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Response to Andrius: From Sam to the Food Story Project to Minciu Sodas

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  • Janet Feldman
    Dear Andrius and All, Hello and hope you are enjoying your trip! Here is a very lengthy response to your note to Sam and I, which you may want to read when
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 16, 2006
      Dear Andrius and All,
      Hello and hope you are enjoying your trip!  Here is a very lengthy response to your note to Sam and I, which you may want to read when you are not travelling. I will post this for now to HH only, and for all, there are a few points which I have highlighted in green and red, so perhaps if you want to read this but don't have a lot of time, you'll scroll through and note my concerns and feedback.
      I hope Sam and Steve will link more closely together, and that if Sam wants to start his own group, he will work there, with support from HH, SA and Steve, and others.  With blessings and thanks to all, Janet

      Samwel, I'm glad that you're leading our first group!  Please write about the people who you wish to have on your team.  And what are their deepest values? and investigatory questions?  Also, let's set up a new working group around you.  What would be a good name?  Would you like to use a Kiswahili word or phrase?
      Question for Andrius:  Do you mean for Sam to work at a new forum of his own on  part of the Food Story? Or is that going to happen at Holistic Helping or Social Agriculture (I have written on this subject at SA and am awaiting a response from Steve)?  If you want to start a forum for him, then let us focus his part of the FS project there, not start at HH and move, which is satisfactory from my point of view.
      Andrius, from your response to my last note about Holistic Helping, forums, and MS:
      Janet, Thank you for detailed and helpful explanation. I'm glad that you can host Samwel's work at Holistic Helping. However, let's think
      ahead and make an ambitious plan for our lab's growth and how we will deal with it. Let's assume that we will have and encourage an explosion of email letters. I want everybody to be "thinking out loud" as much as possible. This means that we will certainly not fit well in any one group. Instead we want a network of smaller overlapping groups. We have made excellent progress in this direction.
      Janet:  I agree with you about our conversations not fitting into one group, and I am not suggesting that for HH or any other forum. But I AM concerned when you say an "explosion of emails", as I think we have so many already, in fact more than most people can keep up with, I think. I belong now to 4-5 of our groups, and I think a number of us do. So I sometimes get 5 copies of the same mail, let alone the different and fascinating mails sent to the various groups. If you are concerned abt mailboxes filling up, from our African members and others with often more-limited Internet access, this needs to be addressed.  In my view, an explosion of mail and forums has a great potential for as much "challenge" (in a difficult way) as "benefit", so we do need to take great care about the way this growth is handled.
      One major point is that many of us would like to work in our own forums, but also would appreciate knowing about the discussions-activities-knowledge being generated by/in others, both for our own work, and for collaborative purposes. Many of us are doing "cross-cutting" work in any case--in other words, "holistic" in design and implementation, involving ICTs, nutrition, income-generation, sustainable development--so knowing what others are doing and having the ability to collaborate with them is important.
      How do we do this without generating 10 or more copies of the same mail in our in-boxes, which will overwhelm even those of us with a lot of access and bandwidth, so to speak?

      It is practically impossible to move people from one group into another. Therefore it is essential to assemble people into the groups
      that are the best fit for them.
      Janet:  actually, I see just the opposite, though maybe we are not addressing the same thing?  It seems that many of us are signing up for multiple forums. Many people have cross-cutting interests and are involved in a variety of activities--which may include ICTs, a focus on income-generation and food security, literacy, et al--so in one way, it may be true that a single group, or even 2-3 groups, cannot address all of our needs and interests, individually or collectively. 
      However, if many of us are working on a variety of subject matters in our own work, and are approaching development in a holistic (integrative) way, perhaps focusing our energies in a few forums will actually be positive, because we can all be interacting together to share experiences and develop projects together, without being overwhelmed by a large amount of mail from 5-10 or more forums. If some of the forums created so far are not as active as others, that doesn't necessarily mean they are in trouble, or in need of help.
      Perhaps some forums will be more "project" oriented, while others will be more "thought" oriented, or related to specific subject matter or key concept, and as such may draw more or less people--generally or at certain times--which I think is fine. In other words, I don't think every forum should be measured in the same way, and--if not as busy or full as others--will be considered to be in need of help and support.
      My "model" for involvement of people in these forums would be for them to decide where they'd like to be. The idea of "assembling" people into groups which are the best fit for them seems to be pigeon-holing and making a judgment abt what is best for others, and I don't think the reality of the situation--with a number of us signing up for multiple forums--matches the view that people will not move around, stretch themselves, and find a multitude of homes. Not everyone will do that, but not everyone wants to be involved to a great degree, or they would like flexibility in that regard.
      Please help me foresee what kinds of groups we will want so that we can start them accordingly now. For example, we will want to have a group for "wi-fi" technology. It would not be good to assemble "wi-fi" enthusiasts at Holistic Helping. Therefore we will want a new group and where we can engage people like Gary Bolles.
      Janet:  I wonder if we do need a "wi-fi" group, as opposed to a "technology" group where a variety of technologies will be discussed and addressed, esp in relation to sustainable development. For example, in W Kenya--where both Sam and I work--there are a number of technologies being used now, ones which are being contemplated but not yet used because of lack of infrastructure, others which might be used now but we don't know abt them--and this group or forum would be a place to go where we could find/discuss many types and options in one setting.  I do not think, nor did I mean to suggest, that Holistic Helping be "the" forum for this work. What I did say, or mean to convey, is that many of us in HH are working with ICTs of all varieties, and I would like "some" of the tech discussion to be included at HH, take place there, or otherwise be an integral ("holistic") part of what we are addressing in the forum.

      However, it is not appropriate for our lab's business to have a group simply focused on "wi-fi". The reason is that our lab's assets come
      from putting people in the center, not technologies. A "wi-fi" group puts a drain on my personal energy and costs me dearly with no personal gain. However, a "Samwel Kongere" group organized around "motivation through sacrifice" gives me and our lab good energy and
      builds our assets. Because of Samwel's interests, that will also be a good place to assemble wi-fi enthusiasts and supporters, and possibly
      soybean enthusiasts.
      Janet:  I am interested in wi-fi myself, so I am not sure why it would be inappropriate to assemble enthusiasts at HH. Do you mean "exclusively"?  If so, I agree.  I'm finding myself confused when you mention setting up a group for wi-fi enthusiasts above, to include people like Gary (or be built around him?), but then say that you don't want to focus just on technology. I get the part abt being people-centered, but what that means--at least to me--is that Gary, Sam, myself, and anyone else interested in wi-fi can focus on this at our forums, ie those designed around ourselves and our key concepts. So in a way there will be no special or "one" forum for this.  But I do see the value of having a forum where tech experts do discuss and can provide advice abt different technologies...which in essence is a tech forum. Or do you think that this "tech toolbox" will be located in a wiki, on a website in a database, or in some other mode besides an eforum?

      We'll be engaging hundreds of soybean enthusiasts and wi-fi enthusiasts. Where do we want to assemble them? Please, let's think
      about that.
      Janet:  do you mean that you expect Sam to reach out to "hundreds" of farmers, let's say, and also hundreds of wi-fi enthusiasts?  These may be very different communities now, esp. in W Kenya. Is the idea that somehow soyabean farmers and wi-fi enthusiasts, once brought together, will work on how to collaborate jointly on farm projects, using wi-fi?  I initially got the impression you were/are asking Sam to gather stories about soyabeans--who grows them, what they are used for in Kenya, where they end up as a product--and to then examine who in W Kenya or Kenya is using wi-fi already, or would like to incorporate it in their work.
      As to where to assemble them, I thought Sam was considering either HH or Social Agriculture, the latter to me being the most appropriate.

      Janet, please consider, what would be the optimal traffic for a group like yours, Holistic Helping, where many participants are in Africa.
      Currently, you're getting an average of 2 letters a day, which is 60 letters per month. What would be optimal? That will help me understand our options.
      Janet:  I doubt that we will be receiving 2 letters a day, every day. As with my ActALIVE forum, sometimes there are no letters, sometimes 5. Many members are in Africa, and no-one seems to have a problem with that number. However, as I said above, for some HH members who belong to 5 other forums too, it might be a problem to get also 5 of the exact same email--cc'd to all forums--on top of 5 separate/different mails.  You at one point mentioned a "waste of bandwidth" to me in another context:  to me, getting 5 copies of the same mail--because one belongs to different forums (which can be a real "plus" otherwise)--is just that, esp with limited tech capacity. If we have even more forums and an explosion of emails, what will happen then?

      Janet, also please consider, assuming that by next summer we will have 10 new working groups with a strong presence in Africa, what are the topics, technologies, methodologies that we'd like to cover? For example, I imagine we'd want distinct groups for nutrition, community
      radio, Internet access, living with HIV/AIDS, crafts, raising children, adult relationships and so on in English and African languages. Certainly, there will be a lot of activity that involves more than one group, and there will be people participating in several groups. But each group should be able to get into a particular topic without restraining itself for fear of overwhelming others.
      Janet:  Andrius, in one way I understand what you are saying, but don't you understand that if people belong to each of these groups, they will be overwhelmed with email anyway, because it will be coming from 10 groups instead of one or two?  There is SO MUCH work being done by many of us on the ground which incorporates ALL of these topics into "one" integrated program already (KAIPPG is one example),  that I see it as potentially counterproductive and not mirroring reality to have 10 separate groups, where there will be much more strain to be integrative, as we then have to belong to so many groups to get the info we need, and perhaps have to process and synthesize it more on our own, or with so many people (in the different groups) that it will be a full-time job just to keep up.
      Since the topics and activities based on them are NOT separate in "real life" (lived on the ground) at this point, why should they be separate here?  Again, please think abt the huge proliferation of mails which might accompany all these new groups...and the numbers of us who may want to be in all forums, because our work encompasses all topics and there isn't a forum which integrates and encompasses them all.  This is the antithesis of "holistic", in my view.
      How to accommodate growth as well as take on projects--and also focus on the individuals here now, as well as more individuals we will bring into our forums and work, let alone orgs--is a big and important challenge. I do think these discussions need to happen, but am concerned to tie them too much--at least in the immediate term--to the Food Story project, because I think that will be more of a distraction or fracturing of this work, not a focus on the work itself.
      Please think, what is your strategy for shifting momentum out of the more active groups and into the less active groups? My own strategy is to
      have the stronger groups host new activities but assemble new people at the new groups and gradually shift over the activity until the new
      groups are self-sustaining.

      Janet:  I don't think HH is that active right now, or self-sustaining and so mature that I need to focus attention and energy on shifting people out of it. In fact, I think we have "only just begun" to have dialogue, and even moreso, effective action.  I don't have so much time and energy that I want to shift momentum, especially when I feel it has barely begun.  I want to focus, with the limited time I have for this endeavor, on "holistic action", and--when I can--on this as a key concept. As well as the key concepts of others at HH, and their projects, goals, needs, and dreams. 
      In terms of MS as a whole, I am happy to encourage others to explore their key concepts, to help in their forums (w/feedback, networking, collaboration) and even encourage creation of same. But I don't see myself or HH as a mentor, incubator, waystation only...my goal is to gather a dynamic and action-oriented group at HH, who will address sustainable development concerns from an integrated perspective, engaging in "help"-oriented projects.
      These will not always or primarily revolve around money, but sometimes that is what is needed. I hope the projects and the forum engage parties in teaching and learning, in give and take, two-way or multi-track communication.  We are starting out on a terrific note in that way, and I want to continue the momentum we have started. I am concerned abt "fracturing" it or scattering it the energy and focus, quite frankly, as much as you are concerned--as am I--not to concentrate "too much" in one centralized venue.
      If there is a clear relationship between soybeans and "holistic helping" (and there may or may not be) then we'll be very wise for enrolling soybean growers into our Holistic Helping group. If they are at odds (which I suspect would be the case with tobacco) then we'll be entertaining disaster.  I think that if we're all very clear about our values and our interests, and if we're good investigators regarding the crops and what they bring out in people, then we'll be amazed at how helpful the crops can be for organizing us around our values.
      Janet:  I don't think any one crop in itself has a clear link with "holistic helping", but I suppose one could say that maize serves a variety of purposes, as does artemisia, and perhaps soyabeans. I would NOT rule out tobacco--as it has many uses, including ceremonial and as "payment" sometimes--and the real health issue relates more to the way cigarettes are made here (USA...with other chemicals that are more harmful than tobacco itself). As with almost everything, it's the "way" this substance/product is treated and used, and that is where holistic considerations come in.  "Helping" in itself can be both "good" and "bad", depending on how it's done.
      I think we have to be careful about declaring our values and interests ahead of time, at least setting them in stone, as they may change-grow-develop with investigation. And the people we interview, to gather their food stories:   we need to leave room for those stories and perspectives to speak for themselves, not necessarily be filtered solely through our values and interests. I am also concerned about the idea of this project being used to organize us around our values:  we can do that in the context of the project, of course, but I thought this project has a different purpose.
      I thought the purpose of the Food Story project is to "develop a participatory online resource for understanding the world's food-supply chain and engaging its participants". If that is true, the first goal should be to gather stories from people who are involved in this chain. In the course of this, we can start to engage the participants we are interviewing.
      We need to develop a repository for stories, and try to trace the food from the field to the table. Choosing a crop--especially helpful being a crop we may have some direct link to, the better to gather stories--would seem to be most important. And tracing it from the field--where some of us will be gathering stories--to tables perhaps halfway round the world, would seem to be another important focus.
      I think Steve's key concept, "social justice"--which is the principle underlying social agriculture, and seemed to be the same principle we were all operating on with the chocolate project--is "the" defining point of reference for most if not all of us, as we would like to see farmers in developing countries get a fair deal, as well as consumers worldwide engage in consumerism which reinforces and supports fair trade and social justice. I assume this is one of Greg's major concerns and goals too. 
      While technology and values (besides social justice) are part of that story, I'm concerned that we may lose focus on the project and its primary purpose(s)--as well as its value to/for the grassroots (not just for us here, but for the people we are interviewing)--if we try to do all of this mixing and matching (our values, key concepts, technology we're interested in), and adding "agendas" and goals of our own. There is a place for all this, of course, but I'm concerned to ensure adequate focus on the project goals themselves, gradually adding more about our own needs and interests as it develops.
      I'm very glad for all the teams that seem to be naturally arising:
      - Samwel in October with soybeans and wi-fi, we'll start work at Janet's Holistic Helping, but let's assemble new participants at a new group around Samwel's value "motivation through sacrifice". Samwel, what would be the best name for your group? Is there a word or expression for "motivation through sacrificie" in Kiswahili or another African language?
      Janet:  if you are going to try to assemble new participants at a new group, then let us do that. In that case, I do NOT want to host Sam for a short time period. We either have a team at HH, lead by Sam, that stays at HH and works together, or we don't. My first choice would be for Sam to work with Steve, as I have said before, at Social Agriculture, as I believe that would be a strong pairing where there would be a lot of learning, sharing, and growth for the parties in the forum, as well as an invaluable vehicle for gathering stories and providing a solid foundation for this Food Story project.

      - Pamela McLean, Janet Feldman, let's slowly think of a triad for Pamela's "Learning from each other" working group, in January at the
      earliest. I suspect there's a connection between raising chickens, learning from each other, and interfaces (such as Moodle or Tiddly
      Wiki) that allow people of high bandwidth and low bandwidth Internet access to work together. I encourage us also to look for a connection.
      Janet:  for me, a timeframe where I might be an investigator would be more like March. Pam, what is your timeframe?  It seems to me that Pam, Lucas, Sam, Maria, myself, Jeff/Joy and perhaps others would all be interested in working on this.  I can see a link between chickens, bird flu, people learning from one another abt their challenges and best practices related to raising chickens--and also addressing health issues like bird flu--and using ICTs-related learning modes of differing capabilities (esp twinning or a thin-client solution in that regard).  I'm interested to hear what others think, especially Pam.

      These are goals for the Food Story project:
      A) A resource that is actively used and steadily improved by contributors who directly and indirectly benefit from it in ways that have them personally invest themselves in its growing success.
      Questions to ask:  who will use this resource?  If the contributors are the storytellers, ie those who are producers and consumers, what will be helpful for them, that would keep them returning?
      B) A pilot project that attracts the attention of those who wish to fund work to develop it further.
      Questions:  who will want to fund this work, and what will they want to fund exactly?  If a person or foundation is interested in social justice and fair trade, that is one way to tailor this project or focus the info-gathering and subsequent work.  What could other motives/interests be?  Sustainable development, ICTs, empowerment of women and youth, or rural communities.
      C) An experiment that details the variety of challenges that need to be overcome for such a resource to sustain itself, and makes tangible a
      variety of reasons why such a resource is valuable.
      Questions: how do we do these two things?  If we think about soyabeans, let's think and discuss why this resource is valuable, and try to draw that out in our stories. We can also have this focus on the challenges:  let's figure out what these are, based on the stories we gather, and on a view of the food-chain as a whole.  Where do we find stories of consumers, ie where these beans end up?  In Kenya, do they stay local, ie grown and consumed locally?  Are they shipped across the nation, or do some end up in other countries?  How can soyabean farming provide more of a living for the farmers...in this case, it's not the resource which needs to become sustainable, it's the livelihood from the resource.

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