write a book, I’m trying to realise a real-world event with potentially millions of people reached. Even the inbredTV projects could be seen as studies, but doing the actual projects is better than writing some documents about it.

    The project has been built mostly on actual project experience and case studies. The problem isn’t that the project is too academic, the problem is that having done real-world projects successfully isn’t enough. I need to convince people at the intellectual and professional level before they will fund my progress.

    I would love to just go ahead and DO it, which to the best of my ability, I have. No one funds me, I do this myself, for 8 years, without any comeback to myself. Not that I want to sound like I think I’m a martyr haha, but hey – this is absolutely not a document2document project and never was.

    But, to get support for this project, I need to write the correct things in the correct places. And I certainly appreciate all the help I can get!!

  14. Nik, nice reply. Very rare to read anything like it in the blogosphere.

    Pras, I never said your project *was* too academic. If it was, I’d never have maintained my interest in it over the past 6 years! My concern was only – and has always been – in the way you *present* it.

    Without wanting to appear big-headed, winning backing for projects is something I know something about. You need the right metaphor, and a stock of useful taglines that help people grok it instantly.

    I remember “because society should be open source” appearing in our conversations a year or two ago, and think it looks right at the top of this blog.

    I think Nik’s right that one of my suggested formulations (“hacking upgrades into their city”) would be useful only to certain audiences. The others from my first comment are probably more widely applicable, but could also be probably improved.

    Anyway, you need more than just a tagline. Next item on the To Do list would be a one page document that could be attached to any email. And when I say 1 page, I mean less than one page – lots of white space, headings, and an image that captures the concept visually.

    The image is non-negotiable. Why not set up a dabbleboard for this, Pras?

  15. Thanks, Mathew, for your reply.

    I definitely see what you are saying and appreciate the input and advice. I think what I would like to do, if possible, is set up a “we present it” rather than a “I present it”.

    One way I’ve been thinking to do this is through a short documentary. I have a team here working on the idea and designing a project to achieve it. I was thinking to interview a broad cross-section of people to explore what they think about the idea of a Civil Sandbox.

    This, I think, would help us get closer to understanding a broader picture to evaluate how best to put the whole thing across. I think it’s much more interesting than a document and would of course be a valid support to any written proposal.

    I set up a Dabbleboard and will explore it a little before posting the link here. Thanks for the tip, and your invaluable support!!

  16. I’m sorry, but I don’t dig this. This is far too abstract and definitely needs specifying and examples. I’m saying this as a 22 yr old working in the EU stratosphere to clarify any personal attacks this might involve as I’ve read in past comments.

  17. Yeah, fair enough, I’m on my own trying to explain this and as far as being able to discuss the idea in 20-30 mindsets, I’m doing okay but am still just me. I need a proper research fund to clarify the idea, but for the time being you can probably find an aspect somewhere in this blog that makes more sense to you. Please keep in mind that some things cannot be explained easily and actually do take time to understand.

    Watching some of the videos here might help for now.

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