It’s bothered me for a long time that very few folks in the non-profit sector produce practical materials that others can easily adopt or adapt. I’m a prime example of that. I’ve been trying to write a book about self-organizing for two years, and haven’t made much progress because I’ve been too busy doing the work. But recently I had an interesting thought. Why not model a process for writing a book that embodies the principles of self-organizing, and forces me to integrate reading, thinking and writing about self-organizing into my already crammed schedule?
So first I found someone to help keep the process going — Susan Rossetti. Besides being a great writer, she’s smart, interested in the subject, and someone who would make a great partner in this emergent process. Together we decided to act on a suggestion from Gigi Barsoum that we start a learning cluster on self-organizing. Not only would the learning-cluster keep us accountable, but as Steven Johnson suggests in his book and TedTalk, “Where Good Ideas Come From,” the collective wisdom and thinking of the learning cluster would be much more likely to yield new, truly innovative ideas about self-organizing than anything I could generate myself.
So how does our learning cluster work?
First, we set up a Google Docs folder that includes the group’s contact list and two working documents: an annotated bibliography, and a document for the group to capture its research and musings on the definition and fundamental characteristics of self-organizing. Susan and I “pre-seeded” both documents, and in the annotated bibliography we included additional columns so the group can track who is reading what, add topic tags and hot links to original sources, and rate the relevance and quality of each reference.
Next we used Doodle to schedule our first video conference, and sent out a short survey using Google Forms to the group to find out what their interests are in participating.
Last week we held our first video conference using Adobe Connect. During the session, we outlined how the learning cluster will work, how we will communicate with each other and share back the learnings from the cluster (what we call our “communications ecosystem”), and we presented our working definition of self-organizing.
In future sessions, members of the group will take turns presenting their findings from their research, and together, we’ll develop an accessible conceptual framework for self-organizing, and identify and test tools and practices that we will share with the field. Be sure to stay tuned as we begin this journey of discovery together!
What has been your experience with learning groups? What can we learn from your experience? Do you know of anyone else trying to write a book this way?