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.

kumu - screenshot stadse boeren

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


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



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.


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


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.


Nieuwe publicatie: Een Stadse Boeren Community Moet Je Samen Opkweken

Onlangs verschenen: A. de Moor (2015). Een Stadse Boeren Community Moet Je Samen Opkweken. In M. Bol, T. Cornet (eds.),Stadse Boeren voor Leefbaarheid: De Kracht van Groene Lijm, De Conceptenbouwers, Den Bosch. ISBN 978-90-823832-0-1


Stadslandbouw is helemaal in. Stadse boeren hebben een sterk gevoel bij een globale beweging te horen. Deze ‘sense of community’ is een belangrijke noodzakelijke voorwaarde om iets te kunnen bereiken. Maar hoe vertaal je die abstracte idealen in concrete actie? Niet individueel, maar met gelijkgestemden? En niet een continent verderop, maar hier in de buurt? Hoe krijg je al die groene kikkers in een gezamenlijke kruiwagen? En hoe krijg je die kruiwagen vervolgens waar hij nodig is?


Powered by Social Innovation – Seminar Community Mapping

Binnenkort geef ik een Powered by Social Innovation-Seminar Community Mapping bij het Midpoint Center for Social Innovation. Hier de uitnodiging:

Seminar Community Mapping

Graag nodigen we je uit voor het seminar ‘Hoe breng je een community in kaart’. Dit seminar wordt gegeven door Aldo de Moor van CommunitySense.

Datum: 13 oktober 2015
Tijd: 15.30 – 17.30u
Locatie: Midpoint Center for Social Innovation (Burgemeester Brokxlaan 8-88 Tilburg)

Hoe breng je een community in kaart; de case van de Tilburgse Stadse Boeren

Communities en netwerken zijn een essentieel onderdeel van de kennismaatschappij. ‘Community mapping’ is een krachtige techniek om de samenhang en samenwerking binnen communities en netwerken in kaart te brengen. CommunitySense heeft een participatieve methodiek ontwikkeld om dergelijke communitykaarten te maken en in te zetten voor het versterken van communities.

De methodiek bestaat uit een visualisatie ‘taal’, een ondersteunende online tool en een proces voor het maken en gebruiken van communitykaarten. In dit seminar staat de case van de Tilburgse Stadse Boeren centraal. In deze case is een eerste versie van de methodiek ontwikkeld en toegepast voor het maken van een overzichtskaart van deze community (http://bit.ly/1L0jusT).

In het seminar worden de geleerde lessen besproken en wordt een demonstratie gegeven van de gebruikte tool, Kumu. Daarna ga je met elkaar in gesprek over hoe community mapping een rol zou kunnen spelen bij het versterken van Social Innovation.

Wil je het verhaal weten achter deze communitykaart? Wil je weten hoe je community mapping in jouw activiteiten succesvol kunt toepassen? Kom dan naar het seminar en meld je aan via info@poweredbysocialinnovation.nl.

Team Powered by Social Innovation

New publication: Communities in Context: Towards Taking Control of Their Tools in Common(s)

Just published: A. de Moor (2015). Communities in Context: Towards Taking Control of Their Tools in Common(s). In The Journal of Community Informatics, 11(2).



In this exploratory paper, we outline some issues of inter-community socio-technical systems governance. Our purpose here is not to solve these issues, but to raise awareness about the complexity of socio-technical governance issues encountered in practice. We aim to expand on the rather abstract definition of community-based Internet governance as proposed in the Internet for the Common Good Declaration, exploring how it plays out in practice in actual collaborating communities.  We introduce a simple conceptual model to frame these issues and illustrate them with a concrete case: the drafting and signing of the declaration. We show some of the shortcomings of and socio-technical fixes for Internet collaboration support in this particular case. We end this paper with a discussion on directions for strengthening the collaboration commons.