The following has been excerpted from my Output Packet Two for Gaia University. Also, it’s taken me forever to post it, so it’s a little out of date.
Overall, I feel very good about my where I’m at right now in life. My projects have been very engaging, and my learnings have been integrated across these projects. I’m just getting going with my learning pathway this year, as this is my first project-based output. My Learning Matrix is linked below.
Figure 1: Learning Matrix
Project and professional skill-building reflection can be viewed in the body of this output.
This is my first project-based output. Collaboration is the topic of this output. The creation of this output took place while being with two other Gaia Associates also creating their first project-based output. Although I talk a bit about our experience working collaboratively, the bulk of this output focuses on collaboration through the lens of project management and tools; it touches base with my primary projects and how collaboration intersects with them.
This output is to be read from start to finish. Numerous links are available for further exploration in my Portfolio of Supporting Evidence at the bottom.
On Tuesday, January 25th, I flew into Denver, Colorado from my home in Massachusetts. Todd, a fellow Gaia Associate, picked me up and brought me to his retreat center, Syzygy Community House, 9,000 feet up in the mountains. Nick, another Gaia Associate from Wisconsin, had already been at Syzygy for most of the month, working on an aquaponics project in Todd’s geodesic greenhouse as part of a Collaborative Project Exchange [worktrade]. With aquaponics as a backdrop, the three of us have set out on a collaborative outputting process. Our intention was to have all of our outputs finished and reviewed by the following Tuesday, one week in.
We prepared for this collaboration in a few ways. As background research, we discovered that Patrick and Ethan, two other Gaia associates, had done a collaborative output before, so we used their work as a jumping-off point. Nick and Todd already had written up an extensive Collaborative Exchange Project agreement. I added to and modified this document. We created a Syzygy Collaborative Exchange Project Agreement template as one of the outputs for the process. After that we created our Motherdoc – a huge document outlining everything about our collaborative outputting process, including an exhaustive schedule, project description, and resources list. We also created an agreement for all of us.
On Wednesday, February 2nd, we had planned a sweatlodge in celebration of Imbolc [the midpoint between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox]. It turned out to be too cold to do one [-30 degrees Fahrenheit], but we were able to do other things instead. Our intention was to have these ceremony coincide with the completion of out outputs.
Jennifer and I are soon going to have a skillflex [content, as opposed to process] advising session on project management. Jennifer is the director of Gaia Southeast, my regional center.
We reviewed the basics of project management back at my orientation at the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee. These include such things as scheduling and keeping on top of communications. We also reviewed various design processes. At the following Permaculture Teacher Training, we got to look at roles, analyzing how teams can divide responsibility to have a more well-rounded effort.
I’m interested in exploring these areas further. I’d like to have a better understanding of how people work in collaboration, and when to use leadership and support roles. Fortunately, I’m involved in a number of projects where I get to experiment with such things first hand.
Current projects in which I have taken a support role:
- PVGrows – Network Development, Investment Fund
- PVPA Board – Five Year Stategic Plan, Hiring Committee for a new Head-of-School
A note on leadership versus inspiration: on January 28th in the All-Gaia Call: World Cafe on New Years Resolutions, Associate Ron brought up the idea that it’s important to distinguish between leadership and inspiration, and when to use each. Another word for inspiration could be delegation, but they’re not quite the same.
For example, with the FCSS, I’m currently in a leadership role, but would like to get the group of students that I’m mentoring to organize this event to become autonomous so that I could step back into an advisory role and focus more of my attention on the projects that are more relevant for to me.
This topic ties in to what Gregory, a Gaia Advisor, has said about the role of the Magician Ironist. Traditionally, leadership has been hierarchical, out front, but this doesn’t have to be the case. With the Magician Ironists, leaders work off of teach individuals strengths and the dynamics of a team, creating a unified effort without obvious leadership.
In order to better understand my experience with collaborative tools, it’s important to understand my digiphon for project management. Google provides me with most of my utilities. I use gMail as my primary communications platform. I carefully organize all of my e-mails. I use my inbox a bit like a to-do list in that when it’s empty I know that I don’t have anyone left to get back to. Google also recently added a feature so that I can create to-dos that are linked to e-mails, so I can have something like “call Mary” in a list, and then remember more about what we were going to talk about by clicking on the corresponding e-mail. After meeting with someone I’ll usually follow up with an e-mail because it seems like other people use their inboxs similarly to me.
I use gCal as my calendar. I only write things on my calendar that have to do with other people. For example, even if I know I’ve set aside a certain amount of time for reading, I usually remember adequately and my calendar during that period will be blank.
I use gVoice to manage phone-calls and text messages.
And then, probably most importantly, I use gDocs. I’ve been a Google fan since I adopted gMail as my first e-mail platform back in 2005, when an invitation was needed. In the beginning of 2008 I began an independent study with a friend in multi-variable calculus. gDocs had just been released, and seemed like the perfect platform with which to share documents. I’ve been using it as my primary office suite since then, and it’s currently storing over 800 documents for me. I like it first for the improved reliability of the Cloud over that of my internal hard drive [which fail once every year or two]. But what I really like about it is the ease of collaboration.
gDocs allows me to do pretty much anything that I need to. I can open e-mail attachment directly into gDocs. I can create a document, and then send out an e-mail to everyone that I’m inviting to the document right inside their platform. I can have documents be completely private, shared with a few individuals, or public with the link so that I can create little architectures of references between documents and external referrals [such as my web site]. I can review the revision history of a document, seeing who made what change when. I can comment on documents and I can chat with collaborators on the side bar. The most important part about gDocs is it’s centralized location: collaboration first, flashiness and ease-of-use second. This is at odds with the competition – Microsoft Office, Apple’s iWork – and what really does it for me.
And then there’s Facebook [FB], which has recently been cutting into Google’s share of my projects with a vengeance. Unfortunately, FB doesn’t organize my information nearly as well as Google. With Google I have labels, a search that actually works, and a chronology. With FB, the only data I have easy access to is recent data. Much of the time I wish that I could reference not-so-recent items.
There are some huge advantages to FB over Google. The biggest is transparency; FB is usually representative of whole people, not just their business facade. And I know that I work much better with friends than with people whose relationship remains on the surface level with me. I’m more motivated, more driven, more accountable. Namasté Solar, a cooperatively owned company in Boulder, Colorado that we visited, uses the terms “frank, open, honest.” I think this sums up the kind of communications that I prefer to have with people, and FB does this better than any other platform I know.
One example of a recent project where I’ve been using FB as my communications platform is alumni outreach for PVPA. Although I know a lot of PVPA graduates, most of them are clustered around my year. To have strong representation, it’s important to get in touch with people that graduated many years before I did. PVPA doesn’t have a database of this information, but there is a FB group for PVPA alumni that contains almost 400 members. By sending FB messages to the administrators of that group,I was able to get a pretty well-rounded representation. Now with our core group or organizers we’re going to try to figure out our next steps.
Another example of something that would probably only happen on FB is a recent collaboration started with a friend named Max. A mutual permaculture friend introduced us in a FB status update. A little while later, Max messaged me with this project he’s working on to document urban permaculture projects in an attempt to create a handbook of sorts. I posted some statuses, tagging friends that might be able to help out with the project – from the technical to the practical aspects. And the great thing about tagging people in a status is that anyone can see it. If the idea’s popular, it will receive lots of comments, notifying each other contributor or tagged individual, increasing the likelihood that they will get involved. As opposed to private communication pathways, FB can create momentum behind good ideas.
The following applications are honorable mentions – tools that I use for project management, but which I don’t fully rely upon or use every day:
- Evernote – archieving
- Twitter – microblogging
- LinkedIn – business networking
- DropBox – file sharing
- WordPress – blogging
- Ning – customizable social networking
What does social mean? In the past few years, the term has really taken off: social networking, social media, social entrepreneurialism. I hear it every day. There are even news groups, such as Mashable, that focus only on “social” stuff. What’s the big deal about social though, and why is everyone talking about it right now? It wasn’t always such such a big thing?
What does the dictionary have to say? Primarily, social is in relation to society. It also has to do with status, companionship, and meeting new people for pleasure. And upon investigating society, I’ve found that it simply means a grouping of people, often defined to do some shared attribute, such as geographic location. So basically, social just means that it’s about people. In some ways I’d hope that things that people do are about people, but apparently, much of what people do is about other things – mostly money or laziness.
There has been some recent developments in web technology that have enabled social-whatever to be progressed to a new level. Web used to be static; now it’s dynamic. This means that it can respond to users, or help users respond to other users.
Social is a very important term when talking about collaboration. For me, as I mentioned earlier, non-social collaborations just aren’t that fun or meaningful.
Prioritization – Project Shepherd:
Following my Colorado trip I’m going to visit my business partner Tim. I am collaborating on Project Shepherd [my primary venture] with Tim, in Palo Alto, California. One of the primary activities we’ll be doing on the trip is creating a mind map of all our connections, and then sorting them [priorities, collaborations, finances, et cetera]. Tim and I have a phenomenal number of brilliant and diverse connections through our networks. We also are tied at various levels to numerous initiatives. We’d really like to push forward with Project Shepherd – a venture about youth, food, and sustainability – move from the ideas stage into implementation.
Project Shepherd was initially inspired back at Terra Madre ‘08, Slow Food’s biennial meet-up in Italy, where about 7,000 people from over 140 countries come together to talk about food, and mobilize to get things moving upon their return home. There is a youth version of Slow Food, Youth Food Movement, and Tim was involved with them at that Terra Madre. There seemed to be a need for a web-based communications platform so that people would be able to keep in touch and up-to-date. Tim even won a SparkSeed entrepreneurialism competition sponsored by Grassroots.org and Ashoka’s Youth Venture and was provided with seed capital, but Tim and I got so busy with projects while we were at UMass together that Project Shepherd fell by the wayside.
Tim took a job at FB, and I was presented with the opportunity to transfer to Gaia University, allowing me to shift to full-time work on my projects. Project Shepherd was now able to move to the forefront. After researching our field for some time, and along with some recent connections that Tim and I made, producing a film about the global youth food movement seemed like the best first step for Project Shepherd. We’re still interested in the web platform; it is just going to take a lot more work.
A useful web platform seems as though it would look more like a robust project management application than some kind of forum. So I started researching project management and the various platform that are currently available. I discovered some interesting things. Project management was initially developed by engineers to increase product development efficiency – optimizing input allocation and integration to honor constraints of scope, time, and budget. As it was developed by engineers, traditional forms of project management use a lot of equations to determine these things.
Network Research – PV Grows:
Recently I’ve been doing some research on networks for a group that I’m on the Steering Committee of back home, PV Grows. We’re working to strengthen local food infrastructure through low-interest loans and our diverse network of people involved in the Pioneer Valley food system of Western Massachusetts in a variety of ways. I’m connecting with organizations that have networks, similar and different, to help us make an informed decision about what the PV Grows network should look like [events, communications tools, structure, et cetera] and why.
I’ve been learning a lot about how groups of people come together and progress a common aim. A lot of these learnings have been relevant to not only my work for PV Grows, but also for my work with Project Shepherd.
Collaboration – Syzygy:
So what did I learned about collaboration from this visit?
As I mentioned, Nick has been here for the past month working on an aquaculture project. As outlined in our agreements, that was going to be the focus of our collaboration. What is aquaponics? An aquaponics system incorporates fish and plants in a closed system for food production.
A review of our schedule puts our process in perspective. This trip has been composed of a few field trips. The first was to Shoshoni ashram, which Todd has a close connection with and is only a few minutes down the road. Shoshoni is in the process of setting up an fairly large aquaponics system in a greenhouse off a side of one of their buildings. We also visited Namaste Ssolar, a cooperatively owned company, managed and founded by Todd’s brother Blake. As I’m interested in management, it was great to hear about what that looks like in a cooperative. And then we also visited Naropa University, a Buddhist university in Boulder. Todd received his Masters from Naropa, and we’re working with a few Naropa students on the aquaponics project. I’m interested in getting to know Naropa University better, as they could be a good ally for my projects with university food systems.
We found that there wasn’t really enough time during my visit to do a lot of project work and complete this output, so we prioritized the output. Without as much hands-on collaborative work, I haven’t been able to reflect very much about the process, so I shifted the content of my output to collaborations in general.
The bulk of my supporting evidence comes in the form of documents that we developed together. Todd’s output is almost exclusively about the creation of these documents, as they have a lot of relevance to livelihood.
Todd and I created our Collaborative Exchange Project Agreement first It was modeled off of the the CEP Agreement that Nick and Todd created for Nick’s visit, tailored to me. I made the modifications and Todd reviewed and approved them.
Once we were all together, we started writing all of the other documents, such as the Motherdocument, the minutes, the collaborative outputting agreements, as they informed our process in working together. The names of these documents summarize their purpose. At the end of our time together we duplicated and modified these specific documents into generalized form to make templates. We didn’t have any serious disagreements along the way and our process was very straightforward and smooth for me.
To write these documents, we would often be in the same room so that we could talk with each other when necessary, but work individually on a mix of outputting and developing these documents. Our time was mostly self directed rather than us all being hands on with one article at a time.
The only document that I might have changed was Todd and my initial agreements. Although we had a series of internal reviews [at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of my stay], the trip didn’t turn out exactly as I anticipated. For example, I was hoping to spend more time with Todd’s family, doing yoga and Chi Gung with Todd, and doing some installation work with the aquaponics project. I still had a great time, but I think we might have had an easier time planning and and reflecting on process if this agreement had been short and direct. Although our agreement contained everything, it might have been too detailed to use for quick productive analyses.
Collaboration is a key component of my pathway, as all of my projects involve collaboration in one form or another. I have a pretty solid starting point for the tools I use for project management, and I’m getting to experiment to discover what kinds of projects are conducive to what sorts of collaboration. Regardless of what kind of collaboration I’m involved with, clear intentions and communications are vital to a healthy collaboration.
In addition to this output, my collaboration with Todd and Nick yielded templates for other associates to use for collaborative outputs as well as templates for future Collaborative Exchange Programs at Syzygy.
Portfolio of Supporting Evidence
Resources directly relating to the creation of this output:
Agreements: Collaborative Outputting
Template: Collaborative Outputting Agreements
Agreements: Will & Todd’s Collaborative Exchange Project
Template: Syzygy Collaborative Exchange Project Agreements
Minutes: Collaborative Outputting
Log: Will & Todd’s CEP
PV Grows: Network Research
Project Shepherd: Project Management Research
Itinerary: California Trip with Tim
Video: Will Talks Casually About Project Shepherd
Video: Wheatgrass Juicing I
Video: Wheatgrass Juicing II
Learning Intentions and Pathways Design
Notes: Visit to Namasté Solar and Naropa University
All-Gaia Call: World Cafe on New Years Resolutions
This output turned turned out differently than I thought it was going to. At first, I thought this output was going to be on the process of working with others to create an aquaponics system. But due primarily to time restrictions, I shifted my focus to collaboration and how it relates to all of my current projects.
Although we began and ended the process with a lot of working together, most of our work in the middle was done independently but simultaneously, so that we could shout out questions to each other. There is certainly a lot more momentum behind this sort of process when working around others, particularly when they’re fellow associates.
We primarily worked during business hours. Todd spent much of his time with his family over at his house while Nick and I lived at Syzygy. There was some self-care overlay, such as working with sprouts [raw food], and a bit of Chi Gung.
The trip seems to have been a good length. Ideally it might have been a little longer, but I don’t have many chunks of free time longer than two weeks with all of commitments back home.
One interesting thing that we noticed is that we all have slightly different requirements. Todd and I are at Gaia Southeast, when Nick is with Gaia Regenerative Design Institute [RDI]. But then Nick and I are both in the Bachelors program when Todd is working on his post-graduate degree.
My MacBook Pro [computer] allows me to use applications, such as VUE [mind-mapping software] and Adobe Lightroom II [photo management]. Lightroom allows me to organize the photos I take with my Nikon D50 [camera]. When my MacBook Pro is paired with Wi-fi [internet] I’m able to use collaborative tools such as DropBox [filesharing software], gDocs [wordprocessing], and gMail [e-mail]. My iPhone 4 [still & video camera, computer] works as a more mobile version of my MacBook Pro and D50, and shoots HD video.