I've just spent a very interesting two days taking part in a online Global Knowledge Jam around 'Collaborative Technology Requirements for Social Change'.
What's a jam?
The online knowledge jam formula (the name parallels a musicians 'jam session') is something along the lines of:
Bring together a group of interested / relevant participants and set aside a time-window when participants will regularly drop into an online 'jamming space' to contribute to discussion space on a specified topic.
In this case, the Jam consisted of around 150 participants from 40 countries with a diverse range of backgrounds but shared interests in online community and its role in social change. The time window was 48 hours. And the discussion space was a moodle forum. And the outcome was fascinating. I'm not sure that discussions stuck that closely to the core questions posed, and it was at times a little tricky to keep track of what was going on (the version of moodle we were using seems to lack a way of just looking at posts updated since you last visited) – but the content was both challenging and inspiring.
To jam again?
The time-limit and narrow nominal focus of the jam (coupled with the fantastic participant list it recruited) meant it was able to generate an impressive breadth and depth of content in a short time. The jam model is certainly one I'm going to explore more – particularly for brining together practioners and other actors in developing further thematic spaces on the Participation Works youth involvement portal.
Arising from the Jam?
That breadth of content generated means I'm going to need more time to fully digest all I've seen in the discussions – but a few headlines arising:
Shifting frames of reference
Users: My 'frame of reference' for thinking about users of online community and interaction is someone at a desk in an office / home office using their own computer on a broadband internet connection. I'm not thinking about the internet cafe user in Akra in Ghana, or the library user in the UK, the shared computer in a family home, the NGO office where there is just one computer or the remote vilage where the mobile phone is the communication tool, not the computer.
Tools: Following on from thinking about the role of mobile phones – near the end of the Jam someone commented about how 'keyboard and screen' focussed the discussions had been. Yet we need to be thinking beyond our online interaction with the online world being QWERTY and 800×600 or above.
Drupal for Communities of Practice: There was interest in the Jam in exploring how Drupal Installation Profiles could be used to support Communities of Practice. I'm hoping there are going to be some opportunities to explore this more with some action towards a flexible toolset Jam members and others may feel comfortable using.
Requirements for online community: I was suprised by how few of the tools I'm coming to think of as essential were on the radar. I found that perhaps I am coming at online community with a stronger focus on the 'data' than I found in others… which leads me to be really interested in tools for managing the data (visualisation tools / re-mixable content feeds / adding as much semantic data to posts as possible without burdening users). I need to focus some more reflection on whether a focus on the data can be fully compatible with a focus on the relationships mediated through online community – and whether there is a map for making sure they don't come into tension.
Technology stewarship: All of which leads me to needing to reflect more on how my work is taking me more and more into the role of (or the 'cult of'…) technology stewardship.