What can we learn from the global picture?

David Wilcox of Partnerships Online at CTCNet conference, Chicago June 19 1999

Before starting, David Wilcox invited those at the lunchtime event to discuss at their tables the message they would like to send to others about learning around the world... a 'wish you were here' email postcard. The results are here.

Main presentation notes

I want to cover what we might share; how we might do that; and consider whether we will have the time an energy to do it. Hopefully you have been having this conversation over lunch, and will have your own contribution to make.

What is happening in the UK - and Europe

What may be of interest to you

A way of thinking about what we all do - and how it makes a difference

It is difficult to share experience of what works, and what doesn't, without some common framework. Here's a suggested framework. It covers

The dilemma

We tend to focus a lot on the levels of access and skill development - because without those people will not be able to participate in the higher level activities. But unless we design first towards those goals, we may provide inappropriate access, learning opportunities and content.

We will be exploring that in a workshop tomorrow morning when we play the community networking game.

How might we share experience using this framework

Before a seminar I organised recently, I asked those attending to fill in a simple matrix form. That took the issues of awareness, access, training through to community building and other goals.

In relation to each we asked what have you done, what worked, what didn't, what helped, what hindered.

I found that the responses that people were giving were very similar to the lessons learned that - for example - the NCeXchange networker project has developed in North Carolina.

When Terry Grunwald from NCexChange visited the UK last year, her presentations resonated strongly with the community networkers and librarians that she met.

So did two of her quotes:

Go with the stones that roll: spot opportunities as they emerge, and work with people who are determined to make progress

Don't try and get all the frogs in the wheelbarrow at the same time. This requires more explanation.

Imagine that you have the task of moving a group of frogs from one pond to another, which offers far greater delights and won't go dry in summer. You have the advantage of speaking 'frog'.

You explain the situation to a meeting of the frogs, and the early adopter frogs eagerly jump into the wheelbarrow, keen to start the journey. Others are not sure... what's the problem with current pond? How can we know the new one will be better?

You go round the skeptics, talking one to one. You explain the benefits of the move in detail, and the dangers of staying where they are. A few jump into the wheelbarrow.... but by that time most of the early adopters have jumped out, tired of waiting.

Of course, we all want to create an inclusive frog community... we don't want haves and have nots. But in striving for that, we may hold back the most motivated. The lesson is not to try and get all the frogs in together - or only go with the few - but perhaps to make several journeys, each at the speed appropriate to the different interests in the community.

Why should we learn from each other - why bother?

Where next

Three years ago in Taos a group of people developed ideas for an International Association for Community Networking. We didn't get that - but we did get some national organisations.

I have spent the past few days visiting North Carolina, particularly NCexChange, and we have developed some ideas for twinning with the UK. I hope you have come up with some ideas from your table discussion.

It is not too difficult to come up with the ideas... but what will encourage us to follow through in sharing our experience? I think that the strongest motivation is meeting like-minded people, as we are today. I would like to echo the remarks of Howard Rheingold, speaking on Thursday to the BBC conference I mentioned. he said:

"I believe that well thought-out and well-run virtual communities can play an important role, along with civic-minded journalism, and face-to-face community-building, in the creation of a cybersociety we would be proud to hand on to our children.

"I want to leave you with a suggestion. You can amplify your efforts to build authentic community and online forums that serve a commercial, educational, or civic purpose by communicating regularly with one another about best practices and common obstacles. Is it too radical to propose that a group of community-builders ought to consider building their own community, online and face to face?"

At the same conference Nigel Chapman, director of BBC Online, said:

"Now we want to build further partnerships to encourage new and experienced Internet users to use the Web as an everyday means of communication. One proposal that will be discussed here today is the formation of a professional association bringing together everybody involved in online community development. The BBC wants to work with commercial websites, community organisations, software developers and ISPs to promote common standards and best practice in the UK."

The Internet is global, and while within each country we will need to have organisations that reflect our different cultures, I think the time has come to revisit the enthusiasm we developed in 1996 for international networking.... not by creating a bureaucratic sort of 19th century trade association, but a more flexible and creative network of networkers. In this field more than any other it is good people who make good things happen.

David Wilcox <david@communities.org.uk>
Partnerships Online Home Page
Community networking game workshop at the Chicago conference
Email postcards from Chicago conference participant
Other reports from Chicago