The biennial Communities and Technologies (C&T) conference is the premier international forum for stimulating scholarly debate and disseminating research on the complex connections between communities – in their multiple forms – and information and communication technologies.
It is one of my favorite conferences, and as usual, it was an amazing meeting of minds. See the tweet stream for an impression of the topics discussed. More on the paper I presented in a future post.
After the conference, some of us took a tour of the futuristic new campus of the Vienna University of Economics and Business. The buildings are phenomenal, however, what really struck me was how the concept of the campus being a community space has been designed into everything, from the overall master plan of the campus area to very specific building details. Instead of constructions creating artificial barriers between people, this campus in everything promotes the meeting and mingling of people and the building of community. There is a lesson or two to be learnt here by us working on community building with ICTs, where we often still let technology get in the way instead of acting as a community catalyst….
At any rate, a great symbol of where the worlds of physical architecture and online community spaces meet is this picture, where the three words I am pointing at neatly summarize what I am working on with CommunitySense. I am eager to further explore how the worlds of “traditional” urban planning & architecture and community informatics can mesh. Surely to be continued…
Public libraries are cornerstones of civil society. They form the “third places” where individual citizens meet and mingle, get informed, learn, as well as form and share opinions. Increasingly, however, public libraries are also seen as the meeting and co-working hubs of the many communities making up the rich fabric of urban society. Thus, public libraries are getting new, societal roles as city labs and social innovation catalysts.
The Tilburg Public Library is known for its groundbreaking library innovations, such as the recently opened LocHal, which is truly a “world-class urban living room for Tilburg in an iconic former locomotive shed of the Dutch National Railways”. More about that in a future post. Another one of its strategic innovations concerns the KnowledgeCloud, the “network in which persons, communities and organisations meet one another both online and offline to discuss current, societally relevant themes”. It has grown into a national library project, including several other Dutch public libraries as well as the Dutch Royal Library.
Because of my relevant expertise, I was asked to participate as an external expert in the CIDES project. Since 2017, I have been on several working visits to Brno and Prague. It is a very inspiring project to be involved in, because of its scope and importance, as well as the professionalism and dedication (not to mention the great sense of Czech humor ;-)) of the library studies team involved.
CIDES focuses on (1) collecting and analyzing practical social innovation lessons learnt by public libraries across the country, (2) refining and extending the most promising of those lessons through a range of incubators and accelerators – and (3) disseminating these lessons nation-wide. Underlying the approach is a solid methodology, of which the CommunitySensor methodology is becoming an integral part.
One way we use CommunitySensor is to chart the local social innovation collaboration ecosystems around participating Czech public libraries. As we are using the same mapping language for all library maps, it also becomes easier to do cross-case analysis, integrate maps, and even see connections at the national level.
More Czech connections: mapping public library social innovation ecosystems together
We have also done several mapping experiments to test and validate the participatory aspects of the methodology. Two of these experiments – one in Prague and one in Brno – nicely demonstrate the gist of the approach:
Mapping the social innovation ecosystem around the Prague Public library
In March 2018, we conducted a mapping experiment with around 35 librarians of the Prague municipal library. In break out groups, the librarians were to come up with local social innovation themes, then select and map existing or proposed initiatives that would fit those themes. We then all together tried to make sense of the emerging bigger picture in the concluding plenary discussion. This process was considered very valuable by participants for building a joint sense of understanding and ownership. It also helped to validate and inform the CIDES methodology for collecting, connecting, and scaling up social innovation lessons learnt with public libraries. This visual impression should convey the spirit of the mapping session:
Mapping the collaboration ecosystem around the #Brno2050 common agenda
Another experiment took place in Brno in October 2018. The city of Brno has invested heavily in an ambitious public agenda setting process to ask local stakeholders what their city should look like in 2050: #Brno2050. By design it has been a very participatory process to come up with the themes that matter to and are co-owned the citizens of Brno:
However, how to make these themes work in practice? How to go from idea(l)s to working, aligned initatives, projects, and programmes with collective impact? How to pool resources that were already there, acknowledging that Brno is a truly smart city in terms of its large social capital formed by its many vibrant communities?
To support this common agenda setting process for the city, we explored if and how we could use our emerging participatory collaboration mapping approach for social innovation in and by public libaries.
To this purpose, we held an initial meeting to do a quickscan of the existing Brno collaboration ecosystem, using the #Brno2050 city themes as a starting point. About 30 participants – including many stakeholders representing various Brno social innovation initiatives – gathered at the Brno Jiří Mahen Library. We asked them to make a rough inventory of their own and other initiatives that they knew of. On the fly, we added as many of these initiatives as we could to the draft #Brno2050 ecosystem map, so that many of the hidden connections between the initiatives were made visible immediately. We then again had a lively plenary discussion in which the participants commented on the collaboration patterns they saw emerging. It was a very fruitful and spirited exchange of ideas. Participants indeed saw this approach as a way forward to keep building momentum on not just dreaming about the long term city strategy, but also making it actually work in the long run. Representatives of the municipality were enthusiastic and committed to investigate if this approach could become part of their urban planning process.
To conclude this post, a visual summary capturing the involvement of the workshop participants building (on) their common city agenda:
More details about our methodology and the experiments we conducted will be shared in future research papers. This blog at least should give you a sneak preview of the cutting edge work currently being done in the Czech Republic on making public libraries catalyze social innovation.
Addressing societal wicked problems requires collaboration across many different community networks. In order for community networks to scale up their collaboration and increase their collective impact, they require a process of inter-communal sensemaking. One way to catalyze that process is by participatory collaboration mapping. In earlier work, we presented the CommunitySensor methodology for participatory mapping and sensemaking within communities. In this article, we extend this approach by introducing a community network ontology that can be used to define a customized mapping language to make sense across communities. We explore what ontologies are and how our community network ontology is developed using a participatory ontology evolution approach. We present the community network conceptual model at the heart of the ontology. We show how it classifies element and connection types derived from an analysis of 17 participatory mapping cases, and how this classification can be used in characterizing and tailoring the mapping language required by a specific community network. To illustrate the application of the community network ontology in practice, we apply it to a case of participatory collaboration mapping for global and national agricultural field building. We end the article with a discussion and conclusions.
Participatory community network mapping can support collaborative sensemaking within and across communities and their surrounding stakeholder networks. We introduce the CommunitySensor methodology under construction. After summarizing earlier work, we show how the methodology uses a cyclical approach by adopting a Community Network Development Cycle that embeds a Community Network Sensemaking Cycle. We list some observations from practice about using community network mapping for making inter-communal sense. We discuss how extending the methodology with a pattern-driven approach benefits the building of bridges across networked communities, as well as the sharing of generalized lessons learnt. To this purpose, a community collaboration pattern language is essential. We show initial work in developing and using such a language by examining the cross-case evolution of core community network interaction patterns.
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.
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 process consisted of three stages: (1) seedingthemap (prior to the conference); (2) seedingcollaborations (during the conference); and (3) growingthecollaborations (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 toolsecosystem, 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 collectedinitialdata by asking all participants to fill out a form describing one of their flagship projects. The results were then used to createthe“seedmap“, 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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!