Dadamac Foundation Information Agents

The idea of "information agents" has been emerging gradually within Dadamac. It's clear enough now to explore openly, to see where it has come from, and consider how it might develop. I'm expecting that information agents will play key roles in creating the Dadamac Foundation Knowledge Commons in 2014 and beyond. It's not a short explanation, so I've numbered the sections for ease of use. Prototype work supporting a changemaker was done with John Dada and Fantsuam Foundation but future work will include other projects and locations.

1 - Possible work, paid and unpaid

2 - The hidden work of Fantsuam Foundation

3 - Representing John's interests in London

4 - An information channel

5 - Setting up dadamac.net

6 - Prototype information agents and information flows

7 - Collecting the fragments

8 - Making sense of the fragments

9 - Presenting and sharing the information

10 - Internet trawling

11 - Other opportunities in Dadamac Foundation Trading or Services

12 - For more information or to volunteer

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1 - Possible work, paid and unpaid

This isn't going to be a complete list of tasks. It's just an idea of what information agents will be working on, so people who are interested can begin to see possibilities. I hope we'll be able to afford some paid people on the team, as well as volunteers, but obviously we'll need to be raising funds for that to happen.

I value volunteers, and intend to be a Dadamac Foundation volunteer myself, but I also want to know there are some key people at the heart of Dadamac Foundation who are paid, and therefore committed in ways that I would not expect of volunteers. 

Volunteers can have much more flexibility than paid people, working as much or as little as suits them, as long as they deliver what they have committed to do.

At first people often need to be assigned to specific tasks, but I anticipate that information agents will increasingly create roles around their own interests and aptitudes as they get familiar with the possibilities within Dadamac Foundation. I want volunteers to feel they are getting something out as well as putting something in. This may be as nebulous as doing interesting things, meeting new people or simply a "feel-good factor'. It may be more obvious, like learning new skills, gaining specific knowledge or experience, or simply filling in some gaps on a CV. All these, and more, are valid reasons for getting involved.

What I don't want (and this may seem odd to some people) is volunteers who are giving and don't recognise that they're getting something in return. I haven't been paid for what I've done in Dadamac, but I've been richly rewarded in other ways. When I'm volunteering in Dadamac Foundation I want to work with other volunteers who see it the same way.

For more context and other things information agents may do see Flowing together and separately - Dadamac 2014

2 - The hidden work of Fantsuam Foundation

In a way I was the first prototype Dadamac information agent. Between 2004 and 2008 I used to go to Fantsuam Foundation (FF) in connection with Teachers Talking. From the first time I went I was amazed at what John Dada and his team were doing on the ground, and I'd wonder why he didn't tell more people about it. John would agree that other people who visited were also amazed and impressed, and that it would be a good idea to tell the FF story - but there was no-one to do it, which explains how I fell into the role.

3 - Representing John's interests in London

When I was back in the UK, I was going to public meetings, and online groups, in order to learn more about "development" and related topics. I also started to represent John's interests, which is why we coined the name Dadamac for things where John Dada and Pamela McLean were speaking with one voice or working together.

4 - An information channel

I became an information channel of sorts, but an information channel that was pro-active. I wasn't just an information channel for John - I also had other contacts in Africa (or related to projects there). In fact I was so proactive that, even with the help of Lorraine Duff and later Nikki Fishman, I soon came to feel less like a channel and more like an information bottleneck. I was seeing lots of connections that could be made and information flows that could be useful, but I couldn't act on many of them. One of my great frustrations was that I saw excellent work on the ground but I was failing to attract the interest that I felt it deserved.

5 - Setting up dadamac.net

If I couldn't channel information as much as I wanted to, and I couldn't attract the "official interest" that I felt FF deserved, then perhaps I could at least make some information from FF (and other sources) easily available for others to dip into, if and when they became interested. 

When I first set up dadamac.net it was to serve several experimental purposes.

One purpose was to find out how best to tell John's FF stories.

6 - Prototype information agents and information flows

People have helped in various ways over the years, so I'll combine them all together as a kind of collective "prototype information agent", and explain what they've been doing, or trying to do.  I'll focus on information flowing from Africa, especially, but not only, from John and Fantsuam.

It is thanks to the work of the prototype information agents that I have such a clear idea in my mind of what I want Dadamac Foundation information agents to do.

7 - Collecting the fragments

The first task of the information agent is to collect up fragments of unfolding stories in ways that don't get in the way of the changemaker's work. It's important that the changemaker and the information agents are very clear on the boundaries and the high level of trust regarding collecting and sharing fragments of information. This is the opposite of sensationalist journalism with its gossip and speculation.

The objective is maximum, truthful, information sharing about projects, with minimal interruption of the work in hand. The job of the information agent is to tell the unfolding stories of projects, and also to provide overviews.

Information gathering in this way is high trust, because the changemaker should not need to filter out sensitive information when the information agent is around. Stories that emerge are often personal but the telling must not be intrusive or insensitive regarding people's privacy. In addition to factual information about projects the information agent may also learn about challenges, opportunities, hopes and disappointments that should only be shared if the changemaker judges that it is appropriate. 

There are may ways for information agents to collect fragments (working with changemakers at a distance and also here in the UK):

  • Attending meetings (face-to-face or online) especially if they cover the administration of projects
  • "Being useful" in various ways - often the humbler the ways the more useful it is to the changemaker and the great the variety of information that can be collected.
  • Anything that involves "shadowing" or "looking over the shoulder" of the changemaker.
  • Informal discussions on journeys - even if it's not a journey the information agent really needs to take.
  • Being a willing listener on whatever the changemaker wants to talk about -  sometimes changemakers just need to toss ideas around, or let off steam, or share some small but hard-won triumph with someone who understands the implications of what is being said.
  • Helping to edit or proof read information the changemaker has to prepare. 
  • Taking photos
  • Recording videos

8 - Making sense of the fragments

Information fragments are a bit like lumps of ore, or uncut gemstones. Information agents see the value, others won't. Work has to be done to make the fragments show their value.

Unfolding stories and the overviews of initiatives need to be written up, photos need to be captioned, videos need to be edited, diagrams need to be drawn, the list could go on. At present, on dadamac.net I'm only managing to present text, but we have had more variety in the past. Dadamac Foundation will have whatever media our information agents can provide and I hope it will be a rich collection.

9 - Presenting and sharing the information

When the fragments are in a fit state for sharing they will go on the website, which at time of writing is only a holding page with one video link - Dadamac Foundation website. In addition to preparing content, there is always technical work that needs to be done behind the scenes. Techies are also information agents.

I don't want Dadamac Foundation information to simply sit passively on a website. I'm hoping that information agents will be active on our behalf on twitter, Facebook and other social media channels. Even a single tweet can bring us benefit - so anyone can be an informal Dadamac Foundation information agent just by retweeting. Ideally some will help to plan and implement effective social media strategies. 

10 - Internet trawling

When I first went to the Internet I thought I was finding lots of relevant information, but I soon learned to check the small print before passing it on. We will collect information from sources additional to our changemakers if we think it will be helpful to them, but we'll be careful what we share. We'll avoid "opportunities" that have impossible deadlines, and wonderful projects "for Africa" which aren't open to any new participants, and other information that looks good but is just a "tease" when it comes to relevance for our changemakers.

11 - Other opportunities in Dadamac Foundation Trading or Services

As I explained in Flowing together and separately - Dadamac 2014 I expect that the information agents will also help with work that brings in money to support the creation of ourKnowledge Commons.

12 - For more information or to volunteer

For more information or to volunteer please use the contact form.