In two months time I again have the privilege of coordinating a university course for Masters students. The course is called “Community Planning, Engagement and Governance”. During the course students use an action learning cycle to plan, initiate and then reflect upon a community development project of their own. I ran the course for the first time last year and whilst feedback was very positive some of the comments mystified me. For example, students said “I wish there had been more international material”. Given that over 50% of students were international students with projects that were either being carried out in, or had links to, international work, and who had a lifetime’s experience of CD around the globe, I was surprised that students hadn’t taken the opportunity to connect with each other. Somehow for all our discussion of relationships, networking and connection, it simply hadn’t filtered through to students’ own behaviour within the classroom. Students had developed fascinating projects but hadn’t thought to use these skills to connect to the people sitting across the table from them in a workshop. I realised that the construction of people into the role of student, had somehow negated the very behaviours we were learning about. As facilitator I need to find ways of breathing the processes we are learning back into our practice, and to help students to re-imagine and transfer the student experience from a safe but abstract “practice of process” to an integration and committment to “process within practice”. Thus the ProcessInPractice project was born.   

 But how to do this? 

 Unlikely Allies and Strange Bedfellows

Many years ago I became fascinated by futures thinking. One of the ideas that stayed with me from my studies was this one: that the future is created at the intersection of different knowledges. To find this intersection you need to create unlikely allies and strange bedfellows. The good CD practitioners I know do this all the time.  I know it’s easier for me to hang out with other CD types, where I know the lingo and the rules, have some knowledge and can feel like one of the gang and we hand over business cards rather than “bump” i-phones. It’s harder to trudge all the way over the  General Purposes Building South (someone really had their creative thinking hat on the day THAT received a name) and knock tentatively on the door of the IT world. But in fact, social capital theory reminds us that alongside all that lovely safe bonding and banding capital, we need to invest in bridging capital, to bring unknown and unlikely groups together. THAT’S how community is enriched and that’s how we are enriched personally. And often that takes an act of faith (or in my case sheer bravado) to imagine that the other person might find us of interest too and also be seeking connections. 

Photo source:

From String to Snap

So, open to unlikely alliances, in November 2009 I had the good fortune to hear Professor Phil Long,  Director of the Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology at UQ, talk about the future of the role of the University and the need to fundamentally rethink how we engage with students. I can’t do justice to his presentation and won’t try to summarise it here, except to say that for all my technofears, the match was struck within me. There was something very exciting about the possibilities being presented to us. And everything he was saying sat very happily alongside all my teaching practices and processes and the CD worldview about participation rather than presentation, connection rather than isolation, and sharing rather than holding. The only difference is that while I was using bits of string in a classroom to model networks he was using computer models through ‘SNAP’ to map interactions. This was a view of IT I had never encountered before. Not technology for technology’s sake – but technology to the extent that it was useful. And to the extent that it complemented, enriched and deepened the learning experience.     

Yesterday, Professor Long very generously gave me an hour and a half of his extremely busy schedule to simply talk to me about the possibilities, the dilemmas and to hear my fears. Today I’m blogging.


2 Responses to “Background to the Project”

  1. gail Says:

    Love the layout, the photos, the interesting chitty chatty bits. This question then relates to my ignorance … so is the “home” page meant to be about you? the project or stuff you’re interested in? That’s how much I know about this stuff – oh, and it’s very hard to get bogged in your blogg … the content flows from topic to next. Well done!

  2. I think the home page is actually the daily blogging bit. But I’m new to this too and making it all up as I go. Thanks for checking it out and leaving comments. I can see how this gets addictive.

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