Before Techfestival‘s speakers and event partners’ dinner Thursday, Marie Louise Gørvild, Techfestival’s Director, and Thomas Madsen-Mygdal, its initiator, said a few words. Thomas cited the Copenhagen Letter from 2017 singling out how our tech needs to be embedded in the context of our democratic structures, and how innovation can’t be a substitute for our sense of progress and impact. The Copenhagen Letter, and the entire Techfestival emphasise humanity as not only the source and context for technology and its use, but its ultimate yardstick for the constructive use and impact of technology. This may sound obvious, it certainly does to me, but in practice it needs to be repeated to ensure it is used as such a yardstick from the very first design stage of any new technology.

At Techfestival Copenhagen 2019

Technology is always about humans to me. Technology is an extension of our bodies, an extension of reach and an extension of human agency. A soup spoon is an extension of our hand so we don’t burn our hand when we stir the soup. A particle accelerator is an extension of our ears and eyes to better understand the particles and atoms we’re made of. With technology we extend our reach across the globe by instantaneously communicating, extend it into the air, into the deep sea, towards the atom level, and into interstellar space. Tech is there to deepen and augment our humanity. In my daily routines it’s how I approach technology too, both in personal matters such as blogging, and in client projects, and apparently such an approach stands out. It’s what recently Kicks Condor remarked upon and Neil Mather pointed to in conversations about our blogging practices, what Heinz Wittenbrink referenced when he said “they talk about their own lives when they talk about these things” about our unconference, and what clients say about my change management work around open data.

Techfestival in Copenhagen takes humanity as the starting point for tech, and as litmus test for the usefulness and ethicality of tech. It therefore is somewhat grating to come across people talking about how to create a community for their tech to help it scale. Hearing that last week in Copenhagen a few times felt very much out of tune. Worse, I think It is an insulting way to talk about people you say you want to create value for.

Yes, some newly launched apps / platforms really are new places where communities can form that otherwise wouldn’t, because of geographic spread, shame, taboo or danger to make yourself visible in your local environment, or because you’re exploring things you’re still uncertain about yourself. All (niche) interests, the crazy ones, those who can’t fully express their own personality in their immediate environment benefit from the new spaces for interaction online tools have created. My own personal blog based peer network started like that: I was lonely in my role as a knowledge manager at the start of the ’00s, and online interaction and blogging brought me the global professional peer network I needed, and which wasn’t otherwise possible in the Netherlands at the time.

Techfestival’s central stage in Kødbyen, during an evening key-note

Otherwise, however, every single one of us already is part of communities. Their sports teams, neighbourhood, extended family, work context, causes, peer networks, alumni clubs, etc etc. Why doesn’t tech usually focus on me using it for my communities as is, and rather present itself as having me join a made up community whose raison d’etre is exploiting our attention for profit? That’s not community building, that’s extraction, instrumentalising your users, while dehumanising them along the way. To me it’s in those communities everyone is already part of where the scaling for technology is to be found. “Scaling does not scale” said Aza Raskin in his Techfestival keynote, and that resonates. I talked about the invisible hand of networks in response to demands for scaling when I talked about technology ‘smaller than us‘ and networked agency at SOTN18, and this probably is me saying the same again in a slightly different way. Scaling is in our human structures. Artists don’t scale, road building doesn’t scale but art and road networks are at scale. Communities don’t scale, they’re fine as they are, but they are the grain of scale, resulting in society which is at scale. Don’t seek to scale your tech, seek to let your tech reinforce societal scaling, our overlapping communities, our cultures. Let your tech be scaffolding for a richer expression of society.

Techfestival fits very much into that, and I hope it is what I brought to the work on the CPH150 pledge: the notion of human (group) agency. and the realisation that tech is not something on its own, but needs to be used in combination with methods and processes, in which you cannot ever ignore societal context. One of those processes is continuous reflection on your tech, right alongside the creation and implementation of your tech, for as long as it endures.

Our group of 150 working 24 hours on writing the TechPledge

In a conference call this morning with an Eastern European client we discussed the need for more and better connections and relations, and moving towards increasing trust over time between those participating in these connections. This reminded me of the little primer I wrote a number of years back, on creating or strengthening communities more purposefully. By paying attention to a range of specific aspects that we would normally not consider as part of your management toolkit. Things like rhythm, spaces, and levels of engagement, or balancing safety and excitement, variety of perspectives, and being welcoming.

It is based on the great work of Etienne Wenger concerning communities of practice, which has been a key ingredient in my consulting practices in the past 15 years or so, ever since his 2002 book Cultivating Communities of Practice.

The primer, embedded below, describes the aspects I pay attention to when hoping to strengthen community, some stemming from Wenger, some from my direct experience, and provides examples of what type of action results from it. You can also download the PDF from my slide deck collection, if you like. Do let me know if it is of use for you.

I can also recommend the book by Etienne.

At the Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw on 20 and 21 October I hosted a workshop on ‘making open government data work for local government’.

If open government data is here to stay then only because it has become an instrument to government bodies themselves, and not because government are releasing data only because of compliance with transparency and re-use demands from others (central government or citizens).

This workshop started from the premise that there is opportunity in local governments treating open data as a policy instrument to find new solutions to the issues local communities face, amongst others in coming up with new ways of working in light of budget cuts.

Contributions were made by the local open government data initiatives of the cities of Berlin, Munich (Germany), Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Enschede (Netherlands), Linz and Vienna (Austria), who all shortly presented the current status of their initiatives. It was great to be able to have seven cities take the stage after each other to explain their work in and with local government on open data, and it shows how much things have changed in the past year alone.

Slides of the introductory presentation I gave are available, and are embedded below.

After the introductions, the workshop participants worked in little groups on identifying local issues where open government data could be used towards new approaches by local government and citizens.

This was done in three steps:

  • Identify issues that are currently relevant to your local community.
  • Try to define which datasets might be connected to these issues.
  • Discuss what new steps are possible, using the datasets mentioned.

The collective output of the workshop has been made available as a document I wrote for the (download PDF), and is embedded below.

Making Local Open Data Work

In the past months Lilia Efimova conducted a number of interviews with me and other bloggers that write about knowledge management and learning topics. When she interviewed me last July, while Elmine and I were in Vancouver, she asked if it was ok for her to put a summary online of our Skype conversation (which she also taped for transcription), to which I of course agreed. The summary of the interview with me, and those of the other interviews, are now on-line at Blog networking study: interviews.

We talked about how I started blogging  (to think out loud) and how all the resulting interaction and amazing new relationships kept me going, for a bit over 6 years now. And the effects that blogging had on me over the years.
The way we did the interview was a case in point of how blogging helped build connections to lots of great people: I did it from the living room of Cyprien Lomas and his family, while on an extended tour of our  Canadian and Seattle blogging friends. Each and everyone a relationship and connection that started from weblog interaction. It’s an amazing form of wealth that still never ceases to amaze me.

Reading through the transcript of all the interviews some things strike me as relevant. The way we adjusted to how deeper relationships don’t scale well, while at the same time keeping up with a myriad of different people. The way we trust that ‘important’ information will find us, and are not afraid to miss anything. The way we all needed to find a way to deal with context collapse, and the different answers we found (even more transparancy, anonymity, closing blogs, opening more blogs, different languages). The way several interviews talk about finding out you’re not ‘alone’ in your interest in KM. How some of us feel or express we somehow share a lot of values with those we are connected with (which I guess also says something about the state of the blogosphere at the time exactly when most of us first got exposed to weblogs, 2000 to 2002, even when not writing then), and how our blogs are stable low-threshold access points for others to get in touch or into interaction.

I am looking forward to reading more of Lilia’s PhD writing that is steadily getting closer to completion, but going through these interview transcripts was already very worthwile in itself.