I’ve been listening of late to Dave Snowden’s podcasts (mostly keynotes from various KM conferences around the world). In the last year he’s added a strong focus on social computing, as, in inimitable Dave style, he’s in the last three years leaped head first, experientially, into the world of blogging, editing the Wikipedia pages on KM, Welsh Rugby and other topics, and into Facebook and Twitter.
In his recent podcasts Dave poses the argument that social computing is bring the 3rd wave of change in management science, the first two being Taylorism (scientific management based on functions), and Business Process Re-engineering (horizontal integration/optimisation of processes across and between functional silos). He explains this in the context of his work on narrative, using the cognitive rather than social sciences, and in relation to the many methods he has developed for sense making in complexity.
He also suggests the use of a new double loop iteration method using blogs and wikis to develop policies, strategies, and other plans in organisations.
I was fascinated therefore, to hear Australian Senator Kate Lundy explaining her use of exactly the same method in her PublicSphere events for consultation with citizenry on public policy issues.
Had Kate been listening to Dave? After her talk last week, I asked her whether she was familiar with Dave’s work, as he has been in Australia frequently, but she hadn’t. I asked Pia Waugh, Kate’s advisor on such things, and she too had not heard of Dave’s work. Pia had simply taken and adapted such methods from the open source community.
So, unless Dave had seen and copied Pia & Kate’s methods, which seems unlikely as Dave was podcasting about this before Kate launched her first PublicSpheres, I think we’re seeing the separate emergence of nearly identical approaches, perhaps based on fairly similar starting conditions.
First, I’ll look at the methods, then explore the starting conditions, then I’ll ask Dave, Kate and Pia to challenge any of my assumptions and hypotheses.
Dave, in a number of podcasts, describes the traditional method for collaborative document authorship. People meet, discuss an issue, someone takes notes then goes away and writes up a draft in Microsoft Word. They then email it to others and request feedback, using tracked changes. The initial author then struggles with the mire of integrating the suggested changes into a document, the group meetings in person again, and around we go.
He then proposes a different approach. First, get a group of say twenty staff with an interest in the issue to blog about it once a day, for two weeks. If people are unfamiliar with blogging, get an IT person to sit down with them at 4pm each day and help them write their blog, teaching them new blogging concepts and features as they go. Once this process is complete, employ a technical writer to synthesise all the raw material from the blogs into a cohesive draft document and put it on a wiki. Using a technical writer enhances the quality of the first draft, and more importantly removes the issue of ownership of the draft by a staff member. Where strong ownership of a draft by a single person exists, they will be resistant to having it changed, and others will be reluctant to contribute. Once the wiki is up, give the people two weeks to edit the wiki until a final version is agreed upon. For training in wiki editing Dave suggests getting staff to spend a couple of months editing pages on the Wikipedia as that has highly developed coaching and mentoring systems, along with robust methods for disciplinary action against those to transgress the rules and established cultural norms.
Kate Lundy’s PublicSpheres work in a very similar way. So far they’ve done three, on High Speed Bandwidth, Government 2.0 and Australian ICT & Creative Industries Development. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. People are first asked to post comments, links to papers, case studies and ideas to the relevant PublicSphere blog post comments, and to blog themselves using the tag ‘publicsphere’ and Twitter with #publicsphere. All of this is then summarised and presented at an in person workshop, where there are face to face discussions, presentations, live streaming of the event to those who can’t be physically present, and ongoing blogging and twittering. The content is then synthesised onto a wiki, and the public are given two weeks to edit it. It is then closed off, and turned into a nicely presented PDF, and submitted to relevant Government Ministers as a briefing paper. The most recent PublicSphere had 1100 tweets, 100 in person participants and 400 remote participants on the workshop day.
So, if these two, very similar approaches emerged separately, what were the starting conditions that enabled this? I suggest the following:
- An experiential rather than theoretical understanding of the utility of, and differences between, blogs and wikis
- An understanding of the importance of multiple iterations in a sense making process (Dave from complex systems theory and the non-interventionist facilitation practices he’s developed, and Pia from the open source community’s ‘release early and often’ practice)
- A belief that the authentic opinions of individual participants can be abstracted up into a cohesive whole, without the biased intervention of ‘expert’ consultants or policy analysts
- A lack of fear that people might say the ‘wrong’ thing
- A belief, not in the ‘wisdom of crowds’ (individuals making decisions in isolation from each other, with the correct answer being the median), but in the collective intelligence of a complex system (one in which the system lightly constrains the participants, and the participants’ actions affect each other and the system itself).
Am I right? We’ll see what they say.