A collection of news and tidbits from CPSquare and John David Smith.
Our long-running (almost venerable but still fresh) Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop is running two times this year. It starts next on April 9th and later in the year starting on October 22. If you or someone you know is interested in a deeper understanding of communities of practice, please register or get in touch now!
In a way, social artistry has been at the very core of our conversations, conferences, and workshops at CPsquare for the past 10 years. Recently CPsquare members Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner posted an essay on their new website that Etienne wrote about "social artists" several years ago, reflecting on work that they had done together on an EU initiative.
"One of the key ingredients [in successful social learning spaces] is the energy and skills of those who take leadership in making it all happen. I call the people who excel at doing this "social artists."
"Social artists are leaders, but the kind of leadership they exercise is subtle. It does not engender or depend on followership. Rather it invites participation. It is a mixture of understanding what makes learning socially engaging and living the process yourself. It is not a formula; it is creative, improvised, intelligently adaptive, and socially attuned.
"By helping people come together and discover their own learning citizenship, social artists build up the learning capability of social systems.... Still social artists tend to be invisible because we do not have good frameworks and language to appreciate their contributions.... Their role is of utmost importance. We need to learn to recognize, support, and celebrate their work. Their contribution is especially critical today when humankind faces unprecedented challenges that will place increasing demands on our ability to learn together."
Wenger, E. (2009) Social learning capability: four essays on innovation and learning in social systems. Social Innovation, Sociedade e Trabalho. Booklets 12 -- separate supplement, MTSS/GEP & EQUAL Portugal, Lisbon.
But around the edges at CPsquare, the question of how we fit in as social artists is persistent, both existentially and economically. For example, CPsquare member Marc Coenders, whom we are shadowing this year is considering where it is that learning is happening (or could happen) around him in The Netherlands. He's asking how to organize social learning strategies within organizational, competitive, and economic constraints? How bridge across organizations, projects, and cohorts so that the focus is not so much on individuals, but more on organizational learning cycles? In a way, "where is the learning" is exactly the question that Lave and Wenger were posing in 1991 except that now we know a lot more about the artistry of intervention and leadership than we did back then. (Among other places where you can explore these questions, you might consider one or more of the three BEtreats scheduled this summer.)
Mimi Ito, one of the anthropologists who was at the Institute for Research on Learning back in the 1990's when Lave and Wenger was published, is still working on a "before social artistry" questions: "Where is it that kids learn?" and "What is it that they are learning when using digital media?" She's one of the leaders of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, which puts on an interesting annual conference that. She does some very nice social artistry when she reflects as a community leader on the conversations at the conference. The hack v stack distinction that she uses to think about work in the educational research and innovation community (posed by Paul Edelman) gets at the question of where different kinds of learning happens or is needed in the "many fangled" world of education. (Ito's reflections make me think that the DML Conference is a place where CPsquare members and friends could learn a lot.)
In a way, CPsquare member Sean Murphy is putting his social artistry to work developing a series of communities that hack the entrepreneurial culture in ten different locations in California, Illinois, and Minnesota. Specifically, he helps entrepreneurs learn their way to success in regular Bootstrapper's Breakfasts. He's purposely navigating around the venture capital ecosystem because of the way that it is focused on sorting people and firms, presuming that not everyone can win, necessarily creating losers. Among other things the venture capital system ends up rewarding people who learn to chase and spend other people's money, sometimes at the expense of learning to grow more self-reliant firms. Sound familiar?
Despite our enthusiasm for and belief in social artistry, it's important to remember that so much learning "just happens." I just finished reading a wonderful book about a giant learning machine called Chungking Mansions. In Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong (Chicago, IL: Univ of Chicago Press, 2011) Gordon Mathews describes Chunking mansions, as:
"the haunt of South Asian merchants, African entrepreneurs, Indian temporary workers, African and South Asian asylum seekers, and penurious travelers from across the globe. It is, as I discuss in the pages that follow, a ramshackle building in Hong Kong's tourist district that is a hub of "low-end globalization;' tightly linked to the markets of Kolkata (Calcutta), Lagos, and Dar es Salaam, among other cities across the globe."
Mathews describes an impressive learning feat that goes on every day, sustained over many years: people learn to navigate the building, to do business with each other and get along remarkably well; to sort clothes and phones and a myriad of other goods manufactured in China and exported around the world; to navigate a very complex legal environment; and to evolve new trans-national and trans-cultural identities. And not many people in Chungking Mansions are likely to call themselves social artists, but as they work to survive and make money in Hong Kong (same old stacking), they are changing the world and themselves (hacking on a big scale). The book is highly recommended.
Ning, Ning, can you hear me now?
Meanwhile, back at home, in CPsquare we are fashioning a lens (a mirror?) to look at social artistry by comparing how different communities that rely on the Ning platform are configured and how they are faring in different circumstances. It's clear that many of the questions we were raising in Digital Habitats are still worth working on. (We're coming out with an e-book edition this month, by the way.) Drop us a line or leave a comment on the CPsquare website if you're interested.
- John David Smith
Skype & Twitter: smithjd
Portland, Oregon, USA