"I didn't know you were working on that!"
"We're interested in that too!"
Silos. There's a great tendency for people to self-organize in tight knit groups to get work done. It makes sense: small groups encourage focus. It keeps distractions low, and fosters interpersonal trust, which helps us efficiently work together. Work groups get stuff done.
The negative side to work groups is getting siloed. That's when, by working so tightly with your group, there's a tendency to not find out about the work other people are doing in their own tight-knit groups. When I think about the work I do at Public Lab, I think about the riffle, and I think about water quality, and it occurs to me that I don't know what's going on in the other project areas. And I'm not sure I'm sharing what I'm doing much either.
Why does this matter?
Silos happened a lot at my university, especially among environmental and sustainability projects. This was especially noticeable since we had an old silo at the campus entrance. At the time, I was in one of the environmental clubs, and had an on-campus job working for the school's Sustainability Coordinator. We decided to host an event at the start of every semester to bring everyone together, to brainstorm solutions to common problems, to share what we were doing, and to learn from each other.
We found that people were surprised. While they were working in their group to solve a problem, another group was working just as hard on the same thing, in their own silo. We shared stories, experiences, and created inter-group bonds, so that as we went back to our own projects, we were that much more effective at what we were doing.
Here at Public Lab, we have had annual Barnraisings, now regional barnraisings, and other events that do this for those that can go -- get everybody in the same room, and have time to share, unplanned conversations, and opportunities to get to know each other. Now that Public Lab will be doing regional barnraisings, this is our chance to lay some thought down for the future:
How might we
- Return to center; the big picture
- Share our work and work process with each other
- Benefit from the exchange of ideas and stories
- Strengthen each other as a community, working towards a common goal, in different areas
Some ideas @Liz and I had: Public Lab could summarize what goes on at regional barnraising, for all to share and talk about. We could have a yearly big online talk, with everybody. If any of us have presentations prepared about our public lab stuff, we could recycle/reuse them for the community. And a public lab interview series/podcast might be a neat thing to try ;)
This could be the chance to write an idea down right here. Or to start thinking about it, for a greater discussion in another context. I'm curious if anyone else wants to learn more about what others are working on, and who feels like they have their finger on the pulse of what else is going on. (Tell me your secrets!)