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Mozilla's Hive local Learning Networks - Hacking:Cultures

I’ll continue my series of blog-posts on community building and Mozilla, this time trying to approach the cultural side of a community. Specifically, I use the Hive Learning Network as the best example to explore a bit the balance between local culture and the global community.

This month, folks at Hive Learning Network New York (now a Mozilla project) invited people from other cities to an inspiring fireside chat to talk about how to bring the Hive Learning Network model in a city near you.

I like a lot what I heard at Hive NYC: the way it is organized (already funded organizations brought together by a common goal of offering world-class after-school educational programs for the youth in their city), the membership showcase and the way they already adopted Mozilla’s culture of doing things (work in open, embrace the community spirit, share).

What I specially loved is the concept of “Hive served a la carte”: we offer what we build, you can take pieces of it, remix it or adapt to your local culture. One example could be the “Hackasaurus Hackitivity Kit” – a fantastic how-to activity kit which is the result of almost 2 years of iteration, testing and work. This kit may work or not for the different local cultures – but, for sure, it has some important bits that help.

I brought Barcelona name as a potential city where to bring the Hive Learning Network. In fact, this is something on which various Catalan communities (Wikipedia, Mozilla, Softcatalà, Arduino, etc.) have been working for a while now – bring the open culture to citizens and the broader public through the already existing organizations, museums, public libraries and cultural centers, community centers. There’ve been things which didn’t go as well as expected, but there are some other pieces that give a great feeling of optimism: the first Learning Lab prototype during the Mozilla Festival in 2010, the various hack jams organized this year and the present success of local Wikipedians in helping Catalan museums to open their knowledge to everyone.

I see the Hive(s) as an extension of Mozilla’s communities, a bridge between Mozillians and the rest of the citizens – users of the Internet.

Late 2008, we, Mozilla community in Barcelona (and in part Softcatalà) have been working on straightening the collaboration with civic spaces around the city. The things went great (now we host most of our events and meet-ups in public spaces), but few months ago we realized that giving back to those spaces, organizing workshops for the citizens going there to learn or designing activities for those spaces is not so easy. And highly ineffective.

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Photo by mozillaeu (sculptures in a Public Space at Mozilla Festival in Barcelona)

Now, with Hive being part of Mozilla, things may become easier and interesting. That is why a goal for 2012 is building the Hive Learning Network Barcelona. It’s not an easy task. Cultures are different, Barcelona is different from New York, as other European cities may be different from Barcelona. And Hive is a formal network of civil society service organizations; that means that we need to think beyond political implications and at the most superior, hackable cultural layer, so this can become effective and successful.

Online events as Fireside chats are a great way to accomplish lot of things and meet people that make the same things as you (there were folks from various cities who want to bring the Hive). Calls as Webmakers allows you to present your project and accomplishments to others and get feedback / peer assist.

During the Fireside chat, Chris said something that really matched with my thoughts: setting up a Learning Network, finding an efficient formula … that may take years of work, experimentation, iteration. And he is right… we already started to raise awareness here in Barcelona by organizing and helping other to organize the Hack Jams, in the next 2 years we will try to build room for even more people to get involved, because (at least in Barcelona) I don’t see a successful Hive Learning Network without a foundational strong, diversified and open Mozilla communities.

There are things that we have to deal with in the upcoming months, such as the too much localism and authority or the lack of understanding what a diverse cultural/linguistic community organization is.

In a few words, we have to hack cultures: learn to build communities and initiatives around affinity but respect every peer’s culture and language, explore and find easy ways to build bridges between groups, redefine localization and the core community concept, learn to communicate across cultures.

At the end of this post, I want to quote something I read in the Learning Freedom and the Web Festival’s book (I may comment on this later, but this is a certain proof that sometimes we put the “language and translation” as a principal cause for leak of participation when the problem is much more complex).

“There were difficulties in communicating and building bridges amongst people with very different backgrounds, skill sets, and languages (The lack of translators for sessions, which were held exclusively in English, came in for a fair amount of criticism).”

This is the second post of a series on Mozilla’s Community Building/Development and webmakers.