Co-learning Groups Facilitate participation MetaCAugs

Canvas: a participation device

A canvas, or to put it better “canvases”, are resources to help groups (and individuals) to think and to build up shared sense. I’ll try to explain why from my perspective.

What is a canvas?

In its materiality, a canvas is a pre-prepared poster, large enough to be put on a wall and read by everyone who is in the room (roughly 100×70 cm). It shows the issues to be discussed and provides space both for questions and contributions. A canvas is an oriented map, open and ready to be enriched by more information, ideas, and thoughts.

Why a canvas is an engaging tool?

On the web you can find many canvases, built for different, sometimes focused, purposes. They have some common aspects.

  • Static and dynamic. Canvas is a static object, made of paper, printed or drawn. But, like a manifesto, it leads to reading it and thinking of it. If you leave and return in the room, it is still there, with its main questions and its sub-questions, with the topics it poses to the bystander. A canvas also is a dynamic object. In two ways. First, it is designed to write on it (or better to attach some post-it on it). Second, it can be moved around, put on a flip board, on the table, in a different room to be used to facilitate meetings.
  • Visual and practical. A canvas offers, at a glance, a synoptic view. The most important elements you have to consider, to investigate, to discuss are there: it is not difficult to identify them and to anticipate the connections. But a canvas is also a practical device: in front of you, there are many spaces to fill in. The titles of each space (with their evocative words or questions) attract your attention. In a group, you can be asked to work on the main topic  (the title of the canvas) or on the subdomain. At the end of a working session, many ideas have been gathered, and are there to be reconsidered.
  • Definite and extendible. A canvas offers a set of challenges to all the participants of the working group: the game is fair, the assignment is there, the task is definite. And yet,  it is possible to think out of the box: you can explore uncharted territories, with new questions, widening the perimeter, or finding an emergent theme you can improve the issue to be considered.
  • Harbinger of involvement. When you open a canvas (and of course when you propose to build up one) you express strong intentionality to share relevant topics to be collectively considered. It does not pose an ultimate statement, it does not spread an agreed synthesis. A canvas call to express ideas and proposals as a result of dialogue.
  • Pattern and format. A canvas brings some hypotheses about issues that matter and their relationship (not already defined but at least assumed), so it channels the users’ attention on specific fields. The structure, made by boards arranged side by side, offers a vision. But a canvas with “what” deals also with “how”. It offers ingredients and a kind of “elaborative recipe” to produce some collective thoughts. So a canvas is an intentional pattern-generating and collective sensemaking format, bringing a structured configuration of questions. At the same time, it is a format that invites and activates collective engagement and elaboration around the underlying scheme.

Canvases are manifesto-charts, they pose issues, they draw maps for thought, to write (do not forget the power of post-it, despite oversaturation), and to connect ideas. In conclusion, if you have any matter to gather people on, to go deep, and to examine it, you should consider preparing a targeted canvas to facilitate participation and to make it productive.

Thanks to Charles Blass @lovevolv for the suggestions.

Co-learning Groups Facilitate participation MetaCAugs

If you are not aware you can’t appreciate it

Let’s say it differently: if you don’t reflect on your achievements you don’t learn (and you can’t take advantage of your proficiency), this is to say:  if you are not conscious you are in training you do not recognize it and you cannot take advantage of it. And I observed this (not so) strange phenomenon many times.

The easiest example is the most frequent: if I do not put some slides in a webinar, the webinar disappears, attendees do not feel comfortable with other supports or techniques. So I never forget to prepare a  few slides as robust support in online meetings: once again the cover makes the book.

Then I understood the importance of pointing out again and again, in different ways, what we are going to do: for instance, if a learning session is going on, I remember it several times. Otherwise, frequently somebody asks me when we start the lesson, the training, the session… when we start to learn. Recently with a colleague, we facilitate a participation laboratory for the employees of a public social enterprise. The main aim was to reflect on the hard experience we had to cope with during the lockdown. A side aim was to practice and to get an acquaintance to Zoom as a platform to take part in and to run meetings. We decide not to stress the training on Zoom, but to opt for an immersive experience, offering meeting by meeting tips and tricks to feel more comfortable with Zoom and to learn with an experience-based approach. Reading the final feedbacks some attendees underlined the lack of structured support in using Zoom when, by the contrary, we had offered many small and gradual lessons. So, once again we thought that if you do not strongly highlight what your intentions are, what you do want to reach, the learning experience flows away even if the proficiency remains.

Maybe two small actions can help to settle the appropriate contest of active and not-so-structured learning:

  • at the beginning of the meeting we can propose a rapid exploration of learning expectations (it is enough to ask to express ourselves with a hashtag word or a metaphor which fixes the main idea that everyone has in his/her mind), and
  • at the end of the meeting once again we can ask – in a fast round-table – which are the most fruitful lessons acquired.

So, to summarize: for appreciating the learning travel, it is necessary to be mindful of the participants’ consciousness regarding the contest and the tasks we are working on together. 

MetaCAugs Uncategorized

Why we should read Rosi Braidotti

At MetaCAugs we engage in a foresight thinking: we try to detect signals about possible futures in collaboration and we actively try to build a future where people can engage into peer to peer learning.

In futures thinking it’s important to have a flexible mind. There are exercises for that, like counterfactual storytelling – e.g. you reconstruct your day but you imagine the consequences of having made other choices than you actually did.

Another way to flex your mind is philosophy. It helps us challenge presuppositions which are often implicit. What is a human? What is the place of humans in the universe? What is humanism or secular thinking all about?

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci (Wikimedia Commons, picture Luc Viatour /

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci symbolizes the upcoming Humanism in Europe with its universal values.

Authors such as Rosi Braidotti point out how the image shows us something very significative: the Man is a male, able-bodied, European and white. He probably was straight, while da Vinci probably was not. In other words, the image shows us that the Humanist movement was not that universal at all.

Braidotti explains the impact of feminism, anti-racism and – colonialism and the environmental movement on philosophy and Humanism critique. She redefines the human in relation to the other inhabitants of Earth, to matter and machines.

Braidotti takes the technological mediation very serious in her thinking and that is one of the reasons why I think she is particularly interesting. One of her subjects is also community building. As she writes in The Posthuman, one of her most important books:

“In my own work, I define the critical posthuman subject within an eco-philosophy of multiple belongings, as a relational subject constituted in and by multiplicity, that is to say a subject that works across differences and is also internally differentiated, but still grounded and accountable. Poshuman subjectivity expresses an embodied and embedded and hence partial form of accountability, based on a strong sense of collectivity, relationality and hence community building.”

There is a lot to be said here and we could think deeper about which technologies are especially relevant in this context. It’s at least what I would like to investigate and I hope others will join me!

Co-learning Groups MetaCAugs

Five good reasons to write

How many good reasons, professional helpers can find to write in educational, social, and organizational fields?
Let’s start with five, afterwards, we will see…

  • Think/elaborate ideas. First, writing is a productive way to thinks about the complexity we have to face in our work. Through the process of composing, we force ourselves to articulate and elaborate events, thoughts, ideas, trying to construct a personal map of conceptual constructs.
  • Prearrange repertoires. Second, spending time to prepare posts or contributions helps to get ready to intervene in different situations of consultancy. From texts, it is easier to take basic blocks to compose documents or slides.
  • Share learnings. Third, keeping informed our professional communities of practice turns out to be productive. As long as we document our paths of research, we foster available content.
  • Make issues visible. Fourth, publishing refined content has a double effect: immerse new reflections in the public discussion and legitimize issues to be considered relevant.
  • Feel confident. Fifth, writing has a favorable reverse effect (to me at least): indeed if you bring to the professional debates valuable contents you can recognize in which areas you have some levels of expertise.

Five reasons which inspire us to be more effective and to carry on our research for practical tools and responsive professional skills.

Co-learning Groups Facilitate participation MetaCAugs

Tact/ics to fluidify online meetings

By taking part in the MetaCAugs Tuesday meetings, I observed that some sensitive approaches (let’s say supports) help to create an open and relaxed collaborative atmosphere. In a videoconference a few (apparently) simple touches can promote professional communication:
– offer an opening welcome time that facilitates to check-in in the virtual relationship;
– start the session by asking to indicate a signal (event, experience, happening,) worthy to note and share;
– allow each person to speak without pressure, expressing the willingness to listen to different voices of participants;
– offer an agenda not too stifling;
– open a couple of alternative spaces (e.g. breakout rooms in Zoom) to where to move to take a break or where to discuss different topics chosen directly by the people who decide to go to those spaces.
To promote a community of practice and learning, it seems to be effective to offer one main proposal and allow spaces less demanding.

On an issue, I’d like to collect observations: which is an effective way to close a professional dialoguing virtual session?


MetaCAugs: Why We Blog

MetaCAugs is an informal and international group experimenting with peer-based learning and production. We try out various tools and develop methods and patterns to enhance peer learning and peer production. You can read more about us on our wiki. Just know that we are, as one of our regular participants says, “a fluid group and always open to contribution”.

This blog is a space for the individual voices of the group. The social media scholar Howard Rheingold helped me understand the difference between blogs and forums. For him blogs allow each person to talk about whatever he or she individually wants to talk about. Forums – we have a Discourse forum – have a different function, they are more the voice of a group trying to achieve understanding. Rheingold explaining this in a blog post:

A forum, also known as a message board, bbs, or conferencing system, affords asynchronous, many-to-many, multimedia discussions for large groups of people over long periods of time from weeks to decades. 

I might add that messaging (think Telegram, WhatsApp, Discord, Slack, Mattermost… ) is in the context of our group more a place to signal new things. This is important to us since MetaCAugs is also a signal group using signals as building blocks for our foresight practice.

The last three links bring you to another kind of wiki, a ‘smallest federated wiki‘. It’s different from MediaWiki (the technology used by Wikipedia). It shows various columns right next to each other and allows for very easy forking and re-using of content. It’s an interesting instrument to develop various points of view on an issue, while MediaWiki tends toward a consensus view. In our group we experiment with both styles.

To conclude, I hope that our blog space here will allow the MetaCAugs participants to tell us more about their individual projects and opinions. I personally sure will do just that.

Roland Legrand