Dadamac and me - Filling in the gaps for BenB

This is my "homework" following a Skype chat (which means that as long as it answers Ben's questions, and is framed by our Skype chat, I won't try to give additional explanations). For more context see Response to "A Theory of Community Formation"

Patterns

Amongst other things we touched on patterns. If there is a pattern behind this, it is the pattern of trying to capture relevant elements from chaotic emergent systems, so they can become tagged, categorised, structured, and coherent. We need to do this more effectively in order to accelerate collaborations and information sharing.

Sharing knowledge

We need to get better at sharing the knowledge and experiences that are within emergent systems and communities so that people coming to them from outside can select, comprehend and use what is relevant to their own situations and needs. Techies can develop the tools for communication. People who are responding to practical face-to-face on-the-ground needs develop huge chaotic repositories of knowledge and information. Somehow we need to bring together representatives of both communities to work together, so we can share what we know and learn together. These are my first steps to try to do that with Ben.

(Ben, please ask me about the ways I've explored that within Dadamac - i.e finidng ways to connect oral cultures to the preferred stuctures of written cultures and the Internet - and "Yes, I know I should be doing more to meet in the shared cultural space of visual communication." We can talk about the precticalites of that at some point if it's relevant to your interests).

Ben's interests

So here, from the continually shape-shifting community that is Dadamac, are some answers to questions Ben asked - or at least responses to some key words and phrases I noted from some of questions - my deep objectives, me and the Dadamac Community, currently, vision statements, define my role, purpose and mission, personal role, how it evolved, pieces of it, partners.

The start of the Dadamac Community

The community that became known as Dadamac started in Ago-Are, Oke-Ogun, Oyo State with the vision of a son of Ago-Are, the late Peter Adetunji Oyawale. Through him Oke-Ogun developed connections with London (including me) because he came to live in London and married a friend fo mine. The London - Oke-Ogun connection continued, even after Peter's death. It gave rise to a collaborative community based in London and Oke-Ogn and linked by the Internet.

The communcation imperitive

Key points to notice. At the time I was first involved (2000) the formal communications infrastructure stopped at Ibadan, the state capital. Beyond Ibadan there were no phones for us to use, no cyber cafes, and no reliable formal postal service. Everything relied on people who were travelling and people who knew people. This has always been a key strength of Dadamac. We are not shaped by technology, or limited by ICT coverage. We are shaped by the people in our community and by our needs to communicate. We are defined by the extreme boundaries of information flows enabled by people in our community. In Africa that includes people of all kinds in the local communities. Our information flows aren't halted at the boundaries that often cause top-down projects to fail. There are issues such as

  • The local language isn't English
  • Infrastructure is lacking
  • Many people are illiterate
  • It's not easy to travel between the project areas and the 'big city"
  • There's very little money
  • Resources of all kinds are scarce
  • People keep getting ill
  • Other challenges

These are accepted as normal facts of life to be worked with.

In the UK

Here in the UK I connect not only with the Dadamac community in Africa, but also with people in the global online community, and with various face-to-face organisations and events in London.

From 2000-2004 my main "base" in Nigeria was in Oke-Ogun. In 2004 it became with John Dada and the Fantsuam Foundation Community in North Central Nigeria. Since 2008 my emphasis has been on exploring and developing the online side of things.

The "Dadamac Online Community in Africa" has grown over the years. It's most easily described as people I know (many of whom have become good friends over the years) plus people they know.

It's a bit like an extended family in the sense that there is no formal membership, no real boundary at the "edge of belonging", there are just ties between people, and different people are naturally involved and included at different times. (These shifts of involvement can be illustrated from considering a genuine extended family example. My mother came from a large family. There were about a hundred close relatives at her 90th birthday party, but only a handful of guests there were people who'd also been at my grandson's Christening because they were "familiy". The Dadamac community changes shape in similar ways.)

My role

My name is Pamela McLean. When John Dada and I needed to start speaking "wtih one voice" in London I couldn't speak "for his organisation" (Fantsuam Foundation) because I didn't know all the organisational details, but I knew what I'd seen of its work, and I was confident about speaking for John, so we agreed I'd use the name Dada McLean - which soon shortened to Dadamac. 

I'm always reluctant to say that "I" am doing something - because I do things with other people. That makes it more appropriate to refer to "us" under the umbrella heading of the Dadamac Community (even if John isn't involved). He talks about teh UK side of things as Dadamac UK, we have regular UK-Nigeria Dadamac meetings. When we work togehter to implement projects in Nigeria he is partly "Dadamac NIgeria", and partly Fantsuam Foundation, depending on what the specific project is. 

I'm the main connection point between the various Dadamac communities - the online ones, the London ones, and the African ones that I know first hand. My natural curiosity and behaviour means that I am continually seeing opportunities to introduce people and then help them to do useful things together, so I tend to grow the Dadamac community.  However at present I am also the main information channel in Dadamac, and so I know that (against all my natural impulses) I know that for now I must try to avoid adding to the information flows and the interests and initiatives in Dadamac  - instead I must try to find ways to widen the information channel. I need to make that aspect of Dadamac more visible and to attract support and resources for it (human resources mainly, with ways to attract, develop and reward them) then we can get back to doing more fo what we have been doing, but better and for more people and projects.

Finding the right people

Issues related to understanding, developing and managing the 'information channels" of Dadamac are not really of interest to people in the Dadamac Community who are doing practical projects. I need to find a completely different community to address those issues.

I'm hoping that BenB and I may be exploring some of the "information flow" issues together and other issues relating to community development, organisational structures, categorisation, visualisation, use of online tools etc. We'll gradually discover what our true overlapping interests are (if we both have the patience to do that, this discovery process is one of the big initial challenges when people from different backgrounds try to discern and define what they might be usefully doing together and how to go about it). If we find the right starting point and the appropriate small area of work to start on then we'll learn how we can best share what we know, and how to collaborate and learn by doing, and how to take another step forward together. 

The clumsy process here of writing about stuff in order to find the overlap is part of the initial learning curve. Fortunately this isn't our first experience of our paths crossing, so we have some shared reference points, some trust, some respect for each others ongoing work since we connected a couple of years ago, and a long skype call yesterday, and the motivation to try and combine our different perspectives, skills and knowledge.

Information and other resources

Most of the things in Dadamac involve information rather than "physical stuff" so our main resource is lots of voluntary time (and very little in the way of things that involve money). On the rare occasions when money does get involved we do have two appropriate formal structures. There is a registered charity. There is also a registered company. This is for consultancy and project support services for people and organisations that are not appropriate to support through the registered charity.

Unpicking my role

I recognise that if Dadamac is to grow and flourish in future then I need to look carefully at my role and "unpick it". Then I can look at the separate "unpicked functions" that I fulfill and see how I can get other people to take on the various roles and develop them appropriately. This may well involve more money to pay people to do things.

My learning journey towards a "mission statement"

My interests have developed over the years. I started off by simply helping a friend. I got pulled into his interests, and his community. When he died my role expanded because I knew his vision, and I was also the link between his project and London (and thus the Internet). I also brought my own skills, interests, knowledge and (perhaps more importantly) my awareness of my ignorance related to Africa and "development".

My Dadamac work has been driven by various things, I have been able to persue it in areas that really interested me, because I gained time for it by gradually allowed it to take over more and more of the time that most people allocate to their paid work, and by adopting a rather "simplified" lifestyle to fit my income. I've justified this failure to put my work on a firm financial footing by saying that I've been learning, and people invest a lot of time and money in their learning journeys and research. However personal learning is of little value to others unless it is applied and/or shared. That's another reason to try and extend the work of Dadamac.

Peter was teaching me about Africa and "development" while I was helping him with his projects. When he died I needed to keep learning, so I turned to the sources available.

  • Information on the Internet
  • My own observations during visits to Nigeria (reality checks).
  • Information and advice given to me during my visits and in preparation for them (cultural mentoring from people close to me on the African side of the projects).

I was bewildered by the gaps between what I was reading on the Internet and the realities I was experiencing. This awareness of the gaps continued over the years as I got involved with the work at Fantsuam Foundation. Back home I'd spend time online and time at events in London connecting up with initiatives and organsiations that seemed relevant. I went as the eyes and ears of the Dadamac Community in Africa, and I saw and heard so much. I hoped to also be the voice of the Dadamac Community, but I failed to find ears that were open to listen to that voice. Sometimes I'd think it "must just be me", but I know from discussions with other people connected with grass-roots projects that the experience of exclusion is shared.

I'm on a learning journey, and from an early age I've been a teacher-learner. (I have also trained as a teacher and worked in various teaching and training situations). Whenever I learn something that I find interesting or valuable I want to share it with others. (John is like that too. He says that in Fantsuam Foundation they learn twice - once by learning and once by sharing what they learn.) 

Cultural perceptions

I feel very privileged to have experienced so much of a culture that is so different to my own. My experiences have affected not just my perceptions of life in Ago-Are and other places that I have got to know, but also my perceptions of my own culture and the communities where I belong (locally in the UK and online).

As a teacher my role is to share knowledge, not to hoard it. This is a strong urge, made even stronger when I see the results of ignorance - especially the ignorance of people in my own culture.

I find it heartbreaking when I see "interventions" or "research" that is initiated from outside of Africa and costs loads of money and is totally disconnected from local realities and needs - i.e. short-term, top-down, hit-and-run projects.

My mission

My mission within Dadamac has become a mission to shift the "development" relationship from a 20th century top-down approach to a 21st century one where information flows across, not down.

The 21st century model that I know is one of equal respect between people who see each other as collaborators. Some belong locally, some are from far away. The people collaborate at a distance or face to face. Together they face development challenges, using their different knowledge and resources to build solutions that combine the best of both cultures.

I've enabled these kind of projects with John. They work.

I feel a responsibility to make that "Dadamac" approach more visible, and more accessible to other people who who want to contribute to development. That's why I need to unpick what I am doing, and also unpick what I've done partially but don't have the time or skills to do properly. I need to share what I've learned with others so they can take the work on, adn so we can support other projects, not just the work at Fantsuam Foundation (FF). We also want to accelerate the work at FF, and support its mission of learning and sharing what it learns.

There is a culture of learning from each other in Dadamac, and various people call me their teacher (although I know how much I have also learned from every one of them.) My background is in education (non-formal and not necessarily what most other paople may have in mind when I mention "education" or "learning" or "teaching"). I'm very interested (in theory and in practice) in the development of different approaches to learning in the 21st century. I'd like to have more time to work in that area - ongoing learning for 21st century living.

The overlap between me and Dadamac

You can think of my involvement in practical Dadamac projects as my field work (including the practical work of experimenting with the online space that is Dadamac.net). The deeper reflections, and analysis of information flows, and interest in related theories, are more my personal interests. I can't separate the two, they feed into each other.

Ever since my first interaction with a computer (related to my learning with the Open University), and then with a micro-computer (wow - over forty years ago) I have been poking away at the implications of digital technology regarding our relationships to information and to each other and to learning and knowledge creation and so on.

My problem regarding the development of theory is the challenge of finding people in "the right community" to explore the many inter-related ideas that I'm exploring. I try to pull it together by saying that all of my "field work" relates in some ways to "Life Long Learning, Livelihoods and Lifestyles". That seems to make more sense to people that if I try to describe it in terms newly emerging cultures an communities, and our relationships to digital information and to deep systemic changes in our roles and relationships, and in organisational structures in the 21st century.

Has this covered the questions in Ben's mind?

I hope that most of the questions surfacing in Ben's mind yesterday have been answered here, either explicitly or by implication. Where there are gaps I hope that what I've written will provide jumping off points for him to frame specific questions. I hope that together we'll get through this tricky first phase of finding out what is irrelevant to our shared interest and where we should look more closely for the potential collaboration gems.

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