Feb 18 2010

SIKM community presentation

February 16, 2010

Theme: Rethinking Ourselves (KM People)  as Technology Stewards

The agenda:

  • 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
    • Orientations
    • Polarities
  • Open up the conversation


Book site: http://www.technologyforcommunities.com

Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/smithjd/digital-habitats-sikm-presentation

A Peek at the public back-channel: The SIKM chat in Etherpad and Twitter

The view from TwitterTo 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  The 2001 “Tech Report” for the Federal Council of CIOs was getting out of date.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.

3 responses so far

Feb 16 2010

Digital Habitats and SIKM – February 16th

Today Etienne, John and I will be guests on Stan Garfield’s terrific monthly telecon for knowledge management professionals, SIKM. Our focus is on knowledge management folks as technology stewards.

We are going to “interview” each other to save from falling into talking AT instead of talking WITH, but we have a few slides with definitions and URLs to pull out as needed. We’ll also be playing with Twitter using the #SIKM tag. As a back up, we also have an Etherpad because John and I like having a back channel!

3 responses so far

Jan 21 2010

Tagging and face-to-face events

Face-to-face conferences aren’t what they used to be and that’s ok with me. How many times have you gone to a face-to-face conference in another city where you rub shoulders with a lot of strangers, listen to a bunch of talking heads with obscure PowerPoint slides in cold dark rooms, make a few acquaintances at the reception, give your talk to a group that may or may not get what you’re talking about, and come home with a printed proceedings that goes on the bookshelf?

My days of passive participation are over and done with:

  • For me, the reason to go to a big conference is the small group conversations with people I already know somewhat or with whom I share a common interest
  • We have the tools to coordinate and connect before, during and after the event — to keep the conversation going (it starts before the conference and goes afterward as well)

I always want to know who else is attending an event, what they’re thinking about, where people are staying, and where we’re going to eat. During the conference, it’s useful to eavesdrop on parallel sessions that I’m missing by watching the twitter stream. And it’s helpful to be able to look at people’s slides right away, and to find related materials that’s mentioned or written during the conference. And it’s nice to see photos of the event afterward, too.

Tagging before, during and after a conference is a key tool for using a big conference as a kind of host system a smaller group that wants to connect. The economics of face-to-face meetings leads to big conferences. The economics of meaning-making require smaller, but not closed, conversations.  A little technology stewardship on behalf of your small group comes to the rescue!

Apart from email, forums, teleconferences, mobile phones, and other technologies, tagging is useful for enabling a small group to use a large conference as a platform for its own purposes. It’s an example of a technology that allows the integration across tools by means of a practice and a protocol (as we discuss in Chapter 4 of Digital Habitats).

Using CPsquare’ssidecar” participation in the AoIR Conference (which coincided with the EPIC conference) as an example, here are some observations of how tagging can play a role in supporting a subgroup’s participation at a big conference.

  • Emergent intention. Early on nobody knows for sure who will be there and therefore whether it’s worth going. Email discussions about who’s going are key to establishing that there will be some kind of quorum which would make a long trip worthwhile. But at a certain point, tagging the resources that emerge is essential. Four months after tagging the AoIR conference, for example, we noticed that the EPIC conference was scheduled the same week. That coincidence turned out to be a key to the dynamics of the conversation.
  • Fuzzy social boundaries. Tagging is open in the sense that anybody can use it and it’s visible to everyone. Tagging prospective participants or presentations is a way of encouraging participation. Looking at the tagstream, for example, you can see that Sus Nyrop, who did participate, was hoping that Christina Costa would join us (although she couldn’t make it in the end).
  • Identification of relevant resources . Being together at a conference may focus on a particular topic, but you have to identify a lot of other relevant resources like where to stay. We used the lodging page from a previous conference in Copenhagen to figure out where our group might stay.
  • Multiple outputs. Active participation generates a lot of different outputs. Tagging is the ideal way to keep track of them. Delicious links are here. Flickr photos are here. Not much video produced at that conference.
  • Distributed leadership. Although I used the “cp2oir08” tag more than anybody else, others used it as well. The goal is to coax people to contribute, whether it’s a tag you came up with or not.


  • Propose a tag early. Announce it by email or by other means to get the word out.
  • Tag should be as intuitive and descriptive as it can be but as short as possible.
  • Weave tagging into group practice and tagged resources into the conversation. Mention what’s been tagged by you or what you’ve found in the tagstream that others should know about.
  • Think of the tagstream a community-building resource. A tagstream is the accumulation of tagged materials contributed by everyone, which is stored on a tagging platform such as delicious, and which retrieved or monitored via an RSS feed (but which can also be viewed as a web page).
  • Identify related or parallel tags (such as “ir9” that was used for the AoIR conference as a whole on Flickr, delicious, and Twitter).
  • Think of the tagstream as an ideal research tool, when you’re going back to figure out what happened or when.

Photo by Bev Trayner.

2 responses so far

Jan 13 2010

Brief comments on two recent reviews of Digital Habitat

Roy Christopher on Culture, Computers, and Communities: Two Recent Books

Thanks, Roy. I think your point about nature and technology is exactly the point we were trying to make about community and technology: the two are becoming so intertwined that they constitute each other in deep ways.


Alice MacGillivray (2009). Book review of Digital Habitats: Stewarding technologies for communities by
Wenger, White and Smith
, in Emergence: Complexity and Organization, Vol. 11 (4) pp. 99-104.

I just read your review of the book, Alice, and it is amazing. As John said, it is much more than a review. It reminds me of an off-comment by Fritjof Capra who said a while back that my work amounts to a complexity approach without the jargon. I considered it a deep compliment. Even if at times I thought that you were quite generous in your reading of our work, I have always felt a deep familiarity when I have read work about complexity. Recent discussions by Chris Rodgers of Ralph Stacey’s critique of my work have emphasized the importance of not being distracted by small differences in terminology that may prevent recognition of family resemblance between pieces of work. You certainly have done this kind of brokering beyond language differences. You and I have already discuss this tension about adopting the vocabulary of one school of thought. I have always tended to resist that (partly for the sake of sparing the audience, partly because of my own insecurity about mastering the language) and tried to focus on describing the phenomenon at hand in terms suggested by the phenomenon. But I have to say that it is very rewarding to see someone else make the connection explicitly.

No responses yet

Jan 06 2010

More Reflections on SharePoint and Picking Technology

Creative Commons image

(Cross posted from Nancy’s Full Circle Blog)

Yesterday I woke up and checked my email. It was clear that the email lull of the holidays was over. I was taken by a post on one of my core community lists, KM4Dev, from one of my colleagues. You can see the full thread here:

Dear colleagues

A few weeks ago, I posted a query on IT-tools for virtual projects and got very useful recommendations. One colleague pointed out to me that, for an organization like SDC (big, Government), one of the main elements to consider would be the IT department. This proved to be very true. Our ministry’s IT department over the past few years developed one major collaboration application (consultation tool to develop consolidated Swiss statements for UN), based on MS Sharepoint. This application has a fantastic track record: it is used, it is appreciated by ist users, it produces good results and it saves time. Our IT department therefore concludes that MS Sharepoint is the basis on which to build SDC’s collaboration platform.

We are not quite sure they are right, but for the time being they definitely got more and better arguments than we do. This is why I would like to tap into the km4dev collective experience again: what do we as a group know about MS Sharepoint as basis for building a community collaboration platform?

Some of the questions turning in my mind are:

* What was MS Sharepoint initially conceived to be? What is its development history? What are the core functions it is really good at?

* I got somewhat alarmed when seeing that MS Sharepoint is not mentioned at all in “Digital Habitat” (book by Etienne Wenger et al on Technology Stewardship for communities). Nancy, why don’t you mention it?

* What are “make it or break it” features we should ask for, which would guarantee that a useful community collaboration platform can be built on MS Sharepoint?

Wishing you all a great start into the new year. Thanks for helping us along


Adrian Gnägi
Knowledge and Learning Processes

Being on the US West Coast, my other KM4Dev colleagues had already provided some great responses (again, see the thread!) But since Adrian had asked me specifically about why SharePoint was not in our book, Digital Habitats, I wanted to answer. My friend Jon Lebkowsky suggested that I blog my response. Considering the number of page views on my last SharePoint post I figured that might be a good idea. SharePoint and other collaborative platforms are also not new topics for the community as you can see from this summary on the community wiki: http://wiki.km4dev.org/wiki/index.php/SharePoint. The topic stays alive, so I chimed in:

Adrian, by the time I woke up, my peers pretty much summed up what I would have said. I found all the messages really resonated with my experience and research.

We did not include it in the Digital Habitats book because in the community we have seen more failures in the use of SharePoint than successes and our goal was to tell stories of usefulness, not frustration. 😉

Others have already well articulated the core strengths and weaknesses of SP. From my personal experience with older versions of SharePoint (I have VERY little with 2007) is that it is built p from the metaphor of one’s hard drive. My folders. Your folders. Each community “ready to go with a click” but siloed in the very design of the software. Have you ever noticed that out of the box you can’t easily cross link once you are deep into a community space? You have to go back “up” to the top of the system, find the other space, and drill down. In essence, there is no fundamental network structure to the platform. In today’s world, that represents a significant problem for me. It actually creates more division, rather than facilitates connections.

There is also a distinction for all products that is important to consider. The differences between the tools a platform offers, how it does or does not integrate them with and without, and the features that make them usable all matter. (Quick definition: platform is the integration of a number of tools. Integration can be incredibly important and is probably the biggest “sales pitch” for any platform. Tool is a piece of code designed to do a particular thing. A feature is something that makes a tool usable. ) For example, a wiki is a tool. The wysiwyg feature, makes it easier for non-geeks to use. If a group makes a lot of tables in their wiki, they probably don’t want a wiki that requires wiki syntax to make the tables. These are examples of features.

Many platforms (not just SP) started bending their base structure (often built off of discussion threads) to “act like” newer tools such as IMs, wikis, blogs, etc. These re-purposed bits of code often lack the features we come to know (and depend upon) so they don’t feel right nor are they as useful. This is where examination of technology at all three levels: platform, tool and feature — can really matter.

As Matt says, who knows what 2010 version will bring. If it doesn’t bring a network sensibility, then MSFT will lose the game of both collaboration and cooperation because we are in a networked world and we need both. Simply having spaces for teams to collaborate won’t work for most of us, particularly in international development.

The key is always to start thinking about what ACTIVITIES you want to support in your collaboration platform, then assess the tools in the context of those uses and the environment of the user. The comments so far have really done a good job exploring some of those aspects:

  • What are people already using (start where they are)?
  • What are the connectivity issues (SP has a problem with this internationally, even when people have built “low bandwidth friendly add-ons)?
  • What tasks do people have to do individually and together (yes, consider the range from individual, to defined group, to network, which includes internal and external folks many times! So often we only look from the organization’s perspective if what it mandates)
  • Where is the locus of control of the software? we find that communities that have control of their environment tend to “bend” it to their needs more easily, more intelligently, than if they have to keep asking IT, who may or may not understand the context of their community. This is at the heart of the idea of “community technology stewardship” — in, from and for the community)
  • How can the tool allow a community to face in the directions it wants to face – in other words, if it is totally inward facing (private in all ways), a mix of inward and outward, or very outward facing (meaning it wants to connect outside itself with other individuals, communities and networks)
  • What is the simplest possible thing you can use now that will support your purpose and how can it grow, vs having every possible thing now and none of it is used (this is probably one of the biggest traps we all fall into)
  • How can the tool connect with, integrate, grow , evolve with outside tools and services (no community is an island!)?

If SP can support the activities you want, in your context, fabulous. If not, try and open a dialog that shows why not. Use the Spidergram (http://www.fullcirc.com/wp/2009/03/31/digital-habitats-community-orientation-spidergram-activity/) as a talking tool, and then, if their arguments are verbally convincing, try USING different tools. The FEATURES of the tools, what makes them useful (not just thef fact that there is a wiki or an IM tool in Sharepoint), is the difference that makes a difference. SP locks everything down to its specs. It is one way, or no way. If that works, fine. It has rarely worked for me.

You may also want to see this wiki http://cpsquare.org/wiki/Technology_for_Communities_project
And this chapter from the book, the Technology Steward’s Action Notebook


Photo Credit: Dereliction Splendor
/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

No responses yet

Nov 30 2009

Community Technology Spidergram Evolves Again

gabrielesspidergramIt is so lovely having a fabulous network – including people I just barely know, but who then hook in with a moment of insight, a remix or ready to augment a forming idea or practice. Gabriele Sani from World Vision in Italy has recently done this with the Community Orientations Spidergram from our Digital Habitats book. He saw a post I put on KM4Dev and immediately took it further! He has taken the spidergram and put it into an Excel spreadsheet. You simply put in the values in the table on tab 1 on the spreadsheet, and voila, a lovely spidergram image is produced (see tab 2 of the spreadsheet).

This is a great tool to help people visualize the diagram at a distance – when you don’t have the comfy proximity of a white board and a bunch of post it notes. I also love the visual background Gabriele put in – lovely.  You can find the spreadsheet here.

Others have been sharing their spidergrams. I’ve been tagging them on Delicious. You can find my spidergram tags here: http://delicious.com/choconancy/spidergram. Here is one from Sylvia Currie that she did with Gliffy – another way to do the activity:

So why are seeing and sharing these practices useful? Gabriele’s spreadsheet is useful not just because he created the it, but because he tried the work within his organization, saw the need for a “tweak,” the need to “tinker” and improve — and DID IT! Then he shared it back. Sylvia’s gave us another way to “crack the nut.” This is the value of working in the open, of iterating both internally and externally.

THANK YOU, Gabriele and Sylvia. And to the rest of you, do you have a Spidergram story to share?

3 responses so far

Oct 27 2009

Digital Habitats and Nancy in Australia

Published by under Events

November I’m heading back to Australia. I’ll be blogging about it  on a dedicated blog, but I also wanted to cross post a few things here as a “heads up ”as much of what I’ll be doing revolves around the ideas and learnings from the book.

Below is a location by location, chronological listing of the events I’m involved in during my trip. There are links for more information and registration. I’ve highlighted the “Digital Habitats” stuff. You may notice there are some openings if you want to propose something!


November 9th

9-12 am – Stewarding Technology for Communities

This workshop will directly come from the book! There are still a few places left. Join us!

1-4pm – Introduction to Graphic Facililtation

6-9pm – Sydney Facilitator’s Network Evening Tweetup – Drawing on Walls

November 10th

9-12:30 – Introduction to Online Communities

1:30 – 4:30 pm – Advanced Online Communities

This workshop will use the Spidergram and Polarities work from the book.

November 11th

Open in the morning.  Want to do something?

Transit to Canberra via train in the afternoon


November 12th

Private workshop 1-3pm
Transit to Adelaide 5:30 pm


November 13th

E-Dayz Conference Keynote “Why should we “do” community (or why not) for learning?” (9:20 am as part of larger 3 day event!)

November 14th

Play day in Adelaide!


November 15th

Transit to Melbourne

November 16th

Private events in the morning and afternoon.

6 – 8 pm KMLF Public EventThis will touch on Digital Habitats!
RMIT Graduate School of Business, 300 Queen Street. Melbourne, Lecture room 158.1.2B (Ground level – just behind reception).
Ample metered street parking nearby in Queen Street (between La Trobe and Little Lonsdale). RSVP: by email to melbournekmlf@gmail.com

November 17th

8:45-12:00 Introduction to Online Communities

1:00 – 4:00 pm Advanced Online Communities

This workshop will use the Spidergram and Polarities work from the book.

Evening transit to Mooloolaba


November 18th

1 – 4:30 pm Stewarding Technology for Communities

This workshop will directly come from the book! There are still a few places left. Join us!

November 19th

Keynote at Learning Technologies Conference (Which WILL involve Digital Habitats!)

November 20-22

Play days

November 23

Return home

2 responses so far

Oct 14 2009

Technologies for a farming community in Africa

Last week at the KM4Dev conference in Brussels, I struck up a conversation with Joseph Sikeku, who talked about community leadership and technology stewardship in a radically different setting: a radio station in Tanzania. Sikeku’s project uses an interesting mix of technologies:

  • 5,000 Watt FADECO radio station
  • Small blue “sensor” or integrated circuit audio recorder
  • Mobile phones

Of course the key to making all of this work is the network of people around his project in terms of friends and collaborators, farmers who participate via recorded interviews or mobile phones. (A lot of stories about innovation in Africa were floating around my head from the special report on telecoms in emerging markets in the September 24th 2009 issue of The Economist: Mobile marvels). One thing that was striking about Sikeku’s project is that it’s sustainable because it’s so local, so passion-driven, and has a long time horizon. Not that external help wouldn’t make a difference, but it’s important that his project that’s not donor-controlled. Its beginning and end is not timed by an external donor. Here’s a 7 minute interview:

Sikeku’s story got me to thinking about the polarities that we discuss in Chapter 5 of Digital Habitats:

  • Radio broadcasts are a remarkable technology for bringing people together across great distances. It’s so prevalent as to be unremarkable.
  • But radio is a very group-oriented tool, so tools like an audio recorder or a mobile phone pull the community’s configuration toward the individual end of the polarity.
  • An audio recorder supports the asynchronous side and the mobile phones (either as audio devices or for text messages) support the synchronous.

It seemed to me that the technologies that Sikeku mentioned all balance each other nicely when you consider that we developed these polarities studying communities that are quite different from his. That’s one of the exciting things about this project: finding out whether the ideas we’ve developed apply (or can be extended to) very different settings. And the final question: will these ideas be useful?

I captured the interview on a little Flip camera, since I’ve been exploring video and social reporting for the last several months. I used the interview the very next day in a “huddle session” about technologies and local development, gathering a small group around my laptop to look at the video, without editing or uploading it anywhere (there wasn’t really enough reliable bandwidth to upload a video file at the conference). The huddle conversation had been difficult because of all the different meanings and instances of “technology,” of “local,” and of “development.” But having one instance to focus on helped the conversation get much more concrete and much more productive. A conference on the role of media in the agricultural and rural development that’s running right now suggests just how much is going on out there in this area, so the benefits of being able to focus on Sikeku’s specific case make sense.

The next day we had an open space session on business models for learning communities. Sikeku participated in the discussion, which tied some of the issues from his experience to other examples where donor funding for a community had turned out to be quite problematic. At the end of that, Sikeku remarked to me, “As a result of these conversations, I don’t feel so isolated.” That was very gratifying.

(Cross posted from my blog at Learning Alliances.)

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Sep 24 2009

Tech Stewards as ethnographers

Last May’s CHIFOO presentation was a great talk about reading by Cathy Marshall. Here are Marshall’s slides from which I’ve borrowed some images to talk about her work in this post.

Marshall read (out loud, from the slide on the screen) that:

“Nothing is more commonplace than the experience of reading, and yet nothing is more unknown. Reading is such a matter of course that at first glance, it seems there is nothing to say about it.”

Todorov, quoted by Howe

She went on to argue that many of our commonplace assumptions about reading are wrong. As an activity, we may think that reading is:

  • stationary
  • information-centric
  • passive
  • immersive
  • individual

Instead, Marshall argued that and illustrated how reading is really:

  • mobile – where we chose to read something matters hugely and we tend to take our reading with us from place to place.
  • material – our physical circumstances contribute to the experience of pleasure or attention.
  • interactive – we annotate pages and act upon them.
  • interrupted & variable – we skip, skim, circle around, re-read and act upon reading material according to the circumstances.
  • social – we share, forward, save, refer, discard and burn books and magazines in our invisible but very real social context.

There’s no problem having naïve assumptions about reading unless we’re intending to design an electronic replacement for the printed page, in which case we have to look a lot more carefully at what’s going. That’s exactly what technology stewards need to do because, whether we’re configuring technology or planning to add a tool to a community’s overall configuration or even just supporting it on a day to day basis, we need to understand the experience of use, not just “how to use the tool.”

So we can learn a lot from the different ways that Marshall and other ethnographers have devised for getting at these commonplace experiences. We take the ordinary as strange. Nothing is more common than participating in a community, but a community’s configuration has a significant effect on the experience of community.

“It is also worth noting that solitary reading always was, and still is, inherently social: how we read is ultimately determined by social conventions and community membership”

-David Levy in Scrolling Forward

You can learn a lot by observing. One piece of research that Marshall reported on examined just how complicated it is when someone reading an article in The New Yorker turns a page. They peek forward, check an advertisement, read the cartoon, go back to verify what they last read, etc., and then continue. There’s a lot happening that we may not bother noticing on a day-to-day level but which matters a lot when we’re thinking about designing a new electronic device.

Use a framework. One point we try to make in Digital Habitats is that it’s useful to have some framework to organize our observations. Marshall uses the CSCW matrix (that we call a polarity in the book) to look at some different instances of reading:

Same Place Different place
“I’m trying to
get us all on
the same page…”

“I’m sending you
this clipping
that I thought was cute.”

One interesting point she made was that people often feel like it’s creepy when they are observed doing something so simple (and personal) as reading. As technology stewards we often have to enlist people’s cooperation, sometimes as fellow-researchers and observers of their own experience.

Compare (lots of) individual instances. In one of her studies Marshall bought multiple copies of a popular textbook and compared how students had annotated the text. Turned out there was a lot of variation in what was important to different readers, but also convergence on the main point. But the key idea is: how can we find ways of seeing how different people see?

This is similar to a tech steward’s practice of observing how different communities use the same software, or how they might configure it differently, or how they might even decide upon using it for quite different reasons.

One interesting thing about Cathy Marshall as she spoke to a group that’s mostly concerned with design was that she always spoke as a researcher — not venturing to speculate widely, but reporting on her own rigorous research. Even though she committed apparent faux pas such as reading her slides aloud and there was very little (if any) “how to” in Marshall’s talk, the CHIFOO folks hung on her every word. It reminded me that professional, hands-on communities like CHIFOO are very sophisticated when it comes right down to it.

Tech stewards as ethnographers. Of course there are big differences between tech stewards and ethnographers. Front loaded education is the norm for people who call themselves ethnographers, whereas most tech stewards come to their craft almost by accident – pressed into service and learning as they go. Having Microsoft and other companies fund your observations like Marshall has enables a great deal of care and depth; most tech stewards are in a hurry and have to act on their hunches. And yet, the opportunity for observing change in human experience and contributing to its evolution (over shorter- or longer-terms) is common to both. What tech stewards have lacked is a common literacy to talk with each other and the community context where their conversations can add up.

(Cross-posted from my blog at http://LearningAlliances.net)

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Sep 16 2009

iSimulate as a nexus for a CoP of economists

Cross posted from Nancy’s blog

gaureshI’ve been doing a  series of podcast conversations on my Full Circle blog about the use of social media in international development. As I was recording  this week’s with Gauresh Rajadhyaksh, I realized I was talking to a type of technology steward and I should cross post here on the book blog.

Gauresh works with the Development Prospects Group (http://www.worldbank.org/prospects), a central think-tank unit within the World Bank. The unit monitors economic indicators, analyzes developments in real and financial markets and produces World Bank forecasts for the global economy (http://www.worldbank.org/globaloutlook)
Much of the group’s work relies on collaborating with colleagues situated across the world. This collaboration is much more than email exchanges — so they have developed a web-based system: “iSimulate @ World Bank” — http://isimulate.worldbank.org — that allows users to access and execute simulations on some of our simulation models. This is an attempt at leveraging Web 2.0 features to increase collaboration and create a “community of practice” of economists. They have a blog that has some more background information: http://isimulate.worldbank.org/blog. The blog is a great place to start to learn about iSimulate. I’ve also embedded their “how to” YouTube video below.

Gauresh’s role has been in managing this system creation and its strategic planning as a tool for collaboration and communication. He also build some of the actual economic models that have been added to the system.

In the podcast Gauresh talks about how iSimulate was created, adopted and plans for the future. As I reflected after the conversation, Gauresh has been serving as a technology steward for this community of practice of economists in and outside of the Bank, noticing what is needed, developing a prototype that blends with the way people are already working, then takes things to the next level. Take a listen!

podcast-logo Gauresh_Rajadhyaksh_Sept14 (about 18 minutes MP3)

“The opinions expressed in the podcast represent those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the view of the World Bank Group, its Board of Directors or the governments they represent.”

Gauresh wrote in advance of our conversation:

We intend to use iSimulate in two ways:
1. Provide an environment for the creation of a global community of practice for economists.

Though we are currently focussing on an internal World Bank community, we hope to use all the “collaboration” features of the system to reach out to a much broader audience. We see this as an avenue to engage in a much more meaningful two-way dialogue with our colleagues and clients.

2. Provide real-time access to data and simulation models.
The iSimulate system is the first-of-its-kind in allowing users to execute “custom simulations” on World Bank models. While most systems provide simple data-access with some visualization features, iSimulate allows a lot of flexibility in experimenting with the assumptions, etc. We see this as a crucial step in increasing transparency and disseminating our work in a more effective manner.

Here is a video tutorial of the iSimulate platform.

Gauresh’s Bio

Gauresh Rajadhyaksha is a Research Analyst with the Development Economics department at the World Bank in Washington, DC. He is primarily involved with macro-economic modeling and manages some of the Bank’s development data systems. Gauresh has been a part of the team that set-up iSimulate @ World Bank and he is currently the Project coordinator / Program Manager for the initiative. Gauresh holds a B.E. in Telecommunications Engineering from the University of Mumbai and a M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He is also currently an MBA candidate at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

More podcasts!

I’ll have an additional podcast with Gauresh talking about how he got support for this project within the Bank, a large, fairly traditional organization. That will be part of my next series, “Why Web 2.0?” So stay tuned. The next podcasts in this series will be from Dr. Steve Eskow and Sarah Blackmun on the cultural and gender related aspects to bringing external (web 2) technology to communities in development contexts and Simon Staiger on planning and facilitating online e-consultations. I was hoping to get transcripts of all of these, but ran out of time. So if anyone wants to transcribe….?

Previous & Related Podcasts:

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