HRL@Mozfest2014: A Network of Networks, a Hive of Hives

Global Hive Meetup @ MozFest 2014
Photo by Mozilla Hive NYC Learning Network

As we’ve studied Hive NYC, one of the big achievements we’ve seen is what can happen when previously unconnected educational organizations come together from across a given city. Organizations just miles apart geographically may have previously seen themselves as being in different sub-fields, but in Hive created a shared community platform where they can exchange ideas, find the places they have common values and organize around collective goals. One of the biggest value propositions of Hive, as contrasted with, say, broader field-level structures like conferences or online communities, is its locality. From an organizational perspective, it’s an ongoing field-level community located right in the backyard of your city. This core feature, and value, of locality is what sets Hive apart in many ways in an increasingly ‘flat’ virtual world.

And so the idea of having a ‘global’ Hive movement can seem antithetical to this local commitment. The whole point of a Hive is rooted in the idea of educators and organizations being able to physically come together with regularity, easily collaborate and design solutions to local problems – wouldn’t some sort of ‘Hive global’ be missing the point that the model made in the first place?

What I saw at Mozfest made me think about this issue in a new way. It made me realize just how powerful it is to have interaction among the growing number of cities that have Hives, be they full fledged Hive Learning Networks (in NYC, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Toronto), emerging Hive Learning Communities (in Kansas City, Chattanooga, San Francisco-Bay Area, India) or bunches of others in places that are exploring like Denver, Seattle, Vancouver, Manchester, Berlin and elsewhere. What I saw at Mozfest was not some sort of unitary ‘Hive Global’, some singular über-community that subsumes the commitment to local urban community. Rather, the Hive track represented a ‘Hive of Hives’, with Hive members and leaders sharing, discussing and creating solutions to shared problems together, using common language and based in shared values.

Kevin Miklasz, a Hive NYC member, reflected beautifully on the power of Hives coming together in his post about the festival:

It’s like that feeling you have when you meet up with an old friend and pick up right where you left off, as if no time had gone by. Except we had never met before, but we were able to just pick things up and start going anyway. We talked about the same things, using the same language and ideas, and were comfortable using the same kinds of open-ended design-thinking techniques to work through problems.

The rich interactions amongst ‘Hivers’ at Mozfest was what has convinced me of the value of having a ‘network of networks’. People were not only able to talk about issues that were relevant to actors in every city (e.g., what are effective strategies for making learning relevant for youth?), but also for sharing ideas about how a Hive might work, and how it might organize itself (e.g., what are the ways that your Hive designs opportunities for members to share ideas?). The former example, sharing thoughts on common issues like pedagogical approaches, is certainly powerful. But it is also the kind of thing that happens at many conferences and workshops. But that latter issue – on how Hives might facilitate and organize themselves – this is the place where a ‘network of networks’ can act as a context to innovate on the Hive model, to share thoughts on what works and doesn’t when it comes to building a Hive in a city. A Hive of Hives acts as an infrastructure for innovation on the idea of Hive itself.

As more cities explore organizing Hives in their backyards, it will be critical that there is a common space where the ‘theory of Hive’ and the ideas that Hives care about can be discussed, debated, learned from and about, and most importantly, advanced. Just as a local Hive is a great opportunity for educational organizations and actors that are committed to exploring and inventing around ideas of Connected Learning and web literacy, a Hive of Hives presents a critical opportunity for those committed to such city-based models to share knowledge and collectively level up what Hives around the world can be.

What’s your organizational “interface” with the Hive?

As we’re coming towards the end of our preliminary fieldwork phase to get a snapshot of Hive NYC, we’re starting to see that member organizations “interface” with the Hive in very distinct ways. For example, we’re noticing that in a number of larger organizations, the relationship to the network and its associated opportunities is managed by one individual within a specific programmatic department, with development (i.e., fund raising) folks coming into the picture when the organization responds to a Hive RFP. In some smaller ones, we’ve seen a range of set ups, from executive directors being the only one in the organization that even knows what Hive is (common with some of the newer small organizations), to others where teams that span leadership and programmatic roles attend Hive community meetings together. In still other cases, we’ve seen “hand-offs”‘- an instance where someone moves on from a position and was a “point person” to many Hive-affiliated relationships and activities, and then moves out of that role, explicitly giving it to another person in the organization.

This brings up the fact that there are so many things that we might count as an “interface” with the network (and what the network actually *is* from an analytic perspective is a whole other post). Any of the following might qualify:

  • being on monthly community calls
  • attending monthly in person Hive meet-ups
  • participating (or just lurking) on Hive’s mingroup email list
  • running an activity station at a one-day Hive-affiliated pop-up event
  • submitting an application with other Hive members to the bi-annual Hive RFP
  • running a Hive funded program or partnership
  • taking part in “learning lab” calls that occur for each cohort of funded Hive projects
  • …and probably a whole bunch of things we’re either forgetting or don’t know about yet.

So why does this all matter? Well, as a project that’s studying the way that Hive NYC can improve its ability to be an infrastructure for innovation, knowing how each member organization interfaces with the Hive becomes really important because it gives us insight into a range of related questions. Who’s bringing ideas and technologies into this community? How does organizational interface mediate who participates in the broader Hive NYC community and who doesn’t? How do innovations travel within and across organizations based on the nature of that organization’s interface? How does an organization’s knowledge and understanding of the Hive NYC community and its ethos, values and educational approaches change over time depending on how it interfaces with network activities? All of these questions are consequential to the broader goal of supporting Hive as a context for educational innovation, and so we’re paying close attention to these issues in the ground.

One of the questions we’ve asked some older Hive NYC members is if there are things they’d recommend to new Hive member organizations. One member recently spoke directly to this point of organizational interface, saying that he felt it was critical that an organization find a Hive point person (or people) who is both really interested in the network and the ideas that are associated with it and at the same time has some degree of power to capitalize on that participation and the opportunities that stem from it in a way that benefits the broader organization. Adding to that point, another member recently mentioned that while she’s the active liaison now, that’s a role that someone else (originally from their development department) used to occupy, and it gradually shifted as it became clearer to the organization that Hive NYC was not just another funding opportunity but rather largely about educational practice, and that from that perspective having a programmatic-oriented staff member engaging made good sense.

There’s plenty more than we’re finding about this issue, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to open this question up for any Hive members that might be reading (folks from other Hives aside from NYC are welcome!). How does your organization “interface” with the Hive? Are there recommendations you have for other orgs about what’s worked for you, or what hasn’t? And what are the things you consider most as you’re making these sorts of decisions?