Sep 09 2006

Seeing what you get

Published by at 2:59 pm under Communities of practice

I just ran into one of those old chestnuts of facilitation and design on the net: what you see is not the same as what others see.

I’m juggling a lot of things (launching the Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop, a “dissertation fest” series in CPsquare and the Prato Dialog) while trying to read everything everybody in CPsquare posts on their blog. There’s so much to read that even the feed aggregator has complained about the volume. And I’m still trying to get my bearings in the blogosphere. That means, among other things, I jump back and forth between several views of CPsquare members’ blogs:

  • I read all their individual blog feeds in Bloglines
  • I look at their blogs on their websites when a posting or picture doesn’t show up in a feed
  • I occasionally check the collective feed for CPsquare members (a very big page!)

I noticed that the feed from Nancy White’s blog only contained a few sentences. I switched feeds to get the entire posts. Checking back in my Bloglines reader I noticed that in her post about Amazing Flickr Stream from World Cafe Gathering the photo gets resized automatically on Nancy’s website but in the feed it displays so that the text is very wide — you need to use a slide-bar to move the text back and forth enough to read it all.

So what? Our experience of participation is shaped by all those little things like the kind of browser used, the size of photos, the width of the text, etc. There’s no shortcut for finding out how it looks from the perspective of the user, your community member, your audience, or your fan base.

What’s a leader to do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Pay attention to the difference between “what is” and “what should be” in your own setup. I recently spent a whole week working on my laptop because I was getting more disk space added to my desk-top machine and was working with Nancy White and Etienne Wenger on our Tech Study. Being forced to work in on a different machine sensitized me to all kinds of diversity that I normally can (and need to) ignore.
  • Make space in one-to-one conversations with colleagues and community members for conversations about what it is they see. Comparing notes about what you see is a key strategy for seeing more of your own and of other people’s world.
  • Bring up the subject in community meetings: it’s very useful to have the underlying technology that supports a group be an occasional topic of conversation. A community that doesn’t talk about how it is that it’s able to be together (location or technology or schedule or sponsorship or whatever) is much more fragile when those conditions change as they always do.
  • Surface your stream-of-consciousness observations about what it is you’re seeing when you speak to the group. For example, when you talk in a community setting, it’s helpful to say, “and then I see this or that,” (just like I’m doing in this post) as a way of contextualizing what you’re saying.

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