The think tank lobby

There are many ways to lobby or at least try to influence, guide, or advise those who make legislative decisions.

We are used to seeing the work done by large corporations or associations and employers, who bring together the feelings of a sector and try to make it reach public administrations at the local, national, or European level. Having a good interlocutor who works on relations with policymakers and who conveys the message constructively adding value to the legislative process is key.

But today we focus this post on the strength of research as a tool of influence. The Home Renaissance Foundation is an international think tank based in London that has dedicated its time and efforts to research on home management for 16 years. Its president, Bryan K. Sanderson, former CEO of BP and General Director of Bupa, brought together a group of people from his environment, concerned about the instability of homes despite their importance to society.

He had observed that when a company employee does not have a certain balance and well-being at home, his or her performance is lower and sometimes he or she spends more hours in the office unnecessarily. He thought that an academic think tank investigating these issues could be relevant not only for companies, but for society as a whole and for the individual in particular. And this could in turn serve as support for governments when taking legislative measures, either related to the labour sphere or to conciliation.

Sixteen years later, this think tank is unique in academic research on the home, bringing together world experts from very diverse disciplines to participate in all its activities, publishing books with Routledge, a highly prestigious academic publishing house and organizing meetings and events with policymakers, both in the United Kingdom and leading countries in Europe, as well as in the United States and South America.

Research requires time and investment, but it offers precise arguments and truthful statements that make dialogue with decision-makers much easier. It is an invaluable guide for proper legislative management.

Learning from adversity

Today the content of this post should be different. We should be telling you about the interesting debate that took place at The House of Commons after the presentation of our book ‘The Home in the Digital Age‘.
Everything was ready, and those of us who came from abroad were already in London. But it was not to be. Our event is unfortunately postponed because Covid19 forced us to do so.
At Home Renaissance Foundation we decided to take things positively, above all, because homes are precisely an environment used to flexibility, with pre-established schedules and rhythms, but which from one day to the next or even in a matter of minutes must be able to adapt to the needs of its members. And the beauty of it is that, with rare exceptions, they always manage to get by, thanks to the effort or work of some and the understanding and empathy of others. So that’s where we are.
On Monday, we were able to meet with some of the attendees and set the lines of work for the coming months, we shared projects and ideas and we were especially happy to see each other again in person.
We hope to be able to celebrate this launch at a later date and we thank all those who have been working to make this possible today. We are neither the first nor the last to be affected by this situation, so we look forward with hope.
Hopefully, we will soon be able to announce the new date and also tell you some details about the projects we have underway and the Experts Meeting we are working on, which will be held in September in Washington.
Normality, we are looking forward to seeing you, so don’t delay!

Profitability…

This weekend, I witnessed a conversation at a family meal that got me thinking. There was a discussion about the cost-effectiveness of social science research. It is obvious that when a university institution, for example, invests funds in research into a type of cancer, it is likely to eventually produce results that are of interest both to science and to the advancement of the patient’s cure. But what happens when you invest money, personnel and time in research, for example, social relations in the neighbourhood, the era of disinformation, the evolution of house design or social tribes and their influence on art? Some people think that this type of analysis is not profitable and its conclusions look good in books and encyclopaedias, even as study material for future research, but they do not contribute real, quantifiable value to society.

The problem is how to value profitability, or rather, why value things only in terms of economic profitability. If we were to think only in terms of money, efficiency, results, there would be many aspects and even people that would seem useless to us and that we would discard because they are not profitable for society. But this vision would do a disservice to the already self-interested and utilitarian society we are building.

Without Anthropology we would not know man, without Philosophy we would not have asked ourselves the why of things, without Sociology we would not understand how human beings relate to each other, without Art we would not value creativity or the abstract aspects of life.

A youth centre is not profitable, each minor costs society about £100 a day, £36,500 a year, but the community makes every effort to ensure that the young people who have ended up there are able to obtain sufficient tools to integrate into society and be good men in the future. And I can think of many other examples like this one. We cannot think in terms of profitability when what is at stake is the person.

It is very sad that we are only able to pay attention when life is measured in figures. Institutions such as ours devote enormous efforts to defend and foster the well-being in homes without which the individual would not achieve the balance necessary to survive in this world that demands so much profitability.

Digital strategy for families

Fear of technology in the home should not paralyse us, much less leave us behind. We must be well aware of its advantages and disadvantages in order to use it correctly and get the best out of it. Experts say that good training and joint use by all members of the family help as everyone learns at the same time and the technology becomes a more natural part of the home.

Again the word training. Once again, we insist that if planning is necessary to manage the home, a digital strategy is needed to incorporate technologies into the home and has to be an important part of that plan. What company in today’s world that wishes to progress has not already thought about its digital strategy? Well, the home is no exception.

We could think that this is a fad and stay on the sidelines, but the truth is that realistically speaking, the world has changed and the way of life is different. Sooner or later technology comes into our lives. There is a large part of our daily lives that can no longer be done in any other way. We buy flights from our mobile phone, do our shopping with a simple App, book a table in a restaurant, make medical appointments… And increasingly people turn on lights, lower blinds, heat their house and clean with a simple click or by asking the virtual assistant.

Training. Training is necessary because the information is power. Tristan Harris, the former head of ethics at Google and one of the protagonists of the documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’, says that it is not only the technology industry that needs to know how social networks work, this information is available to everyone. In order to be freer and avoid being controlled, everyone should know how the big technology companies work, what their intentions are and what they want from us.

One of the experts who participated in the launch of our book in Madrid, Maria José Monferrer, created AIVERSE, a foundation with the aim of educating, training and familiarising families with artificial intelligence. That AI is not scary, that it is an attractive sector and that it opens the doors to a world of future employment possibilities for today’s teenagers who, due to lack of knowledge, only see technology as a form of entertainment, when it is a great opportunity.

We will talk about all this and much more in the upcoming launches of our book The Home in the Digital Age that we have already planned. The first will be virtual, with the Universidad Panamericana de México and in Spanish. Next Monday 24 January at 18.00h British time. To connect here is the link.

And the second one will be in person, in London, at the House of Commons next Monday 7th February, invited by Miriam Cates MP. The keynotes will be Stephen Davies, who is one of the authors of the book and head of education at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Tom Harrison, Director of Education at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, and author of the book Thrive: How to cultivate character so your children can flourish online.

If you want to keep up to date with our activity, in addition to subscribing to this blog, you can follow us on our social networks. Don’t forget to add a comment to this post if you have something to say and hopefully we’ll have the chance to meet again in 2022.

Hope

We were just starting to lead a relatively normal life when the new threat arrived in our lives. Omicron, once again, forces us to take extreme precautions, to be cautious with hugs and even to cancel some family gatherings in the coming days.
Even if the situation leads us to fall into discouragement, I would like to send with this last post of the year a brief message of HOPE, even at the risk of sounding corny.

Be mentally strong, even if pessimism gets the better of you, find the strength to spread joy, which is truly contagious. Nothing and nobody deserves that, precisely at this time of year, we feel sad. The promise of Christmas, of living what is important, of starting a new year, must win the battle against the virus. It is true that it is robbing us of trips, family moments, meetings with friends, but sooner or later we will get it back.

Let’s take advantage of this situation to get the best out of ourselves, to get to know ourselves even better, to live from the inside out, to reflect on our current life and consciously decide whether this is the lifestyle we want to embrace or whether we have been dragged into it until today.

Let us live the present with joy, yes, with the joy of feeling alive, of being alive.
And let’s dream, let’s dream a lot. May 2022 begin with new projects, new habits that help us to value what is important, which as we at Home Renaissance Foundation well know, what is important is usually the forgotten, the apparently unprofitable, the invisible, but at the same time what is essential to survive and overcome this and other crises that will come in the future.

Make home mean more than ever and love yours very much because it will be what you will have and keep forever.

Christmas Choices

In the past months, it has been impossible to ignore the cries for our world leaders to commit to combating climate disasters. From COP 26 to World Earth Call Day we see people coming together to share their stories of climate change and to try to make a difference.

Many of us have responded to the challenge of greener homes in recent years, perhaps by recycling more, by installing SMART energy meters or by switching to electric cars. Making greener choices.

Alongside the images of a warming planet what has also been striking is the level of wasted resources. Pictures of oceans full of plastic waste and of vast landfill sites are shocking indicators of a “throw-away” society.

If we look deeper and closer, we find other pictures. Those of people whose lives and livelihoods are affected by the wastefulness and “throw-away” actions of others. The places where children as young as seven work in dangerous conditions to produce the goods for a wasteful world. The homes where families are separated by the demands of punitive shift patterns. The very worst thing we can ever waste is other people. So a good question at any time of year, and especially at Christmas, is how do the choices I make in my home affect the choices and homes of others?

To do this we need to make informed choices. To take the time and trouble to find out where the things we are buying this Christmas come from. That gift might be packaged in bright and shiny wrappings but what are the conditions like in the far-away factory where it was made? Sadly, not so shiny in many cases.

In the midst of the busyness of our own lives, it is not always easy to take the time to find out, but increasingly charities and producers are helping us by making clear how, where and by whom things are made. In the United Kingdom Traidcraft has been a pioneer in this work. They sell only fairly traded and produced goods and gifts, often from small co-operatives working in developing countries. There are many other examples of this approach now. Ethical Consumer is an example of a site dedicated to providing real information on the products we buy.

This Christmas, as we very rightly take pleasure in decorating our homes and buying and receiving gifts, it would be good to know the glow was shared by those who made them. Truly, “Happy Christmas from my home to yours.”

AI at home? Let’s reflect!

Last week we had the opportunity to participate in a virtual meeting with the Argentinean association MIF, Mujeres Independientes Federales. On this occasion, taking advantage of the publication of our latest book ‘The Home in the Digital Age‘, they invited us to share the main conclusions about digital homes and the impact of technologies in our homes.

Matilde Santos, professor at the Complutense University of Madrid and author of one of the chapters of the book, focused her session on the impact of Artificial Intelligence in our lives. Obviously, the home is one of the places where we spend the most time and where our relationship with technology has the greatest influence since it is the space in which we guard our privacy.

Professor Santos, after a theoretical and practical presentation, in which she explained what Artificial Intelligence is and how present it is in our lives, encouraged us to reflect on the relationship that we decide to establish with technology. We cannot live in fear and worry about how this will affect our families, our children and even our relationships, if we do not make a calm and thorough analysis of what exactly our relationship is with these “smart devices” that we have incorporated into our lives. And how does one go about this reflection?

First, we must be aware that we are not talking about futuristic or galactic houses, but about real houses, our own homes, in which artificial intelligence lives with us in a natural way. This is changing the way we relate to each other, but are we aware of what we have changed by relying on Alexa or Siri to translate something for us or to tell us to take the potatoes out of the oven?

Would we be able to vacuum the house again, or redo the shopping list, or cook again if there were no intelligent robots? Would we be able to get to an unfamiliar place by car or on foot without GPS? In other words, to what extent do these gadgets that do things for us, override our abilities or even make us dependent?

Automating tasks that, for the person, and in this case, the homemaker, can be tedious, tiring and require little intelligence, saves us time and allows us to dedicate that time to other things, but are we aware that technology can sometimes fail? What are the consequences if the robot that feeds our dog fails? Do we have all our expectations placed on a machine? Is the fact that they make decisions for us overriding our thinking? Have we stopped thinking by mechanising decisions? Let us not forget that they help us, they do not replace us.

Finally, it is important to be aware that these “electronic devices” are little spies that analyse our behaviour, supposedly to offer us what best suits our tastes, our way of being, our way of life… But doesn’t the fact that they only offer us what we like impoverish the offer? Doesn’t it reduce our horizon? Doesn’t it limit our options?

In short, there are many questions on the table that require calm reflection in order to know individually how technology affects us and thus be able to assess and decide what impact we want it to have in our homes. The decision is ours, it can never be imposed.

The impact of technology in the home

“The levels of mental disorders, depression and even suicide have increased among the new generations of university students. It is an epidemic that has to do with the impact of technology on our way of life”, Ignacio Aizpún, director general of ATAM.

Madrid | 5 Nov 2021. On the occasion of the presentation of the book The Home in the Digital Age by the international think tank Home Renaissance Foundation, a round table discussion with experts took place last week at Telefónica Foundation to analyse the impact of technology in the home.

The impact of technology on homes and society as a whole is evident, “it is even transforming the way our minds communicate. This has consequences and is causing new diseases due to maladjustment,” explained Ignacio Aizpún, director general of ATAM.

The sociologist and member of the Academy of Sciences and Arts, Julio Díez Nicolás, stated that technology has been with us since the Stone Age, because human beings must survive. Thanks to human intelligence and life in society, people are adapting. “Technology has always been the fundamental factor of social change because it provides us with a different future. Today there are five inventions that will change our lives: artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, holograms and virtual reality,” said Díaz.

But what is Artificial Intelligence and how does it affect our daily lives? María José Monferrer, an engineer and founder of AIverse, tried to answer this question. She defined AI as a “multidisciplinary field of science and engineering whose aim is to create intelligent machines that emulate human intelligence and, eventually, surpass that intelligence. Therein lies the risk.

Monferrer warned that we have implemented some technologies in the home, but we are only at the beginning of the uses we will be able to make of AI. So it’s a good time to stop and assess the risks. It is important to think about how we can apply the rules to protect the fundamental rights at stake: personal data protection, privacy and non-discrimination.

ATAM is clear about the use of AI, as Aizpún stated, “we need to be able to process the information that AI provides us with in the form of data to learn more about the person, their situation, their health variables, their activity, their functioning, their context. Only by transmitting, governing and activating this data in a secure way will we be able to generate responses and solutions that allow the disabled or dependent person to continue living at home in optimal conditions of safety, health and integrity”.

The three speakers and the Director-General of Childhood, Family and Birth Promotion, Alberto San Juan, who closed the event, agreed on the importance of putting the person at the centre of this technological transformation and on continuous, personal and family training as a solution to many of the challenges presented by technologies in the home. “The family must be cared for as the most precious asset and this is done with love, patience and training. The lifelong School for Parents is still essential and necessary. In the Community of Madrid we are facing real dramas due to the misuse of technology among young people,” warned San Juan.

In 2008, the Community of Madrid created a service to help families, inviting them to discuss their concerns about the misuse of technology in the home.  Alberto San Juan explained “we attend to families with children between 10 and 18 years old. Families come when they suspect that their children’s relationship with technology is not good and is not helping family coexistence. Young people are sometimes betting on each other having a 24, 48, which means spending two days in a row playing games and connected to the Internet”.

Despite the risks that technology can pose for households, it was clear that technology is neutral, it is neither good nor bad, in itself, it depends on the use that people make of it, although Aizpún wanted to stress that we have an important mission, “we must create new social institutions, new models of social organisation that allow human beings to adapt to these new environmental conditions that technology is creating”.

Would you live in a prefabricated house?

How do you imagine a prefabricated house today? I don’t know much about the market for prefabs, I’ve always thought of it as something out of an American movie. But I have read that following the pandemic, the sale of prefabricated housing increased by 32% compared to 2020. And taking into account the price per square metre of housing in Europe and how complicated it is to buy somewhere as a young professional or newly married couple, I can understand that perhaps pods like this, made by the Asian company Nestron, could be attractive.

Of course, prefabs are a far cry from traditional brick housing and you would need to buy or rent a plot of land (which isn’t necessarily cheap or easy to find, unless you’re placing it on a relative’s property)  – plus obtain the required planning permission. You can buy one for €85,000, delivered to your home ready assembled.

It is a rather futuristic house in terms of its exterior aesthetics and interior design. Moreover, it is minimalist at its best. It consists of a surface area of 35 square metres on a single floor distributed across a total of 3 spaces: kitchen with dining room, bathroom and a bedroom that is complemented by a desk area. It can be extended to 2 rooms depending on the buyer’s needs. Windows are also an essential element of the pod with a large window in the bedroom and smaller, rectangular windows in the kitchen area to let in natural light.

The structure of the house is made of galvanised steel that is earthquake, hurricane and typhoon resistant and is guaranteed for 50 years. 90% of the materials used are recyclable at the end of their useful life. You can connect to conventional water, gas and sewage supplies or take advantage of the solar panel system that powers both batteries and composting toilets.

In addition, there are technological devices integrated into the home such as electronic locks, electric blinds, motion-detection lights. It also offers smart mirrors, wall-mounted tablets for home automation control, smart appliances and even smart toilets. If you still can’t imagine it, here is a video.

Would you consider buying one of these prefabs now or in the future? What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of this type of home? Would it be suitable for young people seeking independence or starting a family? Perhaps for retired people wishing to downsize?

Are we living hyperconnected? Who decides how we spend our time?

What’s app and Instagram went down and I slept an extra hour. Yes, it’s that simple and that therapeutic. Whenever our routine is disrupted, the first thing we think of is the harm it causes. For hours we couldn’t text each other, we had to phone more than we had in a month and this generated certain moments of anger in us. We experienced the classic “want to and can’t”.

But if you think about it, that failure brought us peace. No one could disturb us during those 6 hours, we could focus on what we were doing without any interruption, and even, as I say, I went to bed earlier, after reading a couple of chapters of a book “The science of common sense”, which allowed me to relax and sleep peacefully.

The reflection is clear and, above all, worrying: how much control have these kinds of applications acquired over our lives? Is it possible that they dominate even our minutes and hours of rest? Are we less free with a smartphone? I would not like to be dramatic, because I myself see the advantages of rapid communication, I witness the incredible relationships that the Internet and Instagram have made possible and I realise the potential that these social networks have as a loudspeaker to launch positive messages and counteract the less good ones.

But the truth is that it all comes down to the same conclusion, the good and the bad of the Internet, its advantages and disadvantages are the result of the use we make of it. It is up to us to decide how we use it and for what purpose. We cannot hand over control of our lives to these technological giants. We cannot be so dependent on how they work. We need to be more aware of what we spend our time on and whether that is what we really want to spend it on.

Because that way, we will win back control and we will decide, not they. That way, we will be the ones who make the decisions and act accordingly, with the responsibility that this entails. And this reflection, as a result of what we experienced this week, reminds me that we simply have to apply common sense, that the science behind it is increasingly forgotten. Paloma Cantero has compiled a very interesting book about this subject. In it, she explains that happiness requires two irreplaceable components: the right attitude and the right decision making. Although this is not always linked to a purely pleasurable sensation.

The attitude is adopted by us, i.e. we choose how to face the world and the things that happen to us, either with a positive or a negative attitude. And when it comes to making a decision, Cantero proposes 4 golden rules: be well informed, decide with full will, analyse the expected results and be flexible to accept and manage the real results, which are not always what we expected.

And I would like to highlight one of the sentences in the book that I liked the most: “A happy life is not only defined by the destination we reach, but by the “style” with which we walk”.  You choose that style, make it your own, make it reflect who you are, not what the social networks, the Internet or the digital sphere expects you to be.