The word &quot;community&quot; rolls off many tongues as a central form for learning. Do we really know what we mean by this? Are there contexts where alternatives such as individual, paired or network configurations would be more useful? What are the differences and how do we discern what to use when? Is it time to jump on or off the &quot;community bandwagon?&quot; Let's explore! http://www.flickr.com/photos/sporkist/157543688/ Uploaded on May 31, 2006 by sporkist
As we dug into the PRACTICES of technology stewardship, we realized they were part of a system, a habitat in which a group, community or network interacted. That there were intersections between the defined set of tools in a group and those used by individuals. There were overlaps and disconnects.
The proliferation of internet based tools has expanded what it means to &quot;be together&quot; with others for learning, work and pleasure. How do we, as learners, educators and designers decide when to focus on the individual, the group or the wider network? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? How does our choice inform our selection of tools and methods? And what about all the gray area &quot;in between&quot; each of these? We'll explore how we might navigate these spaces and play with a few heuristics you can take back with you.
It starts with “me” - each of us as individual actors and learners in the world. How do we learn? What motivates us? And when are we best served as independent actors?
http://www.flickr.com/photos/swissrolli/2167756791/ Uploaded on January 5, 2008 by swissrolli
http://www.flickr.com/photos/27126314@N03/2956992219/ The next stage along the continuum – and I stress that this is a continuum – is the “we” - bounded groups with an explicit shared purpose. As we move from me to we, the purpose may be emergent, fuzzy and we may just be creating the boundaries of the group. But for today, I'll focus mainly on formed, explicit groups.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/gustavog/9708628/ Finally, at the other end of the continuum – which I now think of as a circle, by the way, instead of a linear continuum, is the network. This is the network that we can now visualize and participate in more than any other time in human history because of technology. This is the “new” part of the game when we think about learning, because network participation is no longer constrained as it was by time and distance for many of us. (Not for all of us... we'll come back to that)
So let's do a little comparing and contrasting of this circular continuum. You can be clear when we talk about the individual, me. We can be clear when we have bounded communities with clear establishment of in/out membership. We can also have communities with fuzzy boundaries, which may even be networks. If there was a subliminal sign flashing across this slide, it would be saying “IDENTITY.” identity shows up differently across this continuum and identity can be linked to purpose and boundaries. http://www.zengestrom.com/blog/2005/04/why_some_social.html (Social-material networks)
You can be clear when we talk about the individual, me. We can be clear when we have bounded communities with clear establishment of in/out membership. We can also have communities with fuzzy boundaries, which may even be networks. These different boundaries influence the power dynamics that occur between people. It influences processes of leadership and other roles. It defines levels of trust and privacy – which are not always closely linked as we move to the network level. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/bonnie_bassler_on_how_bacteria_communicate.html
Finally, the tools we use can vary across the continuum. We'll talk a bit more about this later.
From a teaching/learning perspective? From a technology perspective? From a process and/or facilitation perspective?
Story 1 – Digital Habitats book. It started with Etienne writing a very useful report reviewing software developed for and/or used by communities of practice in 2001. As the technology market proliferated, he needed to do an update, but the complexity suggested he bring in some collaborators. John and I joined in, but in the end, the work reflected not just our work, but the knowledge that flowed to us from our networks. This was a small effort, thus our roles as individuals, as a group of authors and as actors in wider networks emerged organically. Story2 – ICT4Dev in Education. Hawaii. June 09, sunday morning after the rooster that lives outside of the condo we were renting in Punalu'u woke me up at 4:30 am, I was reading twitter and saw a link to a blog post by http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/why-we-need-more-not-fewer-ict4d-pilot-projects-in-education Michael Trucano of the Wold Bank. He wrote about pilot projects and the complexity of moving “to scale” in ICT for Education in Development. Since I work mostly in international development, I thought, hm, this is a great story for our time together today. You see, I don't work directly in education – which most if not all of you do, and frankly, I want to share what I've learned authentically. So why not from my sector? Looking at Michael's blog post, I immediately saw the very point I wanted to raise here. Many of my clients are looking to scale their work, to sustain it What if we explored the issue from a me/we/network perspective instead of simply talking about scale? What role would me/we/network play in scaling educational initiatives in an international development context? So, you might ask, what is this me/we/network thing she is going on about?
When I travel (which I do a lot), people often ask me what I do. I find this a very challenging question. My mom keeps wishing there was a one-liner she could tell people when they ask “just what is it that your daughter does.” Alas, my work doesn't fit nicely into a little cube. I work in the network and my work is network-like, connecting across the domains of collaboration, communication, technology, group process, and a bunch of other little things. This is not a satisfying answer to most people. But a few months back someone asked a new question, one that made me think deeply about my work and see it in a new way. They asked... Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/watz/1472273440/ Uploaded on October 2, 2007 by watz
I reflected on this question. Now I work a lot in large international non governmental organizations, complex non profits and organizations. I am most often working not with executives or top leadership, but with middle people, front line project managers and field managers who have important stuff to get done, but often little or token management support (or understanding for that matter), few resources, few to no colleagues doing similar work close to them and always, not enough time. The recipe for failure right? Well, either that, or the recipe for success, because these people are usually amazing, motivated people who need just a wee bit more to succeed... usually in the form of support, learning partners and reflection. And they needed validation to be taken seriously within their own organizations.. Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/opendemocracy/267705194/ Uploaded on October 12, 2006 by openDemocracy
I reflected on the patterns that led them to get these things they needed, and in many cases, what I retrospectively observed in my work was that with a client, I worked to hold up a mirror to help them see their own strength – the beginning of the reflective support, I connected them to an ongoing source of external domain and practice support – often a broad resource network and a smaller core, community of practice, and then I or others simply became an ongoing source of simple, human support. Their work was now triangulated out of being solely embedded in their organization, where time, attention and support for their work was scarce. They were tapping into what they needed without asking for more from the org. They were connecting to fellow practitioners to learn what they needed to learn. A little aside on the word “triangulation.” My friends in the human processes world raised eyebrows because this is one of those words used in many ways in different domains. I am not satisfied with it, but it gives something more specific than “networked learning.” It is the intentional connection of a few lines into this triangle of support, learning and validation. So bear with me until we can figure out a better word! Now I'm certainly not the first person to observe this practice, but I wondered why it wasn't more commonplace? Lilia Effimova surfaced how blogs helped this happen in the network of KM practitioners for example. The stories are everywhere. But I don't see this used as an explicit learning strategy. It is most often “user generated,” under the radar, skunkworks like. Why? Will surfacing this approach ruin it? Let's hold that question as we look at some of the elements within it. Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/roland/40344973/ Uploaded on September 4, 2005 by roland
The starting point is often a person's desire to either learn something from “an expert” (itself a loaded and often questionable term) or get an external perspective. What my colleagues often report is feeling alone and unsupported in their work. Some are so constrained, they refer to it as being imprisoned in a way that keeps them from really doing their work, or tapping into the deeper possibilities of their work. They want to go beyond “check the box” on the log frame analysis, but see little light at the end of the tunnel to do so. Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/onkel_wart/2487637968/ Uploaded on May 12, 2008 by onkel_wart
Being fully heard by someone else (preferably someone they respect and who has some external respect – that ties into the third point of validation) is akin to bringing light into the dark room, to illuminate both the substantive domain issues and they personal and often emotional contexts of the work. It is sometimes uncomfortable to talk about the emotional side of work in our organizations, but in my experience it has been crucial. Support means far more than a comforting “I understand.” Some of the elements including holding up a mirror so a person or team can see their own strengths in a new light. Asset identification and amplification. Identifying specific learning and practice needs in a very practical, task focused way. So the emotional part is woven immediately into practical work. Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/muehlinghaus/240944635/ Uploaded on September 11, 2006 by [ henning ]
The support part of the triangle identifies what types of learning, resources and practitioner connections might be useful. This is the connection bit of triangulation. An external community or network is a fantastic resource because most often it does not impose more hard costs on the person's organization (which might very likely be vetoed), it provides expertise, a place to ask and answer questions and learn, a place to find resources and experience one's practice in a fuller ecosystem, rather than in the isolation of one's own job. The connection to a community of practice or wider network however, becomes the field out of which the fruits of the ongoing triangulation live and breathe. It can take over the role of the person who provided the initial support, and it can also become the place for external validation, the next bit. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mathemagenic/4014282560/ Photo Credit: (And really interesting story) Uploaded on October 15, 2009 by Lilia Efimova This photo requires a whole of Creative Commons trail: - This is a piece of the photo made by Gauri Salokhe . - The original photo depicts a part of the visual summary of the huddle discussions at KM4Dev workshop made by several people , including myself. - I actually did the triangulation bit above and then others jumped in with coloring. - I think Nancy White was the one bringing triangulation as part of the discussion summarised here. Nancy also coached us on doing visual reporting.
I want to add a specific note here on the value of the connection to the external network, particularly because sometimes when I talk in terms of NGO work, people say “this can't work in business organizations because of competitive issues. First, NGOs are hugely competitive, even though they have a supposed shared common good or outcome they are working towards. They compete for resources, often through branding and “WE DISCOVERED THIS HERE” approaches. These are survival mechanisms, but they often block the very learning and innovation that is required in the work. External communities and networks bring diversity of thinking that we need for innovation. Even when we can't talk about ALL of the specifics of our work, we can always talk about something about our work. So creating space and permission for these extra-organizational engagements is in fact an astute investment and the risks can be managed. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/illustriousbean/571630048/ Uploaded on June 19, 2007 by illustriousbean iza
The third and very very important part of the triangulation is external validation. Folks in the middle often have a hard time getting their work seen, validated and thus supported for continuation or growth. Those beside and below them have little extrinsic or intrinsic motivation to pay attention. Those above them have little time, attention or motivation, especially in organizations where there is little latitude for risk taking, learning through “safe fail” (Dave Snowden's term) experiments (let alone FAILURES!) and when something succeeds, management more often needs to take credit for the success because thats how the politics of the organization work. One strategy we've used for external validation involves social media. When we – the people who are either doing direct support or the community/network members – learn about the success of the lone innovator in their organization, we tell the story externally. Of course, you check to make sure you are not messing with IP, rules etc. A blog post, a Tweet or a series of retweets shines a light on the work and success of the person. All of a sudden, “the boss” looks up. What's going on here? This is cool! Others think it is cool! Let's look into it ans support it. This external validation often best comes from credible people who work in the field. If X organization is having success, then Y is interested. All of a sudden, individual and organizational identity comes into play as a support of the learning, rather than a barrier. In the NGO “KM” world, the http://KM4Dev.org network has become an important player in this role. An added bonus, beyond the immediate support of the individual, is that organizations get a better line of site to where they are doing overlapping or complimentary work, and the motivated individuals from those organizations who are also members of the network start collaborating on both formal and informal learning and project work. Hey, think of the thousands of flowers might bloom! Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/exalthim/2063912337/ Uploaded on November 25, 2007 by Mr.Thomas
So lets talk a bit more about the mechanics of getting and using triangulated support and learning. We don't have to get through all of them. We can stop and talk, share stories or whatever, at any point. Raise your hand in the Elluminate room or chat box and we'll dig in. This is not some great, deep theoretical framework, just a perspective from my practice that seems to be resonating when I talk about it with others. So today, that is what I'm offering as part of John and my session about learning outside the “training box,” that place of formalized offerings that assume the offerer knows what the offerree wants and can deliver that in a neat (and often small) package.
Three roles that I’ve been looking at are community leaders, network weavers and technology stewards. Community leaders are a more familiar role, helping defined groups achieve specific goals over a period of time. “Helping” may mean creating conditions, supporting the emergence of relationships or individual and/or group identity, managing, etc. Network weavers are a new role (See the work of June Holley et al at http://www.networkweaving.com/blog/) – “people who facilitate new connections and increase the quality of those connections.” In between community leaders and network weavers are technology stewards – they show up both in groups/communities AND networks.
The idea of polarities that show up in group interactions. Tensions that we can learn to creatively leverage, rather than trying to resolve. Because resolution is usually impossible! Nor is it desirable. It is about noticing where a community is and what it needs at that moment along a polarity, and using tools and processes to move them to that desired point at that moment in time. Sliders – as we think about how we pick, design and deploy technology, what sort of intentionality do we want with respect to these tensions? More importantly, how do we use them as ways to track our community or network's health, make adjustments in both technology and practice.
EDayz09 Should we be using “community for learning?” Nancy White Full Circle Associates http://www.fullcirc.com http://www.flickr.com/photos/sporkist/157543688/