From Social Networks to Virtual Communities of Practice. Beyond e-Inclusion through Digital Literacy (II): the Case of the Catalan e-Justice Community

(Continuation from: From Social Networks to Virtual Communities of Practice. Beyond e-Inclusion through Digital Literacy (I): the Case of the Crafting Community)

In a seminar on Tuesday 21st October 2008 — ICTs, development and e-government 2.0: empowering the citizenry — I extended the case of the crafting community and compared it to several civil society actions closely related to e-government, mainly projects led by MySociety.org, but also others about political campaigning, or Health and Education.

Some of those examples came from existing communities, or ended up in the creation or communities that built around interests in common.

The Case of the Catalan e-Justice Community

Compartim [let’s share] is a grassroots-born initiative now led by the Justice Department of the Government of Catalonia (the Spanish region whose capital is Barcelona). It’s aim is to share knowledge, by promoting learning by practice sharing. It’s original promoters and target — now spread to the whole Department — were public servants working in the Justice system in Catalonia (professionals from different specialized branches directly dealing with the public: psychologists, lawyers, criminologists, mediators, trainers…) that needed and wanted to share questions and doubts, procedures, solutions… everything that could make their works easier and to provide a better service to the citizen.

The already existing (explicit, though informally though the hierarchies) community, went online and created a blog to keep the community informed, built several communities of practice at the Justice Portal where interaction would take place (the portal includes also “official” blogs closely related to the activity on the portal) and engaged in a richest exchange of knowledge which, at the moment, has produced several main outcomes:

  • an increase in the flow of information and knowledge within the Justice Department
  • a higher implication of the community members, both in quality (more implication) and in quantity (more people involved)
  • impact on the “real” lives and works of the community members
  • reaching consensus on key issues at the practical level (no hierarchies involved, no power stresses implied)
  • articulation of the real community, the one that exists “offline”

After the grassroots stage, now the Compartim Programme has been institutionalized — in a perfect shift from a push to pull strategy — and communities of practice are but a part of the institution’s strategic plan and training plan.

e-Justice: opening the Administration to the citizen

But, does the community of the Justice system ends with the public servants? Should it include the citizens?

Hence, the Compartim Programme goes open and is inviting the whole community and citizenry to debate about knowledge management in the framework of the Catalan Justice system in their III Jornada del programa Compartim [III Compartim Open Conference]. As in the case of the crafting community, what is important is the real community, made up of real people with real life goals. The Internet is enhancing the debate by:

The goal of the Conference is to reflect about the community itself with two workshops:

  1. Ideas to improve communities of practice.
  2. Using Internet tools for knowledge management.

The conference will take place on 4th December 2008, which means that the online preparation of the event will take place during the preceding 10 weeks of the meeting.

It is my opinion that this is a perfect public-private partnership to improve the Justice system specifically and e-Government and e-Administration in general. The difference being that the private counterpart is not, as usual, a firm, but each and every citizen acting in their own interest.

More information about the programme and the event (in Spanish or Catalan)

From Social Networks to Virtual Communities of Practice. Beyond e-Inclusion through Digital Literacy (I): the Case of the Crafting Community

In a conference on Friday 24th October 2008 — Accesibilidad e Inclusión Digital: el papel de la Alfabetización Digital — I used the crafting community as a flagship of a community or network enhanced and empowered to a higher level by the Internet at large and by Web 2.0 applications specifically.

Marc Botella kindly suggested that I made clear the reasons for choosing such a community, so to avoid falling into stereotypes about crafting in particular and women in general. I hadn’t even thought about this: the online crafting community is so rich that, only if you do not know it, could you be thinking on stereotypes. Though, just because not everybody knows it, I agree with Marc that some explanation might be due.

Main characteristics of the online crafting community:

  • Solid existing “real world” community.
  • Long tradition of learning by doing.
  • Long tradition of sharing among peers. It is a institutionless and hierarchyless community.
  • Shops, workshops and coffee shops are a meeting point rather than a place where to make businesses.
  • Broad range of socio-economic, education profiles and age (i.e. very far from the “bored housewife” topic).
  • Non-geek and usually low-tech profile. In any case, technology is definitely not a goal, or something you discuss, but a tool and something to forget about. But,
  • Intensive and broad use of a wide range of applications, most of them web 2.0 and/or cloud applications.
  • Expert use of rich media production, edition and diffusion tools: rich text, photography, audio, video…
  • Use of social networking sites and social networking tools in other sites to strengthen community links.
  • Use of social networking site not as an alternate world or community — in opposition to the offline world — but as an extension of the existing communities and networks.
  • Use of social networking sites to enlarge the community, and benefit from the low transaction costs of communicating through the Internet to build a critical mass of minority interests (the “long tail”), be it to buy and sell or just to exchange knowledge and practices.

Summing up: a very heterogeneous community that gathers around a common interest (crafting), and intensively uses technology to deal about this interest, proving a high and practical digital literacy level, which normally comes not from a technical background.

A second derivative is that digital literacy and virtual community building act as a driver against exclusion — because of the stress in networking — and for e-inclusion — because of the intensive use of ICTs.

NOTE: definitions and statements come from direct observation. An accurate research should be performed so to statistically validate their significance. Sincerest gratitude goes to Mercè Guillén who led me by the hand into the world of “e-crafting”.

(Continued: From Social Networks to Virtual Communities of Practice. Beyond e-Inclusion through Digital Literacy (II): the Case of the Catalan e-Justice Community)