Yesterday at the Packard Foundation, as part of a series of "deeper dives" to learn about networks and social media, Eugene Eric Kim of Blue Oxen Associates gave a talk about "Networks in an International Context."
I've gotten into the habit of asking if there will be confidential information shared and what is or isn't bloggable. This makes me more comfortable for me to open my laptop and take notes. Eugene said at the beginning that he would not be sharing any confidential information and that everything is open. I asked if I could live tweet to bring others into the conversation which I did using the tag #packfound.
Eugene was the consultant on Packard Foundation’s Organizational Effectiveness grant to strengthen the network of a Population/Reproductive Health grantee, The International Institute of Education's Leadership Development for Moblizing Reproductive Health Program.
More than one third of Packard Foundation’s grantees are networks and many more get their work done through networks. The Foundation’s Organizational Effectiveness program has long supported projects to help Foundation grantees improve management, governance, and leadership. But over the past two years, the program has expanded its work to include a focus on how grantees can improve the strength and use of these networks.
Since 2000, the Institute of International Education has worked on leadership development with the goal of building and sustaining networks of leaders who would improve the delivery of family planning and reproductive health outcomes through improved services and policies. There are now 990 actively engaged Fellows—across the five focal countries of Ethiopia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines—regularly participating in the Leadership Development for Mobilizing Reproductive Health network activities.
The focus of Eugene's work with this network was to better understand its community, the most promising group practices, and have an open discussion that would facilitate learning and interaction among these leaders who were miles apart, spoke different languages, and had Internet access challenges. With the entire network engaged, the leaders worked together to create a report to document the lessons they were learning from implementing leadership programs for reproductive health, through a new wiki.
Eugene Eric Kim is an expert in online culture and collaboration, particularly with new tools. He is currently facilitating strategic planning for the wikimedia movement. His work was recently profiled in this New York Times piece.
This session was particularly exciting for me because I got to meet Eugene Eric Kim face-to-face. I've known him through his "Twitter ant trails" (I'll explain that in a bit).
We began the session by filing out of the conference room to the parking lot outside for an interactive exercise called "The Dance Floor and the Balcony." The intent of the exercise (besides getting us to move around) was to help reflect and learn about self-organizing group collaboration. The instructions for the exercise are:
Get in a circle. ask each member of the circle to pick two people, but don't tell them. When facilitator says go, everyone moves so that they are always equidistant between those two people who they chose.
Repeat the exercise, this time with the goal of moving one person to the opposite side of the room. One person is identified to move to the other side. Everyone again has two persons with whom to remain equidistant. By moving others move - the aim is to impact the person who needs to be moved to the other side.
What happened? (Let participants describe what actually happened as they tried to maintain equidistance and in the second half of the exercise too)
What was our learning? (Checklist: our influence is interconnected, often we can influence events which may not be in our direct sphere of influence. It is not always easy to keep control of events.)
I had attempted to use my FLIP camera to document us doing the exercise, but I found myself so engaged in the learning versus the documenting, that I only got one clip at the beginining and it was so great. On Eugene's site, you can see a much better video of the exercise with participants in Africa.
We had some rich learnings in the reflection of what happened in the group. Some takeaways about emergent collaboration:
- Having a shared goal can really catalyzed the group, without it you get interesting random behavior.
- Self-organizing is difficult without communication
- Trying to accomplish our personal goals the first time we did the exercise was playful, but chaotic. We decided to ask each other who we were following, we quickly were able to fall in line.
- The second time, with a sense of purpose and goal, the exercise easier to do
- We had different strategies for accomplishing our personal goal and the group goal.
- Some of us experience goal conflict between individual and the group
- Some abandoned group goal for personal goals, while some abandoned the personal goal for group goal
- Doing the exercise two times gave a sense of confidence the second we did it. We knew what was coming.
- The first time open-ended, playful like being on a social network. The second-time was more directed
- Getting involved in a movement exercise that includes having people reflect on their individual and the group behavior was really valuable - this relates to the title of the exercise - that network leaders have to be on the dancefloor (or in the weeds) and then get up on the balcony and observe the patterns.
We came back in side and Eugene Eric Kim did a fantastic presentation offering up excellent principles. His slides and my notes and reflections follow.
As a prelude to his talk, he asked to think about to take a moment to think about the best experience you ever had collaborating with other people. He asked us, "If you think about the best experience, imagine a world that all your collaborations is at least as good as the best experience you ever had?" That's the vision for his company and work.
He has deep experience with emergent communities, groups of people that have a loose network that come together to form their own groups, not meeting face-to-face but doing amazing things. This is the way I've described the Nptech Tagging community and other ad-hoc communities where people come ogether first through social media tools.
His focus is on emergent collaboration and understanding what the how to create the conditions to inspire action and learning. He talked about the importance of individuals having a "learning attitude" - that is someone who thinks about things and takes lessons away - regardless of the teacher. (I might also add regardless of whether or not the experience was a "success"). He also talked about collective intelligence as the group ability to learn and improve.
He then gave us Five Principles to Think about Networks. What I loved about his frameworks is these can applied to social media work for external communications plans and even inward facing work. These are particularly important for International Networks made of people speaking different languages and having different cultural norms.
(1) Everybody is People
Eugene shared his experience going to a developing country for the first time. He mentioned that he ad done a great deal of research. He was asking his local guide a lot of questions about what was and what wasn't appropriate. He shared that he was not only jetlagged, but "freaked out" because didn't want to make a mistake and break etiquette. His guide in country turned to him and said, "Be yourself. You'll make mistakes, but you'll learn. People will understand."
He mentioned that he did, in fact, make a mistake. He didn't bring a long sleeve short in the dessert because it over 100 degrees. However, the local culture was to cover your body up. Eugene related this to working with international networks, "There is a chance to screw up in the projects, but you can't go in with that mindset. You're going in with good intentions, be self-aware, and people will accept that. Do your due dilligence, but go as a learner."
Everyone is people. That's a challenging notion for thinking about networks. "We visualize networks in a different way. Critical to remember that networks are piles of people who have a relationship with each other. When you talk about catalyzing learning, action, or collaboration - what makes networks is the relationships between humans. What makes it hard is that our assumptions about people isn't always correct."
Technology is a dehumanizing. Our interaction with technology makes us reorient ourselves around the tools, not the tools serving us and bulding relationships. Online network work in general is people work. We can't forget about our basic humaness when interacting with other people.
He talked about how culture manifests itself in online collaborations. He pointed to the Japanese wikipedia page noting that in Japan, the cultural norm is for the group to discuss the page in the discussion area before developing the content together. In Western countries, people dive into collaborating writing first and then use the discussion area to settle differences of opinion.
With international networks, it is important to recognize cultural norms both online and offline.
(2) TRUST: Trust is Everything
He emphasized the importance of actions to garner trust. It made me think of Chris Brogan's "Trust Agents." He talked about how in Nigeria everyone has a "money guy" who can exchange your currency. The reason is that the banks usually rip people off. He asked his guide how they find a money guy who told him that they get referrals from friends and family and based on how your treated. You have good faith upfront and then it depends on how you're treated. Kim said it is very important to understand the trust norms in different cultures and how these translate to an online context.
Online networks and collaboration happen if participants have some sense of trust through previous relationships, play, or past experience. "To catalyze the network, you have to invest in relationships." He pointed out this plays out differently depending upon the life cycle of the network. For example, networks just getting started, need to build social lubrican of trust and this happens through relationship building. "Relationships are built over food and drink."
He also said that we can't go into using social networks thinking we're going to see the tangible results because the first focus has to be on this relationship building. "If we want to do something amazing, we have to start with building relationships first.
(3) Be what you want to see
Eugene talked about the importance of modeling to create. "You have to set an example and it only takes a few people to do that and it seeps into the group." He suggested that a biggest value of my participation at Packard as visiting scholar, was modeling how to be connect with professional networks via social media - the blogging and twittering that I'm doing. He used the example of the recent NetFlix prize as an example.
Simple rule for collaboration: Just get a few people to establish the collaboration norm, those people will establish the norm. Modeling the norm. The way it is implemented - it can be intentional. One of the things that technology gives you the opportunity to do - to see things in an open and transparent way
Observation - see the whole - allowed us to shift the behavior. To create an environment where the network can learn from each other requires intentional modeling.
(4) Simplicity Scales
He used the metaphor of the ants. They do two things leave and follow trails and haul things. They basically leave a trail that says "I was here." That way others can find them and connect. He applied the metaphor to Twitter. Twitter is simply an ant trail. We can leave a pulse, it is simple and easy. It keeps the connections going.
Eugene said not to focus on the content. Leave a trail and emergence to happen.
(5) Peturb the Ecosystem
This was all about giving up control - networks work when you give up control. How much are you giving up control and seeing what happens?
I left this session with some new insights about the networks and social media tools. Networks can exist as part of your external communications strategy, your outward facing work. That's a lot of what I write about on this blog -- crowds, groundswells, and movements. Emergent collaboration takes place when your supporters remix your content and share with their friends.
There are also networks that are very bounded - where the people are known and the work they are doing together is confidential. These principles apply to their work, but it doesn't happen out in the open where anyone on the Internet can see it. There is controlled access. The group can use some of the social media, if appropriate, to do its work.
And then there are the networks - that are coming together for learning and improving and do their work out in the open. The goal is not an external communications strategy.
What I wonder is how and when a network that is coming together to learn and improve decides whether it can open or needs to have a gate or password protected space. What are the cultural shifts that need to occur? When does being completely open disrupt or impair the learning and improving part?