Delta Dialogues

My biggest project last year was around water issues in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. That region is critically important to California, as it provides water for 25 of the 38 million people who live here — two-thirds of our population. This water is responsible for an estimated $400 billion of California’s economy — 20 percent of our GDP.

But there is much, much more at stake than that. There are almost a thousand different species of plants and wildlife in the Delta, much of it native, some of it endangered. California’s salmon industry is dependent on sufficient water flow in the Delta.

Then there are the people who make up that community: a half million people, a half million acres of nutrient-rich farmland, a quarter of a million jobs. These numbers barely scratch the surface of the story of that community: the way of life, the beauty of the region, and the wonderful people who live there.

I fell in love with the Delta while working on this project. This was the only thing that could have happened, because I love California, and I don’t see how anyone who loves California could not also love the Delta.

This simple fact was what made our project possible. Everyone involved loves the Delta. With all of the vicious fighting, name-calling, and litigation in that region over the past half century, it can be hard to see this.

Our team at Groupaya along with my friend and mentor, Jeff Conklin of CogNexus Group, spent much of last year designing and facilitating a process to build shared understanding and rebuild trust in the region. We called the process, Delta Dialogues (one of Kristin Cobble’s many brilliant contributions). I previously wrote a guest post about the project on the California Civic Innovations Project blog, where you can read a brief description of what we did and why we did it.

We hired my friend, Joe Mathews, journalist extraordinaire, California editor of Zocalo Public Square, and coauthor of California Crackup, to observe and write about the Delta Dialogues. He blogged regularly at our project website, and he wrote an amazing wrap-up piece, which we just released last Wednesday.

Go read it now. It’s wonderful: full of characters and color and context and learnings.

It’s also no-holds barred. We didn’t put any restrictions on him, other than a ground rule that participants requested, which was the ability to vet quotes before they were published. (Saying “we didn’t put any restrictions on him” suggests that we had the ability to put restrictions on him in the first place. Anyone who knows Joe knows that this would have been impossible anyway, so we didn’t bother trying.)

So Joe’s account is not all roses and candy. There’s some stuff there that isn’t pretty, specifically his descriptions of some disconnects on our team and of a poorly facilitated meeting in July, which was particularly inopportune in many respects.

Because I left Groupaya, I won’t be participating in the second phase of the Delta Dialogues. It’s one of the many things that made my departure so difficult, especially since we have a lot of unfinished business to attend to. However, it does give me an opportunity to do something that I probably would not have done if I hadn’t left: Write an account of why we designed things the way we did, what we learned, what we would have done differently, what we would have done the same. I will definitely be writing more about that July meeting.

Hopefully, people will find this valuable. At minimum, I know I’ll find it cathartic.

Kristin, Rebecca Petzel, and I will also do a live version of this from 3-5pm on Wednesday, February 20 in San Francisco. If you’re interested in attending, RSVP here for now.

While I tee up my new posts, you can read my previous writings on the project on the Groupaya blog:

If you have specific questions or topics you’d like to see me discuss, please leave a comment below.

Internet Identity Workshop 2007, Day One

Quick thoughts from day one of the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW):    (M9G)

  • This is the fourth IIW. The first one was in October 2005. Amazing. It feels like we’ve been doing these for at least five years.    (M9H)
  • Over half of the participants were there for the first time.    (M9I)
  • I opened the conference with an introduction to Identity Commons. Got some good feedback, and great support from others who have been active in the rebirth of Identity Commons. My big goal is to get the community to think of Identity Commons as “we,” not “they.” We’ll see how successful we are at the end of this workshop.    (M9J)
  • We participated in a nice exercise where folks got into small groups and surfaced questions. It got people interacting, and as Phil Windley noted afterwards, people stayed in small groups chatting away well after the day had ended.    (M9K)
  • One thing that struck me about the group exercise: I heard no new questions. A common characteristic of Wicked Problems is not knowing what the questions are. A good number of us seemed to have successfully identified most of the key questions a long time ago. This is both a sign of progress and of concern. We as a community are starting to face growing pains, and community memory is becoming more and more of an issue. Doc Searls suggested that in addition to surfacing the questions, we should have asked, “Okay, who has the answers?” I think some variation of that would have made an excellent complementary exercise.    (M9M)
  • I like Pibb, JanRain‘s Web-based real-time group chat tool that uses OpenID. (Think IRC on the Web with OpenID for identities.) But I also agree with Chris Messina; Pibb needs permalinks — granular as well as thread-level.    (M9N)
  • We had a series of lightning presentations following the group exercise. They were all well done. Remarkably, they were all about basically the same thing, only told from different angles, something that Mary Hodder also observed. I think this is a good sign. It shows the ongoing convergence of our community. There was also a lot of Spotlight On Others — folks referring to each other’s work, even borrowing slides from each other — another sign of a healthy community.    (M9O)
  • There wasn’t anything new conceptually, but there were many more implementations, yet another sign of progress. Speed Geeking basically consisted of 15 different implementations of Single Sign-On, which doesn’t make good fodder for demos, but which is great for the community.    (M9P)
  • Two Speed Geeking projects stood out: Vidoop and Sxipper. Vidoop is user authentication via image recognition and categorization, which in and of itself is interesting. But what got people buzzing was its business model: sponsoring images that would be displayed to users for authentication. I don’t know if it’s viable, but it’s definitely creative. Sxipper is a Firefox plugin that handles account registration and login. What’s really interesting is what’s happening beneath the covers: It’s essentially an OpenID Identity Broker running from your browser. It looked very slick; I’m looking forward to playing with it.    (M9Q)
  • Doc Searls gave his traditional day one closing talk. I’ve heard bits and pieces of this talk many times, but I never tire of listening to him speak. He’s just a fantastic storyteller, and he’s always on point.    (M9R)
  • I carpooled with Fen Labalme, and as we were discussing our takeaways on the way back, he said, “I’m glad I didn’t sit with you at dinner.” He wasn’t joking, and I wasn’t offended! I felt the same way! One of the really special things about this community is that there are no snobs. We all like to hang out with each other, but we all also really value quality time with folks we don’t know. You could really see this at dinner. I didn’t see any cliques, and there was plenty of mixing.    (M9S)

What is Collective Leadership?

One of the reasons I joined the board of the Leadership Learning Community (LLC) is that leadership and collaboration are closely related. But what exactly is the nature of this relationship? That is a question I’ve dutifully ignored for the past four years. Thankfully, the good folks at the LLC have unwittingly encouraged me to get off my lazy butt and think a little bit deeper about this question. Much of our discussion at the Evaluation Learning Circle last month was about Collective Leadership, which is also the theme for the upcoming Creating Space gathering. What the heck is “Collective Leadership“? I’ll try my hand at that one too, but first things first.    (LTZ)

On Leadership    (LU0)

What does it mean to lead? When I think about the word, I envision movement in some direction. It could be shared movement among a group of people, or it could be individual movement (e.g. how you lead your life”). If it’s shared movement towards a bounded goal, then by definition, it’s collaboration.    (LU1)

There are many ways you can create shared movement. You could describe a vision, and encourage people to get there anyway they can. You could start moving in that direction yourself, and hope that others follow your example. Or you could pull people along, kicking and screaming. All of these are forms of leadership.    (LU2)

The word, “leader,” implies the existence of a “follower,” which suggests a power relationship. However, leadership is a role, not a title. Roles can be shared, and they can be reversed, depending on the context. They can be pre-assigned, and they can emerge.    (LU3)

People often assume that collaboration implies shared leadership. This is incorrect. Take dancing. Dancing almost always necessitates a single leader. The only exception I know of is contact improvisation (first explained to me by Brad Neuberg), although I welcome other counterexamples from people who actually know how to dance.    (LU4)

The single leader is a pattern in many fields. In cooking, for example, there is almost always one executive chef. The word “chef” is French for “chief.” In music, there is almost always a single leader. Orchestras have conductors, string quartets have first violinists. Even in jazz ensembles, someone always leads, and everyone else riffs off that person.    (LU5)

In rowing, you have the coxswain, who is responsible for navigating the boat and keeping the rowers in sync. Even though the coxswain does not physically contribute to the movement of the boat, the coxswain always trains with the rest of the rowers. Why? Trust and respect. If the coxswain did not participate in the training, the rest of the crew would not accept him or her as a member of the team, much less the leader.    (LU6)

On Collective Leadership    (LU7)

What about driving? Would you want multiple people driving a car at the same time? I sure as heck wouldn’t.    (LU8)

Is the driver a leader? To the extent that he or she is moving the passengers in some shared direction, absolutely. But the driver is not necessarily the only person determining where to go. Who decided on the destination? Who is telling the driver how to get there?    (LU9)

All of these roles are legitimate leadership roles, and some of these could very well be shared among multiple people. Are they better when shared? That depends.    (LUA)

There are two factors that help us think through this question. The first is the boundedness of the goal. When you must achieve your goal very quickly, you don’t necessarily have time to gain consensus on an issue. In these situations, having a single leader can be more efficient.    (LUB)

The second factor is the wickedness of the problem. When Jeff Conklin describes Wicked Problems, he often shows people this chart:    (LUC)

https://i1.wp.com/www.cognexus.org/4660c8d0.gif?w=700    (LUD)

In the collaborative design process, there are people who ponder the problem first, and there are people who immediately dive into the solution. Neither is wrong. In fact, when problems are so complex (wicked), you don’t even know what the exact problem is, then you need to attack the problem both ways. Our traditional notion of efficiency is no longer an option. Because we need to attack these kinds of problems in multiple ways, there are multiple opportunities for leadership. More importantly, there must be a shared vision for the end state, even if the path for reaching that end state is not universally shared.    (LUE)

For more thoughts on Collective Leadership, see my post, “Dumbells and Collective Intelligence.”    (LUF)

Video Interview at WikiSym 2006

Morten Blaabjerg, a Danish filmmaker, interviewed me at WikiSym last month and released the raw video under a Creative Commons license. I uploaded a compressed version of the interview (54MB) to Internet Archive. The interview runs about 12 minutes and covers a range of topics: Blue Oxen Associates, Wicked Problems, Wikis, and HyperScope. It’s a pretty good snapshot of what’s in my head these days.    (L6M)

An Inconvenient Truth

I saw “An Inconvenient Truth” last night. Go see it. It’s well done, and it’s not entirely upsetting. More importantly, bring someone who wasn’t already planning on seeing it.    (KL2)

My biggest takeaway from the movie: I had previously thought that there was scientific disagreement over whether or not global warming was real. Al Gore shows that this is not the case. They took a 10 percent sample of articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals (almost 1,000 articles), and every single one of them acknowledged global warming as real phenomenon. They then took a similar sampling of articles in the popular media, and over 50 percent of them suggested that there were some scientific detractors. Propaganda stinks, but it sure is effective. (For more on this, check out Michael Shermer‘s Skeptic column in the June 2006 issue of Scientific American, spotted by the movie’s blog.)    (KL3)

This further reinforces my view on the most important challenges we need to address en route to solving the world’s biggest problems: transparency and dialog.    (KL4)

I’m a big believer in markets, but markets rely on “perfect information” to work correctly. When we live in a world that is so easily swayed by propaganda that the popular press reports that global warming is scientifically controversial and the majority of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, then we don’t have perfect information. I have no gripe with people whose beliefs are different from mine. I have a problem who base their opinions on misinformation.    (KL5)

We need more transparency in society, and we need tools that give us that transparency. For example, when I purchase food from the supermarket, I’d like to know the comparative “carbon costs” of those different items. As my friend Stephanie Schaaf has often pointed out, when you buy locally grown produce, even if it’s nonorganic, you’re helping the environment, because less energy is consumed in transporting the food. Everyone needs to know these things, and then they can decide for themselves whether or not to do anything about it.    (KL6)

One of the ways to create a marketplace of better information is by increasing and diversifying dialog. Talk is not cheap. We need more conversations with the people who already surround us, and we need more conversations with those who are different from us.    (KL7)

Several of the friends I was with bemoaned the fact that those of us watching the movie were the wrong target audience. I disagree. I don’t think the environmental community has maximized its group potential, and movies like this can help catalyze further progress.    (KL8)

Joel Makower at Worldchanging recently wrote about how Houston ranked last in last year’s SustainLane rankings for sustainable cities. The problem? Makower writes:    (KL9)

Houston’s problem, it seems, had as much to do with its lack of self-knowledge and coordination of efforts as with its actual performance. And that put it in good company — not just with other cities, but with thousands of companies that have good, green stories to tell, if only they knew about them. Sometimes, it’s the simple matter of finding the stories — along with good storytellers — that can begin a positive spiral of inspiration and innovation — leading, of course, to even more good stories.    (KLA)

Put another way: If only Houston knew what Houston knew. Now, increasingly, it does.    (KLB)

More thoughts:    (KLC)

  • Gore tells a moving story about how his father was a tobacco farmer (in addition to being a senator). His father had seen the evidence that tobacco was linked to cancer, but continued to grow it. What finally made him stop? When Gore’s sister — a smoker — died of lung cancer.    (KLD)
  • I enjoyed the presentation and the side bits, but I would have liked to have seen much more of the latter.    (KLE)
  • The movie ends on a note of hope. Gore says that we have what we need to solve the problem. He also says that we’ve solved complex world-wide problems before, and cites the hole in the ozone layer as one of them. I’d like to see other examples of this. I’m also a bit concerned about managing expectations. Wicked Problems are wicked because solutions generate more problems. The environmental problems we face today aren’t just caused by global warming, but also by environmental instability. Reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is another form of instability, and there will be consequences.    (KLF)
  • I was disappointed that things like buying local foods and Carbon Credits weren’t mentioned. For more on Carbon Credits, see Jamais Cascio‘s entry at Worldchanging and also Brad Templeton‘s thoughts (via Ping).    (KLG)
  • After the movie, I went to the web site’s Carbon Calculator to figure out my role in this crisis. It was disheartening, to say the least. My problem? I drive 20,000 miles a year. I’ve improved a bit since moving to San Francisco, as I take public transporatation more often, and I carpool when I can. I also drive a Honda Civic with great mileage. Nevertheless, I’ve got to figure out more ways to drive less.    (KLH)