Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Madeleine Taylor on network weaving

I'm writing an article about challenges in fostering learning networks in education- based on 8 interviews we did last year- the writing is a bit of a long process but we're getting there. What is striking in the interviews is that the role of the coordinator or facilitator is so new to people. Compared to other tasks and working according to a plan, they have to learn to let go and see what emerges. But there is some confusion too, that letting go means doing less or waiting passively till others take initiave. In my experiences it means working hard, but doing more on the background, talking to people, knowing their passions and interests and knowing what will trigger their participation or even lead taking.

On Beth's blog, this blogpost I found this small interview on network weaving. I've never liked the term weaver, it's so domestic somehow... but it does highlight the invisible work on relationships of a network coordinator or facilitator.

Madeleine explains that you have to see connections and the value the connections bring to people. And knowing what connections to promote, because not everyone needs to be connected to everyone. I'd add that you can also do that from a deep understanding of the domain and the cutting-edges of the domain.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

the power of metaphors

Love boatsImage by fataetoile/ Cinzia Rizzo via Flickr

I'm always amazed by the power of metaphors. Sometimes I try to 'cook' one myself and then it doesn't work so formulating or rather designing a good metaphor is not easy. In Ghana, people were generally strong in using metaphors, but unfortunately I didn't write them down. But if you like proverbs too, you can follow the twitter stream of African Proverbs.

Some strong metaphors I've come across: We all know the metaphor about marriage as a sailing trip. You step into the marriage boat and you will face rough weather, storm and the boat will rock. A little overused, but probably popular because it appeals to couples.

A very strong one that I still remember, even though I've come across it some years ago, is about the integration process by immigrants in the Netherlands. There is a lot of political debate about integration and integration problems and usually the immigrants are blamed for not speaking the language, not adapting etc. Then a person said: "it is like the highway; you can try to merge with the traffic on the highway, but you need to be given the space to pull your car over". This is such a good metaphor because it show that it is a two-way process.

And two weeks ago Irene Guijt gave a presentation about accountability at Partos Plaza. What I now recall from her presentation is the metaphor of the goose and the golden eggs. Talking about accountability she explained that you need to be aware of not only counting the golden eggs (the results) while killing the goose at the same time. Because you will not have any golden eggs in future. I think that's a strong metaphor to warn about for looking short-sightedly at (short-term) results without caring for the organisations and other actors that produce the results.

Do you have any metaphors that stick with you? What makes them so strong?
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Friday, October 02, 2009

How to use social media for an event with people who are not used to social media?..

I've been to events where everyone is twittering, tagging and hopping around with their laptops. I've also been to events where nobody even knows what tagging is. In most events, you will find a mix of people.

I was asked by Partos, the branche association for development organisations in the Netherlands to think with them how social media can support their yearly event, Partos Plaza for roughly 100 participants. The event will take place next tuesday so we don't have any evaluation data yet, but I can share our design and some first observations about the process.

We thought very carefully about the aim of using social media. We didn't want to add a social media layer simply because you look old-fashioned if you don't (I think we can wait for the first event without any social media and it will be seen as a relief :). So our aim of using social media was:

  • To support interaction between participants before and during the event and between the organisers and participants
  • To experiment with social media and show participants some uses of social media
  • To ensure continuity and follow-up- other years it was very invisible what happened with all the ideas and energy. Having online interaction afterwards can help taskteams or interest groups to continue online (if there is an interest to do so). This may lead to better collaboration initiatives
So what did we design? We chose to start with a ning platform as the central place. The advantage of ning compared to other solutions was that it is a social network, and can stimulate networking through personal pages. We asked people about their LinkedIn profile and whether they have a twitter account or site they want to share. So there are more opportunities to connect. Ning doesn't require a huge investment, so we can close it down after the event if there is no interest to continue online, gives quite some flexibility. And its events function could help with the organisations of the workshop and registration of attendance. Furthermore, we thought that we could use the platform to invite people to co-create the workshops and come up with ideas for the open space. We decided to make everything public so that people hesitant to register could also read along. We also experimented with a twitter account without investing too much time in it because we did not expect many participants to be on twitter. During the event we will focus on:

  • A network wall with the printed profiles from the ning. We asked people in their profile about their interests and the knowledge that the person has they would like to meet. This will be displayed on the network wall and people will be invited to contact each other or suggest names of people to meet.
  • A twitter screen and twitter corner. We would like people to answer the question: what idea, insight of new contact did you gain today? so that it becomes collectively visible what is happening in terms of networking and creation of new ideas. The large majority not on twitter will be invited to twitter from a central account in a specially set-up twitter corner.
  • Last but not least, all workshopleaders will report something (small) back on the platform and investigate whether there is an interest to continue somehow working on their topic. This will allow people to read on what's happening in parallel workshop and ofcourse it will be easier for people who can not make it to peep into the content.
There will not be wireless access to the internet available. We did not stimulate people to bring laptops, and think it's OK to focus on the workshops and the conversation.

Our first experiences are mixed:
- There were not that many reactions to the statements and to the invitation to think along the programming. I guess it is due to not being that at ease with working through a social network because the people who did respond were all well versed with various social media. It is an repeated event, so I see that participants are quite passive and not that eager to co-create. It's fine if other organise it for them! (this is my interpretation by the way)
- The number of participants on the ning and the number of visitors were higher than expected. We are now at 90 people. We had expected a maximum of 60 on the social network because some might not be interested in it.
- Twitter has been an eye-opener! Without investing a lot, we have 31 followers in 4 weeks time. And from the participants, at least 30 are on twitter and/or have a corporate twitter account. Interesting to see that twitter has become such an easy entrance into social media.... about 7% of the traffic to the ning has come through twitter, even though it was not heavily used. And 20% is still through the website of Partos.
- There are some assumption in social networks that work against the hierarchy. Secretaries asking how they can register their bosses for workshops when the boss has registered on the ning... This is only possible to do it yourself or if the boss gives his/her log in data to the secretary.
- I have the impression it makes it easier for the not-so-obvious participants to join, like the private intiatives (as we call them) versus the professional organisations.

Will keep you posted after tuesday and definitely after we have some feedback from participants...

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