Communities & Technologies 2009

090722_CCT2009From June 25-28, I was at Penn State, attending the Communities & Technologies 2009 conference, the main bi-annual conference specifically focusing on this theme. As with the previous editions, I again very much enjoyed myself, both with respect to the many interesting presentations and by meeting up with old and new colleagues and friends who are part of our nomadic research tribe.

To get a feel for what the conference was about, check out the following resources:

  • A Twitter account of the sessions by multiple authors, hashtag #cct2009.
  • An excellent summary of the conference by Joe McCarthy.
  • A Flickr conference photo gallery.

D-Day for Communities and Networks Connection

As you know, the field of community informatics is a very fast moving target. Trying to keep up with even only the most basic developments in research and practice, from the softest social psychology intuitions to the hardest network infrastructure deployment, is the best way to get completely overloaded. Sometimes, you just want to give up and zone out (try clicking the square in this digital sandbox for some wonderful R&R if you reach that state of emergency!) However, when you feel the “Force Is Starting To Embrace You Again”, a brand new Jedi sabre is awaiting to help you cut through the conceptual tangle and quickly zoom in on the most relevant developments: the Communities & Networks Connection blog portal.

090217_mcs_cnc_badgeIt is not a single blog, nor a group blog, but a true portal that combines a blog roll of featured bloggers  in this area with  advanced search and newspaper-style presentation options. It distills the most important keywords from all the contributing blogs, and makes it possible to navigate easily and in multiple ways through the federated content. For example, after selecting a particular blog, the site shows you the latest and the best from that blog, as well as related content from other blogs. It also shows the subset of the collective keywords covered by this blog, etc., etc.

The Communities and Networks Connection portal launched only today, and is still under some construction, especially with respect to the finetuning the keywords.   However, it already has a very pleasant look and feel to it and is addictive in that it draws you into examining related content you would otherwise not really be bothered delving into. Cheers for Nancy White and Tony Karrer who have managed to pull this off!

From Inspiration to Activation: Making Online Collaborative Communities Work

Invitation to my UAH lecture, January 21, 2009On January 21, I presented my lecture “From Inspiration to Activation: Making Online Collaborative Communities Work” in the UAHuntsville Distinguished Speaker Series. It was a revised version of the invited talk I gave at the ALOIS 2008 conference in Venice in May 2008. In the lecture I addressed how collaborative communities require not only the sense of purpose and drive provided by inspiration, but also the activation of the community in terms of explicitly supporting the initiation, execution, and evaluation of  goal-oriented (online) communication processes. To this purpose, a socio-technical design process is needed in which the communicative context and tool system are matched.

A major theme in my lecture was the paradigm-shifting approach of the Obama administration to involve the general public, not only in getting elected, but also in providing ideas for and feedback on the policies proposed. Key priorities are communication, transparency, and participation, which, not coincidentially are also the foundations of the field of community informatics. Only four years ago, this new reality seemed only but a distant dream. It is incredibly exciting to witness community informatics history in the making, right in the heart of our global democratic system!

Although the Obama approach is a unique and most promising experiment on an unprecedented scale, it will need to go beyond current ambitions of soliciting feedback from individual citizens. In order to at least partially address the many highly complex, interlocking wicked problems like the credit crisis, global warming, poverty, environmental degradation and war, it will need to invest heavily in creating and nurturing a multitude of collaborative communities. These communities should bring together representatives of societal stakeholders such as government, science, corporations, NGOs, and so on. These communities should help them work together effectively and efficiently and break through organizational, political, disciplinary and ethnic boundaries. Only in this way can scalable solutions be developed that are workable and acceptable to the majority of people affected.

My presentation given at UAH can be viewed here:

Liberating Voices book published

A while ago, I posted some ideas on the socio-technical infrastructure needed to create a network of “thinking communities”. I was then contacted by Doug Schuler, coordinator of the Public Sphere Project, who asked me to create a Thinking Communities Pattern  for their Liberating Voices: a Pattern Language for Communication Revolution project.

081208_schuler_liberating_voices_front_coverA selection of patterns, including the Thinking Communities Pattern, has now been edited and published as a book by The MIT Press (ISBN 0-262-69366-6). See also the book flyer. To get an idea of how these patterns could be used, see, for instance, the post by Justin Smith, who lists some requirements for a pattern-based knowledge system.

The best way to introduce the book is by using Doug’s own words:

After eight years of work, the book on our information and communication pattern language project, “Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution,” is finally available. Liberating Voices brings together a multitude of ideas and suggestions from a variety of perspectives including activism and social change, education, community informatics, governance, media, development, information science, economics, journalism, arts and culture.

We believe that this book can be used by researchers, by practitioners in a variety of fields including teachers in the classroom, by activists, and by citizens and community members throughout the world.

I’m writing to you as a colleague or, in some cases, as a person whom I’ve never met but whose work I admire. In either case I’m hopeful that you’d find this work compelling. If you do, please read this note and send it along to friends and colleagues who might also be interested.

I believe that this book is particularly relevant at this time in history. It is a holistic call to arms for social change based on a revolution in grassroots information and communication. It takes the form of a pattern language that contains 136 patterns. Each pattern is a template for research as well as social critique and action. And each pattern is linked to other patterns into a single coherent whole. We (myself and 85 co-authors) have tried to show that the struggle for liberatory information and communication systems is absolutely critical.

In recent decades we have witnessed the creation of communication systems that promise unparalleled connectedness. Now is the time to unleash our collective creativity—social as well as technological—and develop the communication systems that promote community and civic innovation and engagement to address serious challenges like climate change and environmental degradation.

Inspired by the vision and framework outlined in Christopher Alexander’s classic 1977 book, A Pattern Language, the book presents a pattern language containing 136 patterns designed to meet these challenges. We are proposing a new model of social change that integrates theory and practice by showing how diverse information and communication based approaches can be used to address local as well as global problems.

The pattern language was developed collaboratively with nearly 100 co-authors using an online pattern language management system. The patterns from the book are all online as are approximately 300 other patterns in work. We are treating the publishing of the book as an important milestone rather than the culmination of the project. While we are very enthusiastic about what we’ve produced so far we realize that people and organizations who use the patterns will often need to adapt the pattern language to their specific needs which may even include developing new patterns. For this reason and others we are revamping our web site to encourage collaborative pattern language construction and allow people to readily share ideas and experiences with others.

Our goal was to create an intriguing and informative catalog of intellectual, social, and technological innovations, a practical manual for citizen activism, and a compelling manifesto for creating a more intelligent, sustainable, and equitable world.

Mr. Community President

[The text of an e-mail I just sent to the Community Informatics Researchers-mailing list]

What a wonderful moment in  emancipatory history we have just experienced! No need to add here to the deluge of analyses of the profound impact Obama’s election is going to have on all levels of U.S. and global society. At any rate, congratulations to all American and international colleagues on this list who are so very much in need of a change of societal paradigm.

One thing some of us discussed at the conference in Prato (another great event in the series, it was, as always, good to be back) was what Obama’s election could mean in terms of boosting community informatics research and practice.  His is very much a way of community (informatics) thinking and working, both in philosophical outlook by putting community first and in practical approach, see, for instance:

http://fairsay.com/blog/obamas-win-and-the-power-of-networking

In particular, community informatics researchers and practitioners have a great wealth of experience, contacts, and lessons learnt at their disposal which could become much more visible and widely applicable now that new winds are going to blow. In particular, if Obama is going to live up to at least part of the sky-high expectations, our community (through its conferences, CIRN, individual contacts, projects, etc.) might be of use for him and his team in order not to waste precious time and seize this unique moment to make the paradigm shift lasting.

We were wondering if anybody would have any idea how we as a community of social change catalysts could practically link up with the now permanent campaign for social change forming around the Obama nucleus? This could – and should – be our moment too, but we have to get our act together…

Aldo

5th Prato Community Informatics & Development Informatics Conference 2008

5th Prato Community Informatics & Development Informatics Conference 2008: ICTs for Social Inclusion: What is the Reality?

27 OCTOBER-30 OCTOBER 2008, MONASH CENTRE, PRATO ITALY.

FIRST CALL FOR PAPERS
We are seeking abstracts and proposals from academics, practitioners and PhD students for a conference and workshop event at the Monash University Centre, Prato, Italy (near Florence). The Conference will also include a development informatics stream under the aegis of the International Development Informatics Association as part of its second conference meeting.

Click here for more information.