Role and place in sociopolitical development

Trying to work out how the mechanics of my interviews will progress while at the same time fretting a bit about the slow progress in things getting started.  As long as I get the adult interviews completed by June to mid-July, I should be good.  I’m starting to worry a bit about how this is all gong to get done.  I need to spent time each week keeping my mind focused on the dissertation research and coming to insights about the orgs.   Mapping my time commitments should help here.  If I think just about Organization A and Organization B the two environments seem very different.  Organization A is a housing organization that has long-time tenant involvement and youth who regularly come to the center to hang.  Some of these youth have come to the site for years.  Organization B has youth that come from all over the city and are engaged for intensive summer sessions.  They appear to have very specific consciousness raising activities.  Organization B is more formalized in its operations and demonstrates a greater deal of organizational capacity.  Both organizations have been in operations for some time.

It would seem that the youth at these two centers would have very different outcomes in terms of thinking about their roles.  I wonder if Organization A’s youth would have a greater sense of belonging and connection to the organization.  If they would feel part of things and would Organization B’s youth feel as though they went through an eye-opening experience?  How might each of these environments shape the youth.  As for Organization C, a jobs and environmental conservancy organization, youth seem to come to this organization in the capacity of a summer job.  It would seem that youth would come to an understanding of things through practice and contact with adults who are contributing their time.

So this makes me think about the role of employment.  S said that LTC provided her with opportunities for growth.  The stability of the job made this learning possible.  A number of teens at Organization A are hired on as teen staffers.  How does this employment signal a believe in the young person?  What sort of confidence, if any, comes from employment?  So these two categories of place and role might be worthwhile to explore a bit further.  I really need to start transcribing the three recordings that I have.

Today’s not the day

Not quite sure where my mind is at this morning.  All of those daily tasks are starting to rush back in and it is indeed difficult to get focused on reflective writing.  Creating space for such activities so easily falls to the bottom of the list.  Yet in a place like the NewSSC these practices became quite natural because they were scheduled into the day.  They were officially part of the day.  In some ways, I wonder if this should be the very first activity that I take on for the day.  Before any other routine task.  I say this because at the moment I am finding my mind drifting to other things that “need” to get done.  Mundane things like clean the house, sort through papers, etc.  I’ve started to put these writing up on line.  Not in a very public location, but in a location where I can refer to them and perhaps refer others to them.  I should consider putting the Woods Hole and Arouca posts up there as well.

HUD has new funding available for dissertations.  I am wondering if I can spin my research to be read as a community development exercise.  I definitely think that communities could think more solidly about how to create inclusive and participatory settings.  These in turn could inform how individuals transform their communities.  How do we create “open spaces” within the context of our urban landscapes?  How do we express value for individual contributions to creating thriving city environments?  I should read more widely in this area.

I definitely have a lesser quality post here.  I guess I need to get into a more meditated mindset.  Actually set myself up and get myself going.  But hey, at least I got myself going.

Organizational features for individual and collective goals

Referencing the Burning Man, the idea of collectivist and bureaucratic processes that run from under-organized to over-organized is again thinking about how individuals relate to larger societal and group goals or processes.  I’m not sure I totally agree with how Chu is defining “collectivist” and she seems to combine a number if disparate practices into one category.  A bureaucracy has much more clarity.  I suppose the task would be to do some research or make an inquiry into definitions of “collective” and “bureaucracy”.  So my schema would have a matrix that was about individual and collective goal and the degree to which these goals are prioritized. Or perhaps upon further thinking it is about thinking not about these two definitions but rather a series of differentiating features such that realize themselves in organizational forms such as individual agency, collective will, levels of constraint.

This brings back my thinking from the last days that relating to emerging new organizational forms.  So what would an ideal organizational form look like?  Here are some possible features:

  1. Individuals can easily move in and out of the organization
  2. Individuals have a good deal of flexibility in what skills, knowledge and commitment they bring to the table
  3. Individuals are able to grow new skills, expand knowledge, and increase commitment
  4. Group goals are clearly articulated and individuals are encouraged to engage in the realization of these goals
  5. Group goals are presented as a way for individuals to belong, contribute, and create meaning.
  6. Groups create a mechanism by which individuals are brought into meaningful connection with others.
  7. Facilitators work to ensure that both group and individual goals are met and that the organizational space is maintained as an “open environment”
  8. Values, practices / routines, and norms act as the primary bonding agents and could serve as boundary objects connecting them to other groups.

Individual vs. collective — the life trajectory

So, I am thinking about Rita’s suggestion that I should write down my thoughts and experiences related to the various groups I’ve been involved in and the lessons I’ve learned about group processes and dynamics.  Perhaps by doing this, I would come to some understanding of how to craft environments that are most conducive to individual and collective learning.  During Peter’s seminar / workshops presentation yesterday, it was clear to me that these “open spaces” not only needed to support and grow individual creativity, exploration, reflection, discussion and clarity, but that these spaces should also allow individuals to connect to larger group processes and shared collective goals by creating a sense of ownership, belonging and contribution.  These are the ideas reflected in the writings of Rousseau about civic and public spaces allowing individuals to see how their own individual interests can be connected to the interests of others and larger publics.

I was also reading Walter’s “life story” which in essence is his autobiographical sketch and that in many ways these past experiences have shaped how Walter has come to think about the 119.  If Mary Ann were to do a similar sketch, how would that combine?  What about others at the 119?  From a series of sketches, could we come to understand hoindividuals move in and out of the space and where the intersections might be.  The idea of spaces being these dances in reverse is interesting.  That we come in and out of space to learn, grow, contribute, connect.  I think I should also follow up with the “Kindness in Work” ( website as well.

This idea that “open spaces” serve goals at the individual, group, and social goods and goals.  I was working out yesterday how Durkheim, Weber and Marx tried to map out the shifting relationship between individuals and the larger society during the transition to a modern industrialized form.  As we have moved toward the fragmentation of post-modern and now the reconnection as part of a global society what are the needs of individuals?  The needs of groups?  How does collective action occur?  What does such action require?  What happens when individuals no longer find meaning in institutions (i.e. the state, the church, the workplace)?  What happens when we all become free agents?  Yet the impulses to reconnect, to belong, to contribute, to find meaning is strong.  At the same time, imperatives for individual meaning, exploration and fulfillment prevail.  So we need to ignite individual passions and motivations.

Also, what was it that made me breakdown yesterday?  In part it is the memory of my parents and their loss.  But also, it is my core belief that so many people need support and spaces where they are valued and can belong.  They need spaces that allow their ideas to flourish and prevail.  I think my work at LTC is most reflective of this.

I think I should go back and create an intersecting process map of my life trajectory. Where my personal relationship, work, and intellectual paths are the main components.  I would need to add in key points of reference as well.  I did this once and found that I had these retraces.  I would help to do this again.

Working out research tasks

So what should I be writing about?  The two main projects I have on my mind at the moment are my dissertation and this emerging research around the self-organizing groups and the challenges of growing and sustaining such organizations. At this point, the dissertation is a set of routine tasks that need to be completed and as I go along new ideas and thinking added.  In terms of the self-organizing project, what is it that I have to accomplish?

Well, an initial literature review would help.  I think I might be able to have Matt work on that during his summer internship.  He has 10 hours a week for 12 or 13 weeks.  That is a120 hours or so.  The literature review stuff should take about 40-60 hours.  He will also want to come to a couple of 119 Gallery board meetings and I may have him do an analysis of some things I have for my dissertation research.

I am also thinking that I will test out the ED interview questions for my dissertation on Jessica.  I want to use the autobiographical sketch exercises with this.  So could she spend 10-15 minutes doing that and I’ll then need to go back and look at the other questions I have.  For instance, talking about the dynamics of the funding, board interactions, staff interactions, interactions with youth, vision for future.  What are the challenges the organization is currently facing, etc . . . . depending on how that goes, we will see.

So what am I bringing from this workshop back into my own work?  Certainly the idea that collaboration in any environment is indeed a difficult thing.

If I were to design a research study on the 119 Gallery what would it look like?  I think more of a grounded theory / ethnographic / participant observation type of endeavor.  I would want to know how does a group like the 119 accomplish its goals and are there lessons to be learned that could inform larger scale environments that have a common goods production aspect to them?  What is the key question then?  Or is it that I am more interested in the lessons learned by individuals within such environments about their roles as active participants in their own lives?  The idea would be to talk to selection of people or maybe as many people as I can and see what issue arise out of those interviews.  Perhaps I can enlist others in doing this.  So what would I ask?

An autobiographical sketch and also the narrative exercise from Woods Hole.  What were you doing and what was your life like before you first started to get involved in the 119?  How did they first hear about the gallery and how did they become involved?  How long have they been involved?  What sort of things have you done here? If you were to think about yourself contributing to the space and its community, what do you bring?  What is it you get?  Can you tell me about one of your best moment here?  How about something that was really challenging?

Ok so now I have a beginning set of questions that are really about how folks grow and develop, etc.

So what about a sampling strategy?  First let’s see about roles – past and present — “board members”, event organizers, artists (musicians, exhibitors, performers), audience members (from guest list).  Survey about general perception of the 119 Gallery and what it does.  This would be anonymous and sent to – Facebook fans, Constant Contact folks, selection of city leaders, funders, etc. . . . Go through old website materials as well as board materials, and other things to reconstruct the space.

I am mostly concerned with the organization during its existence at 119 Chelmsford Street.  I should also place the Gallery within the context of larger collectivist art movements and the growing interest in “creative” economy.  I am wonder if I could have Matt do a search and literature review on this.  I also wonder if he might do some searching on small, community-based arts organization and think about designing a survey that could be sent to them related to their management challenges.  I could show him the NCCS database and we could request datafiles and then seek organizations in the arts and culture category with budgets of under a certain amount.  How would we capture very small organizations?  Perhaps those who only filed a 990-N?  I think Matt might find this to be of interest.

Creating and equalizing power

My conversation with Rita yesterday about her vision and intents for the research group makes me realize how one individual with a desire to transform a workplace can have real impact.  My conversation with Nelson also solidified for me how working at the individual and small group level can really have concrete impacts in the transformation of individual lives and subsequently larger social environments.  Education and training in new processes for working and living can have ripple effects.

Also I am beginning to understand Peter’s desire to create spaces that allow individuals maximum space for their own creative and exploratory processes.  By creating space for individual knowledge and creativity, do we then create environments that allow for more individuals to be actors and agents in their own journey’s?  In some ways, these workshops seem almost like therapy for group and institutional environments that have closed down these impulses.

I am also wondering why it is that I am experiencing some inner tension and stress.  I clearly have to work through my issues with authority and my inclination towards subservience that are highly detrimental to my own sense of confidence.  What is it that is causing me to be in tension?  I think some of it is my own misinterpretations or readings of things said.  I am doubting my own intelligence and knowledge.  Why is that?  I struggle with some of these concepts.  I too often present my language as certainties.  What is that about?  I often feel like such a dullard when Peter is explaining things as though my mind simply can’t grasp what is going on.  Is part of the issue that I’m tired.  I think there is part of me that still feels like that tween who was told she could be part of things and felt that there were too many controls in her life.

So what does this mean for collaborative knowledge?  I suppose that for all to be present and participating in such environments, that those who feel less confident or weaker need to be supported.  They also need to have the space to develop and present their own ideas and voices.  They need to feel safe and have trust in others and they need to be comfortable in having ideas battled and challenged.

Power, autonomy, and control

So what is it that I’m going to focus on today?  Well it seems to me that to think about collaboration and working with others that that initial connection has to be made.  I am also thinking about power dynamics within collaborative environments.  The LCTC worked in part because LTC had resource and there was an expectation of working together as a condition of the grant.  So I wonder, would folks have worked with us if we did not have the opportunity control the funds?  My feeling is that the collaboration may still have worked.  We had begun to meet because we individually needed support in our work and found that working together helped that.  We shared similar goals and missions.   That idea of negotiation and compromise that Daniel was talking about seems to be a good way to talk about tension and conflict.  What do you need to have in place for good negotiation to happen?  Daniel and I had started to talk about power dynamics.  What else is required?  Perhaps literature on dispute and conflict negotiation as well as mediation might help here.

Again ideas of autonomy and control arise.  Those with little autonomy and no authority may find themselves in positions that constrain their ability to act.  When I think about the 119 Gallery and the issues we have attempted to resolve in trying to make different parts of the mission work, it seems to me that we have spent a lot of time on communication.  I know that I often play the role of “mediator” or “negotiator”, but also the tensions that arise are often about conflicts in procedure or systems.  These are easily resolved by looking for a common solution.  However, there have been times when the priorities for each program feel at odds with the others.  Here I am thinking about the art work that was damaged.  It took a lot of discussion on this one, with several solutions happening including a change in the performance programming.  I know seems as though these two area work much more smoothly together.

Identity and bounding the space

Collaborative knowledge production, how does this relate to my own interests and work around engagement and institutional / organizational design?  From yesterday’s introductions it would seem that those who are aware and sensitive to difference and the need to acknowledge and use difference are keenly present in the room.  Individuals who feel comfortable moving in and out of multiple spaces and across boundaries.   How do you create environments in which heterogeneity informs the creative process?  What are the necessary elements required to keep these differences productive rather than alienated, disengaged and aloof from another?   How do you prevent the flattening out of difference into monolithic thinking?  Yet how do you build consensus and agreement or at least present the variety areas of contestation in the knowledge environment?  How do you get folks from different perspective and knowledge spheres to listen and learn from one another?  Thinking about the conversation with Annabella and Lilliana, how do you work with those whose knowledge have been privileged (i.e. scientists) to see that other knowledges and perceptions are valid and also powerful?   Vice versa, how do you get those whose knowledge has not been privileged to see themselves as knowledge producers?

So I wonder how access to communication tools factors in here?  Do those whose ideas have not been heard, are they finally heard or are they simply part of a large mesh of voices without focus and direction?  How do we determine the direction of knowledge production?  At the 119, creation happens simply because space is provided and the door is opened.  There is no attempt to weave together east expressive element.  Rather, each elements is allowed to exist and the weaving together happens for each person who attempts to come to an understanding of the space and its identity.  Still, each creative elements holds to some over-arching ideal or sense that it belongs.  So the idea of creating a boundary or contour to the creative space or knowledge space seems important here.

So to curtail monolithic thinking or knowledge construction, can we create spaces that allow for a diversity of ideas, perceptions and discussions, but at the same time be bounded enough to hang together as a whole.  What then will allow these spaces to be created and sustain themselves?  How do the expand or contract as needed?  What are the mechanisms that allow for that “identity” or “bound” to be created and maintained?

Openness needs structure

What are the takeaways and future directions from this workshop?  It is abundantly clear that structure, coordination, and facilitation make the workshop run.  A group of strangers, with some minimal connections.  I should make sure to draw a network diagram of the workshop participant relationships soon.    All of the participants have strong process skills and are open to the activity.  So even for folks, like myself who favor structure, having an open mindset is good.

Peter, Kurt and Atsushi indicated at the dinner last night that the autobiographical statements are key to the creation of connection amongst the participants.  How can this be brought into the work?  Can I use this technique in my interviews for my dissertation?

I am also thinking back to the scenario exercise.  Did we come to conflictual stereotypes because that is how folks experience academic institutions?  Or is that how many institutions are?  Are there new ways to create organizational and institutional structures that use tension and disagreement productively? Organizations that resist dehumanizing others, that seek connection, and work towards dialogue.

There is a deeper transformation possible here.  This I think is what Kennan is talking about in her work.  Yet, I wonder how open would others be to the use of these techniques in their daily work?   How would even the 119 be if we did a simple thing like a “check-in”?   I am thinking that I really miss Eric.

So how will these dynamics play out in Portugual.  The group knows each other better.  Will that be a help or a hinderance?  How will they experience these sorts of activities?

Emerging themes of self-organization

In terms of emerging themes, the first that comes to mind is the balance between individual action and autonomy and group demands and control.  How do we preserve the core of what allows individuals to act and how do spaces / organizations / endeavors enhance and support individual motivation.  At the same time, how do we ensure that collective needs and goods get produced?

The other theme that has emerged is the idea of boundaries.  Where do we construct boundaries?  Can we create boundaries within boundaries to allow for multiple purposes and uses and still remain open.  Here Alex’s story of his grandfather’s land reminded me of the 119 and it ability to constantly reconfigure.  How mutable are boundaries?  When should the boundaries expand and when should they contract? How do we define and mark the boundaries?  These boundaries can also work to define who is included and who is excluded from the space as well.

Trust also emerged and with that I think the idea of reciprocity is important.  By being open do we trust others enough to co-opt or override the space.  The “tragedy of the commons” comes to mind here.  Are participants and those we engage able to understand and share our values.  Here I am reminded of Kennan’s challenge with her new staffer that doesn’t understand the value of the relationships her organization has built.  How do we create, evolve and pass down a culture of norms and practices that ensure our spaces are valued and maintained in the way in which they have been envisioned.  At the same time, is there enough flexibility to grow, change and adapt as needed?

Authority and power, especially of centralized entities has come up a lot.  Are there ways to bring decision-making to its lowest levels?  How do we create spaces where all feel valued and have a voice?  At the same time where does collective accountability come in?  How much are we willing to give up individual liberty for the collective good?  Do we trust too much in individual responsibility?  Are there gentle ways to encourage responsibility for individual and group decisions and needs?

Finally, elizaBeth’s story circle exercise brought up the issue of feedback and how do we manage and deal with feedback into our systems?  How do we ensure that negative or detrimental feedback is not amplified and positive feedback is?  At the same time, how do we constructively use negative feedback to improve and adapt.  This then seems to be more about creating and maintaining a mindset of constructive criticism.