Thursday, June 26, 2008

What does online community mean to you?

Via Bob Stumpel I found this video with almost 100 (?) respondents to the question : 'What does online community mean to you?'. They're all young except one, who answers: 'young and old being friend together'. It video is about 8 minutes.

The answers range from crazy, addictive via revolution and inspiration to boring comedy and popularity contest. Listening to them, I realized that I'm using the same tools in a very different way. I'm on youtube, and, but not feeling part of the 'youtube' community. I'm using it to connect smaller groups of people, networks and communities of practice. By using online means I'm actually hoping to get different conversations than when it's face-to-face. By the way, there were also a lot of answers refering to the worldwide connections.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Re-connecting with Modibo, Soledad and Jamlick

(picture by Ptorres)

Yesterday I got a message on Facebook from Soledad, a girl I met in Portezuelo, Chile, in 1987 during my practicals (don't start counting how old I am!). I couldn't remember Portezuelo, because I had started to twist the story. When people asked me where I worked in Chile, I mentioned San Bernardo, Chillan and Temuco, and I believed I worked in Chillan, forgetting that it was actually Portezuelo, a village near Chillan. As soon as I found this picture via google maps, I remembered Portezuelo, the vineyards and Soledad with her long beautiful hair. Reconnecting on facebook means being able to hear her whole life story, it's like watching a film. She is married, has a daughter and is composing music and writing stories and poems! In similar ways I reconnected with Modibo (via skype) and with Jamlick (via a weblog project). All people I met across the globe in the writing-letters-with-stamps-age. Somehow, I never managed to keep writing letter for a long period.

The natural limit to friendship circles is said to be 150, the Dunbar number. The question is whether online social networking will increase that number. I think it will- we can keep much lighter connections with more people. I am able to leverage my 'old' face-to-face friends contacts online. At time I wonder whether we are too optimistic about the possibilities of internet, but when this kind of things happen, I can't help raving. Thanks to Facebook and skype these people with whom I lost contact were able to track me down. We can keep loose connections in future. Know how they are doing, and connect when possible. It's still not possible to be in close contact with all the nice people I knew in the past, Jamlick and I called each other on the phone twice, but we did not keep this up. However, I am now aware of Jamlick's project and Kenya, and it will be easy to meet up if your schedules allow it one day.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Proving versus improving

I'm involved in the accreditation process of the Business School where I'm teaching one subject of the Masters course: Interactive Project Design. Educational accreditation according to wikipedia is: a type of quality assurance process under which a facility's or institution's services and operations are examined by a third-party accrediting agency to determine if applicable standards are met.

During the test interview for the accreditation process I participated in, I had an interesting experience. I realized how quickly as a group of teachers, we were becoming into a 'convincing the accreditors' mode, ready to twist information, or withold some information smartly if that yields a better result. I did not express any of my criticisms or constructive feedback I might have had. It's clearly not a learning process, it's an accreditation process. Nevertheless, I learned something about the other courses and the views of other teachers, you cannot turn off your personal learning process.

It made me think about all the evaluations that are taking place to evaluate development projects and/or programs, I have been part of them in different roles, as project staff and as evaluating consultant. I have been struggling with the popular concept of using evaluation for learning purposes, as there is a friction between the two. The friction is referred to as the dilemma between 'proving' versus 'improving' or 'accountability' versus 'learning'. In the accreditation case, it is a clear case of assessment for accountability, proving the quality of your masters education is of an adequate level. There are no separate learning objectives. When development projects/programs are evaluated often a learning objective is added. Though people involved in a evaluation always learn something, the process is enormously flawed by the need to prove that you are right. I've know it, but I've not felt it as strongly as when I was part of this team trying to convince the accreditors.

Today I found an interesting online resource from the Society for Organisational Learning called Assessing to Learn or Learning to Assess. A quote from Senge: "... re-establish a healthy balance between assessing for learning and assessing for evaluating. If the balance has tipped to emphasis on evaluating to the extent that it actually impedes learning, learning processes will benefit from increasing emphasis on assessing for learning. It is low leverage to complain that there is too much emphasis on evaluating, outsiders wanting to know if learners are adding value. It is probably much higher leverage to build our 'assessment muscle,' to help learners to get better at assessing for learning."

I believe the emphasis in the development sector has been on assessing to evaluate projects and programs to prove value to donors, rather than structuring assessments for learning. In doing so, it leaves important opinions, criticism and constructive feedback unheard.

Monday, June 16, 2008

How much time does web2.0 take?

I often get the question how much time it takes to blog... Since I'm a meticulous time-writer, I know this blog takes me less time than I'd imagine myself- 4-6 hours per month with 2-3 blogposts per week - but then I measure only the writing of blogposts. If you'd include reading other blogs and thinking through topics for blogposts it'd be much higher.

I was delighted to find the museum2.0 blogpost talking about the time it takes a nonprofit organisation to engage with web2.0. The image was copied from museum2.0's blogpost too. It describes what you can do in a week or less of web2.0. Got 1-5 person hours each week? Become a participant, but don't start running an online community. If you have 5-10 hours per week, become a content provider. With 10-20 hours per week, become a community director!
As my example shows- you can be a blogger with less devoted time- but is it meaningfull to blog without taking part in the rest of the blogosphere? Then it becomes a PR tool with a different purpose - just to inform. To find all kind of practical things to do with the hours you have, you can go to the blogpost and read the great suggestions.
But yes, it DOES take time, and if you don't pay attention, people will experience it as extra workload. I think this is a huge problem that organisations underestimate the time it takes to network or engage with others online. For a face-to-face meeting, you get your hours, but networking online is often not costed (enough) in hours. Or people think that an online community runs itself...

Friday, June 13, 2008

From a meeting to a community of practice: lessons from the ecollaboration community facilitation

Read this document on Scribd: From a meeting to a community of practice

Sibrenne Wagenaar and I co-facilitated the inter-organizational ecollaboration learning community for two years, basically from a meeting to a community of practice. Since there seems to be an interest to better understand what facilitating a learning community from a communities of practic theory means we decided to document our actions, observations and reflections in a wiki. We used those meticulous observations to describe our way of facilitating this learning communities. Maybe because of our own enthousiasm, or because of the detailed documentation, the article has become rather long: 20 pages. It was accepted by the Journal of the International Association of Facilitators and can be found online here, but you have to be a member to access it there. The full citation is:

Wagenaar, S., & Hulsebosch, J. (2008). From 'a meeting' to 'a learning community' Community of Practice theory-informed facilitation of an inter-organizational community of practice: the case of the e-collaboration learning community. Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal, 9, 4-25

Fortunately we are allowed to make it available more widely. Therefore I have uploaded it using Scribd (I first tried Edocr, but that didn't work) and you should be able to access it through this link.

We explain 11 principles that we have tried to put into practice. I think some of these principles are make it clear that facilitating a community of practice is not the same as facilitating a workshop or training, it's a different art. We tried to make it 10 or 7, but couldn't manage to reduce the number!

1. Act as learning facilitator-practitioner
2. Co-facilitate to reduce blind spots
3. Embed learning in actual practices
4. Stimulate self-organisation
5. Facilitate conversations in public and private spaces
6. Use the variety in the community
7. Balance the focus on tangible and intangible products
8. Guide meta-level reflections
9. Distinguish between two layers of practice in the learning community: the level of individual practices, and the level of collaborative practices
10. Manage sponsor relationships
11. Manage the boundaries

Sunday, June 08, 2008

In search of germs

On June 2nd, with a group of CoP enthousiasts, we organised a working conference about communities of practice in the Netherlands, which was attended by roughly 75 people. I had the impression not everyone who has experience working with this concept was present, but it's a good start. The start of the day worked well, everyone was handed a quartet card, and had to find the other 3 people to form a quartet. This offered a nice way to start networking, and lateron in the day, we came back to this group to reflect on our experiences. In the picture you see my quartet.

With Sibrenne Wagenaar, I facilitated the 'facilitation circle'. I enjoyed it very much. Though a lot of people are searching for 'how to facilitate a CoP' there were also some people with interesting experiences. The dilemma between 'sturen en loslaten' - 'steering versus let go' appeared to be a key theme for most of the participants. In the afternoon the term 'kiemkracht' - 'germinal force' was coined to represent the seed that you are looking for when you start facilitating. Without germinal force you may start pulling a dead horse and that's not fun!

From my experience I would see the following 4 signals to identify germinal force:

Signal 1: If a group of practitioners are together, conversations flow spontaneously and hardly need any facilitation. The exchange generates energy, it is an endogeneous process.

Signal 2: Different actors have a stake to innovate practices, the actors can be practitioners or sponsors of the CoP or both.

Signal 3: Practitioners are passionate about the domain, and have a personal connection with it, but may be working in relative isolation. One or several persons have a vision that working together may catalyze innovation.

Signal 4: There is already an informal network around the domain of the community, but there is no effort to systematically exchange and generate knowledge. There are possibilities to improve knowledge creation and innovation in practice.

In case of organisational CoPs, you could add a fifth signal:

Signal 5: The domain of the CoP is of strategic importance for the mission of the organisation

Any ideas? Do you need a Yes to all signals in order to invest or are there situations where you can work on a CoP without one of these germinal forces?

If we would use these signals to analyze the germinal force for a community of practice about communities of practice in the netherlands, you can say that signals 1, 3 and 4 are strong, but signal 2 is weak, there isn't really an organisation or actor with a strong interest to innovate CoP practices within the Netherlands.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The lion and the hunter

I found this image on the weblog of my friend Denise who lives in Ghana and she gave me permission to use it. The picture is taken at a mural at Fort Prinzenstein an old slave fort located near the Keta Lagoon Volta Region, Ghana. During my time in Ghana, I enjoyed the lively metaphors my colleagues were using. Unfortunately I didn't write them down. Often there were animals involved. I enjoy this one because it highlights the subjectivity in stories and that there are always different perspectives to take.
Unfortunately the web2.0 is not yet leveraged at large scale by people in developing countries. Ít will need some historians to show that African countries are not only about misery and hunger. Looking at African countries in the misery and they need help way means we don't see what's there to learn (Not that I'd say that they are the lions and we are the hunters!).