Alice MacGillivray

Supporting Leadership & Knowledge Work Across Boundaries

Archive for definitions

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?

Definitions

A comment in twitter by Luis Suarez got me thinking about the fact that some communities of practice spend a lot of time in dialogue or debate about definitions. Sometimes I value the deep dives in which theoreticians work to solidify a discipline. At other times I am irritated by the balance between these discussions and a focus on practice.

After reflecting on why people may choose to focus on definitions, I replied to Luis (@elsua): “You’ve got me thinking about how some people use definitions to help with common context, and some for single Truths.”

He responded “That’s a brilliant point, Alice; funny enough I used to be part of the 2nd group & through the years progressed into 1st group.” That transition has fascinated me for a long time. How do people shift ways of knowing? How do specialists—trained deeply in a single discipline—become pluralists?