Wayne Sutton: how people use social media

Wayne Sutton on How Social Media Used in Disaster Response

Good quote. Now take it in the context of how people are using social media in disaster preparedness and response with Gustav. Same pattern, methinks.

Tracking Hurricane Gustav on Social Media

Taking a quick break from gardening and checked Twitter. I saw a lot of tweets around how people are using social media to track Hurricane Gustav and prepare to react to needs generated around the storm. Here are a few (Updated Sunday Aug 31, 4pm PDT, 6:20 pdt, 7:40 pm PDT, Updated September 1 9:35am):

  • And finally, a quick screen grab on Twitter as an example of the activity

Gustav and Social Media

From courses to community: Josien Kapma and Nancy White

This is an article that Josien Kapma and I wrote for the Dutch journal, “Leren in Organisaties”. I have posted it earlier as a PDF, but got the request to offer it as straight HTML. So here it is again! Also From Workplace Courses to Communities (PDF from the Journal)

From workplace courses to global conversations

Nancy White and Josien Kapma

A growing number of people and organizations in various sectors are focusing on communities (of practice) and networks, as a key to improving their performance. What are these forms for knowing and learning, and what are the ramifications for human resources management and development in organizations? What sparks their formation and creates engagement for members? How are communities related to globalization and an increasingly networked world? This article offers some pointers through the personal tales from two people who participate in communities for their own learning. They report their experiences and give their ideas as to how organizations could give space to this new way of learning.

A true story…

Rural Portugal/Josien:
I have a call scheduled for a tele-meeting. I’m helping coordinate our annual gathering, so I’ve proposed an agenda via email prior to the call. I call in from my home office. We share note taking responsibilities using a chat room, but I’ll make sure the final notes get on our project wiki. I’m surprised to see how well our small group of volunteers -who each are busy people with very full lives- responds to the tasks at hand. We set our standards high, even for the routine tasks, yet we work surprisingly efficiently. In this way, a 3 day event for 90 of our community fellows, all working in different organizations and from over 15 countries, is organized by volunteers without one single face-2-face meeting. In the process, I learn a lot; about the content of the event, and about design of learning events. My peers provide great role-models, and along the way we develop our skills for working in a distributed way. When I find myself looking forward to the next call, to seeing thoughtful additions in our wiki, I discover just how powerful a motivator ‘learning’ can be. Gradually, I begin to understand what it is that keeps these people together, although they are distributed over the world. They are together because it matters to them.

Urban United States/Nancy:
I ring into the bridge line to make sure it is working and I mute my microphone. It is early here in my time zone and I’m still eating breakfast, while others are at the end of their days. With a little flexibility, we work across geography, expanding the possibilities of what we can do. I am task oriented and like getting things done. With our set of tools, we assemble an amazing team with talent we’d rarely find in one place or organization. As the call starts, we identify ourselves: Marc is with his Swiss accent, living in Cape Town. Peter is now in Ghana, although he lives in Italy, Bertha (originally from Latin America) is at her desk in Switzerland, like -at a different organization – Riff, a Canadian. Allison (also Canadian) is visiting Lucie at her home in Brussels. We have interacted for many years, so the start of our meeting is full of greetings and “catch up” on our lives until everyone has joined the call. By the time we finish, we will have made several key decisions about our gathering, made sure we incorporated lessons from last year’s event, and broken up into teams for follow up actions. In 60 minutes, we’ve learned what we want to do and have a plan to do it. What’s more, I have learned new perspectives and ways to do this work. My community has expanded my capabilities.

The intersection of technology, practice, community and the world

The tale above is a glimpse into our small group of volunteers organizing an event for KM4dev (http://www.km4dev.org), a community of practice about “knowledge management for development”. In the community we work and learn together, at our own terms and pace; we share resources, ask for and offer help and information, share leads for learning and even jobs. In many ways we are like communities that have existed in the past. Social interaction provides the context for learning. Our learning is not mandated, it is voluntary. While we feel responsibility to our funders, we do not focus on some arbitrary benchmarks. We participate because we can and we want to improve our practice and we want to produce value for our community. With today’s technologies, we have both global potential and impact. We can tap into a broader set of skills, work with a wider set of perspectives and really work with a unique edge that is valued by ourselves and our organizations.

How would an organization use such community and network work and learning? How is this approach different from our traditional, internal HR-driven training approaches? What needs to shift from the traditional practices? Let’s look at six trends and see how they might manifest in your organization.

1Training & classesInformal, personal learning
2Expert led learningPeer coaching, support and social learning; Communities of practice
3Formal AssociationsNetworks – informal connections, nodes, and ad hoc groups
4Behind the Firewall, local talentBeyond the Firewall – innovation from inside and outside with global talent
5Motivated by the bossBroader motivations
6Talking – the Big MouthListening – the Big Ear

From Training and classes, to communities and personal learning

Our organizational members and employees can no longer be sufficiently served by formalized internal training. The personal background and learning styles of employees are diverse, as are their job-contexts. This determines what and how people learn. More critically, much of what needs to be learned is ever-changing(1). It is moving faster than we can create structured learning opportunities. While traditional training methods are still useful for repeatable and repetitive tasks (i.e. learning a new software program, manufacturing, safety procedures) many training needs are about evolving practices such as marketing using social media, cross-organizational collaboration or responding to emerging markets. Informal and voluntary learning becomes a key strategy to move faster than we can accommodate with formally constructed training initiatives.

From Expert led to peer driven social learning

Two forces are driving the trend towards peer learning. One is technology.There is a new generation of Internet based tools (often called ‘web.2.0’ or ‘social networking’) which allow an individual to build a unique online presence and profile including what they know; and, they facilitate connections between individual users, allowing each user to build a personal network around a knowledge area. People can find, trace and track others who share the same interest, even if it is very specific, creating a group of knowledgeable peers, and learn with them. They don’t have to wait for the expert.

Second, the millennial generation has far less interest in authority or being “taught.” They learn with and from each others. As HR managers prepare for the future, training efforts must respond to this culture shift. Instead of connecting employees with a small defined set of experts, you help them tap into networks of expertise.

From formal associations to communities and loose networks

People flock together without the need for a mediating organisation. Instead of formal “expert” associations, loose “peer” networks are emerging. The resulting groups can be highly effective learning opportunities. We are used to team collaboration, communities and networks can add extra ‘layers’ to collaboration. (An interesting paper about collaboration in teams, communities and networks is here (in English): http://www.anecdote.com.au/whitepapers.php?wpid=15 ) Millions of people are gaining experience with these “new ways of learning”, but mostly in the hobby spheres, like sharing music or tips on travel. A great potential for more job-related, productive uses is waiting to be exploited.

From behind the firewall to beyond the firewall

The dramatic drop of costs of ICT (server space, memory, user hardware, bandwidth etc), combined with improved access and usability have transformed information scarcity to information overload. Control over sources of information or channels of communication is no longer the privilege of few. Before, the boss signed letters and the PR department made sure all corporate communications were checked for quality. Now organizations have to deal with the fact that they can no longer keep track of, let alone control all the communications flowing out of the organization. Maybe it doesn’t matter all that much, as what others say or write about the organization is at least as, if not more, important than formal company messages. In this new reality, not secrecy and walls, but transparency, openness, and compatibility with others, are determinants for success. This counts for learning and talent management as well. As people flow in and out of jobs and organizations; they form their personal networks and portfolio (which often span multiple organizations) along the way. The professional and personal, formal and informal increasingly get intertwined. Recognizing the role of these other communities and networks is a prerequisite for organizational vigor. Ignore them, and your talent will either be limited, or gone.

Addressing broader motivations

People’s motivations to contribute go beyond a paycheck or a demand from the boss. Identity and relevance of the job, feeling they are making a useful contribution as well as working on personal development and social capital, are important. You can’t control people; instead you can empower them. Personal motivation is also a prerequisite for innovation — one organization alone and classic knowledge transfer in itself are no longer sufficient for sustainable innovation in an ever more complex and interdependent world. Innovation requires connections and stimulation beyond the people in our organizations. So tapping into the motivations of employees to participate in the larger world is something else to consider.

From the Big Mouth to the Big Ear

With the advent of Web 2.0 the model for communication has been turned upside down. The “former audience” is now just as much a broadcaster as any large organization. The incredible abundance of information and communication has two effects. First, it created an attention scarcity and media fragmentation. Compared to before, our messages need to be very relevant or audiences filter them out. So instead of talking louder to unfocused audiences, now organizations need to engage in meaningful dialogue with relevant partners. Second, it created an immense pool of searchable communications among others. This buzzing universe of linked sites and blogs is an incredibly rich source of organizational information and learning… if we know how to listen. Organizations need to listen to conversations about them, niches or needs they can fill, feedback and suggestions for improving what they do. It is about tagging and remixing and mapping the network of relationships, looking for where to respond, and where to catalyze action. It is a little bit like listening to the universe.

These tasks can’t be done by an individual. They require the diverse “ears” of communities, the wider net of networks, seeking to make connections between people that advance our organization’s learning and goals. If all your employees are part of the Big Ear, you are ahead.

Tips for leading in a networked world

It is a brave new world for human resource development managers. It asks a lot of us – to shift both our world views and our practices. It asks us to work with, not try and resolve the polarities that we activate when trying to reconcile a network activity with a corporate structure. These include:

Planned <–> Evolving
When working beyond organizational borders and with complex systems, it is still important to plan, but to also be open to that plan evolving as you tap into the world and it’s complexities. Consider shorter iterations in your organizational learning and planning cycles.
Talking <–> Listening
When your employees can listen to the world, they will have another “voice” to compare against your organizational voice. Make sure you are also listening to that world so your voice has credibility and consistency internally and externally.
Centralization <–> Networked

Like the shift towards evolution and listening, organizational structures are rarely just hierarchical but are instead networked to individuals and organizations outside of your organization.
Mandate <–> Create enabling conditions
When you have to be flexible and open to the outside, it’s useful to remember that the outside world cannot be mandated like an employee. Consider how creating mutually beneficial interactions or simply an inviting set of circumstances can allow you to tap into learning with the outside world.

Here are a few general tips to get you started.

  • Be strategic. Identify specific, strategic knowledge transfer opportunities, applying learning to organizational goals. Reward knowledge application. Encourage and provide mechanisms from employees to share their knowledge through gatherings, blogs and wikis.
  • Grow a “big ear.” Listen for conversations inside as well as outside of the organization — Web2.0 — the new web technologies — provide some excellent tools like RSS, tagging, and automated searches. Use this to inform your subsequent learning strategies.
  • Support learning as a way of life. Create conditions for personal, informal2 and voluntary learning. Make sure there is time in busy employees’ days for participation in relevant communities and networks. Give people tools and light support. Ask what they are learning about. Role model by openly pursuing your own learning agenda, including making “not knowing” ok. This is a motivation to learn.
  • Balance control with emergence. In a network world, if you provide too much resistance in one place, people will easily route around you and you lose the opportunity to engage an employee. Build trust and share outcomes rather than a stack of rules and restrictions. The networked world requires more openness and this can be both uncomfortable and different than past organizational norms and practice.
  • Support key strategic communities and networks. Identify those which are important and relevant to your employees, both within and outside of your organizations. This could mean offering a collaboration platform, sponsoring online or face to face gatherings, or simply allowing people time to participate. Don’t try and run the communities – they should be run by the members.
  • Be prepared. Introducing CoPs and network ways of working introduces organizational change – so be ready.

What does the end of the story look like?

2013, the world
The KM4Dev gatherings this year have multiplied. There are now regional face to face gatherings, organized and fully funded out of appreciation by member organizations who have benefited from the community knowledge and support. Their human resources directors, in particular, have become champions of communities and networks that help their organization’s employees learn anytime, anywhere and with a diverse set of co-learners beyond the borders of the organisation itself.

Some things never change though. Josien ends her day with an online meeting, squeezing a telecon in between helping her children, now teenagers, with their home work and wrapping up her work nurturing a women’s dairy network that spans the globe, while Nancy, still in her pajamas, starts her day with tea and a little dose of community. Sometimes she has a grandchild painting at her desk. Their work has grown in harmony with their lives, making them productive contributors to the their group and the world, while retaining richness and diversity. A little laughter, a lot of warmth and affection and an ever-changing landscape of global learning.


1. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/0019-8676.00123 “Fully 40 percent of private-sector workers surveyed report that in the space of just one year, a change occurred at work that required them to learn new job skills.”2. http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/depts/sese/csew/nall/res/21adultsifnormallearning.htm

Founder of Full Circle Associates, Nancy White helps organizations connect through online and offline strategies. Nancy is an online interaction designer, facilitator and coach for distributed communities of practice, online learning, distributed teams and virtual communities. She has a special interest in the NGO and NPO sectors. Nancy teaches, presents and writes/blogs on online facilitation and interaction, social architecture and social media at www.fullcirc.com, www.fullcirc.com/weblog /onfacblog.htm

Josien Kapma works as independent consultant on knowledge mobility, communication and networking, mostly in rural environments. She is active in initiating, facilitating and participating in networks formed by farmers and rural inhabitants. She is also a dairy farmer, in Portugal.
www.josienkapma.com , jk@josienkapma.com

this article was published in: “Leren in organisaties” p. 30-34. 8e jaargang, nummer 6/7, juni 2008. Rotterdam.

DEANZ 2008 – my place, my space, my learning

Last week I was in Wellington New Zealand, participating in the DEANZ 2008 Conference. I loved the conference theme, “my place, my space, my learning!” Oh yeah!

On the first morning I had the great opportunity to offer the kick off keynote. As usual, I firehosed my way through 90 minutes talking about stewarding technology for learning with an emphasis on PEOPLE. I tagged a few of the blog responses here along with some other DEANZ08 related links. Below are the slides that I used in the keynote. (I don’t think anyone captured audio):

I also facilitated two 2-hour workshops on Monday and Tuesday about the social and technical design of online communities. The notes from some of the exercises are embedded in a simple PPT which I will post on the wiki page – which is still a bit bare because I need to put in the notes, can be found here.

The conference was at the beautiful Te Papa Tongarewa museum – an amazing multimedia, multi-dimensional national museum of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Great staff, good conference food and a wonderful location rounded out the logistics side. Fabulous educators and presenters on the content side. I will write a separate post about that, but I promised to get the slides up…

On Wednesday I got to meet with some wonderful clients of Patillo, and on Thursday, Stephen Blythe of Community Central hosted a conversation which Steven blogged about. – Dags and Dingleberries

Good Stuff While I was Gone

Rita Angus quote from Te Papa museum exhibitI bemoan the fact that there is so much good stuff floating by me. Thank goodness for friends and colleagues like Stephen Downes who filter and share via newsletters and Twitter. Here is a sampling of stuff that has caught my eye, and why. Most from Stephen’s OLDaily – or interestingly – found both elsewhere then seen on OLDaily, which serves as a beacon of “pointing light” for me to see something twice.

  • Howard Rheingold talks (via multiple modes) about participatory learning. (Howard tweeted this!) – note the combination of video/voice and text. How does it feel to you? I like it.
  • Jay Cross on performance support in a web 2.0 world http://informl.com/2008/08/24/whatever-happened-to-performance-support/ What I appreciate about this is the historical peek back to performance support as a bridge to understanding the value of new tools. This sort of context provides good “splainin!” (Lee LeFever has also been writing about the value of explanation.) (pointer from Stephen)
  • Stephen again pointing to this paper on mapping pedagogies and technologies – http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue56/conole/. New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies.
    “Gráinne Conole reflects on the implications of Web 2.0 for education and offers two new schemas for thinking about harnessing the potential of technologies.” This article interests me because of the work John Smith, Etienne Wenger and I have been doing about mapping technologies to community of practice activities. (And yes, the book IS coming along – at the designers now!) My experience is that mapping is a “first swipe” and then, context rules.
  • The continuing evolution and path of Leigh Blackall’s course “Facilitating Online Communities” – both visible on the wiki http://www.wikieducator.org/Facilitating_online_communities and in the other blogs, Google Group, etc. They are not only learning about the topic, they are figuring out what happens when you open a Polytechnic’s course and 100 people show up. It was also great to meet Leigh F2F in Wellington last week. I think I threw him off when I greeted him with a big hug. Oh, that darn American behavior! Some of the things that I’m finding interesting as I lurk include how Leigh is teaching/facilitating, the impact of a group that includes some folks I’d put both at the expert and novice range of experience with teaching and online community, how the group straddles (John Smith’s favorite word) the various technologies that Leigh has offered and of course, the amazing reflections in people’s blogs. This reinforces for me the deep value of making time for reflective practices. Slow down!
  • Again, from Leigh’s presentation at DEANZ 08 in Wellington, how his talk on “Inverted IP Policy” has helped me see the issue of IP in educational and organizational settings in a new light. I think this is also related to my earlier post today about why people contribute things to the public good. It has been interesting to see some of the blog ripples from Leigh’s talk and sharing of the content.
  • Via I don’t know where, this cool site for sharing some of the photographs of Walker Evans. http://www.afterwalkerevans.com/images7.html. Evan’s was a depression era photographer from the south and the study of his work and that of writer James Agee was a profound part of going to University in the US South for me (Duke.) More on Evan’s here.
  • From my World Cafe Girl Geek friends, a pointer to the work of Franke James – wow, great visual thinking.
  • Kerry’s “Coveritlive” coverage of the Mind of Matter seminar in Australia. I’m interested both in the subject matter of how technology is affecting our brains (and vica versa, to be honest) and the tool Kerry used, Coveritlive. I have been meaning to check that out. Stephen also pointed to this, but Kerry had also emailed a notice. This was one of those “twice pointed out” items!
  • A mention of a post on Mike Coughlan’s blog reminded me it was time to visit. Always good stuff.
  • Luis Gutierrez emailed me about Nuptial Dimension of Sustainable Development – Part 4 Solidarity, Sustainability, and Nonviolence, V4 N8 August 2008 http://pelicanweb.org/solisustv04n08.html. I haven’t read it yet, but I have been thinking a lot about alternatives to traditional development processes so I have this bookmarked to come back to. Luis was also looking to spread the word. This also connects to a George Siemen’s post about the roots of “connectivism” – I haven’t sorted it out in my brain yet, but I think there is a deep connection between what George is writing about and these alternative development paths that are intrinsically of a network nature. Also, to another article pointed out by Stephen on the relationship between learning and poverty.
  • Barry Dahl talks about the “back channel” at conferences (this time at Desire2Learn where I keynoted last year but have not been tracking this year.) In Wellington at DEANZ we talked about “that which is not always visible” but which matters. Things like twitter are starting to make the invisible visible. What are the ramifications? When is some good, but too much is destructive?

Yikes, this might be enough for one post. I have a list of about 20 other URLs I want to blog about. Hehe. I said today to my walking buddy, it would be nice to have a fairy godmother drop out of the sky and fund 3 months for contemplation, 3 months for catching up and three months more for writing about it!