Archive for the 'communities of practice' Category

Mar 05 2014

Ponderings on Network & Community Governance Part 1

Warning: LONG thinking-out-loud post! And note, the best stuff is in the comments!

For the last month or so there have been some very interesting conversations on the KM4Dev email discussion. One of them has been a reflection on the governance of KM4Dev, particularly the role of the current Core Group and the overall business model. KM4Dev has been around for over 10 years and grown to be a vibrant and respected community. It certainly is one of my very central communities of practice and I love and fret over it a lot. I was on the Core group from its inception until about 18 months ago when I stepped out, partly from burnout, partly from frustration, but keenly aware that my “just do it” attitude had longer term ramifications of people expecting me and the other “do-ers” to, well, just get it done. That is dis-empowering. (And I can be, um, a little dominating? :-) ) Now, back to the question of governance.

This begs the question, what kind of animal IS KM4Dev? A community of practice (CoP)? A loose, affiliated network of people interested in KM in development? A service? How should this inform our choices? Are there sufficient distinctions in the governance and supporting infrastructure of a larger network, versus a more bounded community? Or is it more dependent on the nature of that community or network?

As I read the messages, there were those who advocated a strong group for governance, for a paid secretariat staff. For formality. Others suggested developing multiple local offshoots and centralize the support functions in those volunteer hubs. From ideas for spin offs that embrace diverse business models, pleas for funding, to a very open, “let it be” model, all struck me as models that reflected each person’s world view.  Some  fundamentally urged the group to become more of an advocate for KM in development as a community, while others kept a more CoP-traditional perspective of the group as a place for its own learning. Do academics prefer more formality? What causes people to think paid positions are more generative for the community than volunteering? Are there ramifications beyond reliability? SOOOO many things to consider.

I then sent the following message to the group (this is just part of the message. It was a rambly, early morning thing!):

Here is my perception (NOT FACT) Those of us who prefer structure and some degree of formality discussed more about governance and secretariat (and I suppose, have a clearer idea about that differentiation. It is not a language used outside of development much here in the US!) Those of us who prefer informality (or perhaps, just fleeing too much structure!) emphasize the more emergent and adhoc options. Those who are taking a strong community lens focus on the community aspects of volunteerism and self organization. Those with a KM lens, (which in fact, have not stood out in my memory of reading these threads — INTERESTING) advocate for structures which focus on KM and finally, some have advocated structure that in fact advocates for international development.

How do we find your way forward with all these options? Furthermore, how do you discern options where people will “walk their talk” and pick up leadership. It is all nice and good to say “YOU should do this or that.” But in the end, if no one in the community is willing to step up to the tasks, all is probably lost. If no one cares enough to value and use what is provided – paid or not, what is it worth?

Consider this:  if you look at the number of people posting in the thread (less than 20?) compared to the list of members on the email list and/or our NING site (2500+), how do you reconcile the individual advocacy for a particular path forward with the huge, silent, larger whole? To whom does this “governance” thing matter? Is it important to those who simply see KM4Dev as an email list they can dip into when they need it – a sort of service? To those who avidly read, but rarely or never post for a host of reasons? To those of us who perhaps love KM4dev too much? :-)

So I started doodling.  Is it useful to examine our governance and structure questions from a variety of lenses, and then find out if there is a sweet spot between them? From the conversation I discerned three possible lenses or perspectives including:  Community, KM (in development) and Advocacy for KM in Development. Here is what I sketched on my notebook.

governancescribbles

For example, philosophically I absolute love the idea that KM4Dev should be more altruistic and more actively serve development. The realist in me says this is a structural mismatch, that indeed, by focusing on community and KM, we become stronger agents of that wider change through other, more formalized structures (of our orgs, etc) and we become INFLUENCERS as a network.  But that does not exclude forays into advocacy. The lenses do not imply “either/or” but simply help us explore from a variety of perspectives. Here is a very imperfect first try and looking across the three example lenses :  

ThreeKM4DevLenses

If I look across the three, there is less difference between the community lens and the domain lens, while the advocacy lens presents unique benefits and needs. As noted above, it looks to be a far stretch for KM4Dev to pull that off. That said, KM4Dev might be an amazing incubator for a more focused group working on the advocacy.

So the next level of resource implications are about the degree of importance KM4Dev activities and artifacts have to be polished to the level of acceptance by development organizations and practitioners outside of the community. In other words, legitimacy beyond the community. This seems to require more infrastructure and thus more refined business models (funding) and processes.

So the question is, what does the community want and what can it pull off. And I’d personally add, how does it differentiate itself from yet another organization?

Help me improve my thinking.

P.S. If you look back up to the first image, you will see some scribbling on the lower right of the notebook sketch. I’ll post about that in the next blog post.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of Nancy’s Ramblings….

30 responses so far

Dec 02 2013

An Interview With Aaron Leonard on Online Communities

I had a chance to interview Aaron Leonard late last September (photo URL) just before he took a leave from his online community management work at the World Bank to talk about that work. This is part of a client project I’m working on to evaluate a regional collaboration pattern and to start understanding processes for more strategic design, implementation and evaluation of collaboration platforms, particularly in the international development context.

Aaron’s World Bank blog is http://www.southsouth.info/profiles/blog/list?user=1uxarewp1npnk

How long have you been working on “this online community/networks stuff” at the Bank?  How did your team’s practice emerge?

I’ve been at the bank 4 years and working on their communities of practice (CoP) front for 3 of those. I started as a community manager building a CoP for external/non-bank people focused onSouth-South exchange. Throughout this process, I struggled with navigating the World Bank rules governing these types of “social websites”. At the time, there were no actual rules in place – they were under formulation. So what you could do,/could not, use/ could not, pay for/ could not depended on who you talked to. I started working with other community managers to find answers to these questions along with getting tips and tricks on how to engage members, build HTML widgets, etc… I realized that my background working with networks (pre-Bank experience) and my experience launching an online community of practice within the Bank was useful to others. As more and more people joined our discussions, we started formalizing our conversation (scheduling meetings in advance, setting agendas, etc… but not too formal :).

We were eventually able to make ourselves useful enough to the point where I applied for and received a small budget to bring in some outside help from a very capable firm called Root Change and to hire a brilliant guy, Kurt Morriesen, to help us develop a few tools for community managers and project teams and to help them think through their work with networks. We started with 15 groups – mostly within WBI, but some from the regions as well. All were asking and needing answers to some common questions, “How do we get what we want out of our network? How do we measure and communicate our success? How do we set up a secretariat and good governance structure?” This line of questioning seemed wrong in many ways. It represented a “management mindset” (credit Evan Bloom!) versus a “network mindset”. The project teams were trying to get their membership to do work that fit their programmatic goals versus seeing the membership as the goal and working out a common direction for members to own and act on themselves. We started asking instead, “Why are you engaging? “Who really are you trying to work with?” What do you hope to get out of this engagement?” What value does this network provide its members?” This exercise was really eye opening for all of us and eventually blossomed into an actual program. I brought in Ese Emerhi last year as a full time team member. She has an amazing background as a digital activist, and knows more than I do about how to make communities really work well.

Ese and I set up a work program around CoPs and built it into a practice area for the World Bank Institute (WBI) together with program community managers like Kurt, Norma Garza (Open Contracting), and Raphael Shepard (GYAC) among others. With Ese on board, we were able to expand beyond WBI (to the World Bank in general). This was possible in part because our team works on knowledge exchange, South-South knowledge exchange specifically (SSKE). We help project teams in the World Bank design and deliver effective knowledge exchange. CoPs are a growing part of this business, in part because the technology to connect people in a meaningful conversation is getting better, and in part because we know how to coach people on when and how to use communities.

How did you approach the community building?

With Rootchange  we started with basic stocktaking and crowd sourcing with respect to  trying to define an agenda for ourselves. We had 4-5 months for this activity. We settled on a couple things.

  1. Looking at different governance arrangements. How do we structure the networks?

  2. What tools or instruments to use in design of planning of more effective networks.

We noticed that we were talking more about networks than communities. Some were blends of CoPs, coalitions, and broader programs. The goals aren’t always just the members’. So we talked about difference between these things, how they can be thought of along a spectrum of commitment or formality. A social network vs. an association and how they are/are not similar beasts.

We gave assignments to project teams and met on monthly basis to work with these instruments. On the impetus of consultants at Root Change, we started doing 1 to 1 consultation w/ teams. We reserved a room, brought in cookies and coffee and then brought the teams in for 90 minutes each of  free consulting sessions. These were almost more useful for the teams than the project work. Instead of exploring the tools, they were APPLYING the tools themselves. It was also a matter of taking the time to focus, sit down and be intentional with their work with their networks. Just shut the door and collectively think about what is was they were trying to do. A lot of this started out in a more organic way around what was thought to be an easy win. “We’ll start a CoP, get a website, get 1000 people to sign” up without understanding what it meant for membership, resourcing, team, commitment and longer term goals and objectives.

We helped them peel back some of the layers of the onion to better understand what they were trying to do. We didn’t get as far as wanted. We wanted to get into measuring and evaluation and social network analysis, but that was  a little advance for these teams and their stage of development. They did not have someone they could rely on to do this work. Some had a community manager but most of these were short term consultants, for 150 days or less, and often really junior people who saw the job  as an entry level gig. They were often more interested in the subject matter than being a community managers. They often tended to get pulled in different directions and may or may not have liked the work. They tended to be hired right out of an International  Devevlpment masters program where they had a thematic bent so they were usually interested in projects, vs organizing a 1000 people and lending some sense of community. Different skill sets!

We worked with these teams, and came up with a few ideas,. Root Change wrote a small report (please share) which helped justify a budget for subsequent fiscal year and my boss let me hire someone who would have community building as part of their job. Together we were working on the Art of Knowledge Exchange toolkit and the other half time was for community. At this point we opened  up our offering to World Bank group to help people start,  understand how to work with membership, engage, measure and report on a CoP. We helped them figure out how they could use data and make sense of their community’s story. We brought in a few speakers and did social things to profile community managers. Over the course of the year we had talked to and worked with over 300 people. (Aaron reports they  have exact numbers, but I did not succeed in connecting with him before he left to get those numbers!). We did 100 one-on-one counseling sessions. We reached very broadly across institution and increased the awareness of the skillset we have in WBI regarding communities and networks. We helped people see that this is different way of working. Our work coincided with build up of the Bank’s internal community platform based on Jive (originally called Scoop and now called Sparks – a collaboration for development and CoP oriented platform.) The technology was getting really easy for people to access. There was more talk about knowledge work, about being able to connect clients, and awareness of what had been working well on the S-S platform.

We did a good job and that gave us the support for another round of budget this year.  Now we have been able to shift some of the conversation to the convening and brokering role of the Bank. This coincided with the Bank’s decreased emphasis  in lending and increase in access to experts which complimented the direction we were going in.  We reached out and have become a reference point for a lot of this work. There have been parallele institutional efforts that flare and fade, flare and fade. But it is difficult to move “the machine.” It can even be a painful process to witness. I admire the people doing this, but (the top down institutional change process) was something we tried to avoid. We did our work on the side, supporting people’s efforts where possible. Those things are finally bearing fruit. We have content. They have a management system. We have process for teams to open a new CoP space, a way to find what is available to them as community leaders, They have  a community finder associated with an expert finder. Great to have these things to have and invest in, but it is not where we were aiming. We want to know the community leaders, the people like Ese, like Norma Garza, running these communities and who struggle and have new ideas to share. What are the ways to navigate the institutional bureaucracy that governs our use of social media tools? How do you find good people to bring on board. You can’t just hire the next new grad and expect it to last. There is an actual skills set, unique, not always well defined but getting more recognition as something that is of value and unique to building a successful CoP. There is new literature out there and people like Richard Millington (FeverBee) – a kid genius doing this since he was 13. He takes ideas from people like you, Wenger and Denning. There is now more of a practice around this.

While the Bank is still not super intentional on how it works internally with respect to  knowledge and process, more attention is being paid and more people are being brought in. It can be a touch and go effort. We’re just a small piece, but feeling a much needed demand and our numbers prove that. We have monthly workshops (x2 sometimes) that are promoted through a learning registration system and we’d sell the spaces out within minutes. People are stalking our stuff. It is exciting. At same time while it felt like the process of expansion touched a lot of people, convinced/shaped dialog, I also feel we lost touch with the Normas. Relationships changed. We were supporting them by profiling them, helping them communicate to their bosses, so the bosses understood their work, but not directly supporting them with new ideas, techniques, approaches.

We reassessed at end of last year. We want to focus building an actual community again. We started but lost that last year while busy pushing outwards. But we still kept them close and we can rely on each other. It has  not been the intimate settings of 15-20 or 3 of us doing this work, sitting around and talking about what we are struggling with. Like “how did you do your web setup, how to do a Twitter Jam?” So our goals this year are a combination. Management likes that we hit so many people last year. They have been pretty hands off and we can set our own pace. Because we did well last year, they given us that room, the trust.

So now we want to focus more on championing the higher level community managers. The idea is to take a two fold approach. First we want to use technology to reach out, to use our internal online space to communicate and form a more active online community. We secondly want to focus a few of our offerings on these higher level community managers with idea that if we can give them things to help their with the deeper challenges of their job, they will be able to help us field the more general requests for the more introductory offerings. Can you review my concept note?  Help me setting up my technology.

It is still just the two of us. We are grooming another person but also working with the more senior community managers will allow us to handle more requests by relying on their experience. We give them training and  in return they help w/ basic requests. This is not a mandate. We don’t have to do this. It is what we see as a way of building a holistic and sustainable community within the Bank to meet the needs of community managers and people who use networks to deliver products and services with their clients.

How do you set strategic intentions when setting up a platform?

One of the things I love most advising about CoPs is telling them not to do it. I love being able to say this. The incentives are wrong, the purpose. So many people think CoPs are something that is “on the checklist, magic bullet, or a sexy tech solution”. Whatever it is, those purposes are wrong. They are thinking about the tech and not the people they are engaging.. If you want to build a fence, you don’t go buy a hammer and be done with it. You need to actually plan it out, think about why you are building it. Why its going in, how high, … bad analogy. To often CoPs are done for all the wrong reasons. The whole intent around involving people in a conversation is lost or not even considered, or is simply an afterthought. The fallacy of “build it and they will come.” One of my favorite usage pieces is from the guy who wrote the 10 things about how to increase engagement on your blog. It speaks to general advice of understanding who you are targeting. Anyone can build a blog, set up a cool website or space. But can you build community? The actual dialog or conversation? How do you do that?

One key is reaching people where they already are – one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard and I always pass on. Don’t build the fancy million dollar custom website if no one is really going to go there. One of the things I have is a little speech for people. Here’s my analogy. If you are going to throw a party, you have to think about who you are going to invite, where to do it, what to feed them, the music: you are hosting that party. You can’t just leave it up to them. They might trash your place, not get on board, never even open door. You have to manage the crowd, facilitate the conversation unless they already know each other. And why are you throwing the party if they already get together in another space?

Coming from NGO world, and then coming to bank I saw  how easy it is to waste development dollars. It is frustrating. I have spoken openly about this. The amount of money wasted on fancy websites that no one uses is sad. There are a lot of great design firms that help you waste that money. It is an easy thing for someone to take credit for a website once it launches. It looks good, and someone makes a few clicks, then on one asks to look at it again. The boss looks at it once and that is it. No one thinks about or sees the long term investment. They see it as a short term win.

One of the things I try to communicate is to ask, if you are going to invest in a platform, do you really want to hear back from the people you are pushing info to? If not build a simple website. If you do want to engage with that community, to what extent and for what purpose? How will you use what you learn to inform your product or work? If you can’t answer that, go back to the first question. If they actually have a plan – and their mandate is to “share knowledge’ – how do they anticipate sharing knowledge. They often tell me a long laundry list of target audiences. So you are targeting the world? This is the conversation I’ve experienced, with no clear, direct targeting, or understanding of who specifically they are trying to connect with. We suggest they focus on one user group. Name real names. If you can’t name an individual or write out a description.  Talk about their fears, desires, challenges, and work environment. Really understand them in their daily work life. Then think about how does this proposed platform/experience/community really add value. In what specific way. It is not just about knowledge sharing. People can Google for information. You are competing w/ Google, email, facebook, their boss, their partner. That’s your competition. How do you beat all those for attention. That is what you are competing with when someone sits down at the computer. This is the conversation we like to walk people through before they start. The hard part is a lot of these people are younger or temporary staff hired to do this. It is hard for them  to go back to boss and say “we don’t know what we are doing” and possibly lose their jobs. There can be an inherent conflict of interest.

How do you monitor and evaluate the platforms? What indicators do you use? How are they useful?

One of the things we don’t do – and this might be a sticking point – we don’t actually run or manage any of these communities. We just advise teams. I haven’t run one for 2 years. Ese has her own outside, but not inside that we personally run beside the community managers’ community and that has been mainly a repository.

We have built some templates for starting up communities, especially for online networks with external or mixed external and internal audiences. We have online metrics (# posts, pageviews, etc) and survey data that we use to tell the story of a community. Often the target of those metrics are the managers who had the decision making role in that community. We try and communicate intentionally the value (the community gives) to members and to a program. We have developed some more sophisticated tools with RootChange, but we didn’t get enough people to use them. Perhaps they are too sophisticated for the current stage of community development. And we can’t’ force people to use them.

It would be fantastic to have a common rubric, but we don’t have the energy or will to get these decisions. We are still in the early “toddler” stage. Common measurement approaches and quality indicators are far down the line. Same with social network analysis. RootChange has really pushed the envelope in that area, but we aren’t advanced enough to benefit from that level of analysis. The (Rootchange) tool is fun to play around with and provides a way of communicating complex systems to community owners and members. What RootChange has done is is develop an online social network analysis platform that can continuously be updated by members and grow over time. Unlike most SNA, which is a snapshot, this is more organic and builds on an initial survey that is sent to the initial group and they forward it to their networks.

If you had a magic wand, what are three things you’d want every time you have to implement a collaboration platform?

If I had a magic wand and I could actually DO it, I would first eliminate email. Part of the reason, the main reason we can’t get people to collaborate is that they aren’t familiar working in a new way. I think of my cousins that 10 years younger and they don’t have email. They use Facebook. They are dialoging in a different way. They use Facebook’s private messaging, Twitter, and Whatsapp. They use a combination of things that are a lot more direct. They keep an open running of IM messages. Right now email is the reigning champion in the Bank and if we have any hope of getting people to work differently and collaboratively we  have to  first get rid of email.

Next, to implement any kind of project or activity in a collaboration space right  I’d want a really simple user interface, something so intuitive that it just needs no explanation.

Thirdly, I’d’ want that thing available where those people are, regardless if it is on their cell phone, ipad, and any touchable, interactable interface. Here you have to sit at your computer. We don’t even get laptops. You have to sit at desk to engage in online space. Hard to do it through your phone – not easy. People still bring paper and pencil to meetings. More bringing ipads. Still a large minority. A while back I did a study tour to IDEO. They have this internal Facebook like system which shares project updates, findings and all  their internal communications called The Tube. No one was using it at the beginning. One of the smartest thing they did was installed – in 50 different offices.- a big flat screen at each entrance. which randomly displays the latest status updates pulled from Tube from across their global team. Once they did that, the rate of people updating their profile and using that as a way of communicating jumped to something like a 99% adoption rate in short time. From a small minority to vast majority. No one wanted to be seen with a project status update from many months past. It put a little social pressure in the commons areas and entrance way – right in front of your bosses and  teammates. It was an added incentive to use that space.

You want something simple, that replaces traditional communications, and something with a strong, and present, incentive. When you think about building knowledge sharing into your review – how do you really measure that? You can use point systems, all sorts of ways to identify champions. Yelp does a great job at encouraging champions. I have talked to one of their community managers. They have a smart approach to building and engaging community. They incentive people through special offerings, such as first openings of new restaurants, that they can organize. They get reviews out of that. That’s their business model.

We don’t really have a digital culture now. If we want to engage digitally, globally we have to be more agile with how we use communication technology and where we use it. The tube in front of the urinals and stall doors. You’ve got a minute or two to look at something. That’s the way!

 

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Jul 17 2013

BetterEvaluation: 8 Tips for Good Evaluation Questions

BEQuestionsFrom BetterEvaluation.org’s great weekly blog comes a post that has value for facilitators, not just evaluators! Week 28: Framing an evaluation: the importance of asking the right questions.

First let me share the tips and the examples from the article (you’ll need to read the whole article for full context), and then in blue I’ll add my facilitator contextual comments!

Eight tips for good evaluation questions:

  1. Limit the number of main evaluation questions to 3-7. Each main evaluation question can include sub-questions but these should be directly relevant for answering the main question under which they fall. When facilitating, think of each question as a stepping stone along a path that may or may not diverge. Questions in a fluid interaction need to reflect the emerging context. So plan, but plan to improvise the next question.

  2. Prioritize and rank questions in terms of importance. In the GEM example, we realized that relevance, effectiveness, and sustainability were of most importance to the USAID Mission and tried to refine our questions to best get at these elements. Same in facilitation!

  3. Link questions clearly to the evaluation purpose. In the GEM example, the evaluation purpose was to gauge the successes and failures of the program in developing and stabilizing conflict-affected areas of Mindanao. We thus tried to tailor our questions to get more at the program’s contributions to peace and stability compared to longer-term economic development goals. Ditto! I have to be careful not to keep asking questions for my OWN interest!

  4. Make sure questions are realistic in number and kind given time and resources available. In the GEM example, this did not take place. The evaluation questions were too numerous and some were not appropriate to either the evaluation methods proposed or the level of data available (local, regional, and national). YES! I need to learn this one better. I always have too many. 

  5. Make sure questions can be answered definitively. Again, in the GEM example, this did not take place. For example, numerous questions asked about the efficiency/cost-benefit analysis of activity inputs and outputs. Unfortunately, much of the budget data needed to answer these questions was unavailable and some of the costs and benefits (particularly those related to peace and stability) were difficult to quantify. In the end, the evaluation team had to acknowledge that they did not have sufficient data to fully answer certain questions in their report. This is more subtle in facilitation as we have the opportunity to try and surface/tease out answers that may not be clear to anyone at the start. 

  6. Choose questions which reflect real stakeholders’ needs and interests. This issue centers on the question of utility. In the GEM example, the evaluation team discovered that a follow-on activity had already been designed prior to the evaluation and that the evaluation would serve more to validate/tweak this design rather than truly shape it from scratch. The team thus tailored their questions to get more at peace, security, and governance issues given the focus on the follow-on activity. AMEN! YES!

  7. Don’t use questions which contain two or more questions in one. See for example question #6 in the attached—“out of the different types of infrastructure projects supported (solar dyers, box culverts, irrigation canals, boat landings, etc.), were there specific types that were more effective and efficient (from a cost and time perspective) in meeting targets and programmatic objectives?” Setting aside the fact that the evaluators simply did not have access to sufficient data to answer which of the more than 10 different types of infrastructure projects was most efficient (from both a cost and time perspective), the different projects had very different intended uses and number of beneficiaries reached. Thus, while box culverts (small bridge) might have been both efficient (in terms of cost and time) and effective (in terms of allowing people to cross), their overall effectiveness in developing and stabilizing conflict-affected areas of Mindanao were minimal. Same for facilitation. Keep it simple!

  8. Use questions which focus on what was achieved, how and to what extent, and not simple yes/no questions. In the GEM example, simply asking if an activity had or had not met its intended targets was much less informative than asking how those targets were set, whether those targets were appropriate, and how progress towards meeting those targets were tracked. Agree on avoiding simple yes/no unless of course, it is deciding if it is time to go to lunch. 

I’m currently pulling together some materials on evaluating communities of practice, and I think this list will be a useful addition. I hope to be posting more on that soon.

By the way, BetterEvaluation.org is a great resource. Full disclosure, I’ve been providing some advice on the community aspects! But I’m really proud of what Patricia Rogers and her amazing team have done.

One response so far

Jul 15 2013

Vectors of Learning

SharonI’m just back from a week in Nairobi, Kenya, with a group of amazing practitioners doing a wide variety of community based development work across Africa. They are masters of building value chains, community based learning, rural finance and many other domains. We gathered to spend four days expanding their practice of supporting communities of practice and networks of learning online. For me, these are yet another vector for learning.

Due to the travel, I missed the first week of my Acumen sponsored MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) on Human Centered Design. I have been one of those “enroll but never do anything” people and hoped the F2F gathering group here in Seattle would pull me in. I still have my fingers crossed. It’s about vectors for learning.

So I was delighted today to be pointed to a great post on “Charlie’s Blog: To Notice and to Learn” (Hat tip Stephen Downes). Charlie shares a reflection from a humanities professor on the depth of engagement in the online discussion threads of his MOOC, “The Fiction of Relationship” (Coursera link). This line summing things up from Charlie grabbed me.

Lifelong learning is a bouquet of flowers that we must gather and arrange ourselves, and MOOCs are the stem of new type of flower, on which beautiful new petals might blossom.

via A Heartfelt Note from a Humanities MOOC Professor | Charlie’s Blog – To Notice and to Learn.

The bouquet, if we follow the metaphor, is rich with possibilities. With people’s time more fractured than ever, there is a seemingly growing disbelief that we can meaningfully engage, build trust and relationships, learn, work and play — even in asynchronous discussion threads. That promise is there. It has been there for a long time. What we only need to add is our time, care and attention.  WE have the vectors. Now let’s learn.

 

 

2 responses so far

Jun 26 2013

Community events: dinner parties and rock concerts

A month ago I facilitated the fourth of six workshops I’m doing for a client on (online) communities of practice. The topic was “community heartbeats,” with a focus on the role of events as heartbeats. Of course, I tried to pack too much into an hour and one topic we never got to was thinking about the strategic differences of small, intimate events (a.k.a. the dinner party) and big, elaborate events (a.k.a. the rock concert). I promised to blog something as follow up because I have been thinking about some heuristics around how to decide what kind of event is useful at any particular time in a community’s life, particularly communities of practice. So here are a few thoughts, along with a question for you: what kind of events (online and offline) have been particularly useful and generative for your communities (of practice or whatever!)

IMG_0200

Small Events – “Dinner Parties” – Connection

You know those intimate gatherings, 4, 6 or 8 people, a well planned menu, attention to atmosphere and, most importantly, thinking about the chemistry between people. When friends introduce friends, connections can be activated in a flash. We walk in the room strangers, we walk out as friends, telling stories.

When our community goal is to create critical connections, small events can be the most effective way to “close triangles” between people. The intimacy creates context. Of course, good food and wine help too. But one things of a four way Skype call as a virtual small event, we can still bring that kind of care. How we introduce people, what the invitation looks like … more than “I want you two to meet.” Plant the seeds of possibility in the invitation by sharing what the individuals have in common. Come with a great question to start the conversation. And with online events – more than with F2F events – consider some follow up contact. The “magic” sometimes takes more than one virtual contact.

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Medium Events – “Workshops” – Action

Medium sized events are the workhorses of communities.  This is where the action happens. Groups of 7 – 50 (often broken into subgroups) are the places to get things done: focused learning, team work, thinking together, tackling tough problems or opportunities and planning. Online or F2F, we can think about workshops, planning meetings, consultations and other gatherings, all time delimited and focused. This is a key to the productivity. They can’t be too long or too broad.

A distinction that I think IS worth making here is that it is too easy to make these into content delivery events, moving participants to the role of audience rather than community members. There are some great resources for rethinking HOW we do these, such as Liberating Structures, GroupWorks Deck, World Cafe and Open Space – all of which focus on participant ownership and engagement of the interaction. If I could make one strong recommendation about these “medium” events, it would be to move straight content delivery into videos and save the “face time ” (online or F2F) for designs that fully engage everyone.

IMG_0403Big Events – “Rock Concerts” – Community Identity

There is something about a “happening.” The crush of the crowd. The energy that groups of over 150 generate. It is often far less about the community’s domain or content, and more a statement of identity of the group. In full force, our parties rock our organizations. In full force, we may influence in a way that is actually larger than our numbers when they are dispersed across the organization. We create presence. We celebrate. We see both what we have in common and how we are different — both very powerful community aspects. Our “rock concerts” should not be everyday affairs. Once a year, or even less , can create the feeling both for the community, and it’s visibility to the wider organization or world.

What did I miss? Misinterpret?

 

 

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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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