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.

Irrelevant knowledge

September 17, 2006

I’ve been interested with a small comment by upreuss

How do we define relevant and irrelevant knowledge?
To my mind irrelevant knowledge doesn’t exist. Whether knowledge is relevant or irrelevant is only a question of context like time and place.

And the original question by Christina:

How do we define relevant and irrelevant knowledge? – Is irrelevant knowledge always of negative value? – Do we need to learn to forget irrelevant knowledge?

In some respect I’m quite simplistic about this.

I’ve told you my story about my community with not recognising value.

I’m more hopeful though – where we forget, where we don’t appreciate – it will come back, just in another way and in another time. And what is irrelvant, will probably just slide under the door and be forgotten – it doesn’t need someone to stand up and point out and say ‘this is irrelvant’ – at least usually.  Some irrelvant thinking and ideas are at first seen as wrong, heretical etc.  Who said no idea is good if it at first brush seen as silly? (Einstein?)

I spent some time at a friends’ work yesterday having a look at their internal knowledge management system and learning community. 6,000 people in several continents. Interesting to note that one of their big challenges is figuring out where the knowledge has moved on. What’s relevant 3 years ago in Peru may be quite different now due to a technology advance. Current understanding is highly valuable. Out of date understanding may be costly.

I’m interested in the online flows of ideas, information, wisdom and knowledge. How do people interface with the right stuff at the right time and in the right amount? How also do we find people who know what we are needing to know?


I wonder

How do we deal with complexity?

Does additional knowledge increase complexity or does it help us to “reduce” it, i.e. better cope with it?

How do we define relevant and irrelevant knowledge?

Is irrelevant knowledge always of negative value?

Do we need to learn to forget irrelevant knowledge?

Do we need to learn to forget relevant knowledge for a whole Sunday afternoon, for example?

How can selective forgetting lead to substantial improvements in our performance?

Can random forgetting do so as well?

How much time do we lose due to forgetting?

Prato and memories

September 10, 2006

My connection here has more to do with serendipity than anything else. I’m travelling with a girls school choir from Christchurch, and we are in Florence at the same time as the get together occurs. And as one who is fatigued by formal paper driven conferences, the opportunity to attend an event initially refered to as a ‘muck about’ was too good to miss.

I’m involved in a range of learning communities. Putting aside at this stage nuances of meaning, these these usually have an online component (lists, corperate blog, course management system, virtual community space etc) – some are part of bounded courses (with the dreaded assessment) some are professional development oriented (with both vonenteers and conscripts) and some are just for fun (everybody choosing to be there) and some are a bounded professional affiliation. (Pay your fees and you are in).

The just for fun ones include several informal networky things – almost like mutual mentoring, support and sounding boards.

Here is a well known quote:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it – George Santayana.

I could build a lot on this idea: memory is a mixed blessing. There has been a bit about this in our local paper in the coverage of the escape of Natascha Kampusch.

There is an expiry date of first hand memories. I am interested to note how often now we are talking to my sons about events I took for granted. I remember with chagrin how much passed from consciousness with the death of my grandfather.

In a slightly whimsical mood I quote this little extract on someone’s thoughts on Nietzsche:

From http://www3.iath.virginia.edu/pmc/text-only/issue.101/11.2ramadanovic.txt

In the second of his untimely meditations, Nietzsche suggests
     that a cow lives without boredom and pain, because it does not
     remember.[1] Because it has no past, the cow is happy. But the
     animal cannot confirm its happiness precisely because it does
     not have the power to recall its previous state. It lives
     unmindful of the past, which, as it gives happiness, also takes
     it away from the animal. Nietzsche uses this example to point to
     the liberating power of what he terms "active forgetting," a
     willfull abandonment of the past that is beyond the capacities
     of the cow:

In the case of the smallest or of the greatest happiness...
          it is always the same thing that makes happiness happiness:
          the ability to forget or, expressed in more scholarly
          fashion, the capacity to feel unhistorically during its
          duration. (UD 62)

Nietzsche calls for an abandonment of the past because, as he
     says, it "returns as a ghost and disturbs the peace of a later
     moment" (UD 61). Too much past precludes action, happiness, and
     further development. As an antidote to this predicament he
     suggests a critical discourse on the past that would be
     attentive to the needs of the present and able to distinguish
     between what in the past is advantageous and what is
     disadvantageous for life. Thus "active" forgetting is selective
     remembering, the recognition that not all past forms of
     knowledge and not all experiences are beneficial for present and
     future life.

Then there is different memories of the same event, and different interpretations of the same fact. People can merely brood.

That’s the other side. As well there is the question: How can communities of any kind manage their thoughts, their experieinces, stories and findings? Especially now in a web 2.0 environment?

How can we avoid overload? Filter out irrelevant stuff? Not filter out stuff we should engage with but may not want to? (Think professional development for us out of our comfort zones) Share key ideas that may challenge the status quo and still keep relationships intact? Assist with the boundaries of our community thinking? Manage the corperate vs the individual? Incorperate newcomers without mere indoctrination . . .

We shall see. I’m coming to Prato relatively inexperieinced at this sort of event, knowledge construction, open space etc etc, and basically because I can, circumstances being what they are. And also because I have met online, read about, read the blogs of, talked by teleconference to some of these people, and look forward to a chance to meet in person. – Derek

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.