Work and thoughts about open innovation, workshops games, mixing face-to-face and online, Web 2.0 for non profits, have led me into a lot of interesting conversations recently, and I think that they are joining up.
They include designing personal learning environments, re-inventing membership organisations, judging new media awards, open sourcing politics, building systems using free web apps from Google.
I wish I could say these are now paying jobs or viable projects, but it's more that I read a lot of blogs and can't resist free invites to events or a chat over coffee. Anyway, I'm hopeful there's value in there somewhere, and was greatly cheered by a call from Leon Cych of Learn 4 Life asking me to do a podcast about Web 2.0 and learning.
I find it isn't until I have to do a presentation, interview, or article that I really pull some ideas together, so it was a good opportunity to extract some common strands from the above, and then continue reflection afterwards.
Leon gives his contributors a chance to talk a bit about their past as a lead in to the topic ... their learning journey ... which reminded me I did serve a spell as education correspondent of the Reading Evening Post many years ago before moving through more journalism, regeneration and public engagement consultancy before focussing on (well, wandering about) designing collaborations for social benefit. I hope.
At the heart of my conversation with Leon was the piece I wrote about a workshop at a London college with Roy Charles of Policy Unplugged. We ran a game to help staff think about moving from teacher-driven virtual learning environments to Web 2.0-based personal learning environments. That also led to reflections about journeys of discovery, planning and implementation, and how these are often best done openly and collaboratively. Leon and I talked about the unsuccessful but highly instructive process of writing an "open source" tender bid to Government for the Open Innovation Exchange.
I'll link to the podcast when it's up. Meanwhile here's some thoughts the interview helped trigger, and which are likely to be recurring themes in future postings. It's a bit link-heavy, and referencing will be easier when I get around to organising past posts on proper topic pages. Meanwhile please try the tags in the right sidebar for other topics. Here goes.
Be cautious (and then innovative) when asked for a proposal or an answer. It's always flattering when someone asks for advice, or a proposal. Fire off some wisdom, write the bid. But how often do we have "the answer?". Producing the bid for the Open Innovation Exchange with Simon Berry and many others showed how much more productive and fun it is to work collaborative, and to do that openly. You even end up in Society Guardian.
Help people design solutions for themselves. An extension or counterpart to open sourcing proposals is to offer those with the problem some simple tools that help them design their own solutions. That's the aim of the useful games that Drew Mackie and I have developed over the years. They show that getting people together for a few hours with some simple props produces rich conversations and ideas likely to be carried forward because everyone has some ownership. There are, of course, lots of ways of doing this, and Chris Corrigan offers us a list of the facilitation methods he uses.
Turn engagement and participation into collaboration. Another fascinating conversation I had recently was with the director of an organisation promoting public engagement processes through research, advice to government and consultancy. We agreed that a lot of the programmes aren't working because agencies don't listen, or can't deliver. As my colleague Drew wrote a few years back, we are Dancing While Standing Still. We are still. I wrote awhile back with Lee Bryant about the ways that new media may help us re-think engagement, and we have even played that through with civil servants. It now seems blindingly obvious to me that engagement doesn't work without collaboration - that is, the power-holding agencies or others managing the processes have to be prepared to commit to action. I think that's far more likely in (as above) an open process where people have been involved in designing the solution. Which leads to ...
Co-design engagement processes. As I've written here, the 250-year-old RSA is trying to re-invent itself with the involvement of 26,000 Fellows (members). It will - I believe - work much better when they get to the stage of bringing the Fellows in to the process. This is planned through a big event in November, but why not tell people what is going on, and involve some champions openly now in designing the process? Dialogue by Design have an online tool for that which complements our engagement game.
Think open source thinking. Remix. My friend Beth Kanter, who blogs about nonprofit technology from a US base, is a terrific advocate of open source thinking, which she describes like this:
Open source thinking is sharing and remixing. You've got to set your ideas free, you can't control your content. It is a different mindset: "Ah darn, someone else has got there first" versus "Great, don't have to do that, I can build it on it!" For me, it's been the ability to think out loud with colleagues on ideas and topics, share presentations, etc.
Beth is encouraging just that with a social media game we developed, and I'm delighted. Latest remix is from Italy.
Try paper prototyping before rapid prototyping. I recently chatted at some length to a company that wants to create an online community related to its business. They have a long list of functions ... news, forums, chat, profiling, buddies etc. I argued strongly for the sort of approach advocated by our friends at Delib during the Open Innovation Exchange process ... look to the Internet as your platform, be prepared to build a prototype and rapidly revise. Even better, before that, try it out on paper as we did with the e-learning game mentioned above. Either way, don't start with the tools, start with the people and the problem you are trying to solve.
Go to other people's places as well as creating your own. Related to the above is the now fairly standard advice (unless you are desperate to sell a system) that it is often better online to find where people are gathered and start conversations there. Bill Thompson explains here what's happening on Facebook. This also applies in the face-to-face world: before planning a stand-alone seminar find out if you can run a workshop at someone else's conference. It is much easier to go where people are, than get them to come to you.
Experiment with free web tools before building new. My son Dan and I have done quite a bit over the past year with the open source content management system Drupal. It has lots of different modules for blogs, forums, calendars, static pages and so on that you can mix and match for your particularly needs. It worked well for the Open Innovation Exchange. However, it does take quite a bit of maintenance to ensure modules are updated, and functions tweaked, and some effort to help users understand what's possible. These days I'm becoming more interested in what you can do using the many free or low-cost Web 2.0 tools, as Techsoup shows. (Thanks again Chris). I've recently been developing a set of linked free tools matched by a design game, and should be able to write about that soon.
Look over the (virtual) fence. One of the strong themes to emerge from my chat with Leon was that similar ideas bubble up in different disciplines, professions and sectors, but it still takes us time to recognise that because of different vocabularies and networks. This came through strongly to me at the recent launch of NESTA Connect, with the chance to hear about the 30-year history of user-based innovation from Professor Eric von Hippel. Leon gave me further inspiration during our chat, with references to what is happening in education and his work in Second Life. I'm constantly refreshed by contact with Johnnie Moore and James Cherkoff who have produced an open sauce manifesto of co-creation for a marketing audience. Then there's David Gurteen in knowledge management, Michele Martin on scarcity thinking and the problems this bring for change (and much more), Simon Collister on PR in the Web 2.0 world .. but these are just a few of the inspirations available if you use blogs and the Net to look across at what others are doing and thinking.
But why bother to blog about it? For me because it is how I learn, meet people, kick start ideas and conversations, do some cross-fertilising, find some clients. I think in this game you have to be a butterfly as well as a bee.