Socialstructing a Commons?

Regular Tres Columnae Project site visitors have probably noticed that we’re redirecting you to the “emergency backup” site this week as we rebuild.  This is the fourth platform change in our history, and I hope it will be the last!  We started out with a somewhat obscure wiki platform, migrated to an old version of Drupal for a while, and spent  time with various versions of Joomla … but the latest version started causing errors and issues for us.

Of course, all the time I’d been writing this blog in WordPress, and for quite some time the Corgito Project has run on WordPress, too.  When the new version of the Tres Columnae site comes online, you’ll find it running on WordPress as well.

I hadn’t been expecting to make that change this fall, but now that I’m in the midst of it, I’m glad it happened.  This Computerworld article “just happened” to show up, and I found it oddly helpful … and not just for my decision about which CMS to use.  There are stages in the development of a community when it’s helpful for somebody to take on the “benevolent dictator” role, in a memorable quote for the article.    But there are also times when you need “more of a committee-based approach to decision-making as far as the direction and development … is concerned.”  And sometimes, of course, a formal structure, whether committee or dictator, is exactly the opposite of what you need.

The key is to figure out which approach you need now, and to be open to change as circumstances change.  I’ve been thinking about that as the District Q and District Y Latin Family groups find their rhythm, and as I keep letting go of what “always” worked (or “always” happened) at Former School.  Somehow or other, a joyful learning community ends up socialstructing a commons for itself … but there isn’t a simple recipe you can follow to make that happen.  For the Latin Family, at the beginning, I often need to serve as the “benevolent dictator.”  New members have certain expectations about “school” and “classes” and “school work,” and as we move out of those old expectations, it’s helpful for them when I take on the Strong Leader role.  But as soon as possible, as much as possible, I start putting away my “benevolent dictator” hat … and in the process, what emerges is often something like a “committee-based approach.”  Eventually we become a learning community where roles are more fluid and informal … but even then there are times when the other structures are needed, at least for a little while.

That’s been important for me to discover and rediscover over the past few years.  I can’t impose joyful learning community by force of will, but I also can’t sit passively back and wait for it to form automatically.  Joyful learning communities can probably grow organically in non-hierarchical, non-depersonalized environments … but if you’re trying to build one in a hierarchical, factory-model environment, it takes a lot more effort and guidance than you might realize.

And much depends on the purpose of the community.  For the developers of Drupal and Joomla, the primary purpose is to build something for experts.  They’re not expecting relative amateurs to use their products, especially if those relative amateurs are building something large and important.  With an audience of expert users, many of whom are involved in building the thing they use, a “committee-based approach” makes a lot of sense.  You agree on an overall vision, divide up the work, and make sure all the pieces (mostly) work together at the end of the day.

It’s oddly similar, in some ways, to what you do if you’re building a textbook.  There, too, the primary user is an expert in the field.  Those users may or may not be directly involved in building the thing they use, but their thought processes are similar to those of the builders.

But for the Tres Columnae Project, we’re trying to be experts in some ways, but novices in others.  And that’s a hard pathway to follow sometimes.  Mark described it well in a Google+ comment:

Imagine creating a course like one H&R Block has for tax preparers and using these techniques to increase learning, camaraderie, and collaboration, amongst workers. No doubt these techniques would create better outcomes for H&R Block as a company, their employees, and customers coming in for tax return preparation.

There are key differences between this tax preparation example and what’s going on in schools today. You don’t see individuals in middle school, high school, and in some instances college, able to sign up for courses they are excited about participating. Also typical students are not like tax preparers who would take a course H&R Block might offer where there is an almost instant opportunity to take information and knowledge and begin working towards mastery, and oh yeah, making money as they practice….

LEAN was never about a focus on cutting cost. Instead it was about improving working conditions for workers which would have natural consequences like improving product quality, increasing production speeds, reducing the amount of raw good requirements and so on. Cross training workers, (constant improvement) is one of the most important tenets of LEAN.

This leads back to your comment…
It’s really hard to be an expert and a novice simultaneously!

When you talk to someone who is considered to be an expert in their field, they will likely not accept that expert description. Instead they will tell you how they are constantly learning new things and if they participate in mentoring relationships today, they will be the first to tell you how much they are learning from their mentees who live alongside them in the hyper-changing world we all live in.

And in that hyper-changing worldbuilding and leading a joyful learning community is a complicated balancing act.  I wonder what new forms of balance we’ll find in the days and weeks ahead.

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Published in: on November 5, 2014 at 4:09 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] keep building better stories, it’s important to remember that stories shape communities, but communities also shape their stories as they build a commons together.  Stories unite, but they also divide, and sometimes they do […]


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