Friday, June 23, 2006

CyberVPM Is Sick

Not that many of you wouldn't suspect it, however... unless you want to post on the number of baloons you want to use for your next volunteer recognition event and their color, there is no room on CyberVPM for discussion.

Yesterday, Nan Hawthorne posted an open letter to Susan Ellis:
On her wwebsite Susan Ellis writes:

"Todd McMullin from Samaritan Technologies offered his company's software and Web site to the group free of charge to provide a new space without baggage, history, or strings. In fact, he will work with the leadership team to secure a new domain name. "

What is this impllication about "baggage, history, or strings"?? Would you please have the candor to explain what this means? I am not aware of baggage, history, or strings connected to CharityChannel.

And if you don't either, then why fix what ain't broke?

One of the things I have valued about the VRM Roundtable as it is is that it has never dissembled.. it is transparent. No one has so far been cagey or evasive or behind the scenes. At least until now?

I have been asking different people all day where this whole issue comes from.. so far it has all been suggestive, not concerte. I l ook to Susan Ellis to say exactly what she means so we can either deal with it or clear the air.

What is wrong with the current domain name?
Nan Hawthorne"

(the post also lists the initials of the moderator that approved it)

I did feel like replying to Nan, and I did via this post:
"Dear Nan,

Often when we (in general) have a discussion, we (in general again) tend to hear disagreements as insults. I saw it happening in the voluntary sector in general, and in this yahoogroup in particular. Different opinions and ways of doing things make a professional environment richer, not worse.

I can't speak for Susan and tell you what her opinion is. But I can tell you that the statement that apparently set you off, the "baggage, history, or strings" didn't sound anywhere near offensive to me.

In fact, in different ways and for different reasons (either history as far as the former is concerned, or financial support as far as the latter is involved), both CyberVPM and CharityChannel DO have "baggage, history, or strings". The site created by Lastfogel, considering that Michael is a former AVA employee DOES have "baggage, history, or strings".

What the real difference between you and Susan sounds like being is the extent to which each of you considers that "baggage, history, or strings" to be a hindrance to a healthy discussion. And, just to clarify it, a healthy discussion is one that honors *all* perspectives, not just the commonest or the one that is deemed as "more appropriate" by some authority figure of any sort.

I find it appalling that whenever somebody wants to discuss the "meat" of some issue (that is, pros and cons) one has to resort to backchannelling because, sooner or later, somebody else will or will try to hush him/her. I'm deeply grateful to the persons that arrange meetings, discuss and do things. But I think that nobody can/should be allowed to pass on the opportunity of making a contribution to a new initiative as big as creating another voluntary association, national or international just because, say, s/he doesn't "feel like" dialing.

Believe it or not, Susan is trying hard to push for that space to happen and without anybody to "sponsor" the conversation so that nobody can shut it down, steer it or merely passively "condition" it. You may think that her initiative is useless or plain wrong, but if it's an error it is on the side of freedom and *participation*.

I personally think (because historia magister vitae - that is, history teaches you how to live) that sooner or later participative democracy will take over even in the US (like so often happens in, say, Europe where voters reach far above 60%).

It's ironic for it to be a problem for the voluntary sector too, given all
that Putnam wrote about tit. On the other hand, life is often ironic.

Rosanna Tarsiero"

I get a message from the daily moderator (which I won't name because I'm sure they are all in agreement), this one:
"I am rejecting your post because it does not pertain to volunteer management issues and is a direct message to one individual. Please post to her directly. The original post also did not pertain to volunteer management issues and its posting is a concern. Please consider reposting if a connection to volunteer management can be defined. Thanks."

Now, I don't agree with the content of Nan's letter and I made it clear, but no, it does NOT concern me that Nan posted it. It's called freedom of expression and need for a debate, both symptoms of an intelligent mind behind the hands that typed it.

What does concern me, however, is that CyberVPM moderators do not see the extent of their groupthink, to the point that a message (or two) created to fuel discussion about Susan Ellis (renowed volunteer manager consultant), volunteer management boards (namely CyberVPM, CharityChannel's and Lastfogel's) and the bad "nice" habits of volunteer managers are deemed "not to pertain" to volunteer management. I ask: would discussing Judas or Aaron or Ishmael not pertain to the Bible because it's not the main character?

They have a problem, and they have it whenever people discuss openly and honestly. So how do they solve the "problem"? At first they IGNORE it, in the hope it fades away and the person becomes "nicer". When it doesn't happen, they mono-culturally chastize the dissenter (publicly) but don't offer him/her the same right (and they maintain they are nice!). Finally, if the dissenter gets "tamed", they censor all his/her posts unless they speak of the Wonderous Uplifting Properties of Red Baloons for the Spirit of Volunteerism.

Do you still wonder why AVA had to stop operating?

At the very end of this entry, I want to address three final thoughts to three persons:
*to Nan: you told me there was no censorship and no chastizing. Now that you too are the victim of it, how would you define it all?
*to Susan: you, like everything you write, are energetic and full of intuitions and charisma. But as much as those are wonderful characteristics to have, sometimes they aren't enough to convince "quiet" people. You are right, you've always been right on this issue from moment one, but you need to work more on making solid points that back up your ideas, so that less and less people will fall for "nice" antics (I admit I did and I am resentful that I wasn't warned "well" enough) and more and more newcomers will see the lack of meat behind it.
*to Jayne: sorry, sorry, sorry. I haven't understood your "toughness" and how much it was and is appropriate in this context till recently... and I'm publicly asking for your forgiveness on that.

I think it's about time to stop discussing only and start doing something. We need an ethical manifesto for the volunteer manager profession and we ALL need to contribute to it. Above all, we need to remember Mary Merrill and put some ACTION into this endeavor.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The right word for CoP is FERMENTATION

No I'm not flipped out.. I just noticed a great analogy that I'm going to explain.

Today I was reading a post on com-prac posted by my friend Pete Bond:
"I agree with Fred that they can be seeded but then there's no gurantee that what emerges is what is envisaged by the seeder (no guarantee that a successful attempt to cultivate a CoP will lead to the success of the 'host-sponsor')"

I read it and as I did a big fat "NO" resonated in my head.

Mind you, 95% of my thinking is intuition, so my thoughts don't come with an explanation, unless I decide to find it. Thus, I started thinking it over while I was doing other things. The "no" became deeper and deeper, but no explanation was emerging.

I looked at my watch and remembered it was about time for me to strain my kefir. For the ones of you that aren't familiar with it, kefir is a fermented milk. In order to make the "real one", you need kefir grains.

Looking at my grains, I had the feeling that I was near the explanation of my "no" to Pete's post. My heart was beating fast, meaning a solution was close.

Back typing now and reading some stuff in my emailbox, mumbling. All of a sudden, I get thinking of kefir again. Namely, I think about the grains.

Kefir grains are composed of a polysaccharides that hosts 4 bacteria genuses in a symbiotic relationship: Lactobacilli, Streptococci-Lactococci, Acetobacter and Yeasts. Some individual genuses may be or not be there, it's not important. What's important is the "family" they belong to, and the quantitative relationship among families. My heart is beating faster. A solution is very close.

Here it is!

Like with Kefir, one can not "make" the grains, but it does not mean that kefir can not be replicated! You have to detect the "grains" and put them in the right medium (did I say nucleation of a CoP?) and you have to use special precautions to preserve their aliveness (did I say facilitation). After which you WILL obtain kefir, everytime, even if it will have different thickness, flavour, tanginess and even if you might like it more or less depending on the batch. It will still be kefir.

We think we can't reproduce a CoP because we don't know what the equivalent of the kefir grain is and which kind of facilitation it requires. That doesn't mean we can't produce CoPs. It does mean we didn't understand (yet) WHAT the equivalent of the grains is.

To come to a conclusion, only a person (or a group of persons) that has seen the pattern (consciously or unconsciously) can reproduce it.

And here we get into Jostein Gaarder's world ;;)

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Online Criticism

Just today Jayne Cravens' in her newsletter expressed her take on how to handle online criticism:

"There's no way to avoid it, but there are ways to address criticism that can actually help an organization to be perceived as even more trustworthy and worth supporting. To be successful with online activities, a nonprofit organization MUST be able to honestly and openly deal with online criticism, particularly from supporters and participants. Otherwise, the organization puts itself in a position to lose the trust of supporters and clients, and even generate negative publicity -- and, once lost, trust and credibility can be extremely difficult to win back."

To Jayne's detractors, I can respond by pointing them to Palloff and Pratt's seminal book (p. 27):

"If conflict is not such a bad thing, and if it is necessary in order to achieve group cohesiveness and intimacy, why do so many fear it and attempt to avoid it, especially in this medium?"

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