Open letter to Matthew Partovi #ResponsiveOrg

The Responsive Organization is a movement of people who want to help their organizations become more responsive to a world that is very different to that of the Industrial Age. Together, we can support and influence each other to make this change happen faster.

Hi Matthew

As you know I appreciated attending the #ResponsiveOrg - London unconference (and I appreciated your encouragement to attend in the first place because I don't belong in a 'normal organisation' so I wasn't confident that I should be there).

This post is rather long for an email (or even for a blog) so I've inserted numbered headings:

1 - Needing a mentor

2 - Challenges of not belonging in the old ways of doing things

3 - A recent explanation of Dadamac

4 - Collaboration through the Internet

5 - The Dadamac Community and an organisational structure

6 - UK-Nigeria weekly meetings, First Thursdays, and communication in Dadamac

7 - Fast Tractor and Dadamac Foundation

8 - C4C, PeoplesUni.org and learning in the Dadamacademy

9 - The Ecodome, Dadamac.net and Dadamac OK

10 - Teachers Talking and Dadamac Limited

11 - A considerable track record - but this is no way to run an organisation

12 - Looking forward

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1 -  Needing a mentor

I'm re-organising Dadamac. I've got a good understanding about many of the issues I'm struggling with, but I need to add different perspectives and wisdom to my thinking. The Responsive Organisation seems the best place to start looking for a mentor. Please help me. If you do happen to be looking for someone to mentor, or if you'd be interested in some kind of organisational case study to work with, please choose me. Alternatively perhaps you could  point me in the direction of someone who might be interested.

2 - Challenges of not belonging in the old ways of doing things

My challenges arise from the fact that Dadamac belongs firmly in "the world that is very different to that of the Industrial Age" (as The Responsive Organization puts it). This means that most of the time I'm having to make things up as I go along regarding what kind of organisation Dadamac is.

Dadamac couldn't have happened before the Internet, so it is an organisation that belongs totally in the Communication Age. It's based on relationships between people, and has gradually emerged, so it's full of interconnectedness that defies simple description.

I'm coming to realise that my problem is partly because people see what Dadamac is doing and think that is the most important and interesting thing - but from my point of view what really matters is how we're doing it. I believe the greatest value of our work is what we've been learning through the process of doing the things we do, because things couldn't have happened the Dadamac way before the 21st century.

3 - A recent explanation of Dadamac

This is a recent attempt to explain Dadamac:

Dadamac connects people to each other and helps them to communicate and collaborate. It started with some friendships. Thanks to the Internet it's possible for friendships, and practical collaborations, to be sustained at a distance. Dadamac emerged through a combination of UK-Africa connections - personal connections and Internet-enabled ones. (This paragraph is taken from After AD3 with AFFORD written 8 July 2014)

So - at the heart of Dadamac are Internet-supported relationships.

4 - Collaboration through the Internet

Dadamac does things that are collaborative and could not happen without the Internet. Our initiatives have included:

Teachers Talking - the project that originally took me to Fantsuam Foundation back in 2004. I asked for advice online about what I'd be doing and in less than two weeks I had a dozen contributors from four continents working freely on the project. Teachers Talking became my first experiment in creating a collaborative online group of people from different cultures.

Dadamac.net - this online work space (which some people wrongly assume is a normal, though somewhat hard to navigate, website)  It started as a Dadamac attempt to tell the unfolding sotry of John Dada and the work of Fantsuam Foundtion. From 2008-2012 it became an experiment in harvesting information at a distance. In Dadamac's experience local people who are doing excellent work on the ground (in Nigeria and elsewhere) are usually too busy to tell their own stories. There is a disconnect between what people in UK can learn about "development" and what is really going on.

Ecodome at Attachab - a project remarkable for the way someone from the UK who wanted to do a project in Africa was able to hit the ground running on arrival in Nigeria thanks to Dadamac's pre-planning over the Internet

PeoplesUni.org Proof of Concept - the start of an initiative which now provides affordable, accredited, training to health professionals in low income countries - remarkable not only for the result, but also because all the development done through Dadamac was done without any of the people involved meeting face-to-face during the process.

Cameras For Communication (C4C) - a project where Dadamac created training materials by enabling collaboration between a subject expert (who was in the UK) and trainers (who were in Nigeria). The subject expert created the content and structure of the course. The local trainers tied the course into local realities, contributed illustrative photos relevant to the life experiences of participants and trialled the materials.

Fast Tractor - a triumphant race against time where Dadamac made sure that a government-subsidised tractor was delivered to its rightful recipients, Fantsuam Foundation, instead of getting sold on the open market to a profiteer 

First Thursday Group - an opportunity, once a month, for people in the Dadamac Community to join me online for a catch-up, to share information, and make new connections. Has been happening since 2007 (maybe earlier)

UK-Nigeria weekly meetings - the way that the Dadamac UK-Nigeria core group communicates.

5 - The Dadamac Community and an organisational structure

The name Dadamac came about as an abbreviation for the names of two people: John Dada and me (Pamela McLean). Dadamac is about people and relationships, so I sometimes think it's simplest just to describe Dadamac as a group of people and call them the Dadamac Community. However, just like an extended family, it's hard to tell where the Dadamac Community begins and where it ends.

This informality is okay when people are doing things on a small scale, with no money involved (or if they are paying their own expenses). Inthose circumstances there's no need for financial accounting and formal structures. However, if resources are to come in from outside, and if things are to be done on a larger scale, then proper organisational structures are needed.

I have yet to find an organisational structure that really fits what we do. My present approach is fragmentary and unsatisfactory, which is why I'm looking for advice.

I'll use the examples above to illustrate some of the organisational issues and structures I've explored, working through the list in reverse order.

6 - UK-Nigeria weekly meetings, First Thursdays, and communication in Dadamac

How we communicate in Dadamac is as important as what we communicate. The UK-Nigeria weekly meetings and the monthly First Thursday meetings have both been core communication channels since around 2007. We use typed chat in our meetings because of bandwidth constraints. This approach has benefits as well as disadvantages.

7 - Fast Tractor and Dadamac Foundation

The Dadamac Community was able to succeed with Fast Tractor thanks to Dadamac Foundation, a registered UK charity.

Dadamac Foundation is a tiny charity, which is often on the verge of being wound up. However, from time to time, as with Fast Tractor, someone in the Dadamac Community leads a relevant fundraising project. When that happens the fundraiser can use Dadamac Foundation's online-giving facility and can claim gift aid on the donations.

8 - C4C, PeoplesUni.org and learning in the Dadamacademy

Cameras For Communication (C4C) and the PeoplesUni.org Proof of Concept both have obvious connections to education/training.

The learning processes behind the projects

What is less obvious is that the processes behind both projects were in themselves innovative experiments in collaborative online learning. For example, when Professor Dick Heller shared with me his dream of using his time in retirement to share his expertise with people in low income countries we had no plan for how this might happen. Gradually we explored ideas, and pulled more people into the development team, learning as we went along. In typical Dadmac fashion, we were working at a distance. The People'sUni.org proof of concept can be seen as an example of online "project based learning" for the development team. Unusually for project based learning all of our participants already had some kind of professional qualification and two of our "learning by doing" participants (John and Dick) were retired professors.

Non-formal learning in Dadamac

A lot of non-formal learning goes on in Dadamac, largely online. My background is in education and training and I've been exploring theoretical and practical aspects of "computers and computing" related to teachers, learners, and knowledge since the 1970s. When I have no better way to describe what I do in Dadamac I fall back on the fact that I'm a life-long-learner and say that I'm a student. It's a label with many advantages, including allowing me to be someone who is thinking and seeking knowledge. Being a student also makes it acceptable if I fund my Dadamac role through unrelated day-jobs.

Much of my understanding of online communication and the "socio-tech" of online collaboration (social dynamics and technical barriers) has come through managing the UK-Nigeria weekly meetings and the First Thursday Group. In the context of being a student within Dadamac these groups are my online equivalent of "field studies". My practical work in Nigeria and Kenya is also "field studies". As a compulsive student of emergent 21st century systems I tend to look at many other organisations I connect with in my daily life as mini "field studies" as well.

Online learning, Dadamac learners and the Dadamacademy

In Dadamac I often teach people online one-to-one, in response to need, and I learn from others in similar ways one-to-one and in groups.

We couldn't do this kind of learning without the Internet, but it isn't what people usually have in mind when they talk about learning online. They tend to be thinking about formal courses, and accreditation. To avoid confusion I took to describing my way of doing things as being a Dadamac learner, and various people in the Dadamac community describe themselves as  Dadamac learners too.

Half-jokingly and half-seriously I've named an organisational space for Dadamac learners and our learning. It's called the Dadamacademy and is a "home" for learning and knowledge- creation unrelated to approaches and institutions that existed before the Internet.

9 - The Ecodome, Dadamac.net and Dadamac OK

Dadamac OK is short for Dadamac Open Knowledge. Most of our work could be put under the heading of Dadamac OK, because most of our work is about sharing knowledge freely. That includes the First Thursday Group, Cameras for Communication and the PeoplesUni.org proof of concept, but I'm taking the ecodome as the main illustrative example, plus Dadamac.net

Key points about the ecodome are are that Marcus Simmons had expertise about ecologically friendly construction methods, but he didn't know if they'd be appropriate in Africa and he wanted to find out. He came to Dadamac wanting to share his knowledge and to learn through doing a practical project. Dadamac provided him with a location to build a small demonstration ecodome at Attachab (near to Fantsuam) and we provided a team of people to work with him. We gave him all the local knowledge he needed to plan his trip, and to help him during his visit. We even told him about local rumours and misinformation circulating during his project and we helped to quash them.

Evidence for the success of this project included friendly competition later between departments at Fantsuam Foundation to have use of Marcus' ecodome (because it was so cool inside). Also, a second ecodome was constructed by one of the team members at his own expense for personal use, which was an impressive example of technology transfer. 

Dadamac.net is another example of open knowledge. it's not a normal website. It's an experimental webspace, an ongoing publicly visible experiment that I began over five years ago. The most visible result of the experiment is the factual information it has generated, but that is open information rather than open knowledge. From my viewpoint the fact that it's all happening in a transparent way in a public space is what makes it an open knowledge project.

10 - Teachers Talking and Dadamac Limited

Teachers Talking could have been used to illustrate Dadamac OK or Dadamacademy, but I'm using it in a bitter-sweet way to illustrate Dadamac Limited.

Way back when I started working with John I was amazed at the wealth of information we had between us, thanks to:

Our contrasting locations (London and rural Nigeria)

Our second-to-none two-way communication links between those two locations (thanks to our high trust relationship, overlapping cultural knowledge and John's innovative work as a rural Internet services provider through Zittnet - see Zittnet - Rural Connectivity at Fantsuam)

Our complementary specialist knowledge and networks 

We thought this had the potential for paid collaborative work with people who were connected with "development".

We set up Dadamac Limited, a registered company, about eight years ago, so that we'd have a mechanism for doing paid work together. We hoped to bridge the divide between established top-down ways of doing things and the Dadamac way. It was easy to see that top-down ways were inevitable back when two-way communication between UK and rural Africa was slow and/or expensive or even impossible, but I was shocked at how many projects were still top-down and disconnected from reality on the ground. We wanted to help change things and thought Dadamac Limited would provide a sustainable way to do so.

Dadmac Limited failed abysmally. I couldn't find any way to create financially viable collaborative relationships with anyone who was part of the top-down "development" world. 

Last year, when I was about to make Dadamac Limited a dormant company I was amazed to be approached about an Avanti DFID programme with schools in Kenya. My work on Teacher Talking, back in 2004-2008 was of interest to them. Last week I started my first day of fifty days work on the project. As Avanti works with companies, not individuals, Dadamac Limited is finally coming in useful.

11 - A considerable track record - but this is no way to run an organisation

Obviously this is no way to run a sustainable organisation. I need help to stand back and take a cool clear look at things. Thats's why I need mentoring. These are some questions that need to be addressed.

Has anything come out of Dadamac which has value (other than as a personal learning experience for me)?

If so, what is it?

How is it valuable?

To whom is it valuable?

Is it worth continuing in some way?

If anything is worth continuing in some way then who is going to continue it and how can it be sustainable?

On a personal level I have related questions

What exactly have I been doing since I first got involved with things in Nigeria?

Why?

How have the reasons changed over time?

Are any of them still relevant?

Given how much Dadamac and I are one and the same thing I need to address both sets of questions. I don't know where to find someone who would have the interest, background and time to help me think these things through.

12 - Looking forward

I have some suggestions related to some of the questions, but I won't start exploring them yet.

John Dada and others (some in his team at Fantsuam and some unrelated to it) have expressed their feelings about the value of Dadamac so there are things I'd definitely like to see continued. 

I've done what I set out to do here. I hope I've laid out enough of the pieces of Dadamac to illustrate what it's been doing and how it's organised (and disorganised). I've had to write more than I anticipated, so I hope it will get read nonetheless. I hope that now someone from outside can look at it all of Dadamac with fresh eyes. I hope this is a first step towards finding a mentor who will help me to recognise what is of value in Dadamac,. Then I hope we can organise it in an effective and sustainable way, so that it can be useful and fit for purpose in our 21st century, rapidly changing world.

Pamela

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License - which I hope is the one that enables anyone to use the content as long as they say where it came from and they don't use it for commercial gain.