Dec 15 2006

Definition of Technology Steward

Finally, Nancy White, Etienne Wenger and I agreed on a simple definition of the term “technology steward”:

Technology stewards are people with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewardship typically includes selecting and configuring technology, as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community.

(See more articles on technology stewardship.)

Where does the definition come from? Why do we define it that way? Well, there’s a long(er) and a short(er) answer. The shorter answer is that Beth Kantor prompted us. A slightly longer answer is illustrated by how it came to be that Nancy, Beth and I are posting something about it within hours of each other. Originally there was a discussion on Nancy’s blog, which resulted in some email back and forth between Nancy and Beth. Then Etienne and I got added to the email thread. Nancy and I iterated. Etienne chimed in from Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia). Then we agreed to post about it. Magic?

One reason that I thought we needed to define the role was that I kept noticing that somehow communities have unwritten rules about when to take a discussion to the back-channel, when to go public, when to iterate, and when to stop, even when the technologies they are using are changing all the time. There seems to be some stewarding going on (in some communities) that results in unwritten rules or practices that are productive. This stewarding is taking place at a smaller scale than what a software designer or vendor would likely notice (or certainly talk much about).

But nobody wakes up spontaneously and says to themselves “I’m a technology steward!” Do we really need the role, much less a definition of it? That leads to a slightly longer story. It seemed to me that one of the purposes for our “tech study” was to explore ways of talking about technology from a community perspective, rather than the perspective of technology creators or enthusiasts alone. I had a gut feeling that it would be really useful. Part of the discipline of doing that would be to talk about the knowledge we were uncovering (or making up in some cases) as situated. There needed to be someone to know what we were talking about and that ended up being “a technology steward.” Of course once the name emerged, I think we all started to see technology stewards. Is this just an ontological trap – tech stewards exist just because we made up a name?

Well, I see myself as a technology steward and Nancy and Etienne have played that role in many different circumstances, too. It was really cool when Bev Trayner explained in a recent email about just how she goes about being the tech steward for communities that are forming. As I think about my coaching practice, technology stewardship plays a role, if only to make sure that technology is not a barrier for the communities that my coachees are leading.

I think that, as communities rely on technology more and more to be and learn together, and as they have more and more choices, the role of technology steward is going to be more important. We need a way to talk about the role.

21 responses so far

21 Responses to “Definition of Technology Steward”

  1. John … yes, I think we need a way to talk about it and make it a visible one.

  2. […] all of this reminds me a lot of the work Nancy White, John Smith and Etienne Wenger are putting into the concept of a Technology Steward, upon which I draw much […]

  3. […] a role it could sit with knowledge activist,  technology steward, collaboration co-ordinator as a description for someone exploring how to do good stuff with new […]

  4. […] asked me to contribute with some of my “Webhead” experience as a technology steward, a role that until now, I had not realized I have been increasingly playing since I connected to […]

  5. […] asked me to contribute with some of my “Webhead” experience as a technology steward, a role that until now, I had not exactly realized I have been increasingly playing since I […]

  6. […] continue working (because they get translated to the current scheme: http://learningalliances.net/2006/12/definition-of-technology-steward/). When you’ve been down in the trenches dealing with nits, little things like that seem […]

  7. Simon Pan says:

    This is a very interesting definition. I’m quite curious about it because I believe I’m playing this role trying to kickstart a community of practice. This CoP is contextualised in UNSW Engineering Faculty, Australia. However, I’m taking a user-centered design approach in understanding user’s needs, and fitting appropriate technologies to these needs before kick starting the group. Interviews, surveys, scenarios and personas are all techniques and processes we use to understand our users goals.
    What do others think?

  8. smithjd says:

    Simon, One of our intentions in proposing the definition was to both describe what many of us have been doing all along and suggest developments, new learning, exchange with others about their practice, etc. One thing I would ask, based on what you’ve said, is how you think your technology stewardship will change as the community becomes established? Will the technologies you propose to the community, for example, give you a window into their activities, their thinking, and their needs?

  9. Simon Pan says:

    John,
    I think to a certain extent the technologies can help give insight into the users activities, (which i mean by way of explicit use of the technology itself), however, over time, as the users become more accustomed to the technologies, monitoring this growth (by both technological and UCD approaches), and understanding what factors may be potentially hindering the users from meeting their needs, would contribute to my understanding of what would be better suited for the future of the CoP.
    I’m curious to know how other technology stewards gain an understanding of their CoP members’ needs, either before the CoP has been setup or whilst the CoP is active. What processes/techniques are used?
    Im very used to working within HCI frameworks, and look at CoP members both as members of a wider community and as users of a system.
    What other perspectives do people hold?

  10. […] and might do that in a more organised way … whether they call it social reporting, technology stewardship or whatever. A few of us have been talking about a get-together that might be the basis for a […]

  11. […] made me think of Nancy White, John Smith and Etienne Wenger and their work on the emerging role of Technology Steward: (golden rule from […]

  12. […] John Smith explains that ‘nobody wakes up spontaneously and says “I’m a technology steward” but he does believe that there needs to be someone who knows what they are talking about and to help with making choices and planning direction. […]

  13. Kay says:

    INTERESTING definition. In this21st century everyone has no reason for not using technology..the user of the technology not necessarily the expert but they can use it for many purposes in asssiting them in thier job. Especially for school leaders.

  14. Twitter Comment


    definition of a technology steward: [link to post]

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  15. Twitter Comment


    RT @mollybob definition of a technology steward: [link to post] [I like it!]

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  16. […] is a Technology Steward? Etienne Wenger describes a Technology Steward as being the person who is capable at walking at 45 degrees between the institutional hierachies […]

  17. […] to consider during the week included Technology stewardship and social artistry . So what is the practice of technology stewardship? Combining the interest in […]

  18. […] recommends:   Complementing Structured Learning with e-Communities by Nancy White   Definition of Technology Steward by Nancy White   Minds on Fire by John Seely-Brown.   The Zen Art of Teaching […]

  19. […] I was very impressed by Peter’s use of GoToWebinar operated by Citrix Online. He exemplifies for me two vital characteristics for on line sharing: he drives the community and is a technology steward. […]

  20. […] I was very impressed by Peter’s use of GoToWebinar operated by Citrix Online. He exemplifies for me two vital characteristics for on line sharing: he drives the community and is a technology steward. […]

  21. m very used to working within HCI frameworks, and look at CoP members both as members of a wider community and as users of a system. Thank you..