This is a much longer than usual blog. Apologies for that but not for the very interesting message from Juanita.
I had an exchange this morning with Juanita Foster-Jones about asynchronous cafes in another medium. I’ve reproduced it here with Juanita’s permission. Comments?
Interested in this. I haven’t participated in knowledge cafes but I have participated in asynchronous communities of practice – which I think is quite similar. One example of this is SCOPE community of practice. This is a group of educational learning technologists led by Sylvia Currie who would have themed asynchronous discussions. Format of these has been along the lines of
- A discussion topic is announced, with a moderator that is set to run over a finite period of weeks
- Moderator may make a presentation, either live webinar or recorded or just put some resources in the discussion area with notes
- Questions may come from the participants or moderator and are discussed over the period of the topic
- Participants can join in to the bits that interest them, share resources, and their may be live events throughout
- Group wikis and resource banks have been created as a result of these
What makes this work is the clearly defined time. Yes it is asynchronous but you have a limitation on this. This means you get a body of people together over a set period, so have posts coming in and chance to interact with a known group and know you will get a response. This helps build the community, you have shared understanding, a common purpose to the discussion.
In terms of knowledge cafes isn’t the whole point that it is real time? That it is face to face? If it is just about knowledge sharing that can be done online, asynchronous ways, but maybe not in the same format that you have for a face to face or video based online gathering.
E.g. Break out rooms – these might be break out discussions over a period of a few days within the larger programme. Different discussions in different rooms. The point with break outs in face to face is to break a large group into smaller ones so every one can talk. But in an asynchronous discussion then it is easier to have your say, because you can think, write and post and not be talked over/have a short time to get it all in.
Coming to a consensus and feedback into main group – again in asynchronous if you assign people roles e.g. for/against/moderator/note taker you can all come up with an agreed summary of the discussion. Or this could be done on a wiki page which is then shared with wider group.
As with any activity that you are taking from face to face into online I would say focus first on what you are wanting to achieve from it, and then think about which technology would best allow that. You may find it is a combination.
That’s fascinating, Juanita – I really like the idea of a hybrid feature in a community of practice. Beyond that:
1. You’re right that breakout room discussions are one of the key features of knowledge cafes. But there are many aspects of the breakout rooms, in either the face to face cafes or in the digital cafes that David Gurteen has been running this Summer. The trick seems to be to identify all those aspects and imagine/discover whether they are critical to the success of knowledge cafes (which are synchronous). Without them (as we would have to be in asynchronous) would knowledge cafes work so well?
- Spontaneous – it might be that not knowing until seconds before you start having the conversation who it is you’ll be talking with means you are relaxed enough to access or communally create ideas which don’t come if one thinks too much.
- Face to face – it might be that body language as people react in the moment during the discussion provides inspiration to the participants. Interestingly, the David Gurteen digital cafes allow even more observation of body language than is possible in the full discussion that happens after the breakout sessions
- No record – In face to face the conversations aren’t recorded, which again might remove some inhibitions and the temptation in the second etc round of breakout discussions to check what exactly was said earlier and build on that
2. Answers to “what are we trying to achieve” are usually deliberately absent in face to face or digital knowledge cafés other than perhaps “to have an inspirational conversation”. You would think that would make it unattractive in a work environment, but in fact they have been really well appreciated onsite (see David’s website), with plenty of evidence that they turn out to be very useful in unpredicted and thoroughly business- like ways. It’s hard enough to keep a strong sense of purpose from arising in face to face cafes – it would be next to impossible in asynchronous, I think.
3. It isn’t even the purpose of knowledge cafes to reach a consensus: it can be just as valuable to come up with a variety of ideas and recognise them.
Best wishes and thanks
Real Knowledge Management (DLC Ltd)
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