Clay Shirky on Collaboration

Posted by  admin —June 28, 2009
Filed in How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Lessons from C500

I am on a Melbourne bound train and just watched another TED presentation – seems to be my favorite commuter activity these days 🙂

In this TEDcast, Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody) reinforces my belief that we are living through a revolution in the way people interact and collaborate with each other.

I’d love to hear what Clay has to say about the impact that Twitterers within Iran are having right now. Like in his original TED talk, new social media is changing the media landscape and giving the man/woman/child on the street a voice to the world … instantly.

Taking Clay’s message to Community Change Projects – this little ‘rant’ links back to Twitter and Social Media at he bottom of this post

Last night I helped the Australian Conservation Foundation to run another of their GreenHomes workshops with a great bunch of people from Geelong, Victoria. Our topic was water and our focus was to  bring people together to learn from and inspire each other. In most workshops, it’s easy to get everyone feeling motivated and inspired to change the world. When you bring people together into a supported space and give them something to do, I find that most people seize the moment and get involved. What else can we do, as project coordinators, to support ongoing social connection (and support) after the workshop?

What if we ran a series of  Community Change project where the goals are re written. MOST community-based, behaviour change projects set goals like these:

  • Participants to change their behaviour in relation to consumption of this that the other (eg. water, energy, spending habits)
  • This behaviour change will result in an overall reduction in water/energy consumption and waste produced across Community X
  • Participants will talk with their friends, family and peers and will, in some way, influence others

Now don’t get me wrong, these goals remain central to our efforts to save the planet. BUT! These goals also drive the project’s focus and activities. As a result, the activities and tactics remain focused on information transmission about the why and how – build knowledge and skills as a foundation for change. What if that’s wrong?

Many people are now recognising the importance of building the capacity of individuals to lead their own projects. Some are also using the time at workshops to connect participants and encourage  relationship building and support – build relationships and help participants to recognise the wisdom and skills to change are in the crowd. The Castlemaine 500 project, the SLAH program in City of Port Phillip and the ACF GreenHome program are doing all of these things.

What if we changed our  worldview the project goals?

Let’s assume that being able to predict and control behaviour change is complex. In other words, the links between cause and effect are not know-able ahead of time AND even in hindsight the links are just as fuzzy. Let’s also assume that people don’t really care much about you or your project (eg. C500, SLAH) and let’s assume that most people want to belong to a group (or a Tribe as in Seth Godin’s book Tribes). So … what your participant’s really value and care about are the relationships between each other. What if behaviour change is driven by primarily by the influence of people/peers around us and is not an individual process based on the acquisition of new knowledge, skills and confidence?

Here’s a new set of goals that we could start to embrace in Community Change Projects: We could also start by doing some Social Network Mapping of a community first and worry less about social demographics.

  • We place conversations between participants at the centre of our project and we seek to cultivate relationships between participants. We bring people together and give them something to do … together. From conversations and relationships comes transactions and action.
  • We build the capacity of participants to communicate with each other. They have all enrolled in your project so they have something in common. Build on this potential. Provide training and practice in the use of convenient and simple communication tools for participants so they can self organise around common interests
  • This is where simple, free applications like Twitter and Blogs come in – Enrol the Cognitive Surplus of participants and give them to tools to contribute to the content and process of the project. Allow participants to self organise and connect wit each other outside the workshops. Make it fun and easy – some will get involved and some won’t … let go of the expectation of any outcomes.

More on these thoughts later … I can feel an essay/guide book coming on!


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