Mapping the World: the INGENAES Global Symposium and Learning Exchange

It all started with mapping the local: the Tilburg Urban Farming community. This January, however, I ended up mapping the global end of the agricultural spectrum: the INGENAES Global Symposium and Learning Exchange, held in Lusaka, Zambia. It was a wonderful meeting of minds of people from all over the world working on and passionate about the intersection of Gender, Nutrition, and Agricultural Extension.

The INGENAES conference crowd

Knowledge and learning exchanges as well as network building are key components of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services (INGENAES) project. The project aims to stimulate the intersection between the sub-domains of gender, nutrition and agricultural extension services so that not only are farmers maximizing their participation in the agricultural value chain, but the nutrition needs of themselves, their families and communities are also served with the additional aspect of the pivotal role of women in this field. The January 2017 INGENAES Global Symposium and Learning Exchange in Zambia aimed to use mapping to catalyze this process, connecting practitioners and researchers across the sub-domains of the field, including participants designing and committing to follow-up activities back home.

Mapping the Conference

Our goal with this initial experiment was not to set up a fully participatory community network mapping process, as this would have required a much longer time frame and many more resources. We focused on the following questions:

  • What would an initial map representing both the diversity and common ground in this emerging field look like?
  • How to create it with contributions from the participants?
  • How to use the map to give conference participants some sense of what their emerging field literally looks like?
  • Can we design practical maps-based conference activities that help conference participants contribute to further field building?

To answer these questions, renowned group facilitator Nancy White,  INGENAES Associate Director Andrea Bohn, and I came up with a participatory process involving producing the actual map, facilitated sensemaking sessions, lots of commitment, as well as the essential bit of fun! We wanted to make the mapping and facilitation processes “dance together”, as it were, with the maps helping to set the agenda for engaged conversations held in the facilitated sessions, while also capturing conference results and “seeds for action” to be followed up on after the conference.

The conference map

The online conference map (as an artifact) is both an input to and an outcome of the mapping process that happened prior to, during, and after the conference. Key elements it includes are ThemesCountries, OrganizationsProjects/InitiativesWisdoms, and Actions . To make the map more readable, we included a number of views that show subsets of the elements and connections of the map: Collaboration Ecosystem, Themes, Organizations, Countries & Projects, Themes & Projects, Organizations & Projects, Themes & Wisdoms, and Themes & Actions.

The INGENAES conference map

The mapping process

The process consisted of three stages: (1) seeding the map (prior to the conference); (2) seeding collaborations (during the conference); and (3) growing the collaborations (after the conference).

Prior to the conference

We first defined the conceptual model for the map, comprising of the core types of elements and connections to be mapped, plus a taxonomy of themes relevant to the INGENAES domain. Next, we set up the tools ecosystem, consisting of the Kumu map, an online survey tool, and online discussion tool Disqus (which Kumu allows to be integrated with the map). We then collected initial data by asking all participants to fill out a form describing one of their flagship projects. The results were then used to create the seed map, consisting of a network of the collected elements and connections, and relevant views on this map.

We also designed an extensive content & process strategy on how to gather “wisdoms” and “(seeds for) actions”, drawing from Nancy’s inspiring “plumbers & poets” facilitation philosophy. The process design for the group interactions drew heavily from Liberating Structures, a set of 33 structures designed to liberate the knowledge and participation of everyone. These have shown to work very well in complex settings such as multidisciplinary field building.

During the conference

We started by introducing the mapping process via telling a “mapping story” using the metaphor of us being a band of “hunters/gatherers of wisdoms and actions”.

Tellling the mapping story

Having sensitized the participants to the ideas behind participatory mapping, the hard work of “harvesting wisdoms and actions” got started. In the sessions facilitated by Nancy, participants first started to share and capture lessons learnt as wisdoms. On the final day, participants interacting in small groups produced 98 “seed actions”, to be used for post-conference commitment and follow-up.

Conference participants capturing wisdoms & actions

Throughout the conference, participants could submit wisdom and action forms, which we partially grouped on the wall behind our “mapping station”. The collected forms and groupings made provided additional inputs to be added to the map by me in my role as map maker.

Trying to make sense of the submitted wisdoms & actions

In addition, all the while Nancy graphically recorded her impressions of the wisdoms and actions being shared on a large, wall-sized paper. This rich graphical picture further captured lessons learnt, complementing the online map.

Graphically recording the wisdoms & actions

The mapping process was amplified by the actions of the Social Media Reporters, a team of young Zambian reporters who were tasked with collecting stories and spreading the word about what was happening at the conference via social media. They for instance (re)tweeted messages about updates to the map. As we had the mapping station as our joint base, it was easier to keep each other informed about what was going on and needed to happen.

Working together with the social media reporters

After the conference

Participants were intrigued by the potential of participatory community network mapping as an approach to better capture and use conference outcomes, as exemplified by one of the comments received in the evaluation:

“I got a peek at many, but now need to go deeper. The Map and links will help”

Still a lot of work is needed to turn this pilot into a robust methodology. In an upcoming paper, we will share more details of the conference case. Furthermore, INGENAES is supporting a next round of methodology development, focusing on a specific country case. Stay tuned!

Conference mission accomplished!

 

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New publication – Community Digital Storytelling for Collective Intelligence: towards a Storytelling Cycle of Trust

S. Copeland and A. de Moor (2017). Community Digital Storytelling for Collective Intelligence: towards a Storytelling Cycle of Trust. AI & Society, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-017-0744-1 (preprint).

Abstract

Digital storytelling has become a popular method for curating community, organisational, and individual narratives. Since its beginnings over 20 years ago, projects have sprung up across the globe, where authentic voice is found in the narration of lived experiences. Contributing to a Collective Intelligence for the Common Good, the authors of this paper ask how shared stories can bring impetus to community groups to help identify what they seek to change, and how digital storytelling can be effectively implemented in community partnership projects to enable authentic voices to be carried to other stakeholders in society. The Community Digital Storytelling (CDST) method is introduced as a means for addressing community-of-place issues. There are five stages to this method: preparation, story telling, story digitisation, digital story sense-making, and digital story sharing. Additionally, a Storytelling Cycle of Trust framework is proposed. We identify four trust dimensions as being imperative foundations in implementing community digital media interventions for the common good: legitimacy, authenticity, synergy, and commons. This framework is concerned with increasing the impact that everyday stories can have on society; it is an engine driving prolonged storytelling. From this perspective, we consider the ability to scale up the scope and benefit of stories in civic contexts. To illustrate this framework, we use experiences from the CDST workshop in northern Britain and compare this with a social innovation project in the southern Netherlands.

 

Discovering common ground in European social innovation projects: mapping the BoostInno network collaboration

A while ago, I mentioned that I was going to share some exciting new community mapping projects I have been working on using my participatory community mapping methodology with online network visualization tool Kumu. After my post on mapping some Rotterdam Centres of Expertise, I now continue my series with the work I have been doing on mapping the collaboration in the URBACT BoostINNO project.

URBACT is an EU programme that aims “to enable cities to work together and develop integrated solutions to common urban challenges, by networking, learning from one another’s experiences, drawing lessons and identifying good practices to improve urban policies.”

BoostInno is one of the networks developed in URBACT,  with the aim to “enable public administrations to play a new role as public booster and brokers/facilitators of social innovation activities/projects/policies, by driving social innovation in, through and out the public sector.” Member cities include Gdansk (PL)-Lead partner, Paris (FR), Milan (IT), Turin (IT), Braga (PT), Barcelona (ES), Wroclaw (PL), Skane County (S), Baia Mare (RO), Strasbourg (FR), plus Lviv (UA) as an observer.

In preparation of one of its working meetings in Barcelona in November, I was asked to map the collaboration of the BoostInno network. Goal was to see if mapping this collaborative community of cities could help its members to make better sense of whom to work with and on what themes.  In particular, at this meeting, each city was to make a selection of other cities in the network to plan site visits to. Given that there were 11 cities present in Barcelona, and that there was only little dedicated time to meet and discuss with potential partners, it was felt that a map showing the common ground might be really helpful.

Prior to the meeting, we sent out a survey asking all cities to briefly describe 5 of their “flagship projects”, local projects that could serve as showcases of what they had to offer and share with their European peers. We also asked them to tag their projects with topics from the list of URBACT “Urban Topics”, concrete social innovation topics that cities work on and that URBACT has grouped in categories such as Integrated Urban Development, Economy, Environment, Governance, and Inclusion. Besides mapping those elements, I also added what “sharings” (concrete offerings) the cities wanted to “give” to and “use” from other cities. The resulting map literally shows the common ground of the BoostInno network, making it much easier to identify what is the common focus, but also to identify one’s own position and interests in the bigger scheme of things.

At the conference, I first presented the overall map, showing the big picture. However, I also set up a “mapping station”, where representatives of the various cities could come and see me. I then gave each of them a personalized tour showing how their city was positioned on the map, and what themes and  projects of other cities theirs was most closely related to.  In this way, precious meeting time could be used as efficiently as possible, as city representatives could more easily identify the potentially most relevant partners – also present in Barcelona – to talk to.

However, the buck didn’t stop there. As the BoostInno Lead Expert Peter Wolkowinski stated in his piece Why cities and their governance are vital keys to boosting social innovation, participatory community mapping goes way beyond the operational support. It has strategic political value too:

building communities depends on our capacities to intervene, to show results, to create maps, that allow intuitive sensemaking processes to exist. This in turn develops a common vision amoung participants, creating a very strong “social glue”. If used as tools for cross-fertilisation, for integrated action planning and doing, this kind of knowledge and feeling can be translated into political arguments, working at the core of the present crisis we are living through, where a total lack of trust has become what is common, but not what gives sense and unites different stakeholders.

As a now validated URBACT “Ad-Hoc Expert”, I aim to continue to work with the BoostInno team to weave my participatory community mapping methodology into the emerging social innovation approach of the network. I am excited to have this opportunity to keep working together with such committed people on ways to strengthen and share lessons about European collaboration on social innovation at the city level, the level where the conditions for the future prosperity and peace of our continent are being created…  To be continued.

Update July 14, 2017: A video interview held with me in Barcelona about the mapping project was just published:

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.

170307_RDM

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…