Here’s a moment that I haven’t forgotten: when Patricia, Beverly and I presented our paper the afternoon following that stressful workshop, our nerves were rather frayed, to say the least.  I was tempted to think that the main focus of the Prato Conference on Community Informatics was a kind of defensive, narrowing, and combatitive learning. During the morning it seemed like a big challenge to get “on the same page,” where  we could actually have a conversation.  But after we presented, Michael Gurstein asked us a question that was completely pertinent to our argument and it pointed toward a new conversation between the community informatics folks at the conference and the “community of practice” folks.  Wow.


Who’s watching?

September 29, 2006

This dialog in Florence is happening at the same time as the September 2006 Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop. We try to make the workshop be as real as possible while trying to limit the amount of chaos and overwhelm to which we subject participants. Knowing that one size doesn’t fit all, we’ve proposed that Foundations workshop participants can come along as much as they’d like — so we’ve set it up as a kind of virtual field trip. They’re invited to read this blog as well as a discussion within CPsquare’s Web Crossing space for postings about the Dialogue that we don’t want to be visible for the entire world. I hope they’ll follow the discussion and won’t be surprised if they post their comments here! In the same vein we’re inviting all CPsquare members to follow and post in both the public and private spaces.

(That Web Crossing feature that lets one discussion appear in three places has gotten me into trouble in the past, but it does seem like a powerful one! We ought to be able to fiture out how to use it well.)

We met for an hour today and, even though we had a very noisy phone bridge, the excitement was palpable and the conversation had a life of its own. Although we’ve been working together online for a month or more, there is nothing like actually listening to each other and thinking together to get the  juices running.  We acknowledged that “we meet in advance, not to close off any possibilities but to move the discussion forward about what we might do and how.” The following topics were proposed for discussion during our dialog:

  • Effect of Web 2.0 tools on our notion of what a community of practice looks like.
  • How to talk about and learn from each other about timing in the design of learning events when we don’t have traditional constraints such as the classroom hour. When does the learning happen?
  • How to talk about the value of play and error correction in learning events? Are these topics more important today than they were before?
  • Process innovation versus content innovation? How describe and justify to others?
  • All of this with an overarching focus on memory — how it’s formed and what use it is in a community of practice.

We are also thinking of experimenting with process and how we organize ourselves for learning during the dialog:

  • Stories and other techniques to put cases for discussion “on the table” at the beginning of a segment
  • Improvisations or dramatizations to demonstrate what we learned at the end of a segment
  • Expeditions to organizations or places that are or were once exemplary as venues for learning.
  • Different ways of representing what we’ve done, from written notes to audio or video recordings to make it more public, porous and legitimate
  • Any methods of welcoming participants from the online Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop into our conversation
  • Having each segment of the schedule (including evenings) organized by a different team, who would be responsible for all of the above
  • How work with the likelihood that we will have no internet access at the guest house where we’ll be staying.

In case you’re curious (you could still join us in Florence!) here is a 4 minute audio recording that gives you a sense of the voices that will be there.  It turns out that Etienne Wenger will definitely join us for part of the time.

Aldo de Moor, who I know from the Community Informatics Research Network, wrote a post on his blog, Growing Pains, about a dream he has of “reclaiming our place to reflect”. He feels nostalgic for the times when he did his best thinking on remote islands or mighty forests and wishes that it was possible:

to be able to spend a couple of months a year on such a remote location, doing my thinking and main writing there, then return to ‘The World’ to work out these ideas, and keep my projects and contacts going.

And he has set up a Wiki space, Thinking Communities, to help start concretising this dream.

To some extent his dream is reflected in what we have been doing in our Dialogues, but where we have started with small, concretising steps rather than the big dream. At the Setúbal Dialog we met in a beautiful location, two windmills overlooking the sea and the wild coastline of the Alentejo. Our conversations took place in the shade, in the sun, in the pool, on the picnic benches in the grounds. We shared in the cooking and washing up. People from different countries, with different academic and professional backgrounds, shared stories about their own creative projects (*)

After the Dialog we did a public workshop at the Business School where I work. This part was important for a number of reasons, including that it opened up the conversations to a wider community and gave some kind of reality check. Pragmatically speaking, for some people it also helped legitimise their participation in the Dialogue to their respective Institutions and with funding.

Since then we have developed our practices of meeting up before a conference. The Prato Dialogue is deliberately hooked on to the CIRN Prato Conference. Our Dialogue will actually take place in Florence (not far from Prato), where, with a loose agenda we will have time to relax and to concentrate. After the Dialogue we will continue some of the conversations in a workshop at the Prato Conference.

It’s not yet the big dream, it’s just little steps towards it.

(*) It sounds romantic and it was. But there were painful bits too. And people’s experiences of the Dialog were not all the same.

Not forgetting anyone

August 26, 2006

I notice that in setting up this blog I only listed Dialogue partners as those people who would be attending the face-to-face event. That makes me reflect:

  1. Why didn’t I think to include the people who are participating in the online dialogue but who won’t be physically present at the face-to-face event in Florence?
  2. What practices are/should we be developing to include the people who won’t be there?

In the meantime Nancy White bounces off Beth’s post about capturing and sharing notes at non-profit gatherings. In her post Learning, Capturing and Sharing Conference Artifacts she gives more ideas about weaving in the voices of people who don’t attend the face-to-face and in producing artifacts for the wider community.

Nancy concludes her suggestions with these words:

In the end, the key around these practices is that when we engage all or part of the group in the production of our “learning artifacts” — we all learn more AND we make some of that learning available to others. The act of production is an act of meaning making.

We also think beyond our individual selves. We resume responsibility not only for our participation, but for sharing back to the communities we come in to the room representing. F2F is a precious resource, not to be squandered. It is a privilege.

That’s the bottom line.

A beginning

August 15, 2006

Between the 5th and 8th of October, 2006, some people from CPsquare will be stealing time from work, friends and family to get together and dialogue about memory, learning and forgetting in communities of practice. We’ll use this blog as one of the ways for keeping track of our memory up to the event.