Saturday, June 23, 2007

How practice unfolds

Expanding on the previous post.

All making has aesthetics and ethics and is concerned with crafting narrative while at the same time living in narrative (causation, explanation, coherence, breach). When we set out to craft an experience that other people will participate in, we think about what form it should take in order that the experience "works" the best. As we get into the planning and crafting, subtle and not-so-subtle shifts and changes occur as the materials and the situation "talk back" to us as we work with them. If we are collaborating with other people in this crafting, those shifts and changes compound in complexity (and rapidity) due to our personal interactions, the conflicts and synergies and mutual inspiration that invariably happen in collaboration. Finally we have our instrument crafted ready for the participative session. We get into that session and a mix of the expected and unexpected happens. We shift and adjust and improvise as necessary, sometimes a lot, sometimes not much. What we came in with as the goal and the form and the intended sequence of events and outcomes sometimes remains intact, often is interspersed with small changes, sometimes is radically changed or inverted as a whole.

From an analytical point of view, looking at the Rutgers and Ames workshops as well as the earlier Mobile Agents materials, all can fall into the above. There is the "intended" aesthetics and ethics -- how we have shaped the materials that will be used in the live sessions and how we envision them being interacted with and operated on by the participants -- and then there is the "live" or "situated" aesthetics and ethics of how these play out in the actual sessions, how we act on the materials and use the tools and interact with the participants in service of having a successful session.

So for my framework purposes, this could be looked at as the narrative organization of both Preparing and Enacting. In each, there are the two dimensions of narrative: the narrative we actively create (the materials and representations) and the narrative we are living in (how we view ourselves, our participants, our effort, our outcomes, the context we see them fitting into, why they are the way they are). In both Preparing and Enacting, we can (and usually, but not always, do, at different levels of intensity) experience disruptions that require sensemaking and improvisation. In both Preparing and Enacting, we act and make in ways that can be characterized from aesthetic and ethical viewpoints, whether they are improvised or not. In both Preparing and Enacting, we can look analytically at the kinds of things that were in my original analyses: verbal moves, representational moves, engagement with the representation and with each other (whether those "others" are makers/practitioners or participants).

Really, in any Preparing and Enacting there are degrees of the unexpected that happen. Even if things don't go wrong per se, they unfold in ways that have to take into account any divergence from the canonical. In Preparing, often this in itself is a kind of improvisation, since you're thrust into a new situation, with new constraints, people, subject matter, etc. Unless it's completely rote, Preparing is nearly always a sensemaking effort. The degree of unexpectedness varies from radical disruptions to just the simple ways that new input comes in and must be factored and adapted to. (Someday in the future I will write this out better, and provide examples and illustrations of all these).

These phenomena are recursive. The experience of living in and constructing narrative happen at many levels simultaneously, as do comprehension, engagement, and interchange. In Preparing, plans emerge through the back and forth between the different levels, interplays with each other. Materials are brought together and composed in the hotbed, in keeping with the directions established, negotiated, agreed to, adjusted on the fly as more becomes clear, even up to the last minute.

Then you enter into the live Enacting and the process repeats. Some goes according to plan and some doesn't, to greater or lesser degree. Adjustments are made within the established boundaries (sometimes stretching, breaking, or reinventing them), keeping the coherence, engagement, and motivation going (if possible!).

Mark's ideas about the usefulness of normative models of communicative practice seem really helpful here. There is both my own, evolving normative model of PHC practice, that I can use as an analytical tool to examine particular instances of practice, and the "model-in-action" that practitioners (whether solo or collaborative) develop and apply, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, in the course of their practice. At the Rutgers event, in the Planning session, you can hear the group discussing and negotiating how the exercise they were putting together was going to work, what it was intended to bring forth from the participants, how it would lead up to the desired outcome and denouement.

More to come on this. I think the outline of how I can now incorporate all 8 instances of practice I'm going to analyze for the dissertation is coming into focus, even though they vary so much (two solo expert practitioners working with very different groups (a small face-to-face planning meeting in the MDRS hab, a virtual meeting of RST geologists), the 4 Ames workshop groups and the 2 Rutgers workshop groups).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

They can still do it

Last night we saw the Subdudes at the Towne Crier in Pawling. Great show. About halfway through, four of the 'dudes left the stage and came out amongst the tables to do 2 acoustic and a capella songs. So much energy and happiness generated, and after that part even their electric playing went to a different level. And that tambourine-powered percussion is truly amazing.

I was thinking that some of my emphasis on looking at expertise in the moments of interruption/disruption kind of miss the point. There is also expertise in the maintenance of flow, keeping an effort the maximal state of creativity and productivity. I saw that (to a degree) in the Rutgers experiment earlier in the week, where both small groups accomplished their goals with little need for on-the-fly sensemaking. And watching the Subdudes play so gorgeously, reaching peaks of their kind of artistry, reminded me that beautiful recoveries are not the only, or even most interesting, form of artistry -- they're just a particular thing to focus on for research purposes. I'm not trying to enshrine them in some theoretical way and my writing shouldn't make it look that way.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Compendium: new media software

What I want is for people to approach Compendium like a new media tool, rather than as "business" software targeted at a particular application. In fact there are many applications for it as a piece of software. But they don't define it. What it is, is a tool for making knowledge/concept/idea maps whose elements can appear in many different maps. That kind of representation is the real point, and what you can do with it. A different kind of multidimensional representation than other tools let you make. What you use those representations for, the world(s) they fit in, can vary widely.

There are other tools in the category I'd like for Compendium to be considered in. I don't think its category is argument mapping or concept mapping, although those are certainly applications for it. It's more of a creative software, like PhotoShop, GarageBand, Windows MovieMaker, Camtasia, iMovie, FinalCut, even PowerPoint or Word. None of those packages are about creating certain kinds of outcomes, unless you define the artifacts you can make with them as the outcomes. Similarly none of them promise (if they're honest) that just by virtue of using the tool you'll be able to produce a well-crafted artifact. What they do promise is that they'll provide the resources you need to hitch to your own creativity, skill, and knowledge, and that they will let you do things that expand your reach. If you know what you want to express and how you want to express it, these tools will help get you there and do it with the speed, quality, depth and density of pallette you need.

And by the way, this is the transliteration of Compendium in Hindi: कोम्पेंदियम

Sunday, June 03, 2007

2007 Workshop notes, continued

Some more thoughts about the second day of our workshop. See this post for the first installment.

Simon led off the morning of the second day with a presentation on where he (et al) is going with the Cohere project, building on all the (amazing) work bringing together ScholOnto, ClaiMaker, Compendium, Memetic, OpenLearn, and Clara Mancini's research. Listening, I was thinking that there is a distinction between the idea that a particular approach and/or software tool will (in and of itself) achieve some positive goal, and the realization that achieving the goal is always and only a product of human effort and engagement (and expertise, and luck).

This doesn't limit or trivialize the role and potential of tools and methods, but rather says that they always need to be coupled with the human side. Human intelligence, performance, and creativity are always a (or the) chief ingredient for the tools and methods to be successful and provide any value, at least in domains outside the purely computational. Even Google doesn't do anything in and of itself, it's only what someone does with the search results that matters in terms of achieving a goal (other than the enrichment of Google and its AdSense and other beneficiaries).

We often tend to talk as if the tools and approaches bring the benefits by themselves. It almost seems to be a bias in the software world to do this. But they don't. They need us and the right situation. It's like with poetry. Some people have the assumption you can just read some great poem and immediately get the meaning and the 'value'. I know I can't, I'm not good enough at understanding poetry to do that. I have to work at it (with the exception of, very occasionally since I'm not much of a poetry person, of hearing a poet reading their (or others') work out loud, and with the resonance and emphasis they can give it from their own artistry, I can get something more immediate).

After Simon, Jeff spoke on 'Lessons learned from NASA Lunar Dust Workshop' (this may be slightly out of order, I'm going from the published program which has it differently, but this is how I remember it). This led to a very engaged discussion on what does and doesn't go well with a) using Compendium for discussion capture, and b) how best to move from facilitation/maps to reports/documents and what some of the common pitfalls are. It seems that at that workshop and among the facilitators, there were a lot of pushes and pulls of Compendium vs conventional transcription, whether or not Compendium added value, etc.

I don't want to recapitulate that discussion here, but it points for me to the need to move towards collaborative artifact construction as the emphasis. I don't say that it is the only successful mode, but having spent hundreds (probably thousands) of hours trying to use Compendium as an alternative focus for conventional discussions in meetings, I personally am ready never to go that way again. As I've tried to write about here, here, and elsewhere, what works is getting people to engage in the construction of the maps themselves, not to try to change the way they talk to each other or how that works in meetings (especially when there is no clear buy-in on using an alternative meeting approach in the first place, from participants or sponsors of an event).

After that, Ale Okada presented the OpenLearn work in the context of eLearning, and Anna de Liddo spoke on using Compendium as a method for participatory, multimedia project memory with public policy groups in Italy. This got a lot of positive reception, especially in the integration of FlashMeeting video recordings with Compendium maps so that the maps became indexes into the video record. This seems like a very promising approach. As Maarten put it, a step towards true knowledge management.

Following this I gave a brief presentation on the work Maarten and I had done at NASA Mission Control/Johnson Space Center last year, doing collaborative modeling with launch controllers, making extensive use of stencils and templates to construct process flows and activity models on the fly in two intensive day-long sessions. Diana Brooks spoke about her experiences using Compendium for her work with public water policy. Jack Paulus presented his TruthMapping work, Jack Park talked about the work he will shortly pursue as a fellow KMi doctoral student, and Simon talked about... something else... will have to add that sometime!

The last session of the day was a spontaneous brainstorming facilitated by Jack Paulus on the topic of how best to promote Compendium in a short video (I mapped, will have to upload those maps somewhere eventually). More on that at another time.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Engagement with the artifact

This is really the crux, inculcating engagement with the artifact itself, its construction, its meaning. When I started my research I was looking at experts in that art, but if the focus becomes engagement itself, how people try to achieve it, what means they use whether verbal, gesture, or actions on the artifact itself, particularly when obstacles are hit, I think that can be looked at as a generic phenomenon, not just one that experts do.

The difference with an "authoring" focus is that the spotlight is on getting the engagement of others. What the engagement consists of and means is different with each context, but the problematic of constructing the artifact, situation, and interactions themselves so as to keep that engagement 'alive', that is consistent. What are the actions a practitioner (a practitioner is anyone trying to create and maintain that engagement) takes.

For narrowing-down purposes I want to focus on actions taken on and with the artifact itself, as well as actions taken in the moments when easy progress is disrupted or things go wrong, but it is a problematic that persists throughout not just sessions but over the life of a project or effort. What can I do to keep this thing worthy of the engagement of the participants, where "this thing" is the artifact in the context of the overall effort. Because if the engagement is not there, the quality and usefulness of the artifact itself suffers (if what the artifact is is defined as a participatory creation of some sort, for context-specific reasons). Practitioner actions taken to create/preserve constructive engagement with the artifact.

Friday, June 01, 2007

More on the main concepts — narrative

Following up on this post, a clarification of what I mean by 'narrative'.

Narrative is really a multi-threaded concept. It's both something that we make or tell, as an artifact of some kind (a story, the weaving together of maps, etc.), and something we live in (more of a psychosocial construct). It's always multiple -- that is, we might only be consciously engaged in making a particular narrative artifact, but we are living in many at once.

As Chuck P. said in response to the earlier post, narrative as something we make also has aesthetics and ethics. But it is the other sense, of the narrative(s) that we live in, that is kind of a different animal. The work a PHC practitioner does is both the crafting of narratives (in their creation / manipulation of maps), and as a 'character' in other people's narratives (their sense of what is going on with their projects, organizations, lives, why things happen the way they happen) as well as in their own.

It's this latter sense that I am more interested in from a research perspective. What narrative(s) are going on in a situation, what kinds of "breaches" occur in them, how do the actions of the practitioner(s) repair the breaches.