Jan 04 2016

A Final Round of Hive Watching

Connected Learning, Hive NYC, Members, Mozilla, Web Literacy


This year, my end-of-year reflections and planning coincide with my departure from Mozilla and Hive NYC HQ to join the team at Girls Who Code as its VP Innovation & Strategy. In my final blog post, I’ll use my imminent departure as an opportunity to do one final round of “Hive NYC watching”—examining a few themes, interesting trends, and the occasional glimmer of new practices evidenced across the network.

Persistent Resolutions and Goals

Before launching into any futurecasting, it’s helpful to look back over the three goals that have driven Hive NYC’s recent plans and strategies. As portfolio strategist and later as director, I strove to help others see the strong outcomes that result from Hive NYC’s ambitious goal to network organizations to further learning, innovation, and the spread of new practices.

Through road maps, hive-wide convenings, and work with partners, I defined my vision and strategy for the network as the following:
Ensure that NYC is recognized for how its networked innovation infrastructure supports the educators and adults that grow young people’s positive and healthy engagement.

I also identified three key goals that became an area of focus:

  • strengthening Hive NYC as a context for learning and innovation
  • creating context and developing conditions for the spread and scale of Hive NYC ideas, tools, and practices
  • illustrating and developing youth trajectories and pathways

While projects, plans, and players change, the goals above helped me to crystallize a common ground of what was most important across all stakeholders.

Trends, Themes, and Possible Strategies


Vision: Hive is a learning laboratory where educators come together to explore, create, share, and build digitally rich products and programs.
Two words often used to describe the work of Hive NYC are learning and laboratory. While there is no central location where all activity and production happens, laboratory is an apt term for Hive NYC’s spirit of discovery and collaborative work. This year we heard loud and clear that, while organizations and individuals value this opportunity to come together, they also value the opportunity to build on those interactions through funded collaborations, professional development, and opportunities to travel, and meet new potential partners. Learning and experimenting within a laboratory context is rewarding; putting those efforts toward specific outcomes is what makes Hive NYC worthwhile.

Possible Strategy: Continue to offer opportunities for community members to develop new ideas but also continue to expand on pilots and projects that have been developed thus far. Glimpse of this Practice: Since 2013, when Hive Digital Media Learning Fund began to set its sights towards the wider distribution and dissemination of Hive NYC projects, funds have continued to be allocated for professional development, travel, and new ideas.

Vision: Hive NYC Learning Network provides opportunities for educators and organizations to learn and lead.
Recently, Mozilla and Hive HQ have added leadership to the mix of descriptors that characterize the work of Hive NYC Learning Network. See examples here and our Hive NYC Contributors Guide. I remember writing about Hive members as leaders after seeing stalwart Hive NYC members like Armando Somoza, Kevin Miklasz, and Hive HQ’s Julia Vallera step up and really shine at Mozilla’s annual festival. They clearly articulated the importance of our work and the ways it had enriched their professional lives and changed their practice. Hive NYC inspires such dedication by providing a targeted platform and infrastructure of programs that enable individuals to try out new ideas in a supportive and professional context. If you consulted any seasoned Hive NYC traveler, he or she would tell you that developing ideas and tools in the context of a learning network can be a bumpy road, of course—funding priorities change, proposals are rejected, collaborations come together and dissolve, and great ideas don’t work out as expected. In fact, the observable data shows that while rewarding, the road to mature and tested pilots that can scale and spread is naturally full of highs, lows, and uncertainty.

Why am I adding this depressing bit of reality? Because despite our focus on new technologies and the creation of digitally-rich programs, Hive NYC’s unique algorithm is the result of analog processes that can be time-consuming and achingly human. Hive NYC’s special sauce of learning together in a laboratory context—that enables people to experiment with technologies and build new programs—requires the time, infrastructure, and resources for people to work together and build trust. And most important, it requires the self-determination of its members and leaders to learn and lead alongside the youth and communities they live and work with. For me, leadership in the context of Hive NYC is best followed by these questions: Lead who? Toward what? And for what purpose?

Possible Strategy: To keep its entrepreneurial spirit alive, Hive NYC will need more and different partners to support the learning, laboratory, and leadership components of its work. In addition to the support of the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust, who are the other partners who see the value of this work and will work alongside Mozilla, Hive HQ, and Hive members to build self-determined solutions from the ground up? Glimpses of this Practice: Hive NYC HQ’s recent partnership with Capital One in which three Hive NYC organizations and Hive Research Lab presented projects and were awarded one-time grants is a great example of this potential. While Mozilla and Hive NYC were not renumerated for brokering relationships and curating projects, in the future supporting Hive HQ to facilitate the work of members through targeted requests for proposals or open competitions could be an additional component of funding Hive NYC’s collective efforts.

Groups, Hubs, and Networks

Vision: As network members hone essential leadership skills through Hive NYC, their expertise can be brought together to achieve ever greater outcomes.
In the past two years, the Hive NYC community has grown in stature, importance, and maturity. In addition to new organizational leaders, the network has changed its thinking and approach to membership—extending a warm and broad welcome to individuals and organizations to participate in general programs like meet-ups, office hours, and Maker Parties.

The number of organizations who bring different areas of expertise and organizational interests serves to greatly increase Hive’s potential for self-determination—to organize as different constituents and groups within the network, working together to tackle common problems and shared foes. Hive HQ has always provided opportunities for organizations to work and learn together outside of convenings and requests for proposals. See Hive Research Lab’s study of Hive Pop-ups. It has served to greatly increase the network’s potential to build trusted, strategic relationships with outside partners in order to pursue common goals and achieve specific ends. Possible Strategy: Targeted collaborations with other groups, hubs, and networks serve to promote and advance specific ideas, creating more community-developed findings to inform and impact the field. Additionally, these collaborations identify more like-minded organizations across the city, ready to level up and lead as partners, helping to determine where Hive NYC goes next and why.

Glimpses of this Practice: 2015 has seen individual Hive NYC organizations create their own hubs of activity and structure small groups around specific areas of interest. Beam Center’s Connected Teaching Fellows where 22 NYC Department of Education teachers come together to explore hands-on learning and The Learning About Multimedia Project and The After School Corporation‘s Digital Learning Training for middle-school educators are both recent pilot projects that provide strong use cases. Other examples include Hive HQ’s web literacy training with Partnership for After School Education’s Explorers Program and ongoing work with NYC teachers through the Innovative Partnership Professional Development program.

Youth Trajectories and Pathways

Vision: The city as a game board for learning.

The idea of connecting the places and spaces where youth learn and live has been a dream and aspiration of Hive Learning Networks since its inception. As a result, a persistent area of research (and concern) amongst network stakeholders is the desire to visualize and map how and where youth learn. See Hive NYC’s community-developed white paper for more thoughts in this area.

An interesting development over the recent past year or so is the wide range of organizations that are tackling the issue of how youth find learning opportunities using a range of high-, low-, and no-tech solutions based not on youth interest but on what youth have made and learned. While some organizations are pursuing these ideas through digital badges, other organizations are looking specifically at portfolios, school credits, and other ways of transferring what youth learn and make across geography and institutions. This focus on the  products and experiences that accompany project-based learning is a refreshing change, and has the potential to link what youth learn and how they do it to larger questions of mastery-based assessment. See Julia Vallera’s Meet-up Recap: Pumped on Portfolios for more on how Hive organizations are rethinking assessment. Glimpses of this Practice: Hive HQ’s Building Connected Credentials project brings together organizational partners to share best practices and identify challenges encountered when organizations embark on trusted relationships.

From Collaboration to Partnership

Collaboration has always been a large component of the work of Hive NYC. In fact, a key characteristic of how the network has functioned under the stewardship of the Mozilla Foundation has been the adoption of tenets of the free and open-source software movement as a way to encourage the circulation and strengthening of new ideas and practices. (See Hive Research Lab’s community white paper on the benefits and challenges of “working open.”) This focus on exploration, collaboration, and the circulation of ideas has been vital to the notion of Hive as a learning laboratory. But as the network reaches out to new partners and works to expand and further develop maturing pilots, a new host of questions and concerns arise. In 2012 while I was developing Hive NYC’s online Portfolio and collaborating with archivist Beatrice Chen, our goal was to “better share the story” of Hive NYC—and its stakeholders. Now as these projects mature, another set of questions will need to be answered around who Hive members and leaders design for, and how (and if) what the network creates has relevance and utility for others.

Glimpses of this Practice: The example that I’m most proud of is Hive NYC’s work with the Office of Post-Secondary Readiness and its three-year collaboration through the Digital Ready program, in which 20 Hive NYC organizations brought hands-on making and twenty-first-century skills to 24 NYC public middle and high schools across the city.

What Lies Ahead

diagram of Mozilla Foundation 2020 strategy

Mozilla 2020 Strategy Sketch Overview by Mark Surman

In the weeks and months ahead, you’ll hear more about Mozilla’s plan to move forward its work with learning, networks, and leadership, not only here in NYC but as a key component of it’s 2020 strategic plan. You’ll also meet your excellent and talented new Hive NYC portfolio strategist and welcome a new network/city manager. It is my hope that some other opinionated Hive community leader with a vision for how we might continue to do this work will throw their hat in the ring and bring their experience and vision to Mozilla and the great team at Hive HQ. As I wrote in my final letter to the network, it has been a great pleasure and honor to work with (and advocate for) all of you these past three years and seven months. Taken together and as individuals, you are a testament to what people can achieve when they are aligned around complementary goals and supported through intentional structures that encourage them.

For a live update and to hear more about transition plans for Hive NYC HQ, join the first Community Call of 2016 on Wednesday, January 6 at 2pm.

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