The participant/narrator: owning the role

The XML-Deviant column at O'Reilly's (index, rss), which began in January 2000, would have been called a blog had the term been more current then. Written first by Leigh Dodds and now by Kendall Grant Clark, the concept was a brilliant one. Recruit literate developers who participate in key mailing lists (Dodds: xml-dev, Grant Clark: W3C Technical Architecture Group), and have them publish reports that summarize and comment on weekly activity.

This is a potent form of communication. For people who lack the time to closely monitor activity in some area, these bulletins are a way to keep a finger on the pulse. For the participant/narrator, they're a way to build personal brand and -- perhaps -- influence the agenda.

It's been clear to me for a long time that the participant/narrator, armed with easy-to-use Web publishing technology (aka blog tools), will be a key player on every professional and civic team. A couple of years ago I sketched out how blog narrative can work as a professional project management tool. Just today, I learned of a great example from the realm of civics. Not co-incidentally, it involves another regular, Simon St. Laurent.

Simon lives in Varna, NY, which is between Ithaca and the town of Dryden, whose Democratic Committee he now chairs. Today's Ithaca Journal fills in the backstory:

St. Laurent can be seen, notebook and digital camera in tow, at Planning Board and Conservation Advisory Council gatherings, as well as at special meetings on fire departments, speeding and comprehensive plans. So I admit, my curiosity was piqued. What could motivate this seemingly normal man to submit himself to hours of political talk and legalese? Talk that even elicits occasional groans from those delivering it. Turns out, it's all in the name of a blog --

"I volunteered with the local Democratic party in the last elections and made some calls for them. People would ask me questions and I'd have partial answers and they'd have partial answers. It seemed like an opportunity to learn more about what was going on and to help the person on the other end of the phone."

So on Nov. 6, St. Laurent launched his Dryden site. Six months later, he hasn't missed a posting. [Ithaca Journal]

Now that the hype about political blogs has died down, it's clear that this is the real deal: a grassroots effort to connect a political process to itself, to its constituency, and to the outside world. No fanfare, just steady and reliable information flow.

Every team can benefit from this approach. By narrating the work, as Dave Winer once put it, we clarify the work. There can be more than narrator, but it makes sense to have one team member own the primary role just as other members own other roles.

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