Oct 10 2013

Learning in and around a “known community”

I was recently hired by the KM4Dev  core group to  synthesise the results of the three completed tasks and to provide an analysis of insights and recommendations to KM4Dev as to how it could further develop. We agreed that I would write up process notes on my blog, so I expect to write several posts with observations about KM4Dev and what I learn doing this project.

Because I’ve been involved with KM4Dev off and on over the years, the community is somewhat familiar  and I know some of the people and at the same time I recognize just how much I don’t know about the community, the people or the work they do.  To me that’s an exciting mix.

The first thing about this project is that the client is a community and that’s different from a client that’s an organization.  That’s a distinction that the Core Team that hired me is struggling with and that I see in many settings, between human interactions as enacting community or as achieving organizational ends.  This issue surfaced right away when I read a recommendation in one of the reports that, “KM4Dev should consider [several actions here] …. ”  Since there is no one individual who fully represents the community or who can really speak for it (much less act on its behalf), I decided that working for a client that is a community must include some effort to bring findings and suggestions to people’s awareness.  So part of what I’m doing is offering “provocations” or suggestions in the context of ongoing KM4Dev discussions.  So far one provocation is about “a newsletter for KM4Dev” and the other is about “research on behalf of KM4Dev” using allourideas.org as an idea collection and ranking mechanism.  Even though I’ve been thinking about this question of the balance between community and organization as frameworks for human interaction, exactly how this balance works for KM4Dev is unknown to me.

A second area that I noticed as simultaneously familiar and un-familiar is the email list platform that KM4Dev is built on.  What could be more ordinary or more invisible as community infrastructure than an email list?  Well, to my surprise, Dgroups requires each post to be approved! I hadn’t posted to KM4Dev for a while and so when I got a response saying, “your posting has been accepted into a moderation queue,” I thought, “Oh, I think I’ll be posting more frequently, I need to get on the ‘pre-approved people’ list!” When I asked the moderator, I got nice emails from Nancy White and Lucie Lamoreaux explaining that everyone’s posts had to be moderated.  Go figure.

The job of curation in a community is unending, but in this project, starting from where you’re at meant that the first job was to gather all the artifacts from the previous studies together in one place.  In the spirit of, “there will be nobody to clean up or curate after me” and “I’m reporting to a very distributed community,” I decided to create a little template for the project to link all of the stuff I produce on the Wiki together.  The unfamiliar and moment of truth (where I recognized that I didn’t want to delve further) was when I began using the Form and Discussion Template that Davide Piga had created for the community.

Even though I know some people in KM4Dev from attending face-to-face meetings, from occasional participation in the email list discussions, and because there is a certain amount of membership overlap between KM4Dev and CPsquare, in any given conversation I know some of the people who participate and don’t know others.  Part of my provocations strategy has been to strike up side conversations with people like Philipp Grunewald, Tina Hetzel, and Anna Downie.

I’ve always been struck by how there are pockets of competence (technology related and otherwise) in a community of practice — not everyone knows the same stuff nor can do the same things. One of the online collaboration practices that I hold dear is using a Google Doc or etherpad for writing real-time meeting notes.  I was heartened to find in my first meeting with the core group that people jumped right on it and started modifying the agenda I had prepared, quickly added to the notes and actually jotted down things that I was saying on the Skype call.  After the meeting, people who couldn’t make it to the meeting left comments and responded to each other in the Google Doc.  Sharing communications practices with a client (and representatives of a client) is a solid foundation for learning more about a rich and complex community like KM4Dev.

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