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Posts Tagged ‘self-organising’

ReGeneration: What’s in a name?

April 20th, 2010

This posting is the second in a series that discusses ideas and themes from the recent NZCER report, Organising for Emergence (see the first posting here), an output from NZCER’s Future Focussed Issues project.  Organising for Emergence discusses a case study of the New Zealand-based, youth-led sustainability network called ReGeneration. Our interest in case studying the ReGeneration network stemmed from our goal of exploring the ways knowledge is constructed, shared, and used in what we’ve been calling: “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change in relation to future-focussed issues” *.

In this posting, I’d like to reflect on the name “ReGeneration” (and other language associated with this network) and some of the challenges that it presented for us as researchers who are used to describing teaching and learning within institutional contexts (i.e. within schools, early childhood centres, tertiary institutions, workplaces, etc).  For example, when we write about school-based research, we are able to draw on a large set of conceptual categories and labels that are familiar to most readers as “ideas and things that are part of schools”. These include labels to describe people’s roles (e.g., teacher, student, principal), physical objects and spaces (school, classrooms, staffrooms) and organising concepts associated with the daily practices of schooling (curriculum, teaching, learning, subject, assessment, lesson), and so on. Each of these conceptual categories implies a space with edges and boundaries that readers can easily fill based their own prior knowledge and experiences of these categories. Even though the edges and boundaries of these concepts may be more fluid in real life than they appear on the written page, they are at least simple to write about.

The final chapter of Organising for Emergence as a wordle: http://www.wordle.net/

As a “self-generating network for learning and social change” (our phrase), ReGeneration did not come with the same set of descriptive labels and categories. The roles that people play in the network, the things that happen within the network and the spaces in which these things occur all required description; but the language to describe these things is much less self-evident and more fluid—even when used by the participants in our research. For example, the name “ReGeneration” was carefully chosen by the organisers for its many layers of meaning and significance. We (the researchers) were first introduced to the word by one of the organisers, who gave us a full copy of this article . This (along with ongoing conversations with the organisers) gave us some sense of the idea of “regeneration” as a concept that seeks to move beyond “sustainability” thinking (i.e. trying to maintain things in the state they are currently in, or to keep doing what we are doing indefinitely, without degenerating the environment, or without depleting resources), towards the concept of actually designing systems, processes, and ways of being that have a positive impact, that is, making things better than they were before, generating new resources through our activities, and so on.

However, a significant aspect of the ReGeneration network (as we observed in our case study) was that word “ReGeneration” was not defined in any singular way, or presented as though there was one correct or best meaning. Rather, multiple, intertwined, and parallel meanings were constructed individually and collectively by participants. For participants, the word “regeneration” sparked metaphors of intergenerational connections, cycles of death and regrowth, nourishing the energies of themselves and other people, connections to people, places and communities. Overarching all of these ideas was a message of positivity and hope. (For example, many saw regeneration/ReGeneration as sitting in direct contrast to “old-school” approaches towards sustainability which, in their experience, could often lead to anger, frustration and despair).

We believe that what we observed in ReGeneration was an approach of emergence, in which both ReGeneration as a group of people, a process and a network, and “regeneration” as a meaningful concept, emerged as a living co-construction. (Likewise, Organising for Emergence pp. 20 – 22 describes the collaborative construction of meaning for other “touchstone concepts” within the network, such as: “organising”).

As researchers, this emergent approach presented us with considerable challenges. Research is a deliberative process of deciding what questions to ask, what kinds of data to collect to answer those questions and, finally, how to synthesise, interpret and represent those data, and an important dimension of this process relates to the kinds of words and language that are used to convey data and analyses.

In the report we adopted some of the language used by the participants in ReGeneration (or language drawn from relevant literature), while in other cases we chose words that we thought would help to simplify matters for readers. The report braids together multiple voices: our own, participants’ and other authors’. We purposefully developed it as a bricolage, presenting a range of data in their raw form, rather than attempting to present a single grand or linear narrative. In many chapters we used the technique of inset boxes to include participant quotes, or quotes from researchers and theorists alongside the main narrative thread. In other cases we include participant quotes in the main body of the text. Our choices were purposeful, but we also invite readers to bring their own interpretations to these layerings of text.

As my previous posting stated: We see Organising for Emergence as an entry-point or a stepping stone into many of the ideas that we would like to continue to develop in the Future Focussed Issues project. The report is not an endpoint, but a beginning point for further thinking, research, and conversation. We would be overjoyed if you chose to respond to or engage with these ideas on this blogthread so we can continue to develop them together!

* Four future focussed issues specifically mentioned in the New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007) are: Sustainability, Citizenship, Globalisation, and Enterprise.

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Organising for Emergence (a new NZCER report)

April 15th, 2010

Quite some time ago I blogged about the beginnings of NZCER’s “future-focussed issues” research project, explaining that one of our initial aims was:

…to look for examples of what we’re loosely labelling “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change”. We are interested in how such networks form around … future focussed issues in both formal and non-formal education, with particular emphasis on how new knowledge is generated in these networks, and in connection with learning beyond school (i.e. with business, communities, youth groups, web-based social networks, etc).

We’ve recently uploaded a research report on the NZCER website called Organising for Emergence. This exploratory study describes ReGeneration ’09, a four-day gathering held in February 2009 which brought together young adults and secondary-school-aged youth with an interest and involvement in sustainability and environmental issues within their schools, workplaces and communities. A long-term goal was to help inspire and build youth-initiated and youth-supported regenerative action in communities across New Zealand. We were approached by the organisers of ReGeneration to form a research partnership around the initiation of this network, and Organising for Emergence is the resulting report.  It aims to represent some of the important ideas, processes, points of view and outcomes that we noticed as researcher-participants in ReGeneration ’09. By reflecting back these ideas and outcomes to the people involved, we hoped to add to the ongoing learning and development that is occurring within the ReGeneration network. Naturally, we also hope that Organising for Emergence will be of interest to a wider audience interested in sustainability, youth learning and leadership, and social and educational change.

We see Organising for Emergence as an entry-point or a stepping stone into many of the ideas that we would like to continue to develop in the Future Focussed Issues project. The report is not an endpoint, but a beginning point for further thinking, research, and conversations. Over the next couple of weeks I hope to blog about some of the themes and concepts discussed in Organising for Emergence and I invite you to discuss these with me. You are, of course, welcome to download the full report, or simply follow the blogpostings and contribute your views as each new posting is added.

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Us Now (a documentary)

September 3rd, 2009

A few weeks ago Josie and I watched a documentary called Us Now. Good news – if you’ve got an hour or so to spare – you can watch it too (streaming over the Internet).

Briefly: Us Now is about how new social media technologies are enabling people to share, collaborate, help each other, and make stuff happen (in ways that significantly “scale-up” from our long human history of sharing, collaborating, helping each other, and making stuff happen). The documentary begins to go in the direction of asking if we are able to organise ourselves so efficiently and effectively, and if we are able to make things happen directly (rather than having intermediaries like organisations and institutions acting on our behalf), what does this mean for the future, particularly our ideas about governing and government? Is it about time we moved towards a more deliberative style of democracy with much more direct community engagement?

The documentary fits nicely into Josie’s and my ongoing exploration of the nature and potential of “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change”, and what these might have to teach us about learning and education for the 21st century. The documentary features a few famous faces, such as Clay Shirky (author of Here comes everybody, my favourite book of 2009) and Charles Leadbeter (author of The rise of the social entrepreneur and many other think-pieces on social innovation). If you don’t want to spend a whole hour watching Us Now you can get a taste of some of Leadbeter and Shirky’s ideas in these shorter YouTube clips

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The future focussed issues project

June 23rd, 2009

Josie Roberts and I are beginning a new research project called “Future focussed issues in New Zealand education”, or FFI project for short. We’d like to use shiftingthinking as a forum for developing and sharing some of our thinking as we get into the work of this research. If you’d like to be part of this thinking (or at least take a peek at where our thinking is going), please read on!

The backstory to the FFI project lies partly in previous contract research work in two areas of “future focus”: education for sustainability, and education for enterprise. If you’re familiar with the New Zealand Curriculum, you might recognise sustainability and enterprise as two of the four “future focussed issues” mentioned in the section on Principles for New Zealand curriculum. (The other two FFIs are globalisation and citizenship).

Original drawing (c) Josie Roberts 2009

Original drawing (c) Josie Roberts 2009

Although some work has been done to support futures thinking in New Zealand education (for example, Secondary Futures), our experience suggests that many people within the education sector still have reasonably limited familiarity with the idea of futures thinking in general, and of these four particular FFIs in the New Zealand Curriculum in particular. We think there is something very important in these ideas, and we want to spend some time exploring them, looking at the relationships between them, and researching their relevance to (or possible contribution to transformation of) curriculum, teaching, learning, schooling, and communities.

As educational researchers we spend a lot of our time looking at what is happening within the formal education sector. But lately we’ve become interested in looking at pockets of innovative thinking and development that are occurring on the margins of the formal education sector, and in the spaces where education intersects with other sectors. We want to explore these pockets of thinking and innovation to see whether they could provide us with new insights that might also speak to audiences within the formal education sector.

One of our initial aims is to look for examples of what we’re loosely labelling “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change”. We are interested in how such networks form around the future focussed issues in both formal and non-formal education, with particular emphasis on how new knowledge is generated in these networks, and in connection with learning beyond school (i.e. with business, communities, youth groups, web-based social networks, etc). (We’re working with a few groups and networks as mini-case studies, but we won’t be talking about them here unless we have permission from the people and groups involved)

At the same time as we are working with these people/groups/networks, we are also reading as much as we can to help braid together our own understanding of what we mean by a “self-generating network for knowledge building, learning, and change”. Over the next few months we are going to try to post blogs about what we’re reading and what we’re thinking. If you want to follow this thread, look for blogpostings that start with “FFI”.

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