Posts Categorized: Communities

Non-profit Blogs

I came across an article on blogs in the non-profit sector, written in December 2003, for the Non-Profit Quarterly. The article discusses internal and external blogs, and also gives some how-to’s, (but you should do some more reading on the subject, before starting your first one):

More typically, an externally focused blog can transform informal knowledge sharing into a new asset for an organization. Blogs can enliven your group’s Web presence and engage clients, supporters and strangers alike in your work. "We think that there is a good chance blogging is a new way to express the nonprofit voice," says Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, a nonprofit organization that puts technology to work for social needs. "We feel we have unique things to say, so we should be saying them." Since October 2003, Fruchterman has been authoring the Beneblog, a component of Benetech’s Web site where he has highlighted the work of his organization’s staff and partners, commented on legislation affecting his field, documented his speaking engagements and attendance at conferences and described in real-time the impact of world travel on his work as Benetech’s executive. "Blogs provide a more immediate form of communication than my quarterly update," he says. "They bring new content to our homepage and give us a chance to bring up ideas and links in a less formal context.

Fruchterman’s BeneBlog is still going strong. His latest post refers to the Social Enterprise Alliance, which looks like an excellent resource, especially for business planning . I’m currently working with two non-profits and their unique challenges call for a different kind of business and strategic planning, so I will check out the publications and resources.

The Rural Nature of the Customer Revolution

Robert Paterson has a good conversation going on about creative talent moving to the rural areas. I’m not sure how large of a movement this is, but it makes for an interesting hypothesis. Rob backs it up with some examples:

Oh Yes – University? My son is one of the leading artists in his field. 8 years of art school no degree. He is hired because of his talent and his portfolio. My business partner started programming when we he was 14 and had his own business since he was 16. No one cares about his credentials, they care about what he has done and what he can do – he is so much better than the product of a technical college. My daughter has cooked all over the world, owned her own restaurant – no one asks where she went to school. Once they have tried her food, they are hooked.



My point? In the real world of where the producer is on the line and not buried in a bureaucracy, what counts is can you really do it. Most universities and technical schools are credential machines that produce people that have few skills. Think of a BA in Business – which I teach by the way. What do you know as a graduate that you can apply in a small business? The true answer is all but zero.



Credentials are still very important in bureaucracies but they have no standing on their own in the creative world and in the world of reputation

Does this mean that the creative people will be able to live in rural bliss while the rest live live in urban sprawl with McJobs? Will the successor to the digital divide be the Creative Divide? Of course there will be implications for organisational design; when your creative team is separate (physically & mentally) from the developers/manufacturers. It sounds good on the rural/creative side, but I’m worried about the effects on everyone else.

In the meantime, it would be a nice change to get some solid economic activity in places like Atlantic Canada. For instance, in New Brunswick we’ve had two mill closures this month, with about 800 jobs lost. I’m not sure how many creative entrepreneurs have started up this month, but certainly less than 800. There may be turbulent times ahead.

Update: Dane Carlson on the Business Opportunities blog, is observing a similar phenomenon in the US – "I think that technology is quickly removing any economic benefits from operating your business in a major metropolitan area."

 

Data Libre

Steve Mallet has started Data Libre, a move towards a standardized way for us to be in control of our own information. His elevator pitch is "Own your Data. Write Once, Read

Everywhere."

Currently, aggregated information about people can be found within the likes of Google or Amazon or in social networking services, like Linked-In or Spoke. In each case the

individual inputs personal information, and the value of the network increases exponentially with additional members.

The digital economy has gone from hardware-centric (IBM) to software-centric (Microsoft) to service-centric (Google, eBay). Tim O’Reilly describes how the underlying software

for enterprises such as Google as having little value on its own:

But even more importantly, even if these sites gave out their source code, users would not easily be able to create a full copy of the running application! The application is a

dynamically updated database whose utility comes from its completeness and concurrency, and in many cases, from the network effect of its participating users.

From this web service economy, we now have the possibility of an information-centric (Data Libre) economy where we can all participate. Steve writes that the tools currently

exist to own all of our data, and control who can use it. He uses the analogy of book reviews to make his point:

Now, would you rather publish your book review using Amazon’s form or the weblog you use many times a week? Would you like to write your book review on Amazon and then

write again on your weblog that you wrote a review – possibly writing the review twice? How about your local bookstore? Are you going to write one for them as well?


It makes much more practical sense to do this through your weblog with a side effect that if we put your book review into an rss-like feed it is readable through such a

widespread amount of aggregators that you only have to write once & be read by millions.


What does this mean? It kills redundant work. Publish once, read everywhere. This is the primary reason why publishing many different kinds of XML documents through weblogs

and CMS’ is a killer combination in making a distributed semantic web possible. People hate redundant work.

Here’s my suggestion – read Steve’s essays and contribute to this development of a standard, because it’s your data.

We are at the beginning of another shift in opportunities on the Internet, so forget hardware and software, as they are commodities and prices are dropping. Take a look "up the stack" and see what kinds of services you can offer in this new model.
It may be an aggregation service around data forms like learning portfolios, or the provision of templates and tools to help people aggregate their own data.

Spreading like Fire

Steven Garrity of SilverOrange has been featured as volunteer of the week on the Spread Firefox site. The site (built on the Drupal CMS) is dedicated to supporting the Firefox user and developer communities, and Steven has been instrumental in the design of the beautiful Firefox artwork. Here is a local (PEI) designer working on an international project, giving much of his own time and supported by his company. The work that SilverOrange does exemplifies the new economy and shows how Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs can be active participants from out here on the edge, because it’s a World of Ends.

Bloggers, entrepreneurs, et al

The Charlottetown bloggers are meeting one week from today at noon at the Formosa Tea House. Looks like about 10 people have committed so far. I plan on going – so contact me if you want to ride share.

The PEI group seems to be a dynamic lot, as was evident by their frisbee golf tournament this Summer. As my regular readers know, I am trying to establish a loose network of small companies in the region, especially bloggers, entrepreneurs, creative artists, knowledge workers, etc. I’m going to try to get some feedback on this idea next week, in order to have a larger, regional networking event in Sackville around the end of October.

As a working descriptor, I’ve come up with IODINE (is this too hokey?):

  • Interdependent (we help each other)
  • Open (as in open to new ideas, and supporting the open-source philosophy)
  • Digital (we use networked technologies to leverage our small size and distributed nature)
  • Innovative (not just new technologies, but better ways of working and living)
  • Natural (as in organic, sustainable and renewable)
  • Entrepreneurs (we think and act for ourselves and stay in close contact with our customers and communities)

Other organisations/models that we may feel a close affinity to include Natural Enterprises, Emergent Learning Forum, the Open Source Movement, the Natural Step.

So far, the networking events in Moncton and Charlottetown have been a lot of fun and productive in linking people together. What are your thoughts on how we can keep it very informal but still get a critical mass of 20 – 30 participants? Will Pate had suggested a rotating venue, which is why the three (so far) bloggers and a few others in Sackville have committed to hosting the next meeting. My wife, Andrea, has even offered some of her culinary expertise.

NB Innovation Forum

At the NB Innovation Forum in Fredericton yesterday, members of CSTD and HRANB got together for a session with Don Simpson. Don has a wealth of experience and many stories to share. Don said that the "next big thing" is NIBC convergence (NIBC = nano, info, bio, cogno). Here are his axioms for the knowledge economy, gleaned from many sources:

  1. The Knowledge Economy is an economy of networks.
  2. Matter matters less (increasingly value is found in the intangible assets).
  3. Markets are now conversations and are self-organizing faster than the companies that have traditionally served them.
  4. The language of the Knowledge Economy is the language of systems thinking.
  5. Collaboration is the DNA (the fundamental element) of the Knowledge Economy.

Many of you are familiar with these, from The Cluetrain, and other sources, but for some in the audience I think that these were revelations. It’s good to see the message getting out in more traditional venues. Other items of interest during the course of the day were:

RDeL

Tomorrow, at the LearnNB forum, I will be quickly presenting (only 15 minutes allocated) a summary of the Research & Development in e-Learning (RDeL) project as well as an overview of professional development opportunities through CSTD. I have therefore posted the RDeL material here in advance and for future reference.

As a follow-up to the discussions and collaboration of the NB Learning Industry during the Winter of 2003/2004, I was engaged to coordinate the first formal Community of Practice. This ad hoc organisation, of industry organisations and individuals, grew into a larger group, including the creation of the LearnNB brand and website.

A record of the discussions of the original RDeL group is still available.

In October 2003 it was determined that this discussion board was no longer adequate for the community’s needs, as it was not secure and had limited functionality. Following an industry meeting in Saint John on 15 October 2003, I was given the mandate to develop a community of practice (CoP) to further the needs of the R&D community. As of April 2004, funding was made available by IRAP, and this Community of Practice initiative began.

The initial focus of this CoP was research and development, especially business models and commercialization. It was not intended to be a theoretical or academic community, but one that is looking at the development of practical applications ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú be they products, services, standards or models. Membership was and is open to anyone.

Here is an overview of the major events during the course of this project:

  • Establishment of an initial blog
  • Report on best practices in the establishment of a community of practice
  • Interview protocol and initial interviews in New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia
  • Evaluation of technology platforms for the web presence of the community
  • Discussions/conversations/interviews with interested members
  • Establishment of two web-based systems for discussions, one private and one public
  • Continuing discussions in person, via e-mail and through blogs with interested parties
  • Fine-tuning of technology platforms

The best practices report and case study are available on the LearnNB Collaborative space.

From the Case Study:

Conclusions

  • A sense of community cannot be forced;
  • Communities are self-defined;
  • Communities are conversations; and
  • Communities evolve over time.
  • Face-to-face contact can be the impetus for online conversations, while
  • Online contact can be the impetus for face-to-face meetings.
  • Communities of individuals appear to have stronger bonds than communities of companies;
  • Blogging helps to define dispersed communities; and
  • Password-protected web sites do not encourage conversation.

Recommendations

It is recommended that if there are future efforts in this area, then we should:

  • Keep the LearnNB online community spaces for special projects and events.
  • Advertise the LearnNB space for others to test out blogging.
  • Encourage more community members to use blogs as a community building tool.

Finally, any efforts to foster community should be addressed at the grass roots level. Centralized command and control does not work well in this internetworked world. Regional initiatives (e.g. Atlantica), or very local initiatives (e.g. Charlottetown) seem to stand the greatest chance of success. Provincial boundaries are blurry, and not part of many people’s sense of reality.

Innovation Articles – Summary

The LearnNB community has been provided with a number of PDF articles on innovation – mostly Canadian perspectives. These are in preparation for the quarterly meeting this Wednesday, September 22nd. The documents have been hidden away (password-protected) in the collaborative work space for LearnNB (I can set up an account if you want one). I have also posted the names of the articles on the public LearnNB blog. A quick search today has shown that most of these documents are freely available, and I’ve done a quick synthesis of a few.

What follows are some short summaries of the documents that caught my attention.

A series of three articles from Research Money by Alan Cornford, (significant subscription fee required) provide some interesting observations on innovation. Cornford states that increasing R&D spending will not increase innovation capacity, as only 3% of of public R&D spending results in measurable innovation; the only way to measure innovation is through the outputs – or local wealth generation; and there is plenty of VC money available, but not enough finance-worthy ventures. The key to driving innovation is having the right people. He also shows that private sector investment has 15 times the return on investment as that of the public sector. His main recommendation is not to weaken public R&D spending, but to strengthen it through private partnerships, especially with small and medium sized enterprises. Cornford is also in favour of enhanced R&D tax credits and the channelling of government investment into "community innovation idea outreach" to communties and SME’s
.

Where local SME (small and medium enterprise) R&D receptor capacity is limited (as in most of Canada), the universities, polytechnics
and colleges can conduct applied R&D for local SME industry and therefore benefit from these increased R&D investments, while community SME innovative capacity grows.

Cornford also produced a report for ACOA in 2002, entitled – Innovation and Commercialization in Atlantic Canada , which I have not read yet.

A different perspective is presented by Douglas Barber, who in 2003 surveyed the 120 most innovative companies in Canada, (those who spent more than 3% on R&D) and determined that the main issues around innovation were inadequate tax

incentives, lack of qualified workers, uncoordinated government support and regulation concerning R&D. These companies included Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, BCE

Emergis Inc., Corel Corporation, GlaxoSmithKline Inc., Pratt & Whitney Canada Corp., and Sierra Wireless, Inc.. This paper focuses primarily on large companies, not SME’s.

Denzil Doyle in a 2004 report for ITAC (PDF) examined the selling of Canadian high-tech companies and purchases by foreign investors. This again focuses on larger companies, not the smaller companies that are predominant in Atlantic Canada. Doyle concludes that:

This paper has been written on the assumption that Canadian policy makers want to position Canada as a global player in the worldwide high-tech industry. In order to achieve

that goal it will not only have to create a favourable environment for foreign-owned branch plants but it will have to grow several world class companies with the majority of

corporate decision-making carried out in Canada. Examples of such companies are Nortel Networks, Cognos, ATI Technologies, OpenText, McDonald Detweiller Associates, and

Research In Motion.



While Canadians can be proud of their R&D skills and achievements in nearly every field of technology, more attention should be paid to ways and means of commercializing

more of the resultant technology in Canada. This will require the development of a financing industry that is capable of launching companies properly and of taking financial

control of them when the original investors decide to exit their investments.

Other documents available from the government of Canada, include: Knowledge Matters: Skills & Learning for Canadians

This document addresss, at a very high policy level, how the government can foster learning for in public education, build the workforce, and attract more immigrants.

The series of government documents on innovation are good for those planning initiatives that they wish to align with government policy – good until the next election.

A shorter paper, by Peter Josty on technology commercialisation focuses on Alberta’s situation, and provides some case-specific information, as well as a short SWOT analysis. This is a quicker read than some of the others, with a Western perspective.

I’m sure that you’re seeing some common themes (tax credits), and there are more documents that I haven’t read yet. I hope that this quick summary provides a bit of an overview for my colleagues who will be at the meeting in Fredericton this week. See you there.

Innovative Entrepreneurs

Dave Pollard has written a concise article on how to stimulate and measure Canadian innovation. He trashes the methods used by the federal government and the BC science council to measure and promote innovation. I agree with his verdict – they’re lame.

And if you want to stimulate innovation, invest in the people that live and die by innovation — entrepreneurs. Their profits stay in the community, get reinvested, and create jobs. By all means subsidize those entrepreneurs to do their research at Canadian universities — you better believe that research will be focused on commercial opportunity.

To continue the thread started by the Atlantic open source gatherings this Summer, as well as the blogger meeting in Moncton this week, the common threads of interest appear to be:

  1. open source models for software, innovation and learning
  2. new business models, including natural enterprises
  3. networking and learning in the digital commons (blogs, YASNS, wikis, etc)
  4. economic development at a grassroots level in Atlantic Canada

I’m sure that many of the small, outwardly focused, technologically savvy companies in the region would not been impressed by measurements like "percent of population completing university", as a means to determine innovation. There are many successful entrepreneurs here who have skipped university in order to really innovate.

At the blogger dinner in Moncton there were at least three new business initiatives that we discussed and these will be followed-up. Not bad for seven folks in the space of a couple of hours. This was more successful in fostering innovation that most sponsored conferences on innovation. So let’s keep the conversation going, especially in the blogosphere, and let’s have a mass innovation meet next month. With 20 to 30 entrepreneurial individuals networking over pizza & beer (or your choice of brain food) I’m certain that we can start an Atlantic movement to help each other, and kick butt internationally.

All of the ingredients are here – smart people, nimble companies, a sense of community, existing relationships, and a hunger for something better. There are still a number of us who have to get to know each other a bit better, so I hope to see many of you in Sackville at the end of next month.

Please post your comments as well as your preferred dates.

 

Emergent Learning Forum – East

Still hyped from last night’s blogger meeting, I am following up on Jay Cross’ suggestion to hold an Emergent Learning Forum (ELF) Flash Meeting. Cameron, Chris and I discussed having an informal social gathering in Sackville for October. We’re looking for a location, and think that we might be able to negotiate a spot like the president’s cottage at Mount Allison University, or the local pub, or if worse comes to worse – my place. The ELF mission is in line with our practices to date, and I think that it might be a good thing to be part of a larger movement – ELF is:

A non-commercial, global community of people who make decisions at the intersection of learning, technology, business, and design.


Mission


Promote understanding and use of learning in industry and government worldwide

Provide a forum for resolving issues impeding the progress of eLearning

Identify and publicize new developments and emerging best practices

Host a global virtual conversation of vital eLearning issues



Values


We tell it like it is

We value the impact of eLearning on human performance improvement

We are stridently non-commercial

We practice what we preach

We dare to be at the leading edge

We believe in sharing best practices freely and without boundaries



How We Operate


We encourage our members to network with one another

We do not offer consulting services and do not charge for research reports

We promote applied best practices

We think of ourselves as innovators and provocateurs

We eject people who use our gatherings for blatant, uninvited sales pitches



Membership


Membership is free and open to anyone who makes decisions about eLearning.

Our community includes designers, training managers, consultants, product developers, academics, researchers, and business managers.

Fifty to sixty people attend [the San Francisco area] monthly meetings.

Our mail list includes 1500+ opt-in members.

This all seems pretty good to me, so tell me if you’re interested in:

  1. Trying this out under the ELF umbrella.
  2. Having an informal gathering to meet people who are interested in the digital economy, new business models, some techie stuff, and have a sense of community both locally and globally.
  3. Limiting any presentations to 5 minutes (inspired, isn’t it?).
  4. A continued focus on social networking software, small business, and open source business models.
  5. Having it take place in Sackville, with suggested dates of any afternoon during the last week of October, the 25th to 29th.

In the meantime, we will scope out locations, and remember that Sackville is less than a two-hour drive from Halifax, Charlottetown, Miramichi, Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton.