A new community of practice. Join us?

It's only a few days until the Dadamac Foundation AGM, so I'm doing my final draft of the secretary's report. I'm glad that we've been able to respond to local needs and I'm delighted by the support we've been able to deliver, but there's more to it than that.

Building on our success

I have a remarkable success story to write for this year's AGM, which is a credit to our tiny core team and wider network, but I don't want my report to simply be a record of our past success, I want to place it in a wider context. There are new challenges ahead. I want us to look forward as well as back during the AGM. I want us to consider our future strategies and structures in order to serve emerging needs in our inter-related areas of education, welfare and development, so I have something new to propose..

Reflecting on our experience

Now is the time to reflect on what Dadamac Foundation is doing right, and how we can do it better. It's important to include the things that haven't turned out as we anticipated, things that have taken us down blind alleys, things that cost us time and effort for no obvious reward. This is extremely important because great value can be extracted if careful reflection and analysis is added to apparently negative experiences. By taking the time to reflect on all of our experiences, positive and negative, we can draw out new knowledge and understanding - and we can share that with others,

Sharing what we've learned

If we take steps to share new knowledge as it emerges, then it's possible that we can be more effective. Maybe we should adjust our emphasis, so we don't only do what we do, but we also share what we learn. We could even put effort into helping others to share more effectively too. Perhaps by taking time to share more we can increase the value of the work we doing, and become part of a wider sharing and learning community.

A change in emphasis

If Dadamac Foundation is to become an organisation that shares what it knows, and helps others to share what they know, we need to make that a policy decision at our AGM. It would mean a definite shift of emphasis, and we'd need an appropriate organisational structure to implement it, not simply more of the same.

Working effectively in rapidly changing times

We're operating in rapidly changing times. No-one can know everything, but we can all share what we do know, so we can all know more. I'm not suggesting that Dadmac Foundation starts pontificating about what others should be doing. What I am suggesting is that we make it part of our strategy to keep pausing as we go along in order to share what we've discovered, and that we help others to do the same. Resources are scarce. Decisions have to be made on insufficient evidence. Let's take steps to make sure that we, and other groups tackling related problems, value the experience and wisdom we are acquiring and share it more effectively to the common good

Using the Internet wisely

Some of the features that are making the Internet such a disruptive technology are its opportunities for information-sharing and collaboration. It has been described as "the death of distance". Thanks to the Internet we don't need the huge budgets of governments, corporations or International NGOs in order to connect with people who live thousands of miles away. People "like us" (i.e. people in low budget organisations and networks) can also connect with people far away. We can learn from each other and share perspectives. Thanks to our varied local cultures some of our perspectives are dramatically different, which means great potential for practical knowledge sharing and collaboration. People now in Dadamac Foundation have been arranging effective low-cost UK-Africa collaborations for years. This could never have been done without the Internet.

Communities of practice

I'm thinking that it's time for more of us to gather together online in order to share what we are doing and learning. We can operate as a kind of community of practice. We wouldn't have the usual community of practice feature of sharing a particular "craft and/or a profession" but we would have the "common interest in a particular domain or area". We'd have "the goal of gaining knowledge related to (our) field" and "through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group" we would "learn from each other". In our community of practice we'd additionally be actively sharing what we learn with others.

Back to the Dadamac Foundation AGM

Dadamac Foundation could be taking steps to enable this community of practice to develop. As part of such a community we could all be far more effective in achieving our overlapping objectives. Being the catalyst for this community, and nurturing its early stages would require a shift of emphasis and some new structures in Dadamac Foundation.

The practical gap between vision and reality

This community of practice idea is a personal vision that I'll share at the AGM. I'll share the vision along with the rest of my report as secretary. That report includes changes that are happening elsewhere and some additional burdens that we can't avoid taking on. There's likely to be agreement that the shift in emphasis and the community of practice are excellent ideas in theory. However we're realists. Ideas don't suddenly turn into reality. They take time and effort to implement, and there is no more spare time or effort available for this vision within Dadamac Foundation. I'll need to summon up the time and effort myself to make the vision become reality.

Advance notice - I'll need help.

The fact is that I can't do it on my own, but I do believe this vision needs to be implemented. I'll need all kinds of support and advice, so I'll put out calls for help. At one extreme I might just ask someone for a single public acknowledgement to increase my online credibility. At the other extreme I may ask someone to commit to a period of considerable time and effort in a role we've defined together. There are many other possibilities in between.

First call

I don't want to pressure anyone into anything they don't want to do - but I do want to include whoever is willing and able to contribute in any way, large or small. Gradually I expect to see more formal roles and structures emerging so that by the next AGM the community of practice will be a reality. To start with here is my first general call for help. If you're interested in what I've written and you respond via the contact link then we'll explore how to move on. Thank you for reading this and please consider joining me.

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