"Information Geographies" and the Internet for Development

In this excellent presentation, OII research fellow Mark Graham discusses the importance of understanding who produces and reproduces the information that populates digital communications networks. Through an exploration of "information geographies", Graham concludes that "rather than democratising platforms of knowledge sharing, the Internet seems to be enabling a digital division of labour in which the visibility, voice and power of the North is reinforced rather than diminished."

Fieldwork Update

IMG_3192 Last week I sat in on CuriousWorks' strategic planning meeting, and what an exciting three days it was. The crew did all sorts of workshopping around current states of play, while looking towards what sort of operation they would like to be in the future. Elias and I held a session on using a logical framework matrix for project planning and evaluation, and I presented some of my research findings which included a proposal to create some resources the company could use. Thankfully they all seemed to like my plan, which I will expand on at a later stage.

National Cultural Policy Submission

I recently put together a submission responding to the Australian federal government's National Cultural Policy discussion paper. Below are a few pars from the submission ... the full document can be downloaded here >>- - - Culture-making is a crucial aspect of Australia’s social fabric. As outlined in the discussion paper, cultural activities support broader education goals, contribute to social cohesion and are fundamental to our success as a national economy (National Cultural Policy: discussion paper 2011, 23). It is timely to be considering strategies to support culture-making in Australia, as the current ‘networked moment’ is reconfiguring our cultural practices. The development of an Australian National Cultural Policy framework will therefore provide a contemporary foundation stone for culture-making over the coming decade.

My submission will argue that ‘cultural democracy’ should be a major consideration in the National Cultural Policy framework. The premise for this lies in Australia’s rich history of creating opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds to participate in arts and cultural activities. The historical context I will draw on to support my case is Australia’s community arts sector. I will outline several considerations for nurturing ‘cultural democracy’ in the current cultural moment – the ‘networked moment’ led by computer and mobile device networks. These strategies have evolved from my PhD research into the issues surrounding sustainable culture-making in the networked moment.

My overarching strategy for achieving sustainable cultural democracy in the networked moment involves developing literacies and competencies around participation in digital networks. My hypothesis lies in the notion that developing network literacies in turn develops network agency – having the capacity to be a critical network participant. - - -

My network-broking hypothesis

I have been using the term ‘network broker’ to describe what I consider a new role for community media arts practitioners. This role involves mediating communities that are connected through computer and mobile networks. I am proposing that they situate themselves within these networks as a broker – developing and disseminating information, techniques and tools. As a router in a packet data network, brokers the relationship between data and its path, community media artists might find new ways to bring about social change by routing and rerouting ideas and resources through digital networks. The concept of the ‘network broker’ was gestating while I was working as a community manager at ABC Pool – an online community of media arts practice managed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. There were no precedents at the ABC for this type of online community manager role, which meant the small team I worked with were constantly evaluating our activities. After a while it struck me that the community manager role felt quite similar to the role of a community artist – they both helped shape creative projects and provided technical and moral support to a community of practice.

Online community management is a growing and developing role. It can be thought of as the web 2.0 version of the ‘online moderator’ – a role that emerged in the early days of bulletin board systems (BBS). The term community management is beginning to supersede moderator, as social networking tools enable the formation of online communities facilitated by key individuals who encourage a collective vision, create and manage relationships and manage collaborative processes (Anklam 2007). Jono Bacon’s (2009) The Art of Community, describes frameworks for planning, supporting and maintaining online communities. The strategies he advocates emerged from his experience as the community manager of one of the largest FOSS projects, Ubuntu . Topics range from ‘Building Buzz’ and ‘Communicating Clearly’ to ‘Handling Conflict’.

Although community media artists are using computer and mobile networks, I believe there is more scope for them to incorporate new modes of networked facilitation and mentoring in to their practices. My PhD inquiry subsequently offers the ‘network broker’ framework, as a way of situating these new roles and responsibilities. The ‘network broker’ proposition involves the community media artist developing tools, documents, routines, vocabulary and symbols to build and sustain networks of creative practice. Network brokers utilize the openness and flexibility of distributed communications networks to create a reflexive, dialogic connection with people they are trying to help. This is in contrast to the traditional ‘parachute in’ community arts model, where artists run preconceived projects ‘in the community’. Network brokers work with beta-testers, as opposed to participants. The beta-tester framework encourages dialogue, and explicitly situates everyone involved in a feedback loop. Beta-testers have the opportunity to change the version on offer if they are dissatisfied. Adjustments could come in the form of suggestions or direct changes to methods or materials.

My inquiry will explore the notion that when the beta-tester forms an ‘agile’ relationship with the network broker, dynamic flows of information are enabled that develop networks of practice. The notion of agile development has its roots in software culture and was a response against heavily regulated, micro-managed, sequential models of development. In agile development environments, requirements and solutions evolve as a result of self-organised collaboration. I am interested in agile methodologies as they create a wider scope for emergent behaviours, and the possibility of developing networks that encourage amateur subversions.

It remains to be seen whether my network-broking hypothesis has legs. I'll keep you posted once I get in to the swing of my fieldwork.

Connected Communities symposium

Culture Lab Newcastle, UK — 14-16th September 2011

Culture Lab Newcastle is hosting an international interdisciplinary event open to the general public, on the topic of “connected communities”. We are looking for expressions of interest for talks and projects to exhibit from theorists and practitioners alike.