Collaborative data stewardship

Other than a (fabulous) summer break, the last few weeks have been deeply immersed in the fellowship and we are shifting between the practicalities of data stewardship and developing user stories, to the principles and practice of effective collaboration.  I love this voyage between behaviour and technology,  

What we’re exploring is not simply aggregating and bringing together existing datasets for shared ownership, but eliciting (and capturing) data for shared common, purpose-driven outcomes.

A sense-making practice for collaborative stewardship networks

This is my own play with a heading to what we’re developing.  In essence, a bundle of processes that explore, learn, design and scale networks collaboratively forming over shared data.  This may all sound a bit improbable, but it is real. It responds to a real need to make sense of the environment in which we are operating in order to seek ways in which we can become stronger together.

Sense-making is how we make sense of our world. 

Sense-making behavior, thus, is communicating behavior. Information seeking and use is central to sense-making (referring to “An overview of sense-making research” by Brenda Dervin).

An overview of sense-making research by Brenda Dervin

Our mapping “practice” provides the foundations for the information seeking processes. These foundations are both technical in nature – all the things that relate to data collection – models, privacy, ethics, governance.  But they are also distinctly human. Enabling a shared, safe place to come together with observations and perspectives with shared intent and expectations.  To be able to do something more, that is greater than we can do alone.  It won’t always make sense, but these journeys can be so much bigger – they can stimulate new networks of shared interest, collaborative networks of organisations and individuals that are greater than the sum of their parts.  All this with a mission-driven lens to improve our existing systems.

The act of sense-making – studying the system – can become central to developing relationships and understanding each other through sharing observations and perspectives.  

This example from the The Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network is a region-wide, cross-sector collaboration of 19 organizations that are working together to improve land stewardship

Over the course of their first two convenings, participants also completed a historical analysis of the region, examined external trends and forces, considered future scenarios, and identified shared values. This sensemaking process helped the network evolve its high-level purpose statement into a memorandum of understanding, which all 19 members ratified at the end of their third convening.

Cutting Through the Complexity: A Roadmap for Effective Collaboration, Stanford Social Innovation Review

You’ll see their sense-making process became centred around social network analysis, mapping relationships between organisations (and each other), and how identifying gaps and opportunities allowed relationships to develop over time and strengthen the network.

At the very heart of this practice is conversation.  I’ve been very much enjoying the work of David Gurteen and conversational leadership – the entire sense-making process is in effect based on a series of conversations that both elicits knowledge, but also from the outset starts to build these relationships. 

Sense-making consists of both asking and telling. It’s a continuing series of conversations.

Sense-making through conversation, Jarche.

It sounds easy!  Of course it is far from easy, but what we can start to enable is more time and safe spaces for conversation. As humans we each have the tools and the expertise to have conversation – conversation is fundamental to human behaviour. 

In light of what 2020 has been so far, there is never more a need to come together, to listen and converse with each other, to lean in to find a more collaborative way forward.