March for Science NL: Sharing the”signs of the times”

Yesterday was a momentous day in the history of science. Never before did so many scientists and science supporters take to the streets in such huge numbers across the globe. Mass demonstrations took place in over 600 events, from the North Pole to the Antarctic.  This went way beyond just anger about budget cuts and petty research politics. The deeply felt common goal was to defend the value of science as the bedrock of “The Reasonable Society” in an age where that very society is under threat from a belief in “alternative facts”, “post-truths”, and aggressive religious fanaticism aiming to literally take over the world again.

I took part in the Dutch version, which was held in Amsterdam. It was a rare and empowering sight to see so many researchers having come out of their labs, joining forces with concerned citizens, and knowing this was simultaneously happening all over the world. We live in scary times, but it is good to know that amidst all the extremism, the voices of reason are starting to connect and get organized.   Quoting the March for Science NL Statement:

For far too long, scientists and supporters of science have remained silent in the face of policies which ignore scientific evidence, and endanger human life and the future of our world. Today, staying silent is a luxury we can no longer afford. It is time for everyone who supports scientific research and evidence-based policies to speak out for the values they believe in, for the sake of society, as citizens of the world. We need to bring awareness to the community and higher bodies that science is important, and it is everywhere, in every layer of society, even though this is not always directly perceivable. Importantly, science should not be partisan, left nor right, progressive nor conservative, and should not be controlled by governmental politics. It is a method for discovering the actual truth of things, regardless of ideology and regardless of authority. Nonetheless, for science to remain free from political influence, scientists need to engage with politics – now more than ever.

To share some of the uplifting spirit and message of the March for Science gatherings, here is a gallery of the – often very thoughtful – “signs of the times” that were carried by participants in the Dutch demonstration:

Happy birthday, CommunitySense!

10 years ago to this day, I took the plunge. On April 1, 2007, I walked into the Tilburg Chamber of Commerce, and registered my very own company, CommunitySense. From the application form: “CommunitySense is a research consultancy company in the field of community informatics. It offers a range of consultancy services for developing innovative collaborative systems and services for online communities.” An ambitious mission, and I was only at the very start of finding out what that meant in – literally – practice.

It was both exciting and scary to take off as an independent consultant. I had loved my academic environment. I still felt very much an academic at heart, cherishing the wonderful network of people and ideas I had worked with for over 12 years while at Tilburg University, the Free University of Brussels and going for research visits and attending conferences all over the world. Still, for various reasons I needed to break free from the academic golden cage. Work pressure was one thing, but another very important reason was that I wanted to have more of a direct impact on the world.

Community Informatics really is about how to empower communities with ICTs. I feel very strongly about helping communities unleash that power for the common good. Although academic research is an important part of that quest, it is not enough. Our field is also very much about the practice of making those technologies really work in the daily lives of people working together in communities of all kinds.

Through my research consultancy, I hope to act as a bridge between science and society, using my academic research to distill lessons learnt from projects, while bringing real world cases back into the scientific literature. Over the past 10 years, I really found my niche, both developing a range of consultancy services and soldiering on with my publications. I am particularly excited about my newly discovered passion of community mapping, which is becoming a cornerstone of my work.

It’s not always been easy, transforming myself from being (only) an “abstract academic” to becoming a more “concrete consultant”. Still, the panoramas along my personal development path travelled have often been breathtaking. I haven’t regretted my move one single day. I feel blessed that I can work on the cutting edge of science and practice, every day bringing new challenges and ideas. I am particularly grateful that I am surrounded by a global and ever growing network of dear friends, colleagues, and clients (many of whom have moved to the “friend” category over time :-)). Thank you all so much for sharing and adding to my experiences along the way!

The first 10 years have been exciting and full of surprises. Who knows where I will be 10 years from now. One thing is for sure, my journey with CommunitySense has only just begun…

Mapping the community networks of Centres of Expertise: the “Rotterdam Connections”

My community mapping work is taking off. I have been very busy with it, and have had little time to share the stories recently. Upcoming a series of blog posts introducing some of the very interesting mapping projects I have been doing since last year.

This first post is about starting mapping processes to support community building in two “centres of expertise” coordinated by the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.

The RDM Centre of Expertise

The RDM Centre of Expertise  has as its mission to develop better technical education, as well as new knowledge and sustainable innovations required by the Port and City of Rotterdam. It does so by supporting collaboration between educational institutes, research centres and corporations in a range of projects, also involving university lecturers and students. This collaboration takes place in a network of currently 7 communities of practice (CoPs).

Community mapping was considered to have potential to visualize the collaboration ecosystem not only within but especially across the various communities. To explore this potential, a pilot was conducted with two of the communities of practice: CoP Logistics and the CoP Future Mobility. These communities were selected as the community managers were already exploring cross-overs between the projects associated with their communities.

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In several iterations, a pilot Kumu map was produced, in which the focus was to find out the overlaps between projects and stakeholders between the different communities. It also shows the links with the educational institutes and programmes of the university, which is key, as these provide the centre with the students and researchers doing the applied research. This map is now being extended by the community managers and researchers of the CoE to make it cover increasingly more common ground.

The EMI Centre of Expertise

Another Rotterdam mapping case concerns EMI – the Expertise Centre Social Innovation.  This expertise centre focuses on addressing complex societal issues – “wicked problems” – related to living, working, care & well-being, and education in the district of Rotterdam-South, in which many of these problems are prevalent.

As a pilot, we developed an experimental map of one of the communities fostered by the expertise centre around its research and outreach programmes: “New in 010” (010 being the area code for Rotterdam).  In this programme, Obstetrics and Social Work and Services students support vulnerable pregnant women through house visits and organizing social events.

Whereas in the RDM Centre of Expertise the map focuses on visualizing project and stakeholder bridges between communities, the EMI map zooms in more on the activities and events within a community, as well as – again – the links with the educational institutes and programmes. Choosing the right “zoom level” is an essential design choice in community mapping projects. If you want to know more, check out this post on how to use community mapping with Kumu for collaborative sensemaking.

On the Research Road: Meshing Physical & Online Community Mapping

On the research road…

In the spring, I decided to go on a “research road trip” to Silicon Valley and Northern California. The overarching research theme of my road trip was to engage in some deep learning and sharing on my main current R&D focus: community mapping. I was going to visit and stay over at friends and colleagues doing great related work in their “natural habitat”. Some of them I had not seen in years, or even only met online: Jack Park, Eugene Kim, Nancy White, Jeff Conklin, Jeff Mohr, Howard Rheingold, Bev Trayner, Etienne Wenger, and Marc Smith, it’s been so good to meet (again)!

Of course, a road trip is nothing without a car, although fortunately the Bay Area does at least have some decent public transportation when travelling within the metropolitan area. The car also afforded me to visit some of the stunning natural sights dotting the northern part of this great state, including magnificent Point Reyes National Seashore and South Yuba River, as well as the mesmerizing shorelines of Big Sur and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Interspersing meaningful and intense personal visits with days of regenerative solitude in nature turned out to be a strong stimulus of my “Deep Thinking processes”, very much in line with my “thinking communities” philosophy.

To get some idea of the spirit of the research road trip, watch this video  shot by my long-time friend and colleague Eugene Kim while I was visiting him in San Francisco:

The Berkeley meetup

One of the spin-offs of my journey was that Eugene invited me to give a talk at The Collective Spark in Berkeley. Hosted by Will Tam and Adene Sacks, it turned out to be a wonderful venue, atmosphere and bunch of most interesting and bright participants. We were received with drinks & snacks, allowing for people to meet and mingle extensively prior to the talk. After the talk, there were drinks again, so people could continue their animated conversations.

The WHAT of my talk was about participatory community mapping. It included examples from my R&D around the budding Tilburg urban farming community and other cases: using online network visualization tool Kumu to support the collective sensemaking of what the community is about and how to discover opportunities for community growth and innovation. See the slides:

Meshing physical and online community mapping

The novel part of the meetup for me was not so much the WHAT but the HOW. Over dinner the night prior to the meetup, Eugene and I were musing about how we could let the audience grasp the essence of community mapping more interactively than just by giving yet another standard presentation. We decided to create our very own “Instant Meetup Community Map”, taking advantage of the the Meet & Mingle-Introduction stage of this specfic meetup format.

We therefore asked the participants to not just have nice chats with various people before the start of the talk, but also tag each other with relevant topics that emerged during their conversations. This was to be done – very low tech – by putting sticky labels on each others’ sleeves.

As I was concentrating on getting to know the participants and preparing for the talk, Eugene acted as the community mapping facilitator. While everybody was still chatting away, he entered the participants and their associated topics in a simple Google Sheet. Kumu allows for maps to be generated automatically from such spreadsheets , so the emergent map could be visualized on-the-fly.

160905_Berkeley meetup community map

Just before my I started my presentation, we all had a look at the completed map together, with Eugene guiding our group discussion on what the patterns we distinguished might mean. The grey nodes indicated participants, and the orange ones topics. From the map overview, it’s easy to see how dispersed the interests of the group members were, yet there were a few common starting points, such as the topic of “consultant“.  Still, the very fact that all participants were physically there to immediately tell stories about their more exotic topic assignments, provided lots of food for conversation.

It was a fun and inspiring exercise, resulting in both an aha experience of the power of community mapping and a nascent bonding between the participants, who were discovering surprising things they had – or did not have – in common. This lived experience must surely have made the participants more receptive to and understanding of the more general community mapping principles I was explaining subsequently in my talk.

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To be continued

Although we did not have the opportunity to follow-up on this exercise with this particular group, it has wetted our appetite to explore how the meshing of physical and online community mapping processes could help build, innovate, and link communities. For example, what if we could fine-tune such practical community mapping process meshes and apply them to boosting the various life cycle stages of communities of practice?  What if we could use such tailored exercises to scaling up  social innovation initiatives from the bottom-up? Such community mapping practices could also be a instrument to help explore some of the main research themes and questions in the domain of communities & technologies and community informatics. Surely to be continued in future posts…

Community mapping with Kumu: making sense of your community network

Collaborative sensemaking

Communities are the building blocks of collaboration in today’s networked organizations. They consist of people working together for mutual benefit, developing strong relations, and weaving a web of vibrant interactions.

Communities of practice, communities of interest, innovation communities, and so on, help to bridge knowledge gaps and cross collaboration barriers within and between organizations. However, successful communities do not emerge just like that. They often emerge in a very fragmented collaborative landscape of diverse stakeholders, activities, and resources.

To improve their collaboration, community members and stakeholders therefore need to continually make sense of it. This collaborative sensemaking involves developing a common process of reaching a shared understanding about their collaboration, including the various perspectives and interests of the community members and surrounding stakeholder network. Collaborative sensemaking helps community members find out what their collaboration is about, what relationships and interactions their community consists of, what collaboration resources are available, and what concrete opportunities exist for better working communities.

collaborative sensemaking

Participatory community mapping method

To support this collaborative sensemaking process,  I am developing a participatory community mapping method and applying it to client cases via CommunitySense. Using this method, community members map their own community network by visualizing the many pieces of their collaborative puzzle into relevant maps and views  that help them better understand where their common ground is and the next actions needed to make their collaboration grow.

Why Kumu?

To make and share the maps, I use Kumu,  a powerful  tool for network visualization, analysis, and sharing.  What makes Kumu so powerful are the combined features of:

  • Elegant layout and multimedia content, such as embedded images and videos to make the maps look appealing and useful for storytelling.
  • Enabling different views on the map, best reflecting different stakeholder needs and interests.
  • Social network analysis options to, for example, determine what the hubs of activity are.
  • Web-based environment, so that parts of maps and views – each with their own permalink – can be shared and integrated with the daily activities of participants.

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What’s in Kumu-based community mapping for you?

Kumu-based community mapping can serve many purposes for your organization, network, or community:

My services

I help organizations, networks, and communities to design and set up relevant community maps, to answer the right questions to fill the maps with meaningful content and to discover customized ways to integrate the use of maps in their workflows and business processes.

As a consultant, I can help you to efficiently set up a Kumu-based community mapping process tailored to your specific collaboration needs.  My community mapping services include:

  • Strategic advice on the relevance of community mapping for your organization
  • Consulting on how to use community mapping to improve your business, management, and communication processes in practice
  • Defining the scope of your own community mapping process
  • Designing the architecture of your community maps
  • Creating your initial community maps
  • Facilitating workshops to roll out community mapping in your community network
  • Training your staff to become their own map makers

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Contact me if you are interested to learn more to discover how community mapping might benefit your collaboration.

Links

 

New publication – Knowledge Weaving for Social Innovation: Laying the First Strand

Just published: A. de Moor (2015). Knowledge Weaving for Social Innovation: Laying the First Strand. In Proc. of the 12th Prato Community Informatics Research Network Conference, November 9-11, 2015, Prato, Italy, pp.51-64. ISBN 978-0-9874652-4-5.

Abstract

Society consists of a web of interconnected communities. A large body of research and practice exists on how to make communities work. Still, the intersection and interaction of multiple communities – the development and use of their inter-communal commons – is ill-understood. Social innovation is the process in which relevant stakeholders jointly develop solutions to wicked problems that none of them can solve on their own. As such, it is a prime example of the need for multiple stakeholder communities collaborating. We propose a process for building a networked community-commons called knowledge weaving. This is a reflective sensemaking effort in which existing communal knowledge sharing practices, initiatives, and resources are tied together into coherent commons-based knowledge fabrics that support intercommunal collaboration, such as for social innovation. We illustrate the approach with the case of the European Social Innovation Week 2015 pre-events.

The right tool for the job: my first 750words.com story

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I am fascinated by online tools. Tools in the proper sense, of technologies fitting the job. It never ceases to amaze me how clients often think that “anything goes” when digital tools are concerned. Everybody would agree that a carpenter needs a whole toolbox full of different hammers, drills, and screwdrivers. Yet, when discussing the digital platforms they need for often very complex collaborative networks and communities, managers often say: “but we already have a website/blog/Sharepoint/Facebook-page…” This will not do. Online collaboration takes places in very complex socio-technical ecosystems. Task-tool fit is not trivial at all. On the contrary, developing the right set of tools for the community often takes a long time of trial-and-error, tinkering, and continuous re-adjustment as and when the community evolves.

To drive down this point,  I’d like to share an example of a tool that perfectly seems to fit its task. 750words.com has a very simple premise. Just keep practicing writing 750 words a day, every day, just for yourself, and you will get better at it over time. As the tool’s authors say: just ordinary blogs won’t do, as you may mix up public and private posts, are not prompted daily to write, don’t receive friendly & fun nudges, and there is no sense of community with fellow sufferwriters. To deal with this, they developed this delightful site, around which a lively community grew. A great example of a tool fitting the job. To show proof of concept, I share my first story I wrote on this site, just because it was so cool to do:

This is my first attempt at writing at least 750 words daily. I’ve been toying with this idea for a long time. And yes, tools matter. I really like this idea of a protected space, where you are your only audience. Nobody else to criticize you. A stream of consciousness suffices. It’s really about breaking that writer’s block. To the unpracticed writer-newbie, 750 words seems an awful lot. Is it really? The real pace killer is probably that you want it to look perfect. But if, indeed, all you want to do is to exercise your writing muscle, then this amount of words seems quite doable!

So what am I going to use this “personal blog” for? I have many writing projects that have been stalled way too long. For example, I have this CommunitySense blog. My orginal goal was to have regular updates, at the very least once a week. In those early, pre-social media days, I actually managed quite well at sticking to that frequency. Alas, so many distractions these days. Still, the urge remained, and hopefully this tool will help me better satisfy that urge!

The secret to keeping the use of this tool going probably is to choose a topic related to your own interests and then do a total braindump on that very topic. Trying to cover too many topics at once is probably deadly. If other topics come to mind, I will probably just write them down and delve into them another day.

I wonder if, by using this tool daily, my writing rate actually will increase. I suspect it will. Practice makes perfect, right? What would be the maximum speed I could write at? Are there any comparative figures about this? Perhaps provided by 750words.com itself? It would be really cool if over time my rate would go up.

I also wonder what effect the kind of topic one writes about has? Would writing a piece of fiction be easier than, say, writing a professional post related to one’s expertise? Writing fiction might be easier in the sense that one is less constrained. On the other hand, that lack of boundary might also be paralyzing, as there is nothing to hold on to, conceptually. We shall see, I will probably try my hand at both types of prose.

So, what would be the best strategy to keep those words coming? Think for a while first, then get started, or start right away, and see where the flow takes you? Would making an outline help, or actually be detrimental to the flow?

One interesting effect I can already see happening, as I am writing my very first 750words piece. I observe a slight mental fatigue, such as experienced when jogging or cycling long-distance and that first wave of tiredness sets in. That moment when you realize that you still have such a long way to go, yet your body says, “that was nice for now, now relax”. But hey, in fact, I am already way over the hill: 506 words, and counting! 🙂 Now it should be possible to reach the finish line without too much effort. Just one or two more topics should probably do.

So, let’s see, what have I covered so far: trying not to strive for perfection, the so far unsatisfied urge to write, sticking to your topic, the kind of topic, increasing the speed of writing, the writing strategy, and combatting mental fatigue. That’s quite an impressive list already for just-another-braindump!

Okay, I just experienced a mini-writer’s block. Nothing to worry about, it’s nothing compared to that massive wall of concrete that I regularly ran into during those so terribly exhausting PhD dissertation-writing years. No, just a friendly, suddenly-I-really-seem-to-be-running-low-on-inspiration kind of writer’s hurdle. But no problem. A famous writer’s trick is to “go meta” in such a case. Just start writing about your experiencing that blockade and new ideas will start forming. It’s like being on a mountain hike, when you have been trodding along for quite some time through sticky, dense forest, harassed by those annoying stinging flies, and suddenly the trail starts winding upwards. It’s still hard work, you’re sweating away in the blistering sun, but suddenly, there is that breathtaking, panoramic view all around you. And you are only 40 words away from the finish line 🙂 Almost time for that so deserved break by that mountain lake, overlooking the scenery, drinking in the panorama, feeling so satisfied by your achievement. 750 words, I did it!

Mind you, in collaborative communities task-tool fit is much more complex, as it is about often very complex social networks of individuals, organizations, and communities collaborating, with widely diverging requirements and technical capabilities. Still, if already for such a “simple case” we need to think different tools, then it should be clear that there is definitely no one size-fits all solution for collaborative communities.