Archive

Posts Tagged ‘social networks’

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.

Future focussed issues , , , , , ,

Look, I drew a picture of you!

July 17th, 2009

(Yes, that’s right…I’m talking to you!)
Actually, I should say I drew a picture of us.

See? You, and me, and everyone else – we’re all represented in my diagram of the shiftingthinking community.

The Power Law Distribution

I drew this after reading Here Comes Everybody: The power of organizing without organizations by Clay Shirky. The book has influenced my thinking A LOT recently and I reckon I’ll probably write a few more blogpostings based on its ideas. In this posting I just want to share just one of these ideas, because I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately (No, don’t look over your shoulder, I’m still talking to Y-O-U ), and I want to show you exactly how you fit into this shiftingthinking community.

The curve in this diagram represents something called a “Power Law Distribution”, which I learned about in Here Comes Everybody. The vertical axis represents the number of comments posted on shiftingthinking, and the horizontal axis represents all of us, lined up in left to right order from the highest frequency to the lowest frequency of postings. What this curve shows is that the most frequent contributor (in this case, me) posts many times more often than the next most frequent contributors, and those people post many times more often than the next most frequent, and so on, and then we have this l-o-o-o-oong tail of people who contribute just a tiny little bit – let’s say, one comment or posting.  (Then there’s the folks who we sometimes call “lurkers”, who read shiftingthinking but haven’t posted comments – I’ll get back to them later…)

So what, I hear you ask? Is there a point to all this? Well I’m glad you asked, because there is, and here is the EXCITING bit. According to Shirky, this same distribution pattern is found in all kinds of social media. Wikipedia is a good example: Although anyone can edit wikipedia pages, it turns out that there are a tiny percentage of people who make hundreds or thousands of edits each, and thousands and millions of people who only ever make say, one or two edits (and millions more who simply read wikipedia entries without ever making a single edit). So if you graph wikipedia contributions, you’ll get an even more extreme version of this same curve.

The power law distribution is also called The Pareto principle or the “80-20 rule” which basically says that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. So this distribution shape isn’t just limited to social media – it appears in all kinds of social phenomenon.

The cool thing – and the point of this posting -  is when we start to ask ourselves what value we get out of the collective contributions of all 100 percent of the contributors. In the business world, the 80-20 principle suggests that organisations should focus on the 20 percent (of people, activities, projects etc) that contribute 80 percent of the “productivity”. The “costs” of carrying that long tail, which tends to generate proportionally less, can be hard for an organisation to carry. But if you lop off the long tail, you lose out on all those potential contributions that, when added to the collective, could add up to something really great.

Is this youThe nice thing about social media is that there is really no “cost” involved in encouraging as many people as possible to contribute. By opening up wikipedia to everyone to edit, “we” (the users of Wikipedia) benefit from everyone’s contribution. Whether someone contributes thousands of edits, or only one, each adds value to the collective whole. It’s the same thing with shiftingthinking!

I’d like to end this posting with a couple of shout-outs. First to the members of our “long tail”. Guys, thank you. We love that you’ve stopped by and taken a moment to add your contribution to the shiftingthinking community.

Or is THIS you? (CC) http://www.flickr.com/photos/madflowr/3346345770/

Or is THIS you? (CC) www.flickr.com/photos/madflowr/3346345770

Second, to the “lurkers” – you know who you are. I want you to know that you’re welcome here too. I think I’m going to call you “foragers” from now on though. (I like to picture you as adorable little hedgehogs – shyly nosing around the edges of our community, nibbling surreptitiously from the cat’s dish, drinking water from the puddles of our drain-pipes, but leaving no trace of your presence). We promise not to shine a bright spotlight on you – but maybe just think about joining our long tail every once in a while? We’ll be here waiting, with a nice cup of tea and a gingernut biscuit.

**PS. I know time is a big factor making it hard to add comments. We’re still looking into other ways you can signal your presence without having to think too long and hard or compose the “perfect” comment – watch this space!

Shirky, C. (2008) Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. Penguin: New York.

Future focussed issues , , , , , , , , ,