Pathways for change in the K12 Ecosystem

It’s easy to toss aside the notion of meaningful social change. For starters, you’d have lots of company. But let’s take a look at an area with mounting problems and the highest of stakes:

Un-packing the Challenges of K12 Education

By any measure, our western culture and economy – and within that universe, our education systems – have grown so large and intertwined that we quickly scoff at the notion of doing something to improve them. Countless well-intended efforts have failed. Or they succeed for a bit locally, but then can’t scale. Frustrations mount. Those inside the hardened silos of our aging institutions are just as trapped by their realities as those on the outside.

It’s not a lack of passion or desire. It’s just that, as a society, we’ve become overwhelmed by ‘the system’. It’s been going on for a long time – by most accounts, over 100 years. Quite simply, it feels like we’ve lost control, and in some important ways, we have.

What if we changed the rules?

The problem with social, cultural and economic forces – the complex result of human interaction – is that the outcomes don’t align with our intentions. Most of us were reared in a simple (linear, Newtonian) world of ’cause and effect’, and we expect a simple answer to every problem.

Why can’t we just fix schools? Or healthcare? Or the economy?

What we’re learning is that complex systems – especially the human variety – work and behave very differently. We must focus on actors, motivators, outcomes and patterns.

We must attack these problems in a different way.

EcoSys is a social innovation group that started in August 2009. The goal of the group has been to apply a new science – the study of complexity in social ecosystems – to the hardened problems we face as a society.

Intriguing? Ambitious? Yes, on both counts. But open your mind for a moment.

Can you imagine the potential of global thought leaders discovering a focused problem-solving dialog, adding to it, and ultimately building a shared knowledge base of solutions?

Can you imagine an objective exchange of ideas and concerns, shared publicly in the spirit of collaboration, subordinating agendas and special interests in favor of meaningful, scalable innovations?

Can you see social media – Twitter, in fact – as an engine for change, with the connections of each contributor serving as pathways to deeper insight and focused action?

That work is underway, and we’ve posted some K12 progress here.

We’ve still got some work to do on it, as we continue to refine our issue framing.

Are you ready to Engage?  Join us each MONDAY at 9pET using hashtag #ecosys. You can use TweetChat  (try this link), TweetDeck, TweetGrid or HootSuite to join us. Just be sure the #ecosys hashtag is in each tweet, and search on that tag.  Bring your insights and an open mind. It’s free, unaffiliated, and destined to make a difference.

How do we know?

Because 3 years in and some +40,000 tweets later, our topics are gaining traction and spontaneous conversations are starting to break out. We call that momentum. And we’re working to take a step to the next level.

Stay tuned. And welcome to the K12 ecosys.

Original framing blog
Full process
EcoDNA (our first emergent innovation)
EcoSYS founders

The DNA of Collaboration: Unlocking the Potential of 21st Century Teams (where Ecosys is a case study)

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Web 2.0′s “Broadcast” problem: The case for Meaningful Engagement

For the commercial web’s first decade, people communicated the old fashioned way: broadcasting their messages to anyone who would listen. It was a simple, easy extension of traditional advertising, public relations, politics and academic publishing. E-mail, also cutting edge at the time, modeled the same broadcast mentality. It was yet another easy way to lob messages to large audiences.

Prevalence of the “broadcast model” has limited people’s view of how the internet can be used to deliver messages. Many still don’t realize that the new internet (Web 2.0) offers a radically different proposition: collaborating with others via an open, multi-party exchange.

Engagement is communication at a different level

If communicating via email was passive and routine, the connections possible with engagement are active and dynamic. True engagement is more work. It requires time, energy and active listening. But the resulting flow of information brings rich rewards. Insights begin to accumulate and multiply. Ideas get validated and enhanced in several directions at once. And as the value of the idea exchange increases, personal relationships begin to form around them.

Meaningful, high-value connections like these are at the core of the Twitter chat phenomenon that’s spawned successful, ongoing communities like #smchat and #blogchat and social innovation teams like #ecosys.

And yet engagement rates among the masses remain critically low. Try to talk about social media with the average person, and you can see the resistance in their eyes, as if to say, “I know better, I’ve heard that one before, you can’t fool me.”

That makes building social teams and virtual communities much harder than it needs to be.

Why so much resistance?

I find the Web 1.0 mindset serves as a filter to the possibilities, reinforced by a culture that has grown cynical and distrusting. Unfortunately, those old habits and opinions die hard.

Thought leadership in this space goes back 50 years. Concepts like Thomas Kuhn’s “paradigm” (1962), Charles Handy’s “organizational culture” (1976), and Peter Senge’s “mental models” (1990) all build on the theme of the filters we use when we perceive the world around us. It seems we’ve advanced our understanding, but have moved too little to act on what we’ve learned.

The idea of “getting outside the box” was clearly spawned from this line of thinking. Far too many remain safely inside those boxes.

Here’s a key takeaway, unvarnished:

Mental filters (influenced by culture, formal education and our past life experiences) shape how we perceive the world around us, blinding us to new perspectives and blocking us from making deep connections with others.

Can we take this problem on, unlocking engagement in the virtual space? I say yes. Getting past our mental filters may be the first hurdle, but there are more. I’ve posted thoughts on the specifics of meaningful engagement over at Talent Culture.

There’s a world full of complex problems out there. Embracing broad, meaningful collaborative engagement on a much larger scale is critical if we hope to solve them.

The Problem with “Social” in Social Media (the case for ‘New Media’ and the semantics of 2.0)

The other day, I had an epiphany.

In one window, I’d been watching a series of tweets on how State CIO’s put collaborative tools at the bottom of their 2010 technology priority list, even though their top 3 strategic goals included better management of labor costs, workforce optimization, sharing of work .. in a nutshell: productivity.

In another window, I’d watched die hard SMCHAT members bemoan the boss who wouldn’t let them communicate via blogs, for fear they were wasting time. Forget the great ideas and potential innovations that were emerging.

Finally, the last straw: several high ranking execs were talking strategy, and one of them referred to the corporate adoption of SM, aka Enterprise 2.0 (#E20), as “Facebook behind the firewall.”

That’s when I snapped, so to speak.

From here out, I’m calling it facebook syndrome. You may know someone who has it too. It assumes social media is just about planning parties and swapping pictures, and it definitely doesn’t help with management buy-in.  In fact, there are two working definitions of social. One connotes entertainment, and another, the one we’re talking about for Government 2.0 (#GOV20) and E2.0 and any serious commercial application is about building new work groups; facilitating new engagement for problem-solving; driving better partnerships; enabling culture change; and, quite literally, unlocking innovation.

Let’s change the game. Let’s rally around a new name .. like “new media” perhaps? .. for commercial applications. And to sell it, let’s demonstrate a basis for measuring actual productivity gains, showcasing the people working closely together on shared problems that only recently had never met.

Watch people get excited about coming to work again.

It’s not social media that we’re chasing. It’s the networked learning organization. To get beyond images of wedding crashers, the solution language needs to reflect the mission.

Twitter Lists: What’s the Plan?

Lot’s of excitement over Twitter lists in the early stages of the game. After some research, I’m finding many are still trying to sort it all out. Here are some basic questions to help test whether lists can help you:

  1. What do I know about my friends/followers that others don’t?
  2. Would it be worthwhile (to me and/or to them) to share it?
  3. Are there topical categories of people I want to connect with that I currently can’t see?
  4. Can I identify specific actions that I’d take having created a specific list (using it as a rolodex, tracking potential clients)?
  5. Do I have time for figure this out and make the connections?

If the answer to all of these questions is “I don’t know” or “no”, then maintaining Twitter lists could lead to frustrations. The best bet is to set some objectives, remain focused (don’t try to ‘list the world’) and keep an eye on reducing redundant work with others in your circle. Then again, you may want to wait for some list management apps.

Here are some points to help simplify the options:

  1. long lists only help if they name everyone someone would want to know on a given topic. If yours is not the longest in that space, potential followers may pass you over for someone else who has the primo list.
  2. avoid personal laundry lists if you’re not going to act on them (eg., ‘people I know’). Anyone you put at position 350 on a list of 360 is not going to get seen. Would you look at someone else’s laundry list?
  3. short lists are generally more useful. Why? If they have an interesting and relevant name, they are more likely to get browsed.
  4. think about superlatives, folks that stand out (eg., “top bloggers” vs. “bloggers).
  5. following too many people? Your “All Friends” stream moving too fast? You can use lists to create a subset of people to follow, by topic, to manage how you allocate your Twitter browsing .. but for now you’ll have to surf to those links to find those tweets; the true value is in futures .. having TweetDeck (or related apps) created filter Groups by list content;
  6. communities/groups (like #SMCHAT) benefit from one master “all-in” list for everyone to follow. Consider appointing someone to maintain it, and make sure folks know where it is; rotate the role;
  7. events should follow similar thinking. Capture Twitter ID’s w/ registration. Take the time to build an accurate list, or appoint someone and let folks know who it is; events should publish speaker ID’s as a list to facilitate tweetcasting;
  8. keep in mind many will grab follows as they scroll through, not following the list; this is invisible to the list creator and negates the effect of a ‘list follow count’;
  9. .. more proof (if we needed it) that counters don’t matter;
  10. Check out Listorious; it actually supports list tagging and tag lookup; great news !! if more folks would start using it. Still pretty slim pickin’s, but it’s early;
  11. Some have said hashtags can go away, but I’m not so sure; lists associate people to topics/roles, hashtags relate tweets/links to topics. What’s really needed is ubiquitous tagging, that would help us aggregate tweets, links and people together, so we can tag at will;
  12. Remember, not everybody uses hashtags .. so relevant lists can help fill that gap.

A lot to consider .. but 2 general rules: ‘keep it simple’ and ‘keep it real’.

Lists are Twitter’s first official recognition that there may some value in helping communities form. In this case, benefit will go to those in a virtual community that act as a community vs. everyone doing their own thing.

Will be interesting to see when and where that happens.

I think folks who say “lists change everything” are actually realizing the value of a ‘filtered’ Twitter. For many, hashtags and TweetDeck search filters have played that role in part. Now we can add lists to .. the list.

I still believe Twitter changes everything, as I’ve shared in prior posts. Maybe we’re on the same page after all.

Problem Solving for Ecosystems with “EcoDNA”

If you’re following ECOSYS, you’ll know we’re moving quickly past the high-level overview stage and on to process details. Our goal: to prove that virtual collaboration can drive social innovation.

We ran our second #ecosys chat last night on Twitter; our transcripts are posted on NING .

To illustrate our approach, let me show you what virtual collaboration looks like: Jay and I (members of the ECOSYS core team) conferenced Friday to brainstorm how to convey “looping” (iteration) and successive stages in our draft 6-step collaboration process. Using SKYPE and YUGMA we did some virtual white boarding as we talked, and came up with the diagram below. To vet our thinking, the ECOSYS core team reviewed the details last night in an online chat, provided feedback, unanimously embraced the new visual, and coined the name “EcoDNA.”

While a small and early win, it is an important one: both the visual and the EcoDNA name convey our trajectory:

To achieve social innovation, we must first understand the building blocks of our social ecosystems; only then can we rearrange them in an optimal way. Consistent with the DNA metaphor, understanding and relating the building blocks of “how things work” is a fundamental first step to learning and to innovation.

Sure, EcoDNA is just a process model. For practical purposes, we’re still at the starting line, revving our engines. But it’s an example of what virtual collaboration can achieve. And for the complexity buffs, EcoDNA demonstrates our fist bit of “emergent” innovation.

ECOSYS Iterative Problem-Solving Model

ECOSYS Iterative Problem-Solving Model

discovery thread (detail)

discovery thread (detail)

implementation thread (detail)

implementation thread (detail)

[The blow-up of component parts on this diagram should help link it back the process “building blocks” in our prior posts.]

We have more housekeeping to do before moving on to addressing the big issues in healthcare and education. We’re hoping to keep most of our brainstorming sessions online, reaching a broad stakeholder base while documenting inputs in real time. We’re asking core team members to submit guest posts of their takeaways here, so we can establish a consensus (coming from diverse perspectives) of what we’re learning.

Please stop back often. We’ll have much to report. You can follow or search Twitter hashtag #ecosys for daily insights. And check out TweepML to meet and network with the core team.

Thanks for your interest. We’re excited about the potential, more so with every step.

The Path to Enterprise 2.0 (a Virtual Workshop)

Look around your company. Are teams working at cross purposes? Are you seeing good ideas get sidetracked? Do organizational silos and the politics that go with them result in project delays and failures?

You’re not alone.

It’s time to engage with others tackle these challenges and identify new ways to enhance productivity in your organization. You’re invited to participate in a bi-weekly Twitter-based conversation (#e20ws), beginning Tuesday, September 29 at 8 pm ET. We’ll discuss culture, engagement, alignment and technology. And that’s just for starters.

If you need some background on Twitter chats and hashtags, you’ll find that in more detail here.

All corporate professionals are welcome, but teams that generate insights, make connections, and share ideas across the organization will get the most value. These days, that’s almost everybody. But to create some focus: think Marketing, HR, Communications/PR, Customer Service and IT.

As with any public event, you’re responsible for exercising good judgment. Here are some pointed suggestions:

  • never share proprietary information about your company;
  • unless you’re an independent consultant, avoid references to your company in your Twitter ID and profile;
  • if your ID includes corporate branding, add a disclaimer along the lines of “views shared are my own, not necessarily those of my company;”
  • if your company has a social media policy, become familiar with it before engaging in online, public conversations.

In a sense, it’s no different than a regular public conference: you’re under no obligation to speak up. What’s different, however, is that direct, real-time interaction is just a few key strokes away. To access the live chat stream, simply launch the Tweetchat application at the appointed time:

http://tweetchat.com/room/e20ws

That’s it! Now, all you have to do is show up and bring your point of view. Plan to network and learn in real time with some of the most engaging, insightful folks in industry. 20th century silos and workgroup problems have been daunting for everyone. The 21st century is already in progress. We’re saving you a seat.

Chris (@SourcePOV)

Unraveling Complexity (the Missing Link): A new approach for solving problems in Social Ecosystems

For months I’ve been reaching out to colleagues to explore barriers to collaboration, a key tool in the social innovator’s toolbox. Among those queried (and in spite of diverse backgrounds), virtually all had experienced significant barriers to collaboration over the years including silo-thinking, dated and inefficient problem solving models, cultures of control, and a strong, prevailing lack of trust.

Consensus? The barriers to innovation seem to be as universal as they are frustrating.

So something is broken. What is the root cause?

Beth Noveck and David Johnson have published important research on how new Social Media collaboration technologies can change the game. Their perspective on a New Science of Complexity is summarized in this People & Place blog post and explained further in an excerpt from their research. Their focus was the U.S. EPA (including the Federal process for environmental research and legislation) but their conclusion, which I agree with strongly, is that the principles are applicable in business (#e20) and broader social venues (#gov20) as well.

My primary takeaway?  I now believe that INNOVATION IN COMPLEX ECOSYSTEMS will depend on an improved collaboration process – a new middle ground for problem solving – that balances large-scale central organizational approach with grass-roots contributions by individuals. It is about finding the “sweet spot” between rigid structure and adaptive, organic sourcing of ideas. In a new and somewhat uncharted public collaboration space, it means that the forces of organizational scale and leverage can be networked – connected – with discrete centers (or hubs) for contribution to produce more rigorous solutions.

At the core of this thinking? A realization that traditional large-scale organizations (with their central thinking, hierarchical layers, and silos of functional experts) are generally ineffective when dealing with complex situations. Quite literally, they are too rigid. Without the ability to adapt to new variables or to coordinate across silos, grid-lock ensues. And complex social ecosystems are impacted, since “sending in experts” is how we tend to attack these issues. On the list? The well known structural challenges in energy, sustainable food and water sources, public education and healthcare.

What’s needed is an outright paradigm shift in problem solving models that are fundamentally more interactive and cross-functional. And focusing on complexity theory is key, because it begins to unlock some new doors. For one, there must be an organic aspect that allows solution teams to learn, self-correct and grow. And to meet the requirement of connecting people more dynamically, Social Media is the ideal technology. Some examples? Think about experts engaged in live chat. Acceleration of thought synergies. Tools to merge and re-mix knowledge. Ability to leverage and extend dynamic repositories.

With focus and coordination, we can work to find the elusive “sweet spot”.

In terms of naming and framing the problem, the above research makes significant strides. The next step is critical as well, and is just as exciting: in pockets across the internet, the new collaboration is already starting to appear.

Are you seeing it too? Let’s talk, I’ll show you where and how.