Dec 15 2006
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.
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