February 16, 2010
Theme: Rethinking Ourselves (KM People) as Technology Stewards
- What brought Etienne, John and Nancy to the conversation about technology stewardship
- A little bit about our respective practices
- Just in case Images: A slide deck with:
- A definition of technology stewardship
- Open up the conversation
Book site: http://www.technologyforcommunities.com
A Peek at the public back-channel: The SIKM chat in Etherpad and Twitter
To prepare for today’s call we decided to just start with what brought us to this work, since reporting on work that has spanned almost 6 years seemed a bit daunting.
Etienne Wenger: what brought me to this tech steward work? The 2001 “Tech Report” for the Federal Council of CIOs was getting out of date. proposed to write an update of it. But the more we talked, the more we focused on the role of the people who are bridging between communities and technology.
John Smith: Years ago, started noticing how, in CPsquare (http://cpsquare.org) and in other communities, people straddled different tools and technologies, like phones and Twitter or forums and face-to-face. They were frequently going back and forth between one and the other. Often without a lot of obvious cues as to why one was chosen, or why it fit. It was just “understood” where the conversation would be picked up. That seemed like a real indicator that some useful activity going on there that was worth understanding and cultivating, because it helped keep those conversations going in those communities.
Nancy White: how could I say no? it’s an individual invitation from people I like. IN the beginning I thought it was about technology. In the end I realized that it’s about “making things visible” . I realize that this morning. Tech stewardship is helping make something visible when it’s important, useful. an act of bridging between tech & people. That was echoed over last several weeks several times, so it changed what I was thinking of saying today. When people invite me to talk about KM, I say that I don’t believe it knowledge can be managed. It’s all about making knowledge visible enough to make it handle-able.
Etienne Wenger: giving something a name is important. It supports social learning. Since social learning happens everywhere, giving things names is central. It helps people talk about what they want. In fact, naming “communities of practice” and any given community of practice in particular is useful because it makes things visible, helps people talk about what they want. The concept of “community of practice” has had a career because it makes social learning as a concept accessible. If communities of practice make social learning visible, then some people think that technology is a way to make them visible. Tech stewardship seems important today because communities are jumping across technologies. Someone has to care about tech in the name of the community – and that’s technology stewardship
We worked with client who had worked so hard to make a place on their intranet for their CoPs. But for us it became apparent that the platform was just not usable. We blew their minds by bringing in other technologies that were not part of their platform. There are very few communities that are confined to a single platform
Nancy White: Tech stewardship is so complex, difficult and subtle because there are so many tools and it’s so easy to find exceptions to most rules. It’s easy to find many different ways of using any given tool.
Patti Anklam: I think the complexity of the job also has a lot to do with the fact that the steward is constantly interacting in the context of human relationships.
Etienne Wenger: that makes the function of tech stewardship so important.
Nancy White: what if there is no “community”? Look at groups on twitter, like the one at “kmchat” that gathers around a hashtag. They get together for an hour each week. I know it took a while to gather around a question, to get someone to facilitate it. But the platform has enabled a new kind of conversation. The tag is something that people follow. It’s interesting how technology has blurred the lines around conversations. It raises the question about what is a community.
Etienne Wenger: The idea of a technology steward is to support a community-centric focus rather than a platform-centric one.
John Smith: It used to be that the conversation about technologies for communities focused on web forums and email lists, which are platforms with sharp boundaries. (Or at least on those platforms the cross-community blurring just wasn’t so visible.) That has changed. We now have many platforms for interaction where the boundaries between communities are more obviously blurred.
Nancy White: in the past we conceptualized communities as people who aggregated around people. Have had that assumption and belief challenged when people are attracted by and gather around content. Trust forms around “interesting content”, and “let’s make friends” comes after that.
Etienne Wenger: it’s always been that people connect for lots of different reasons. reading a book, interest in a novel (?). The web has made an explosion of alternatives. Yes… and, the attractor factor is emphasized now, and our past social process models were heavily relationship centric. (I.e. trust models)
Peter West: With so many technologies in use, how do you 1) *merge* the threads of conversations/interactions and facilitate the broadest access to the *nuggets* that emerge and facilitate the greatest opportunities for impact? 2) capture the material in an intelligible archive?
John Smith: First you have to do it manually. You can only do that when you are an insider. You know the different places where people are gathering. Then you weave it and connect it. Eventually some of it can be automated. Brings out the idea that tech stewardship has different phases or levels of activity. At one level maybe as technology stewards we’re helping plan the selection and use of new tool/platform. But at the ground level we’re trouble-shooting, debugging, spreading the word about the use of a tool. Just because a tool is there to be used doesn’t mean people know how to use it. It includes the level at which Nancy and John negotiate how we to take notes in Etherpad during this call – at the bottom or the top. (“Or the middle!” says Nancy) That is the spectrum of tech stewardship but the metric for effort and success is always sense making. Are we learning together?
Peter West: Tech illiteracy may put certain members at a disadvantage.
Etienne Wenger: This is where TS is a form of community leadership as well. It includes that kind of awareness. A tech steward has to also be aware that technology itself can be a source of boundary – by excluding some people. Tech stewards have to be aware of the new conversations that tech enables, but also of the way that it can create divisions and separation. It’s a form of caring for social learning. It always cuts both ways.
Nancy White: tolerance for ambiguity (a value that comes from online facilitation) applies to tech stewardship, as well. We assume that if a tech applies or works for me, it must work for you. It’s hard to get around that assumption Even when technologies are designed for a group, they are always experienced individually. In a face-to-face setting we can see when people are “out” but that’s much harder in a tech mediated environment. So we can’t really assume we know what’s going on. That’s the job we’re doing when we say: “we haven’t heard from you, what’s going on?” There are many possible answers: Internet access is down, I don’t know how to use it, I’m feeling left out by the conversation, etc.
Patti Anklam: what is the relationship between the TS and a community facilitator?
Nancy White: facilitators find themselves as TS’s. they are accidental technology stewards.
Etienne Wenger: We need crossover from both ends to happen. to the extent that tech and communities are influencing each other, it’s important for facilitators to think like tech stewards but it’s also important for tech stewards to think like facilitators.
All: tech & communication converge and then diverge one after another. “which community are you speaking for?” roles as a way of making things visible.
Etienne Wenger: it used to be that the IT department was the one that introduced technology. Now many members introduce tools. that distributes the community facilitation process.
Susan (?): how do you handle it when people want to know exactly how to use the tool? In advance. There are limits as to how much time I can spend explaining it.
Patti Anklam: I’m working with a client now. serving as a TS. they are asking “how do we use this tool?” I talk about the tool a bit at each staff meeting.
All: Taking a developmental approach – the path to tool usage as important as destination. There’s always more to learn, so best not to try to front-load all the learning. And things change over time.
John Smith: If you think of regular face-to-face conversations such as staff meetings as platforms for “next tool to be adopted” – then after some time maybe another technology than face-to-face can be the platform for the tool after that. There’s a process for building one layer on top of another. The more reliable older, familiar tools are as a platform for what is being experimented with, the better. For thinking about these things, it’s useful to use the polarities that we discuss in the book. They can be challenging at first, but once you have mastered them, they are a platform for handling tool adoption.
Nancy White: talking about polarities — in slide # 7. The polarities embody many of the issues we’re talking about. If we think of a developmental path for tools rather than an on-off switch. I like Chris Collison et al.’s model of technology adoptions: starts with awareness and eventually leads to “that’s just the way we do it.” People want to jump from one to another with no pain, no intermediate learning, playing, experiments. It’s more effective to say, “Let’s do a lot of little experiments”.
Etienne Wenger: I see two different paths into tool adoption. one is the sandbox path (playing with the tool in a no pressure environment). The other is an activity-directed path. where the tool makes an activity possible. (Nancy agrees. heee hee) [John does, too :]
John Smith: Peter West’s questions in the chat focuses us on what is NOT being said. That’s very sophisticated listening. TS involves a lot of planning, doing, and acting, but it is all based on listening. Listening for what is not being said, what can’t be said because of tools, or because of some people are excluded. Listening is the key activity. (Nancy nodding vigorously)
Thomas Blumer How to you balance best of breed products with enterprise standardized products?
Etienne Wenger: that’s a real tension for IT departments that they will have to answer. It’s always a tension.
Thomas Blumer: When we try to launch a discussion forum, people will say “we have this other tool that has this other important feature.” That creates little pockets of people who are advocates for the use of different tools. From a KM point of view, the technology is less important than people knowing about each other. Isolated pockets of technology are less useful. But that’s what IT delivers – especially in R&D organizations that are keen on technology. They will say, “We really need this feature.”
John Smith: The dynamic between an IT department and the organization it is supposed to serve deserves attention. From the outside an IT department can look like a monolithic gatekeeper. But in my experience and observation within in IT there is diversity in terms of tastes, learning styles, history, generational preferences, technology styles, and advocacy for different ways of doing things. Part of the shift that TS can bring is to humanize, open up, and make available that diversity of experience and capacity that does exist within any given department – including the IT department.
Nancy White: building on the “features” point: when we were first working on the book, we were looking at “feature shoot-out” comparisons. We realized there was a great deal of diversity around features and even around the awareness of features. That led us to think about how tech stewards need to focus on understanding the practice of using a tool more than on discrete features.
Etienne Wenger: Diff communities have different configurations of tools and platforms. To keep building on Thomas’ question, the issue is not so much standardization of tools and platforms as it is of integration. How do we integrate the tools and platforms that one community uses (or integrate the outputs that are generated)? How do we make it all searchable? We have more and more technologies to create connections like a Twitter feed – that can connect things happening in different places. Integration is not just standardization. It’s a human practice as well as a process of technological integration.
John Smith: Although you can’t really automate “listening for exclusion” we can get better at it as we gain experience. And it’s really important. We gain experience as we listen to what is being said, in paying attention to small details like note taking. It’s important to ask, “What am I missing?” That’s important to think about individually and collectively, for ourselves and for others. What are they missing that they need to participate in?
Etienne Wenger: Tech can create exclusion. This idea of integration is not just a matter of connecting to APIs. It involves looking more deeply at how technology creates exclusion and inclusion and working from there.
John (caller): How and when to integrate across conversations and tools has to include focus on business intent. How does this work support achieving business objectives in a quantifiable manner?
John Smith: The way we’ve been talking about that issue has been to ask whether and how a tech steward is “serving the conversation.” Does the conversation serve the business is an important question. You can’t answer it unless the conversation exists with some integrity.
Etienne Wenger: We are facing an evolution here. It’s difficult for organizations to enter this space without having some level of trust that the participants are actually caring about the business of the organization.
John (caller): That is the starting point: business intent, strategic imperatives. Then how can KM help achieve that?
Etienne Wenger: In a K based organization you cannot pursue that unless the people you are working with also are pursing that. It is the way they engage with each other. Can’t do this in a top down manner any more. People have to carry this.
John (caller): Yes, and how can we help them do that easier, better, cheaper, faster.