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

160502_toolbox

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

Abstract:

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).

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Abstract:

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.

 

New publication – Towards a participatory community mapping method: the Tilburg urban farming community case

Just published: A. de Moor  (2015), Towards a participatory community mapping method: the Tilburg urban farming community case. In Avram, Gabriela; De Cindio, Fiorella; Pipek, Volkmar (eds.) (2015): Proceedings of the Work-In-Progress Track of the 7th International Conference on Communities and Technologies, Limerick, Ireland, 27-30 June, 2015. in: International Reports on Socio-Informatics (IRSI), 12(1), 2015, pp.73-82.

Abstract

Urban farming communities often consist of many disjoint initiatives, while  having a strong need to overcome their fragmentation. Community mapping can help urban farmers make better sense of their collaboration. We describe a participatory community mapping approach being piloted in an urban farming community-building project in and around the city of Tilburg. The approach combines (1) a basic community mapping language, (2) a state of the art web-based community visualization tool, and (3) a participatory mapping process to support the community-building efforts. We outline the approach being developed and present initial results of applying it in the Tilburg case

Growing the Tilburg urban farming community map using Kumu

Introduction: The Tilburg Urban Farming Community

The Tilburg Urban Farmers Community is part of the Urban Farmers for a Liveable Brabant project. The project aims to strengthen and expand the urban farming communities in the cities of Tilburg, Den Bosch and Oss in the southern Dutch province of North Brabant. More precisely, its objective is to “create a larger impact of urban farming on the economy and society in a bottom-up way”. One of its sub-projects, driven by CommunitySense, is to literally map the Tilburg Urban Farming Community.

150316_rootsWhat does it mean to map a community? Traditionally, projects are often evaluated by the concrete deliverables they produce. However, when stimulating the growth and impact of a community or social network, this is too limited a measure. Just as important, if not more important, are the relations and interactions which emerge “below the surface” among the community members themselves and between them and their stakeholders. To stick to farming metaphors: in bamboo and other grasses it is not so much their shoots (”the products”), but especially the densely branched root system (”the relations and interactions”) which matter for future growth and impact.

The tool: Kumu

How to visualize this “community root system”? To this purpose, we use the new online tool Kumu. Its motto stresses why this is such a suitable tool for our purpose:

Harness the power of relationships. Kumu gives you the tools to track, visualize, and leverage relationships to overcome your toughest obstacles.

The essence of Kumu is that you make a map consisting of elements (e.g. activities like “projects” and their “results”) and connections (relations and interactions like “informedness” or “involvement”) between the elements. On the map, you can define different perspectives, in which Kumu only shows those elements and connections which interest you at that moment. To define perspectives, you can apply specific decorations and apply various kinds of foci and filters.

In this way, the whole being larger than the sum of its part can be shown (the total map), while it is also always possible to just display the particular part of the map most relevant to a particular stakeholder in the most effective way (a perspective). For example, an organization may be especially interested in its direct links with the activities in which it is involved in the community. Kumu therefore allows for only a partial map to be shown by applying a specific focus or filter to the total map.

Mapping the Community

Our set of core elements and connections, as well as their visualizations in Kumu, keeps evolving, driven by the developing applications of the community map.

Community Elements

Elements can be visualized by their own colors, icons and sizes. At the moment, we distinguish the following types of elements:

Participants:
Persons
Organizations
Communities
Roles that participants can play
Activities (dynamic process outcomes, e.g. “Organizing a Lunch”)
Results (static product outcomes, like “Exhibition Stand”, “Report”. NB activities are outcomes as well, but being processes, activities can generate other processes and results and are a direct source of community growth)
Tools that can be used to support activities:
Online Tools (e.g. Urban Farmers for Liveable Brabant-app, participant websites)
Physical Meetings (e.g. bilateral meetings, network meetings and lunches, workshops)

Community Connections

The essence of communities is not so much formed by these elements on their own, but by the kind,  quality, and number of connections that emerge between them. In increasing degree of involvement, we distinguish the following basic kinds of connections:

  • Informedness (”Geïnformeerdheid”): being informed about activities of the community, but not being part of it.
  • Membership (”Lidmaatschap””): being an explicit member of the community in the sense of having made a commitment to particpate
  • Involvement (”Betrokkenheid”): actual participation in the activities of the community
  • Producing (”Heeft Resultaat”): visible/measurable results produced

In Kumu, connections can be visualized by the combination of type, color, and width of their lines. For example, we represent Informedness by a thin blue line, whereas Producing is shown as a thick red line, indicating its much higher community-building contribution.

The community map

The community map consists of the total set of elements and connections representing the community. A snapshot of this map looks like this:
150316_StadseBoeren

For the latest “(a)live” version of the community map click here.

So many perspectives…

One of the most powerful features of Kumu is its ability to create and share advanced perspectives on the map. One feature is that the tool allows you to focus on particular elements. A useful property of focus-perspectives is that they can be shared as a link, so that by clicking it, one can always see the latest live version of these perspectives. Some examples:

Another type of perspective consists of filtering out particular elements and connections. For example, it could be useful to community managers to get a bird’s eye view just of which organizations are participating in what activities. This means going to the filter-menu and selecting only the checkboxes for the Organisation (”organisatie”) and Activity (”activiteit”)-elements and the Involvement (”Betrokkenheid”)-connection:

150316_filter perspective

Filter-views cannot be shared as links (yet), so they need to be manually configured every time one wants to see this perspective. (Part of) the resulting perspective is the following:

150316_filter perspective2

One can now easily see that several organization act as natural “bridges” between two main community activities, making them likely candidates to involve in organizing a joint event between those activities, for example.

So many applications…

This short introduction is not supposed to be exhaustive, but to inspire and get readers to think about finding other creative and effective ways to use community visualization tools. There are many other interesting Kumu features and ways to use them. For example, there is a whole array of “metrics”. The Degree-metric, for instance, gives an indication of which participants are likely to be local hubs and connectors within the community. Like filters, metrics also cannot yet be shared as links. Instead, they can be accessed by clicking the metrics-symbol at the bottom of the map: 150316_metrics

A community map is never finished and needs to be updated regularly. However, community mapping is not just about collecting the data and creating the map. Just as important, a community needs to think how to read and use it. Additional perspectives and uses will be developed as the community mapping requirements become clearer and new Kumu functionalities become available. Spin-off experiments have already emerged, like an initial map of the community network of Science Hub Brabant and a map-in-progress of the urban farmers network in the city of Den Bosch.

All of this has inspired me to think hard about how to turn such experiments into a real “participatory community mapping methodology”. Plenty of inspiration for future research & development…