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Back from the CoP MuckAbout with Info and Pictures

I don’t know where to start talking about the Muckabout. It was valuable in so many unexpected ways to be with the group for the three days that I can’t get to all of it. (The pictures below are thumbnails- click to see larger versions)

Here’s what it was all about. Nancy White and John Smith organized a 3 days retreat on the Washington Coast and had 12 folks attend. The overall theme was “Distributed Communities of Practice: The Ecology of Support and Leadership�?. Among the attendees were entrepreneurs, practitioners, consultants, learners and various members of the coastal community of Nahcotta, WA. The common thread was an interest in the management, understanding and support of communities of practice.

Unlike other meetings like this, we ventured out into the Nahcotta, WA community and experienced the local people and how they use the area’s natural resources in friendly and abundant ways. I would say that an underlying theme of the trip was environmentalism and the use or re-use of resources in ecologically sound ways. Not something I expected- but something I really enjoyed. More about that in a bit…

The daily sessions were mostly about the presentation and analysis of cases- actual situations that helped us find opportunities to learn and explore how communities of practice develop, or can develop. I was impressed by the diversity of the group- everyone seems to pull from their own experiences in a way that provoked thought and discussion. Rarely, or perhaps too rarely, did disagreement arise within the group.

The sessions allowed us to learn on two levels. The first was the direct learning from the group- learning about experiences and thoughts related directly to the subjects at hand. Second was the formation and direction of the group itself- the Muckabout participants. Through participating, we learned about ways to facilitate a similar group in the future. For example- the Muckabout occurs in three stages- online, face-to-face and then online again. This allowed us to organize and get to know one another a bit online before the meeting and then carry the discussions online after the meeting. It was interesting to see this experiment in action and what should be considered in conducting this kind of gathering.

My personal perspective was that the discussion tended toward the abstract a bit too much. There were discussions that became debates of semantics- or varying interpretations of ideas, themes and words. While interesting, I would have much preferred on-the-ground discussions of technological design and implementation to abstract discussion.

John Smith and Nancy White did an excellent job of organizing the event and keeping things on track. I think we would all say that the experience, on many many levels, was productive, thought provoking and thoroughly enjoyable. The food at the Moby Dick Hotel was incredible- we looked forward to every meal.

Below is information about the daily outings and people that were intertwined in the event…

We met Larry and Sandy, both of whom I could write about for days. They are oyster farmers who supply fresh oysters to local restaurants and farmers markets. These folks were the jewels of the gathering- helping us to understand the community around them and how they fit into life in Nahcotta. We went out into the oyster beds with them and picked oysters that we later ate for lunch.

They have been heavily involved in local politics and debates with the larger local oyster farmers regarding the use of pesticides and their effect on native “burrowing shrimp�? and the local ecology. Larry has become a local environmentalist leader who uses his Internet connections and connections to the local community to help his voice be heard. We all learned from Larry and Sandy throughout the trip and respect them greatly.

We spent an afternoon with Veronica, a 75 year old “forager�? from Hungary who took us mushroom hunting in a local park. I can say, like many others on the trip, that I’ll never look at mushrooms the same again. Like Larry and Sandy, she supplies local restaurants with fresh mushrooms.
We struck out and came home with more mushrooms than we knew what to do with. She had this incredible ability to find and identify them- and teach us about each one. I hope I have her level of energy at 75.

Lastly, we made paper from Spartina grass- which grows in the local bay. Michele is a local artist who makes pulp from the grass and creates paper- on which she places flowers and designs that she sells as works of art (and they are impressive) .
We each made a piece of paper with our own designs and experienced the process beginning to end.

These outings were an important part of the trip. In my experience, I thought that it was great to see the group in various surroundings- how we behave outside of the discussions. This helped to get to know the group on new levels. Also, it gave us a number of rich metaphors that we used in our discussions. For example, the burrowing shrimp became a symbol of disruption- something that plays a significant role in business and ecology.

The Muckabout is still underway- we now have 2 weeks of online discussion as the final part of the session. It will be interesting to see where this phase takes us…

And some other pics from the area...