Early Stories & Low-fi Prototypes

Some of the earliest work in developing concepts, was done in the form of telling stories, imagining futures, and exploring what form those may take.

This included conversations with stakeholders not only about their problems and needs, but about what they could envision in their future. It also took the form of a workshop to test a hypothesis, and sketching different ideas.

The process of exploring options for a portfolio of concepts was divergent, exploring a wide range of options - from tech platforms to help manage event communication and management, workshops envisioning community principles, and exploring the feasibility of community platforms built on emerging technologies.

Involving stakeholders in the early phases of research increases the likelihood of accruing societal value (by asking open questions which encourage personal and collective reflection and exploration), as well as directly informing desired stakeholder use/experience of any form of “solution”, thus increasing the likelihood of success (Sanders, 2013. Perspectives on Design in Participation.).

Key Insights

1. Moss moves people

As someone who makes sense of challenges and opportunities by projecting them onto metaphors, shapes and models, I was surprised by how delighted people were when I ran a workshop along these lines with organic materials, to help them think about what they wanted from a nascent community of practice.

I’ve often been frustrated by the ‘world-as-machine’ mindset and language, such as talking about people in organisations as a ‘cog in a machine’. However, short of using metaphors of nature (such as a rainforest to describe an organisation), or moving people to more ‘green’ surrounds to have a conversation, it has been hard to shift these limiting mental models.

When I ran the organic toolkit workshop for the first time, people rapidly transitioned to what I would describe as exhibiting ‘living systems mindsets’. This enabled conversations which fundamentally shifted the sense of what was desired and possible, for the group.

2. Learning needs to be alive

As I began to talk to people about curating a library of ‘good practice’ resources for environmental groups, I found that people seemed tepid on the idea. I was surprised, as from my experience of marketing and online publications, curated lists of resources and tools are popular.

With more interviews, I found that whilst people would use those resources, they really wanted to be able to evolve the resources for their own needs, share them with others, and forge relationships to work together with people on shared projects. This struck me to be very much how an open source technology community works, and I began to hear echoes of communities of practice which I had been involved with in previous years (such as the now defunct Social Labs Community of Practice, and The Victorian Public Sector (VPS) Peer Academy).

This helped me realise that no effort aimed at building capacity could be static (such as curated resources), instead they needed to draw on the concept of ‘Scalable Learning’ (Hagel & Seely Brown, 2017 [43]) to ensure that this culture is enabled through supporting people to learn together, in the face of emerging challenges.

3. Dropping good ideas

It was at this stage that I had to start converging my ideas, and start making choices about what I wouldn’t be doing, even if I felt they were good ideas. One of these concepts, was something which had sparked this research project - a concept for supporting group coordinators to capture the everyday data of their project, and present it like an infographic, to better communicate their work with a variety of stakeholders.

I realised some concepts had preconditions which were not yet met, and thus the timing was just not right. For example, Community-based Conservation Groups were mostly underfunded, and thus generating more volunteer supply was not a useful strategy - whereas enabling them to build more loyalty in their volunteer base could be of use.

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