1 – In the beginning: 1970’s, the OU, infants and micro computers
My first steps toward FASST began in the 1970’s with the Open University and the first micro-computers. (For more on FASST see FASST – an introduction and invitation and for the reason why I wrote this longer post about “Why?” see My “Why?” for FASST )
The 1970’s was when my interest is systems thinking began. I was an Open University (OU) student. Most of the courses I chose for my OU degree had “systems” somewhere in the title – either that or something to do with computers or computing. At the time I was an infant teacher, so I had begun my OU studies with an interest in cognitive development – how children learn, think, solve problems and so on. I became increasingly interested in the similarities and differences between the ways that computers process information and the ways that we do. Under the influence of my OU studies I started to analyse my work in the classroom, with particular reference to the potential of computers.
That was the start of my interest in digital technology and disruption. I was particularly interested in getting greater clarity on the really creative and “human” aspects of my work as a teacher. I started to reflect on what was routine and repetitive and therefore could (in theory) be handed over to some kind of digital teaching assistant. Then I wanted to find out just how far it might be possible to go (in practice) in creating a useful digital teaching assistant to work with 4-7 year olds. I bought one of the first micro-computers around and learned to program it so that I could experiment in my classroom. (This was before the BBC micro had been thought of. I had a Sorcerer. I published some findings and related work under the name of Pam Fiddy). I wanted to explore what “computer power” meant to the relationships between teachers and learners.
My “learning-by-doing” exploration about teaching, learning and digital technology was my first step in the journey to FASST.
2 – In 2000 my focus was rural Nigeria and using the Internet
The next big step on my “learning-by-doing” journey towards FASST came with an unexpected connection with rural Nigeria through the late Peter Adetunji Oyawale He was a friend who was passionate about a community development project he was initiating “back home”. It was based on digital technology, information sharing, and some elements of distance learning. My friend Agnita, his wife, had invited me to help with the project because of my background in education and “ICT” (Information and Communication Technology). After Peter’s tragic early death I wondered how I could best help his work to continue. I knew about his plans for the project, but I was ignorant about Nigeria and local community development. My knowledge was limited to:
- What Peter had taught me
- What the people I was getting to know in his network were teaching me
- What I had experienced when I went to Peter’s funeral in Ago-Are, Oke-Ogun in Oyo State
If I was to continue to be useful to his project then I needed to learn more as quickly as possible, so I turned to the Internet. By then it was 2001 and I was new to independent online research. At first I was a passive learner, going to official websites and reading what was written. Then I discovered online discussions and communities of practice, which were far more fruitful for my learning.
I was an unconventional member of many of the groups that I joined because I was an independent self-directed learner. I had no normal organisational affiliation or recognised role. My search for information was driven by a practical urgency. This lack of a conventional identity has naturally affected how I go about things, and shaped my perspectives and priorities. It means that I have a deep appreciation of the experiences and character of people in my peer group, i.e. people who are strongly committed to innovative work, largely self-funded, and working outside conventional organisational structures and systems.
FASST will be shaped by people like this: innovative, creative, forward thinking people who walk their talk. It will not have a conventional organisational structure. It will be a Teal organisation and a Holacracy
3 – Learning online, discovering top-down disconnects – and Teal
I became a voracious online learner, seeking information (and related insights) both for myself and on behalf of Peter’s project “Oke-Ogun Community Development Agenda 2000 Plus” (OOCD 2000+). I was an ignorant newcomer to “development” but there was one thing that I could do that my friends in Nigeria couldn’t. I lived in London, so I could use my affordable, reliable 24/7 Internet access to find information for myself and in the service of OOCD 2000+.
My learning journey included visits to Nigeria on working holidays (fitting in with my UK “day job” as a teacher). I thought of these visits as “reality checks” to increase my knowledge of life in rural Nigeria, to develop closer relationships with people who connected with Peter and OOCD 2000+, and to find out what I could usefully learn or do for OOCD 2000+ when I went back home. During my holidays I often found myself involved in computer awareness sessions (or “computer orientation” as my Ago-Are friends called it). I was made welcome in people’s homes and elsewhere because of my local connections, and I was also taken to meetings with various dignitaries because I was “the visitor from the UK”.
To my surprise the more that I learned from the two perspectives of researching online and going to the places I was getting to know, the greater the gap seemed to be between the two. This was my awakening to disconnects between:
- Top-down policy making and local reality (for more on this see It’s time to end this development disconnect)
- Academic research and research that would be useful or relevant to practitioners.
- Hype and reality regarding many aspects of development that I came to know about – including ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development), One Laptop per Child, and issues of access to the Internet and smart phones.
Awareness of these disconnects influenced my perceptions of hierarchical systems, and prepared me to be receptive to the ideas of Teal organisations.
I first came across Teal ideas in 2015, through a post written by Andy Paice – Bridging U.Lab and Teal: a Personal, Collective and Societal Journey – which led me in turn to the Teal Practitioners Group, my involvement in the Teal for Startups group, and the Teal influence on the emergence of FASST.
4 – Inclusion and information flows
The thinking behind FASST includes a strong interest in inclusion, and some unusual perspectives on information flows. These interests and perspectives have developed since 2000, through working at-a-distance with people from Ago-Are, and other locations that are similarly hard-to-reach, so we need to return to Peter’s story.,
Peter Oyawale was a computer and communications professional. Back in 2000 we worked together on a website for OOCD 2000+ (using an early version of Dreamweaver). The website featured members of the various committees that he had set up across Oke-Ogun to implement the project. Peter knew that people involved would be keen to see such a website and to have it shown to others. It served as a good introduction both to the Internet and to the project, and seeing it was an excellent reason for people to join Peter at a cyber cafe. .
This early introduction to the Internet may have influenced the handful of people who turned to it, in order to connect with Agnita and me, in the days and months following Peter’s death. These early Internet users in Nigeria meant that I had some kind of digital communication channel with Peter’s project. It was a tenuous connection, but without it there would have been no story to tell, and no FASST.
5 – High-tech, low-tech and no-tech communication
Back in 2000 and 2001 the Internet only reached as far as major cities in Nigeria, not into the rural areas beyond. Out in Ago-Are, and other key OOCD 2000+ locations in Oke-Ogun there was no Internet, there were no phones, and the official postal service was exceedingly unreliable. I soon learned about alternative information-sharing and communication systems, based on human connections and on messages being passed from person to person. For OOCD 2000+ (and later in my early collaborations with Fantsuam Foundation, in North Central Nigeria) we relied on a rich mixture of high-tech, low-tech, and no-tech communication channels.
Most early ICT (Information and Communication Technology) projects in Nigeria, and elsewhere in the so called “developing world”, began with the emphasis on the “T=Technology”. This meant that they started in the cities where the technology had already arrived, or at some other site chosen by the people who provided the technology. The UK-Africa collaborations of my experience have come from a different perspective. We began from a genuine need for particular people in the UK and particular people in hard-to-reach locations in Nigeria to Communicate Information.
This was the Internet at work sowing seeds of deep systemic change. We needed to use the Technology of the Internet as an essential element of our collaboration. We evolved all kinds of creative workarounds, to combine high-tech, low-tech and no-tech communication systems in order to strengthen our two-way information flows. From the very start this was creative, cross-cultural collaboration and shared learning-by-doing.
6 – Trial and improvement
Learning-by-doing, is also known as “trial and error” learning, or “trial and improvement”. Inevitably, my ignorant assumptions were continually being tested, often to breaking point, and I had to keep adapting my plans and perceptions in the light of what I was learning. Later, describing these learning experiences and changes of directions to someone in a different organisational culture, I was amazed to hear her congratulating me on being so open about my”failures”. I had to ask her what she meant, and she quoted some of my statements, which were full of discovering wrongful assumptions and having to adapt and do things differently. That was another experience for me of different cultural expectations.
I had been learning-by-diong and I was a professional infant teacher, accustomed to providing environments where young children could experiment and develop skills in safety. It hadn’t occurred to me to consider any of my changes of direction as “failures”, but simply as part of the learning curve.
I expect similar shared learning will happen in FASST as we work on our projects and share our ongoing stories about assumptions being tested and experiences of “trial and improvement”.
7 – Overview and insights
I have been privileged to see changes happening over a considerable period of time, and from different cultural perspectives.
The details all feed into my perspectives of systemic change. I’m particularly interested in the ways we can learn together, by collaborating online. In recent years “we” (people with access to the Internet) have become accustomed to using the Internet to store information and to share it. We are less skilled at using it to co-create insights and new knowledge, but we are making progress. I’ve seen this skill development happening in various groups, most recently in the T4S group Teal for Startups).
Every knowledge co-creation group that I have known has had its own distinct online culture.
Influences on the culture include:
- The digital tools in use
- Wide ranging access issues such as bandwidth constraints, cost and convenience of access, familiarity with the tools in use, variety of time-zones involved
- The cultural face-to-face norms of behaviour of people involved
- The cultural mix, both behaviourally and regarding the number of preferred languages amongst the participants.
- The group’s purpose, size and fluidity
As a species we are still in the early stages of working together in knowledge co-creation groups delivering practical outcomes. As individuals and as groups we need to learn from each other and to walk our talk. We need supportive communities of practical and reflective, independent, question-asking-and-answering people. We need to develop ways to address the complex questions around us in effective and collaborative ways drawing on diverse perspectives, knowledge and experience. That is what FASST is about.
8 – FASST (and its prototype), Teal, Holacracy, U.Lab and the emerging future
The vision for FASST has emerged from work that began with Peter Oyawale’s project in rural Nigeria, and continued onwards to the current UK-Africa collaborations seen at www.dadamac.org. For future connections between FASST and dadamac.org see Updating Dadamac.org on the FASST experiment
Think of the UK-Africa work as proof or concept and evidence of need for FASST – a kind of prototype.
FASST itself is widely applicable to systemic transformation. It is not limited to UK-Africa collaborations and International Development. For more on FASST see FASST – an introduction and invitation
Lesson learned so far through “the prototype” point towards possible future positive disruption in the traditional top-down approaches to “International Development”. This will only happen if the lessons from “the prototype” are applied on a much larger scale. That in turn raises organisational issues. These organisational issues could be solved if FASST is up and running, as a robust organisational entity, by the time such growth needs to be absorbed and managed.
In the current UK-Africa work there are already elements of Teal organisations. There is a flat structure. People in the changemakers’ groups are strongly personally committed, they are connected by shared purposes, taking their own “front line” decisions, based on their unique knowledge and experience. When growth happens there will be a need for clearer processes and accountabilities. A combination of “Tealness” and a Holacracy constitution could provide that.
I believe the FASST experiment will develop a vehicle to serve other kinds of changemakers and systemic transformation, not just the Dadamac changemakers and their related systemic transformation regarding International Development
Regarding FASST in a wider context, and as a response to living in a time of disruption and systemic change. I’ve seen huge changes regarding our increasingly connected world, since 2000. I’ve seen this from various perspectives:
- Locally in London, impacting on the formation and behaviours of face-to-face groups
- In”high-bandwidth” parts of the world, enabling connections between people who are well served by the internet,
- In “low-bandwidth” countries, as experienced by many of my contacts in Africa.
These different perspectives, experienced over time, have enabled me to see things in terms of patterns, behaviours and systems.
Last year I enrolled on the U.Lab course and was delighted with the ideas about deep systemic change that I found in the course book ( Leading from the Emerging Future: – by C. Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer, 2013). The language and diagrams there provided context for what I have often tried (and failed) to explain about the wider implications of our UK-Africa work. Our work isn’t just about what we are doing. It is about what we are learning and prototyping through what we are doing. The U.Lab course helps to place our work in the context of systemic transformation and the emerging future. Its influence is also seen in the Teal groups, which in turn have connections with Holacracy.
In FASST I believe all these different threads will get woven together.