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George Roberts :: Blog :: Community consolidation: Shared artefacts of our common experience

July 10, 2007

I was asked what I wanted out of today. I want groups of prople to share ideas that lead to projects being developed that are aware at the outset what other projects there are in the programme: projects that reference one another; projects that claim a territory and say we are doing this bit and it relates to what those folks are doing over there in these ways. The DeL tools programme started working like this. We want to se this programme taking it the next step farther.

 

As the support project team we have been listening to the community. Thank you for the feedback, appreciative and otherwise. Last night felt different from earlier events. There is more openness. People are even talking about open bidding.

 You have said, “Communities don’t just happen. There needs to be organisation, structure, coordination, focus and planning.” So, the community has been offered co-ordinated activities and events to facilitate networking with other members and engagement with the UIDM approach. Our own user-centred approach to community development is attempting to balance top-down with bottom-up organisation strategies. In the institutionalised environment of higher education we have discovered that self-organisation strategies may not be as familiar as we might wish. You have said that you want, “... purposeful, relevant activities with plenty of opportunities for interaction and discussion in small groups.” So, this was the design principle that underlay the London Launch event and subsequent formally organised events. Small group discussion has been the key.  We created a series of online activities to introduce members to how they can use the elgg site and associated technologies for interaction and discussion. More recently, we have added forums in Moodle and phpBB to promote and record discussions.  You said, “We need to nurture conversation not just presentation.” 

By constructing the Manchester event as community consolidation and an “unconference” we are aiming to nurture conversation. The balance between structured activity and unstructured activity is different for each person. We hope we have it about right.

 

But I know people still are lost.

 

When we put this bid forward we consciously adopted the users and innovation development model for sofware development and said we can see a similar process at work in community development.

 

We are not just a support project and a group of potential bidders. We are (if I may include myself and my colleagues in the support team in the inclusive we) a user group going through the struggles of working in a user centred environment. We are modelling the development cycle as well as living it. We are experiencing some of what your user groups should experience as they are included meaningfully and participatively in the development process. If they are genuinely involverd in the exploration, in the cultural probes, in the sense making, in the appreciative inquiry of Stage 1 of the UIDM they may well feel as you have felt through the early phases of this project. They may feel lost. They may search for familiarity, for leadership, for direction. But what they should be seeking for are their own needs with reference to the project they are involved with: their own brain storms; their own stakeholder analyses; their own paper pilots. Which, by the way, there is space for you to display some of yours today.

 

We know we need to

  • improve the quality of the platform – and we are starting to do so
  • engage more deeply with the UIDM
  • avoid duplication of effort across the community
  • develop collaboration
  • and understand the wider context
 

So I will finish briefly with the wider context.

 

Change for us humans has two dimensions: reactive and proactive. Perhaps a condition of being human is being reflective about change. Most organisms appear to be unreflexively reactive. Think of polar bears on the dwindling ice. Not only can we reflect before and while we react to a changing world, we can do things like envisage a future, dream about how things can be and work to make them so.

 

I relish cynicism and irony like an adult convert – we don’t do irony back in the old country –often gallows humour is the only sane reaction to injustice: it allows breathing space to continue the fight. But I haven’t seen it all before or done it all before: I can’t tell you ALL the reasons why it won’t work here (thought I may laugh at a few good suggestions) and while I may enjoy cynicism, I will try not to let cynicism enjoy too much of me.

 

I don’t want to claim too much special for this programme. All JISC programmes are about shaping the future of education. I do like to think that this programme at least wears its dreaming on its sleeve.

 

Appreciative inquiry grew out of the engaged research movements of the second half of the last century: colonial, black, feminist, marxist, queer, researchers argued that the positivist paradigm of the detatched observer appeared to deny an equal voice to some people: infantilising women, the colonised, the patient, the homosexual, the student: in politics seeing only “victims” of the Soviet regime yet being blind to the incarceration of fully a quarter of all male, black Americans[1] – just for example; but also observing that the privileging of minoritarian perspectives through identity politics simply replaced one privileged perspective with another and resulted in a kaleidoscope of fragmented hierarchies, well-meaning tokenism, and a reactionary howl of political correctness gone mad.

 

It was time to stop fixing what was wrong, focussing only on opposition and replacing one power faction with another, ... but without lapsing atavistically into comfortable certainties and detatched methodologies: engaging with the positive was not just Pollyanna politics and smiley-faced fluffy bunny wannabe change-agents but one of a range of social and critical approaches through which identities could be warranted, research practiced and community developed.

 

Kenneth Gergen groups Ai with a set of practices that includes student-centred learning, patient-centred professionalism, family therapy, evidence-based policy, and community development, where the individual is never separated from the polity , the practice, the praxix – if you will – of their moment.[2]

 

Freire said that learning communities – he called them culture circles – emerged from the shared experience of common authentic artefacts. In illiterate indigenous communities this meant building literacy programmes around agricultural implements. In highly literate communities like ours we need to find our own authentic artefacts around which we can express our unvoiced thoughts and which give meaning to the changes we aspire to. Some of our artefacts may include:

  • online showcase from the London event
  • this mornings’ presentations
  • lists of members (on Moodle and Elgg)
 

Some of our shared knowledge is what is going on in this community:

 

How can we discover this?

 

Share outputs from today. Fiona will be walking about with a camera. Which reminds me... if you do not want your picture online there are things you can do and we can do to try to avoid accidents. Let Fiona know. We will put the pictures we intend to publish in a private space on the web for a week and invite you to inspect the pics and reject ones of yourself that you don’t want made public before they are made public. Finally, if after they are made public something slipped through, tell us and we will take it down.

 

You can adopt a team member. We spoke about each team member adopting a community. But that put too much of the onus on us to make it happen. But, inverting the provess seemed a good idea. We have a selection of poster children here: Steven, Graham, Josie, Brian, Rhona, Chris, Isobel ... oh yes and me. But you do not need to adopt one of us. You can choose your own waif. Their role is to help you make visible what you are doing to the wider community: to provide some of that cross-fertilisation.



[1] See, for example: Jason DeParle (2007) “The American Prison Nightmare”, The New York Review of Books 54(6) http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20056 accessed 09/07/2007; Paul Street (2003), “Starve the racist prison beast”, Z Net http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=4471 accessed 09/07/2007;

[2] Gergen, K. J. (1999). Social Construction and the Transformation of Identity Politics (pre-print). Draft copy for F. Newman and L. Holzman (Eds.) (1999) End of knowing: A new developmental way of learning. New York: Routledge.http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/kgergen1/web/page.phtml?id=manu8 

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