This town needs…

There was a thread in a walled garden recently asking the question: “Why can’t we all just get along?” This was in response to a difficult parting of ways between organizations in Portland trying to run a couple events cooperatively.

Unfortunately, the thread was deleted, so even if you were to join the group at this point, the conversation is lost. Fortunately, I saved a copy and can quote from it in the future as needed!

The situation, as I saw it described, is that some people think of the grass-roots organized groups as obstinate. As unwilling, and possibly opposed, to compromise. The phrase “stubborn demands of individuality” was used to describe the problem the original poster brought up.

In any growing, functional organization or community, there will be conflict. What matters is how we handle that conflict.

I plan on re-posting my original comments here in my blog because I want the thoughts and conversations that were started inside a closed space to come out into the open.

There’s certainly an opportunity in Portland for the many lovely, energetic and productive volunteer groups to pool our talents and resources. Some of that energy has certainly been pooled to produce Open Source Bridge, for which I am enormously grateful.

So, the question in my mind is should we also be doing something else? And if so, what would that something else be?

And by something — I mean just about anything. I’ve never counted, but I’d guess based on the groups and events that I’ve attended that we have well over 1000 volunteers in our technology communities in Portland. Add in the larger professional organizations, and I’m sure we’ve got over 10,000 people in the Portland area (and Vancouver!) whose involvement we could count on.

Let’s hatch a plan.

There’s a push to look outward, and to speak outward. To get “press attention”, which to some, means success. I don’t agree.

We need a different vision. Our communities are ones of people who *do* things. (I’d even go so far to say we have a ‘do-ocracy‘.) We make things, we share them and then we make more things. Certainly there’s room in our communities for people who help us share what we’re doing. But we can’t talk about things we haven’t done.

Anything that enhances our community, must help us do things. Change must make collaboration easier, sharing better and involvement in our communities even more rewarding than it already is.

So, help me. What does success look like to you? What do you wish that you could get out of our technology groups, but don’t?

7 thoughts on This town needs…

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  1. Awesome post, Selena.

    Disclosure: I’m the current chair of the board for Legion of Tech, been organizing Ignite Portland from the beginning. These are my thoughts alone.

    Do-ocracy explains so well (from my perspective) how so much of our
    (LoT and Portland in general) tech community works, and off the top of
    my head, every time we’ve had a conflict or issue with something, it’s
    because we weren’t doing it like a do-ocracy.

    Going to do some more reading and thinking, but thank you for introducing me to the concept of a do-ocracy – I think it’s going to make it easier for us all to understand each other when we’re working on different stuff in the tech community, and serves as a nice reminder to all of us to not assume the worst in our interactions, but to get out and do.

  2. I’m a former and founding board member of Legion of Tech. I have also organized Web Innovators since 2006, where the original vision was connecting anyone who cared about the web: those interested in programming, user experience, business, design and anything else. My conclusion, after four years, is that we still haven’t done enough. As long as there are people in Portland who want to be part of the greater tech community, we need to do what we can to reach out to them.

    But I don’t like reading posts like the one that inspired your call for comments. Negativity feels counter-productive. As hard as it is, I try not to assume malice of any group toward another, because I think there rarely is.

    My request to those reading is two-fold:
    1. In groups where you feel out of place, if the topics are of interest to you, please give it a second and third try.
    2. In groups where you feel comfortable, please try to welcome those who seem out of place. Encourage them to return. Tell them how important their viewpoint is to your group.

    I don’t think these two steps will be magic. Collaborative communities take effort, but we’re lucky to all be in the same place. We can meet in person at one of the many events and practice.

  3. Great post @selenamarie, thanks for starting the conversation!

    I think that there are really two big questions that spring to mind.

    1) How does someone not in the community find out about the community?
    2) How does a member of the community find out what other members are capable of, and are currently doing?

    Both are really just announcement/communication issues, that are not likely to be solved in some quick clean fashion, but I think can be done. The first one is hard because we are on the inside looking out, the second is hard only because there is no central hub for our do-ocracy.

  4. @adamd I don’t know if my perspective is based on not being involved in the initial root conversation but I had a very different take on the post. To me it felt more like:

    ‘There have been some conversations that point to there being some communal problems in Portland, how can we fix this?’

    That said I do completely agree with you about sticking it out in groups that you feel could be interesting, and that it’s everyones job to keep the groups going that you have.

    I guess in the end were all in this together. Sure it can take some work some times but in the end theres a big reward for your efforts.

  5. Like Josh said, when I find I’m frustrated with some part of the Portland tech community, it’s often because I want people to talk less and do more. You want to see something happen? Go make it happen. You want other people to be involved? Give us something to look at, play with, and an opening point that connects with our own interests and needs.

    The best thing about this community is that it’s an open playground, and we have so many people making things for themselves (from products to events to communities). The worst thing is when people don’t feel empowered to be a part of that and take action for themselves. I’d be great to see more open discussion of how we create that sense of empowerment in Portland.

  6. The original post in the “Why can’t we all just get along?” thread was forwarded to me. I’ve thought about it, and I’ve struggled over what I can say about this that could actually be constructive.

    And today, I realized what I had been unable to see through my frustration. “Why can’t we all just get along?” is not a useful question, if what you want to accomplish is to get people to work together. It presupposes something that isn’t true. Of course we can get along, for a pretty broad spectrum of “we.” We do get along, mostly. We might do well to ask “How can we get along better?” or “How can we work together?” or, “How would this work better for you?”

    Now, in an effort to address the question you actually asked… What would really make collaboration easier would be a community-run facility to hold meetings and do collaborative stuff in. I really miss going to meetings at CubeSpace, not only because it was a good place for a meeting, but because there were always other groups holding meetings too, close enough in their interests to be interesting to me, but distinct enough that I wouldn’t have thought to seek them out if I hadn’t run across them in person.

    I’ve deleted that and pasted it back a few times now. I know I’m not the only one who wants something like that, and I know that I haven’t done diddly about it. Seems as if I ought to put in some effort myself before I suggest such a thing. But tonight, that is the answer I have.

  7. Thanks @akfarrell I agree, I miss @cubespace too, it was a great physical hub for most of the Portland tech community. I think that in it’s place we’ve started to really lean on Calagator more to replace the ‘bump-in-to-ness’ of cubespace, and the only thing that comes to mind as a replacement to the physicality of cubespace would be bridge.

    That said, the hackathon is tonight so if anyone wants to join in and discuss this further in person (and take notes). I would love to see this discussion continue.

    [Disclosure: I’m involved in posting the reminders about pdxhackathon]