Creating a new space at the intersection of artists and audience

presentation by Steven Wheeler (Plymouth University) on self-organization and learning included a diagram that brought individual reflection via blogs into collaborative community via wikis.  This intersection between the individual and collective was pointed out again during a recent dialogue hour hosted by the Opens Space Workshops for Scientific and Social change.  This jumpstarted some thinking on my part about the 119 Gallery as a space that creates a similar intersection between individual creative visions and practices and a larger audience of community members.

While many may view galleries and performance spaces as a location of exchange between artists / producers and their audiences / consumers, the 119 Gallery actually exists as a space where creators and patrons come into communion with one another. Rather than exchange (which is the dominent concept of a “creative economy”) a new set of social and creative processes are formed within the context of this ever evolving creative space.  Producers and consumers may enter, but through participation the roles and boundaries between these entities begin to blur.

It is not uncommon for an individual within this space to find themselves moving and revolving between multiples roles and responsibilities.  The audience member becomes creator, the creator becomes audience and all have the opportunity to become architects / convenors / curators and producers of new formulations and articulations of the space.  They also are invited to craft the supports for its operation.

Eric S. Raymond’s seminal book The Cathedral and the Bazaar explored the value of open source software development (the Bazaar) when compared to the centrally controlled processes of proprietary projects (the Cathedral).  While much of the thinking done by Raymond and others resonates with a space like the 119 Gallery, the still dominant language of the market and exchange don’t quite capture what a creative space like the 119 is all about.  And there are aspects of a “church” or a coming together or “communing” that are more exact.

The 119 Gallery space and the creative community it births make possible new visions and expressions that would not be possible for the individual creator or the audience alone.  Co-construction and reconfiguration of creative impulses (including those in the realm of organizational management and development), are an essential feature of the 119 Gallery.  It is these new formulations and the energy they create that also appear to motivate the continued engagement of members of this creative community.

Action Research

I’m assisting with Peter Taylor’s class “Action Research for Educational, Professional and Personal Change”.  In considering the “Cycles and Epicycles” framework, it occurs to me I have been most familiar with the concept of participatory action research which I see now is a type of action research (no duh).  I had thought of action research being linked to working with those in the field or with those who normally would be seen as “objects” of research.  I can see in this definition that the “process” focus of focusing on a concrete problem or situation that is then constantly evaluated.  I can also see where this links to other forms of qualitative research where the researcher is part of the process of defining the question and iteratively feeding back into.  This seems to be a more natural way of coming to knowledge to me.  The idea of exploring something, finding something out, testing it, going back, modifying, and slowly “tweaking” the research as new knowledge comes to the table.  I see the value of more “experimental” type research designs, but these sorts of methods seem more “true” to me.

Also, more than a circle, I can tend to think of these processes as spiral in shape.  There is movement forward / back or up/ down, but at the same time a backtracking and revisiting throughout.  This too I think is more attuned to how the “human”mind works.  I can easily see where an orderly progression of the steps may not happen as well as there is movement back and forth around the various elements.  It would seem that being aware of these steps, however, is critical.

I would say from my own experience that the steps of reflection and dialogue may short-changed just as coming to plans and actions come the easiest.  Evaluation and feedback also seem to get pushed aside when there is a crunch on time.  It would seem we can find outselves then working in ways that may be inefficient and counterproductive and or stagnate or stall as a result of inability to move beyond barriers or blocks.

Thoughts on 119 Organizational Design

So I’m starting to think about the 119 and its organizational design.  Starting to pickup more concretely literature in this area.  It seems to me that looking at the 119 as a case connects to literature from the following areas like:

  • Organizational Studies
  • Business Management and Leadership
  • Collectives and Cooperatives
  • Grassroots Organizing
  • Volunteer Management
  • Motivational Studies
  • Social Network Theory
  • Complexity Studies
  • System Thinking
  • Network Design

This format rests within a long history of community action and engagement coupled with traditions coming out of the business sector formed during the middle part of the last century and then amplified by advances in science and technology which have produced new ways of sharing and communicating.

The 119 sits somewhere between social network theory and organizational management theories.  The organization is concerned with organizational tasks such as creating goals and outcomes, designing roles and responsibility / accountability, and coordinating and communicating key information (management and leadership).  At the same time, there is a need for trust, community, reciprocity, social bonding and bridging (social network). The system also mechanisms to provide feedback for adaptation and response (system).

Thinking too on what self-organizing groups need in terms of platforms, coordinating structures, values, etc.

It also seems to me that the 119 Gallery responds and adapts within a context of problem-based organization.  Laurie Ross’s report on Youth Workers talks about Dilemna-based approaches.  It seems that there is something there.  The idea that problems become and opportunity respond and adapt systems.

For instance, current tensions at the 119 appear to revolve around roles and responsibilities and confusion when these are crossed without prior understanding.

I’m going to start reading on some older literature from the early 1990s to early 2000s about these concepts.  I am thinking that while the business sector has had a lot of these ideas shifting around and there exist NPO models, articulation of these concepts within the NPO literature is under-developed.

Mental Models

Over the last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about mental models and how we come to understand new ideas, technologies and ways of doing things.  At a meeting at the MOS regarding the next global World Wide View conversation, Larry Bell mentioned the idea of “anticipatory governance.”  The idea that if we start changing how we do things and thinking about things in new ways, policies will change.

I was then talking to Peter Taylor about the Collaborative Explorations process and trying to link it to the 119 Gallery.  When the 119 Gallery opened up its space for others to coordinate and book events and exhibitions, our programming and attendance jumped.  I was wondering if by opening up CE would we get more interest.  But then, I though the 119 Gallery worked because people already had the mental model of how to use the space.  They knew what a band was, an art exhibition, a performance, etc . . . there were and have been many spaces like these before.  But what does a CE online look like?  Certainly software developers and international folks work on collaborative projects.  But what if you are brining a new practice to someone?  How do you help them gain the mental model so that they can in turn act?

I was then thinking about an interview that I did with a teen at SSI yesterday.  She loved the place because she could have the kinds of conversations she always wanted to have.  She was allowed to see herself as a leader.  And without the space, she wasn’t sure if she would see herself in such a role at this point.

I think I’d like to explore more fully how we come to understand new ways of doing things of understanding new processes.  I am wondering if this might not be a CE of my own.

Computer Clubhouse Learning Model

Danielle Martin just took on a new job as the director of knowledge management at the Computer Clubhouse.  I think their learning model:  has some relevance here.  I am wondering how this model can be added to to heighten social justice and political engagement outcomes.  It would seem that DERC is using this model.  How is this model different than positive youth development.   What does it need to be a social justice youth development.  I need to schedule times to chat with Danielle as well as Laurie Ross.

Politics, Policy, and Citizen Participation in City Governance

Rebecca Moryl and myself facilitated a workspace conversation with individuals who were part of the Boston regional meeting of the 2010 National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation.  Our session explore the intersection of citizen engagement in local issues via government and community-based organizations.  My interested in self-organizing systems was the focus of my efforts.  Our session note are available for download.

Previously we had presented with Rebecca Lisi at the Tufts Civic Studies, Civic Practices gathering a similar workshop that explore the role of government and community-based organizations in promoting and sustaining citizen participation.  Our session notes are available for download.

Enhanced Discovery Learning

Peter just posted this on the CESPOC Diigo group:

in the words of, ‘a “meta-analysis” of hundreds of others: It found that “direct instruction’ was a more effective instructional method than “unassisted discovery learning. “And it found that “enhanced discovery learning” trumped them both.” –

I think this is related to the idea of why open spaces may be so effective in building up the lessons learned in such environments. I should take some time and read more about these sorts of “enhanced discovery learning.” environments.  Ferlazzo also calls this sort of learning “inductive teaching.”  I’ll need to add this ideas to my literature search.

Open Space Ideas @ DERC

So part of my thinking regarding another research project has been around the idea of open spaces and self-organizing groups and how they link to ideas about personal empowerment and community change.  I just interviewed my third teen at DERC today and it is seem clear to me that this space has some profound impacts on the teens there.  All three have talked about the space being welcoming, like family and caring.  At the same time each has articulated a journey of growth as well as expressed some profound ideas about political agency — “I have a voice, ” “I am more tolerant of diverse settings,” and “I’ve come into contact with others I never would have.”

This space is pretty informal in the way it operates, but at the same time it has a lot of the same elements as the 119 Gallery space.  There is a space.  It is open and welcoming.  Individuals there create an atmosphere where you can try and explore.  The staff and space are responsive to individual needs and ideas, but at the same time express interest in the individual growth and development of each teen.  The staff share their own stories and struggles.  There are bonds built.  I need to explore this more, but it was an amazing “ah ha” to me.

Some other things that came to mind as I was driving back from DERC:

  • Programs should capture young people before they are of working age and create a bond for them — having fun things or volunteer “jobs” seem important.
  • There should be ladders of increasing responsibility
  • There should be centers close to the homes and / or schools of teens
  • There should be multiple opportunities — work, academic achievement, chill time, fun learning, etc
  • Duration seems to be key as well

Again the importance of family that engages with the news.  And this brought up an insight about the news:

  • news should link human interest to global problems

Individual Transformation -> Community Change

Starting to download a bunch more literature on the concept of community empowerment.  Thinking about on Evan et al paper from SSSP, I wonder when does individual transformation lead to community change?  What are the mechanism that turn individual interests into community goals.  This brings in some of the reading I was doing on individual motivation which talks about linking individual interests to collective ones.  This is also supported by political theorists like Rousseau.

Each of the youth I’ve interviewed thus far have been able to envision an issue that they care about and envision making change.  The two youth at DERC, talked about the space as helping them appreciate diverse people more and building strong bonds to others.  What does the literature say about that?  In the case of the one youth at FBP who had a more advanced sense of engagement, he had a family history of community service, was connected to the park prior to being a worker, and had spent more years involved in the neighborhood.

I think with the FBP group, the major lesson learned is that the organization provided a positive work environment.  I’m not convinced that they created a stronger sense of change or possibility of change than any other type of work environment.  They did create a greater awareness of park conservation and brought new skills to the group (i.e. using tools, working with others, identifying plants).  The team building activities created a a positive work environment.

So the challenge now is to figure out how the social justice organization youth come to understand their roles, etc.