Alice MacGillivray

Supporting Leadership & Knowledge Work Across Boundaries

Archive for Social Justice

Who’s In & Who’s Out?

A comment by John Lebkowsky in twitter about democracy standing in line piqued my interest and led me to his blog post about’s 125-member United States issues forum, which is described as “a civil, more deliberative discussion of national public policy issues and politics in the United States among people with diverse political perspectives.” After receiving an automated message from the forum (he had attempted to share thoughts more than once in a 12 hour period) he wrote: “The implication is interesting: democracy is not about enabling discussions, but restricting them. From their perspective, I suppose the idea is that an unrestricted list will be dominated by a few voices. Savvy online communitarians know that every forum will have a few vocal members, though, and many more observers who rarely if ever speak.” (As a post script, I have learned that the organizers are consciously experimenting and this situation may change.)

Later in my afternoon of intermittent lurking, I came across this blog post about biases against lurkers. It explains how a community tried to exclude anyone who was not visibly active and drew a humorous parallel: “How about if Wikipedia limited access to only those who had contributed on a definition?”

I recall years ago in a CPsquare Foundations Workshop helping a group that wanted to dispel some prejudice through a project they called: “Let’s get more positive about the term lurkers.” I guess that work still has some room for application.

I wonder about the leanings of the people crafting these rules (degree of introversion, degree of desire for control, affinity for rules or software “solutions”). I wonder if they do similar things in their living rooms: “Now remember, you have to leave if you don’t talk…and don’t forget you can only speak once in 5 minutes.”

Tensions Between Differentiation and Boundary Blurring

The World Cafe is a lot like the “Blind Men and the Elephant” in that it can be viewed in so many ways (as part of knowledge management, dialogue, deliberation, public engagement, social justice work, organizational development, and so on).

Juanita Brown, who developed The World Cafe concept in theory and practice, is like many professionals in these fields: she has been generous with her ideas. There seems to be a healthy degree of adaptation and customization around elements of TWC practice (and arguably work that stretches the boundaries a bit too far or purports to be the work developed solely by consultants who have stamped similar activities with their own brands). I am always aware of the tensions, risks and benefits around differentiation and the blurring of boundaries.

David Gurteen is another generous practitioner whose work I respect. He runs what he calls knowledge cafes. In January (2010) Singapore blogger “thinkaloudalot” contrasted The World Cafe and Knowledge Cafes.

How does your experience with The World Cafe or Knowledge Cafes map with his thoughts?

What are your thoughts about pros and cons of differentiation and boundary blurring with concepts such as TWC and KCs?

Bridging KM and D&D

This morning, Sandy Heierbacher of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) asked about my views on the intersections of knowledge management (KM) and dialogue and deliberation (D&D). Briefly:

I think the fields have considerable overlap, but have been isolated from one another for several reasons. The networks of practitioners don’t overlap much, knowledge management work is associated with organizations much more than communities and society, and dialogue and deliberation work is associated with the public, communities and society much more than with organizations.

Their purposes are similar. Knowledge management can help people in organizations make better decisions: decisions based on learning, context, varied input…and decisions that are better understood and more readily adopted. Here are obvious links with deliberation. KM can also help people in organizations generate new knowledge and enable innovation. Again, deliberation has the potential to generate knowledge that gives us a new way of looking at intractable problems.

Tools are similar. Sometimes they overlap directly (World Cafe, for example).

They both have many layers. I still enjoy Karl Wiig’s piece about the four facets of KM, including the social movement layer.

There are many ways in which the fields could learn from each other, including:

  • underlying theories
  • enhancing dialogue in KM processes
  • using KM practices to learn about D&D
  • getting support to work across boundaries
  • comparing and contrasting practices & tools
  • measuring value
  • finding new ways of thinking about value
  • supportive social media
  • sharing of innovations in different settings.

For people familiar with D&D and less familiar with KM, here is a wonderful site with KM resources by David Gurteen. For those more familiar with KM, sample sites include the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD), the International Association for Public Participation and the Kettering Foundation. Several organizations and universities offer workshops and programs in both fields; I’ve taken the D&D program from Fielding.

Women in technology

Along with over a thousand other people, I have pledged to celebrate the first ever Ada Byron Lovelace Day by publishing a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire.

In the mid 1990s I worked with a Ministry of Education, helping to weave themes and philosophies–such as gender equity–into the K-12 curricula. One of my projects was to work with Susan Simmons of the Association for the Promotion and Advancement of Science. We were to help female teachers build confidence and skills in their work with computers, which had magically appeared in classrooms with little orientation. Susan was a confident and energetic internet user and an advocate for good girls’ education. She had written a science activity book for girls that was very well received in field tests, though not approved by the Ministry because it “cheapened science,” turning it into “kitchen science.” Think how many layers of bias are woven into that decision.

We designed workshops for teachers. In one of our planning sessions, we showed a university website of 50 Great Canadian Scientists. One of the women (from Women in Trades & Technology) commented that there weren’t any women on the list. “You should complain” said Susan. “Yes, I suppose I should write a letter” she replied. “No: you can contact them through the internet–right here…” So the woman who worked with trades had her first experience with the networked world.

In our next planning session, we pulled up a reply that there were no women on the site because the scientists had to be “great.” There was a woman in the room who had recently researched female Canadian scientists, and had a list of 100. Again, the internet was used to reply and a few of the names quickly made it onto the university’s website.  These were transformational moments for several people in the room.

I have no idea what Susan is doing now, but based on the enthusiasm, tenacity and passion of our time together, I know she has influenced more than she can imagine.