Feb 05 2016

Technology Stewardship: App Integration Testing

I can never fully leave behind my passion for Technology Stewardship that came out of co-writing Digital Habitats. It showed up again this week… and the power of thinking out loud together… I decided to try and capture what I learned. Sorry, it is a bit long…

One of the things I’m doing a lot of these days is designing meetings and gatherings using Liberating Structures. Part of the design practice is to put together a “string” of structures. I usually do this with a little set of cards, or just sketching on a page.


Another part of my practice is to share my draft strings with other LS practitioners for feedback. This is incredibly useful because the structures are so flexible, they can be used in many, many productive ways. My peers are discovering and using different approaches than I am and this sharing of draft strings helps us both see our own practice in new light, and enhance our repertoires by learning from each other.

A small group of LS “string beings” as I’ve started to call us, have been working mostly in an informal email string. We’ve talked about alternatives. I set up one based on my online consultation site here (password: strings ) but it is awfully clunky.

Some of us have been using Slack (“a messaging app for teams”) in other work and play projects. What I’ve really liked about Slack is it sets up a light communications net for quick conversations, a place to leave links and just enough ability to segment using different #channels that you can keep a tidy house.  So we set up an instance to play around with our LS stringing work this week.

While Slack is great for the social fabric of quick conversation, and pretty nifty file sharing, it does not have the sort of whiteboard capability where we can construct, share, play with and comment upon strings. So I went searching for a white board or pinboard app that had Slack integration. Why the integration? Because while we all get excited looking at a new tool, if it is not in our day to day “line of sight” we will forget about it. A great string might get posted, but if no one knows about it, or forgets about it, the peer collaboration evaporates. We need little signals.

I started with https://limnu.com/ which has a whiteboard plus notes, allows three free boards for experimentation (which expire after 7 days – fair warning!) and Slack integration. You can spawn a board WITHIN Slack, which turns out to be a really useful feature because you don’t have to remember to go back and tell everyone to come look at your new board. Slack’s search is good, so you can easily re-find your boards.

Limnu itself still feels a little buggy. Boards load inconsistently, and today each time I go into a board, my cursor is stuck on one image and the scroll bars to move around the board are gone. I’ve tried reloading but will have to troubleshoot more. There is a great little built in chat and once you poke around there is a sufficient set of features, but not so overburdened you will never discover them. Like many tools these days, you do have to click around and discover. Not everything is obvious (to me!) I can import the LS icons, but I can’t pin them to a note, so every time I move a note, I have to move the image, so I let the images go. I can’t format the text in the notes, so links to the structures are not hot. But I can play with a string, so the basic functionality I need is there. Here is a slightly blurred screenshot of a board (to blur client information…) I inserted a screen capture of an earlier string of a colleague shared in PPT (from Keith McCandless), did a little playing with the swirlies. We used the chat to discuss the string.


Limnu is not, however, as useful or elegant as Boardthing. Wait, why not use BOARDTHING? I wonder if it has Slack integration? Boardthing has been a great tool for building shared visualizations, particularly because it gives a group agency in shaping ideas and information. I like it! I can always put a link to a Boardthing board in Slack, but what if…

So I headed over to the Facebook Boardthing page and asked my question. Not only did Dave Gray and his CTO Gareth Marland chime right in, they and others like Sam Rose and Jon Husband started asking really useful questions.

Friends, this is technology stewardship in action and this is what this story is really about. Here are the questions that helped unlock my own understanding of what I was grasping for.

  • What’s your use case Nancy? Something that dropping a link into Slack can’t solve? Would love to hear more. (Dave Gray)… my response:
    Good question about why integrate. For a number of teams/[projects, slack has been our place for conversation AND link to our artifacts, related working tools, etc. It has the qualities that support social fabric, so it is the place to maintain some level of attention.

      Our work itself in most of these teams requires different tools at different times and it is easy to get compartmentalized into those tools and lose the social fabric elements. Thus the appreciation of Slack (or something like it) as supporting the social fabric, but not trying to bend it to all our other needs. Does that make sense?The Liberating Structures work is an example where Boardthing really fits the bill for the task work. I’m going to take our team on a “field” trip there when we can schedule it.
  • Can you talk about the specific features and scenarios you want to integrate with slack, or slack clone? (Gareth Marland)
    Good question about why integrate. For a number of teams/[projects, slack has been our place for conversation AND link to our artifacts, related working tools, etc. It has the qualities that support social fabric, so it is the place to maintain some level of attention.  Our work itself in most of these teams requires different tools at different times and it is easy to get compartmentalized into those tools and lose the social fabric elements. Thus the appreciation of Slack (or something like it) as supporting the social fabric, but not trying to bend it to all our other needs. Does that make sense? The Liberating Structures work is an example where Boardthing really fits the bill for the task work. I’m going to take our team on a “field” trip there when we can schedule it.
  • Can you think of very specific actions in slack you would want to integrate into board thing or vice verse? (Sam Rose)  Story: I am developing an LS string for an event. I want to get my peer’s feedback. I spawn a Boardthing board IN slack (so it is findable, searchable without me remembering to do it) – probably in a defined channel, and ask for that feedback. I would think carefully of the board name as the search function in Slack is nice and finding things again would be good. Folks would follow the link, play with the string (rearrange, substitute, comment, ask questions. The full context would be on Boardthing. That is the FIRST activity.
    After I use my string, I may want to return to my draft board and note what changes I did, what did and didn’t work. Then I’d want to export a snapshot of that string to share in our string library. Which currently doesn’t exist and we haven’t figured out how we want to do that. We have noted that creating a string and sharing a string are two different functions. The latter is content sharing with useful tagging.
  • So, in terms of the connection you would like to be able to create a shareable board within slack. and then they would provide feedback within the slack channel or the board? (Gareth)  I think feedback is best attached to the board containing the string but I could be misguided!
  • Dave Gray then came back with this summary: A. Alerts in Slack when a board is changed. B. Small version of board in Slack (probably not editable but one click takes you to board) C. Initiate a new board from within Slack. (We all thought this was great.)

Along the way other Slack clones were surfaced, and we are still batting around ideas. Gareth noted how important it is to add features only if they really add value, not clutter things up, and that includes features for integrations and alerts. In the research we did for Digital Habitats, we identified things like alerts and presence indicators as tool features that helped the social use of a tool. That still resonates today.

What did I learn? Dave summarized the kernel of the usefulness and features that make an app integrated with Slack or similar tools useful. There is this subtlety of WHERE the conversation takes place around an artifact, along with the very nature of the artifact. I needed visual, manipulable artifacts AND I needed it connected to a community of practitioners. These  insights now helps me refine both my tool selections and practices with my “string beings!” They also help me talk with other people about why I like Slack, which has been a bit challenging. I feel it, but I need to know how to describe it!


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Jan 28 2016

“Finely calibrated moments of risk”

sunburstI’ve had this snippet in my queue for a while and decided to just BLOG it. I love the idea of “finely calibrated moments of risk.” Sounds like my life! This is the space of learning, of innovation. Can I get an “amen!?”

The quote is from Molly Melching in a piece by Courtney Martin,  The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems — The Development Set — Medium   The context was “development tourism,” which is an interesting issue on its own. Here is the context for the quote.

“Don’t go because you loved studying abroad. Go because, like Molly Melching, you plan on putting down roots. Melching, a native of Illinois, is widely credited with ending female genital cutting (FGC) in Senegal. But it didn’t happen overnight. She has been living in and around Dakar since 1974, developing her organization, Tostan, and its strategy of helping communities collectively address human rights abuses. Her leadership style is all about finely calibrated moments of risk — when she will challenge a local leader, for example — and restraint — when she will hold off on challenging a local leader because she intuits that she hasn’t yet developed enough trust with him. That kind of leadership doesn’t develop during a six-month home stay.”

For my international development friends, you might want to peek at The Development Set. Many of us continuously wonder if we are adding value in our work. 😉 Here is the “about.”

Finally, a word about journalistic ethics. The Development Set is made possible by funding from the The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Please know that the Foundation’s involvement with this publication stops there. They are interested in cultivating a dynamic space to explore the question, “How do we do the most good?” They do not have any sway whatsoever in our editorial decisions.

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Jan 27 2016

Reflecting on my 2015 #365Photo Project

BradBradBradAs the month of January quickly slips into the rear view mirror, I realize it is now or never to reflect on my 2015 #365photo project. I had been watching Alan Levine and others do this practice for a few years and decided it was time to try it.

It was nearly a year ago when I made my only reflective post on the project last year, one month in.   While I can’t come close to the analysis of my fellow #365-er,  Eugene Eric Kim  and all his reflections on his 365 Project, it is worth putting on the reflective glasses and taking a moment. Even my sister prompted me to do this on Facebook. Go Cesca!

My Process

The picture taking process was almost always opportunistic. The value of knowing I wanted to capture and share ONE photo a day really upped my “noticing” while on walks, but if I did not get outside of the house (ah, Seattle’s winter) I found I had to stretch and sometimes even set up a picture. There certainly were stretches where nature was a key inspiration. Spring, Spring, SPRING! Flowers. Patterns of leaves and other natural elements (often juxtaposed with my feet, for some reason – at least a dozen) show up a lot, particularly fallen camellias! There are many of my family, particularly my granddaughters who are irresistible, but I also worry about putting too many pictures of them online.

Taken as a whole, they do tell the story of my year. You can see the travel, the work, the family, the seasons, the food!

The camahogada-tUdGera was somewhat of an issue early on, as I was using a fairly basic, lower resolution phone camera. I got frustrated but people said, CROP and use filters, to use the limitations of the camera as a feature, not a bug. That helped me over the hump, but in the end I’ve used cropping and filters only a handful of times. Lazy? Busy? Probably both. And I got a better phone with a better camera late last year and that FELT more fun. Especially for macros, which I enjoy.

I did NOT have a practical and consistent workflow for my project. I mostly posted from either my phone or one of my tablets to Facebook, MOSTLY got those into an album, and then at the end of the year downloaded the lot and imported them into the more easily sharable Flickr. I think some got lost and mis-categorized and I have totally changed my 2016 workflow for #366photo (yes, leap year!).

This year, every photo gets posted to Flickr using the phone app which also allows me to cross post on Facebook and Twitter. I always cross-post on FB, and sometimes on Twitter if the image is either pleasing to me or has some timely relevance to a wider audience as now only my friends can see my FB posts. I restricted them late last year instead of posting them publicly, mostly to protect my family. I should have done that earlier. When I post to Flickr I can put the image right into an album. Later I can go back and tag, but that is not a top priority.


The process itself was wonderful. It was, in a sense, a meditation in paying attention to what is around me. Looking back, I smile at the pworkinprogressictures of friends, my family, of nature and of the many places I visited and food I ate. It is a celebration of the full and rich life I get to live. Here and there it hints at the bumps in the road. I think that is because I don’t really have too many and I don’t really want to make a big deal out of them. If there was one visual theme on bumps, it was fatigue!

The sharing part turned out to be a much bigger surprise. How many people on FB had a little “line of sight” into my life surprised me. The number of “likes” surprised me – people actually PAY ATTENTION to this stuff? The reflections shared with Eugene and Alan Levine were wonderful moments of learning.

As 2016 dawned I had just about decided NOT to do this again. Then the urge crept in. The three things I gained from the project were worth continuing:  a) the practice of noticing,  b) sharing, and c) learning, because life is always a work in progress! (And my workflow for it is already better. The pictures are here.)

My Pictures

I decided it would be fun to select some of my favorite pictures from 2015. As I noted, I was unhappy with the quality of many of my shots, but looking back, some are really pleasing to my eye.

CameliaShoes crappycroppy selfieatwork shadowflowers iliveinabeautifulplace horsechestnutshoes mylarry sandplay melbourne quotidian playginwithpapa

playjoy shoefrost noticingnature windowdawn furry oldbarge fiddlestilllifeinmontrealbeauty shoestilllife hanginout octasketti friends3 greenlake2 friends2 friends1 fallfeet skyfeet Greenlake squashedcameliapoetry frostyshoe wilddave

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Jan 26 2016

Web Accessibility Resource for Technology Stewards

I received an email today from a kind woman named Lilly Ward who pointed out that one of the resources I often promote, http://www.timeanddate.com for planning multi timezone meetings was not so friendly for people with different kinds of access issues.

I am Lily Ward, I noticed that you link to timezoneconverter.com (http://www.fullcirc.com/2009/05/29/technology-stewardship-at-libraries-free-online-event/) Unfortunately, it isn’t very accessible for sight impaired individuals. Would you consider adding a link to a more accessible site like http://www.thetimenow.com which is WCAG 2.0 compliant?

Also, if you ever want to see how accessible a page is, I recommend http://wave.webaim.org. It is really helpful.

First, thanks, Lilly, I appreciate that you took the time to share your knowledge. Second, the web accessibility tool I used to use disappeared, so I’m happy to see http://wave.webaim.org . The only downside is realizing how many challenges my own site offers people with accessibility differences. Uh oh…



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Dec 30 2015

Relate and Liberate: Techniques for Online Learner Engagment

threelegsOne of the events from Novembers ISS Fellowship in Victoria State, Australia, was at Melbourne Polytechnic. We had a handful of people interested in participating virtually, but I really wanted to give them my FULL attention, not split between the F2F and the online group. So earlier this month we did an hour together online. You can watch the recording here – please note, there is a LOT going on in the chat, so read it if you decide to look at the recording.

The slides and notes artifact is here: RelateandliberateOnlineVersionFinal

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.
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