colliver's blog

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Blogging needs to operate on the other side of the log in

Accessing this blog requires a login to the ALARA website, restricting these of access. If I say: "Here is a cogent critique of the Occupy movement," one that engenders hope for a revival of the civic realm, who will notice?

If I say: "Cornel West and Paul Carter seem to be pointing to a similar practice of honesty in suffering," I stay my hand at saying more. I will not discuss my own experience of complaint and the possibilities of moving from complaint to critique. What's the point, other than my enriching a movement in myself already well advanced? Who will respond, here inside the small box of the ALARA website?

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A Conference is a place to be face-to-face in the community of practice

I spent Monday and Tuesday at ANU, Canberra, in a workshop that was mostly up-front presentations on Water Governance research. the workshop was the third in a series of workshops on water governance, designed to develop relationships between established and new researchers, and to develop a research agenda. this fitted by an agenda of finding colleagues with whom I could talk. Here is my reflection on those two days:

Improving governance starts with a conversation about governance, but a good conversation about governance is a rare thing.

I've been part of such conversation over the last two days. On the second day, somewhere in the morning, the atmosphere began to thicken, and I started to feel a shared intent to understand and improve governance. To say I felt less alone would be melodramatic: feeling alone is part of being a social scientist in systems like water governance. I didn't stop feeling alone, but I started to feel that I was with a band of others, a loosely woven, argumentative band, disagreeing about where it is headed and the best way to get there, but committed to working this out. Some in this rag-tag collection I felt more affinity with than others, but I recognised all as persons who cared about governance, and were working at understanding and influencing governance practice.

I imagine this as the feeling that develops in a community of practice, specifically the feeling that accompanies a commitment to a domain of human endeavour, within relationships that are gradually accumulating a history. The good feeling of being with others with similar intent strengthened my heart and sharpened my will to be involved, to commit to action with others.

I'm cautious about where I put my time these days, and with whom. However, success depends on to a greater extent than I have allowed in the past on good companions, and I've recently been putting more time into finding them. When Ray Ison, one of those convening the workshop, asked me a few weeks back if I was coming, I decided to come, just to be amongst kindred spirits. From this context, then, two observations about the workshop:

1) It was wonderful to be with so many different voices, so many impassioned bodies. as I felt my way back through the speakers, I found myself dwelling as much on the way presenters spoke as what they spoke about. To get up close to researchers, to feel their organisation of a perspective out of years of work, and their distinctive ways to communicating that to us, that was a treat.

2) I've been to three of these research network events - Canberra, Melbourne, Canberra again. In that time I've progressed across the threshold from having the findings in my Ph.D. research on paper to having them connected to the literature and staking my claim to knowledge. Coming into these two days, the Ph.D. was behind me, and I was focused on reengaging with my work as a facilitator of change. I enjoyed putting my points of view not just about what's wrong with governance, or what needs to change in water governance systems, but how to go about improving governance. I was able to test out where my thinking is going, to hear what this sounded like in the public domain of the community of practice, and to get others' responses.

However, looking back down the series, I'd say I've been able to find a place in each of the workshops, as I've progressed as a researcher. My observation is that space was made for a wide spectrum of researchers, from the beginner to the long-established, and many shades in between. This experience of being a particular part of a community, which Wenger calls a trajectory into a community of practice, develops my identity as a researcher. I sense where I fit with others, and work out how I can be a researcher in my own way.

The question I'm left with centres on hosting. If conversation is a crucible not just for knowledge, but for relationship and identity, what in the design of the workshop enabled the participants to go so directly and vigorously into discussing the practice of water governance research, across a wide spectrum of research experience?

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Step One: Connect to the people who connect to me

This is simple direction to myself. Instead of rushing through my email, linger over those emails that suggest the writer is on a similar journey. Say hello. Look at where they hang out.

Second move: put time into the channels to which I'm committed. The ALARA website (until I resign in a huff), the Riddells Creek Studio on facebook, my own site, which has died in the arse while I've been doing the PhD. 

So here are some people who cross my multiverse in the next 48 hours:

Deb Lange - who will join the ALARA Management Committee as International VP, with a view to creating relationships for the next World Congress of Action Research. Then on from deb to Berkana Institute

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Finding colleagues to talk to: Research for ALARA's web presence

Oh dear me, last blog post in 2008! I take this to be symptomatic of the way being coordinator of this site absorbs time for maintenance, amd steal time away from my creative work. And yes, supporting the community with these facilities is creative work, but look at how much people use it! Last entry June, then March 2011, and bugger all response to those posts. I'm depressed. I feel hopeless. What does this community want? I see little evidence of site members wanting to talk to others using these media.

So I'm going to approach my role in a different way. Rather than guess at what our membership wants, I'm going to research what I myself want with this community, and from the virtual world, and build from those understandings. Other ALARA members and site members are welcome to join me. John Saward (our behind-the-scenes Drupal guy) is with me. Welcome all. Call this Probe#1 into the virtual world.

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Knowledge in complex domains

I came across Dave Snowden's work at the tail end of my close involvement in knowledge management. He was amongst that pack of people talking about knowledge as a social process, but he made alot more sense that most. Snowden argues that the way knowledge is developed and used depends on the complexity in the system. Operating in complex systems is different to operating in simple systems – it requires collegial structures, not professional or bureaucratic structures.Snowden articulates critical differences between systems in four different states, along with implications for working with knowledge each state:[i]

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Practitioner inquiry in complex social systems

I got involved in facilitating inquiry by practitioners pretty soon into my career, without really intending it. The first project was in 1985, the Classroom Relationships Project, which Trish Williams, an innovative teacher and like myself a sociodramatist. The sponsor's goal was to support development of schools, by building a collegial and self-reflective culture that considered relationships. Trish and I used Kemmis' ideas and Morano's idea of enacting interactions in order to understand them and generate new optison for yourself and others. We taught teachers to observe action in the classroom and entertain hunches about what was going on, and taught them to support reflection into practice. Then we paired them up, and required them to observe each other in the classroom, and then talk about what they had observed and what (on the teacher's end of things) they had been thinking, feeling and deciding. It was challenging for teachers, it changed them, and it was (in a way) easy to do. I just hung onto Trish's coattails and picked it up as I went along. A few years after this, I took pretty much the same approach in a national R&D project on professional development for teachers, with another group of facilitators and an educational academic, but it wasn't as much fun as working with Trish.

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