Thursday, December 16, 2010

How can social media support learning alliances/multistakeholder processses?

Some time ago I was asked to facilitate a session on this topic. I didn't have time to blog it, but since I received a nice report (by CDI in Wageningen) so I thought it would be a nice opportunity to blog it and share the prezi I used.

The intro session made me reflect on the difference in learning in a community of like-minded professionals and multistakeholder processes (By CDI also referred to as learning alliances). In definition: "Learning alliances are characterized by diversity. The stakeholders have different backgrounds, different perspectives, values, interests and knowledge with regard to the issue at hand." Prof. Arjen Wals said all learning is social, but social learning emphasizes learning through different perspectives- from the differences in heterogenous groups. Social connections make it possible to learn from each other, because that is not obvious. I guess the difference with learning in communities of practice and learning alliances is that in communities you have a process of recognition of similar issues and domains, and in learning alliances you have a common concern, but the process of learning is not as 'endogenous' as in communities. Though I realize people also use the term communities for multistakeholder groups.. I can imagine it is clearer to talk about the degree of homogeneity/heterogeneity in the group.

The term 'emancipatory learning' was introduced, as opposed to instrumental learning. Emancipatory learning combats social exclusion and discrimination, and challenge economic and political inequalities - with a view to securing their own emancipation and promoting progressive social change. I liked the question raised: how can local practices become global without becoming prescriptive? A good practice is honest about what is happening. And here I believe it is easier for communities of like-minded practitioners caring about the same domain to be honest, with different perspective, you are not triggered to be very honest.... How honest can we be on Twitter for instance?

But I'm drifting too far away from the topic of social media maybe. My session was about social media for learning alliances, assuming that you are a facilitator of a learning alliance and that your alliance already exists. I'm convinced social media can help to make conversations more continuous and hence situate learning closer to practice. You don't have to wait till the next yearly gathering to hear about new initiatives. Furthermore, boundaries tend to be more open, unless you use only private tools, password protected environments with which you can control membership.

Some interesting examples of using social media in a learning alliance:
  • Rapid exchanges through a twitter hashtag (definitely opens up boundaries for people to jump in!)
  • Setting up an online space to exchange and inviting people to join (ning, facebook group, other)
  • Working together on an expanding knowledge base through a wiki
  • Blogging together to harvest stories and trigger explicitation of experiences
  • Webinars or teleconferences where you can easily invite someone with an opposing view or different perspective
The illusion people sometimes have is that online conversations are as spontaneous as during a party and sometimes they are, but you can do things to facilitate/influence the amount and type of conversation to avoid it leads nowhere. Here's a graph of what you can do:

But always start with assessing where people are.. have an eye and ear for what people are using and doing. It will save you the hassle of introducing new tools. We did some discussion and worked on three real cases by the participants. What we discussed:

How to avoid exclusion? To include groups without access to the internet or to the tools, additional means are needed, for instance through meetings, local radio, cell phones and brochures. “In Ghana we have a collaborative forest management forum. We aim to share information ‘from the ground’ to show how policies are working, as to generate information for evidence based policy advocacy. At the community level there is no internet available, but we use rural radio, videos or cell phones.” Concluding, face-to-face interaction
remains of central importance in learning processes, for instance to build trust among the
participants or to include groups without internet access. A participant "We also found it is useful to use just a few tools from social media. So, we don’t go for everything that’s available, but we choose the ones that suit the organisation best”.

Leaves me with thinking that you could also think through how social media stimulate or obstruct learning through diversity and different views... What do you think? On the one hand, you tend to flock with like-minded people, on the other hand I follow a lot of marketing people on Twitter and changed my prejudiced perspective on marketing as a result..


Anonymous said...

Just found your blog. am now following you and excited to read more of your post in the future.

Joitske said...

Thanks I,m interested in feedback about the posts you like more/less