Results tagged “Community of Practice” from Wayan Dot Com

infoDev is implementing the ambitious "Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy" program with the Government of Finland and Nokia to expand the impact of mobile applications in the economic and social advancement of the developing world.

A major component of the Creating Sustainable Businesses program are five regional mobile application laboratories, in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. These "mLabs" will facilitate demand-driven innovation of breakthrough low-cost, high-value applications through a web of inter-related activities to help entrepreneurs, investors, mentors and partners share knowledge, experience and perspective.

After a series of RFP's to identify organizations that will implement this program with infoDev, I am happy to note that infoDev announced that CSIR Meraka Institute and *iHub_ will be the two African mLabs. I have also learned that Vital Wave Consulting is advising infoDev and the mLabs on sustainable business models. In this mix, yours truly will also play a role.

I am honored to announce that I will be working with infoDev and its mLab partners to create an international community of practice for those working on mobile applications for development. While the exact scope and goals of the community are still being developed, early indications are that it will consist of a range of mLab community news and networking opportunities, including promoting local offline gatherings.

I am very excited to work with Meraka Institute, *iHub_, and Vital Wave Consulting. Principals at latter two I've known for years and always admired.

To hold my own with them, I plan to draw on my 15 years experience with every aspect of Internet publishing, from hand-coding commercial websites, to starting blogging before the term "blog" existed, to using multiple social networking tools, to building communities of practice that bridge the real and virtual worlds.

This includes developing the following four international communities of practice - each a leader in its field:

  • Educational Technology Debate - a discussion of low-cost ICT devices for educational systems in the developing world, and one of infoDev's flagship online communities of practice.
  • ICTworks - a premier knowledge resource for ICT practitioners deploying sustainable technology interventions, already central to over 300 entrepreneurs around world.
  • OLPC News - the leading independent analysis of the One Laptop Per Child program. It is now the largest community of OLPC supports, recognized as such by Nicholas Negroponte himself.
  • Technology Salon - a monthly meeting of ICT and development experts to discuss the impact of ICT in the developing world. It is so prestigious the UN Foundation's Technology Partnership with the Vodafone Foundation now sponsors the Salon.

My key learning from all four of these communities? No matter how fancy the platform or its social networking capacity, it's engaging personal contacts and timely and relevant content that form the basis of a successful community. Both are also interrelated as the best content comes from the best contacts that are outstanding because they have thought leadership and share it through good content.

To that end I hope I have your trust and support to help me develop and launch the infoDev mLabs community - I surely can't do it alone!

In April of 2008, I started the Technology Salon as a forum where technology and development professionals could share there opinions on emerging trends in information and communication technologies and international development in an intimate and informal discussion around:

  • technology's impact on donor-sponsored technical assistance delivery, and
  • private enterprise driven economic development, facilitated by technology.

Now, almost a year later, the Technology Salon is developing into a real community of practice - a network of development and technology professionals who share a common passion for ICT4D, and through regular interaction and communication, are improving their knowledge and implementation expertise in empowering development with technology.

From its inception and reinforced through feedback from its participants, I've found there are three attributes keys to the Technology Salon success and growth:

  1. Conversation, not presentation
    The Technology Salon is primarily a forum for discussion, so presentations are discouraged and Power Point is generally banned. Speakers have only 10-15 minutes at the beginning to present their activity, before participants are free to ask questions, share their own experiences, and drive the conversation in a direction that interests them. This both brings forth the group's knowledge and keeps participants engaged for the full meeting.

  2. Intimacy of participants:
    The Technology Salon attendance is capped at 15 people to make sure each participant has the opportunity to speak and share their experience. This cap also encourages pre-registration and subsequent attendance. Last but not least, it allows for quality pre-and post-event networking by participants.

  3. Confidentiality of opinions:
    The Technology Salon employs the Chatham House Rule - what is said in its discussions can only be attributed to the Salon itself, not to any specific participant. At the same time, the Salon is not recorded nor the discussion transmitted outside its meeting place. These precautions allow participants to speak their opinions freely, thoughts that would not be shared if participants worried about attribution or out-of-context quoting.

In 2009, I look to improve on the Technology Salon's success while maintaining its three key attributes - conversation, intimacy, privacy. Its goal is to evolve beyond its current exclusive nature into a standard of discourse between technology and development professionals. To achieve this greater scale and legitimacy, and make its impact felt beyond its direct participants, the Technology Salon will need to improve its:

  1. Event promotion:
    The Technology Salon has grown organically, mainly through word of mouth and a small announce-only email list I manage. It could benefit from a larger promotion in the technology and development space, reaching practitioners who as yet have not heard of it, and attracting higher-profile speakers and attendees. At the same time, this new interested needs to be balanced with the intimacy that differentiates the Salon.

  2. Meeting regularity:
    Owing to its informal nature and my hectic travel schedule, the Technology Salon meeting have been ad-hoc - scheduled with speakers are available or a topic of interest presents itself. The only regularity has been its timing - on a Thursday from 8:30am to 10am. For it to become a fixture in professional life, it needs to have a regular schedule, but one that can be balanced against the opportunity for guest speakers and capturing of fast-moving topics.

  3. Publication of outcomes:
    Until recently, the Technology Salon has been forcefully off-the-record. Few if any details of the Salon or its conversation points have been documented or shared publicly. For the Salon to have a larger impact, it needs to publish more of its outcomes - be they points of consideration and interest vs. formal pronouncements or conclusions. Yet this grater transparency needs to be balanced carefully with the need for confidentiality for individual participants - which if anything, seems to be the key success metric to date.

  4. Sponsorship:
    To date, the Technology Salon has enjoyed informal sponsorship by its host, the UN Foundation. For it to gain greater legitimacy as a professional forum, it needs to have a formal organizational sponsor that allows the Salon affiliation and yet autonomy in topics and conversation - so that the Salon remains driven primarily by its participants.

And in the spirit of its participant-driven organization, I encourage your ideas and suggestions for improvement, especially if they can help me with the four areas I want to focus on for 2009: publicity, regularity, publication, and sponsorship.

Better yet, are there topics of ICT4D interest you'd like to see at an upcoming Salon, where you can also provide the speaker?

olpc wayan
Enlightened by OLPC News success

Recently, I've been looking at OLPC News in a whole new light. I'm seeing it as more than just a blog. In fact, when you bring in the OLPC News Forum and how both integrate with the OLPC Wiki, I see a three part system that is the community of practice around the One Laptop Per Child program.

First, a definition of a community of practice:

A community of practice is a group of people who share a common passion for a subject and through regular interaction and communication, improve their knowledge and expertise in the topic area.

Communities of practice differ from teams and networks in that they are bound by a shared desire to learn, and implement the learning through practice.

I believe that the triumvirate of OLPC News, OLPC News Forum, and OLPC Wiki serve to accomplish four goals typical of a community of practice:

Exchange and interpret information between participants

When you look at the success of OLPC News in being an independent source for news, information, commentary, and discussion of the "$100 laptop" initiative, with almost 900 posts and 10,000+ comments, you quickly realize that there is a massive exchange and interpretation of information at all levels of ability. Add in the 3,200+ members of the OLPC News Forum and their 25,000 posts and you realize the conversation is greater than any single domain.

Yet, there is not other platform where OLPC insiders like Walter Bender and Mary Lou Jepsen to technology visionaries like Lee Felsenstein and Steve Cisler, to the many thousands of interested and committed supporters can express their thoughts and hope to change others (and their) minds as equals.

olpc reviewers
Participating in OLPC discussions

Retain the collective knowledge of participants

From the beginning of the One Laptop Per Child initiative, the OLPC Wiki has been the supreme knowledge resource and official knowledge repository for the OLPC community. With sections managed by OLPC directly, yet an open architecture that lets the community publish its own learning's, the Wiki has grown organically to be the final arbitrator of fact from fiction, even if those facts first came from OLPC News instead of OLPC itself.

Even better, community members have made the direct link between the wiki and OLPC News & Forum. Wiki pages have developed directly from OLPC News posts or Forum conversations, and the Wiki also drives new thoughts and ideas for posts and conversations. One of the best examples is How Laptop delivery Breaks, where an OLPC News reader, using the OLPC News Forum to collect and analyze data from the community, created the best known knowledge base around a major OLPC issue.

Raise the competencies of each participant

From the feedback I've received since the inception of OLPC News, I am confident that the conversation on it and the Forum, combined with references to the Wiki, has educated thousands of OLPC supporters on everything from the need for a defined implementation plan, to the actual costs of the OLPC program, to the steps to add Ubuntu on the XO laptop. In the process, the level of conversation has also increased, with basic questions giving way to investigative reports on deployments and intense debates on the basis of education itself.

I think the impact of this discourse is best expressed by Lee Felsenstein:

"[OLPC News] was the missing link we needed - constant journalism and analysis from an expanding group of interested and intelligent (most, at least) readers. Attention integrated over time, with an active audience. I shifted most of my blogging effort over to OLPC, somewhat to the detriment of my own blog but much to the enhancement of my profile."

olpc supporters
Lee Felsenstein in OLPC action

Create a shared identity and purpose for participants

A dozen writers, at least 50 contributors, and countless commenters spread across the globe - few even know real names or have seen photos of each other. Yet every single one of these people considers themselves an OLPC supporter in one way or another. This is what OLPC News, Forum and the OLPC Wiki have created. User groups from Washington DC to Vancouver, each with on and offline activities that forge inter-personal links and informal support networks that reinforce the online community.

In fact, participation in OLPC News and Forum has created such strong identities for several participants, they are now recognized experts on topics they once led in obscurity. Personally, my identity with OLPC News has led to opportunities and employment I once thought well beyond my reach.

And that is the whole purpose of a community of practice - to improve your knowledge and expertise in a topic area of interest through regular interaction and communication.

About Wayan Vota

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wayan vota
Wayan Vota on 60 Minutes - CBS News

Wayan Vota is passionate about technology and international development. He is convinced that information and communications technology (ICT) can accelerate the social and economic advancement of the developing world.

Wayan is the Director of Digital Health at IntraHealth International. Previously, he was senior staff at FHI 360, Development Gateway, Inveneo, and IESC Geekcorps, and a consultant to infoDev at the World Bank.

He co-founded JadedAid, Kurante, ICTworks, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, Technology Salon, Educational Technology Debate, and OLPC News. You can read his full work profile on LinkedIn.

When not off in distant lands or coveting clock-stopping hot technology, Wayan lives in Durham, NC, with his lovely wife Amy, daughters Hanalei and Archer, and the family mascot, Taxi Dog.

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