Networks made possible by cognitive surplus

social network

© 2016


Clay Shirky in his Ted talk How cognitive surplus will change the world uses the example of the aggregation data mapping tool Ushahidi ( created by two data science masters as an example of the power of the partnership between digital technology and human generosity. Ushahidi was created to support the work of Ory Okolloh a lawyer trying to gather data about the post-election violence in Kenya in response to her request for help on her blog.

The question posed by Hearn and Mendizabal (2011) on the other hand focus our purpose by asking whether networks are the “most appropriate vehicle” (p.1). Creating a network involves more than intention. According to Hearn and Mendizabal four elements are important considerations: purpose, role, functions and form. These four functions have in various degrees informed the networks that I have either participated in or formed. In both cases, these networks are enabled and the result of the partnership between digital technology and human generosity.

Participating in a network

As a participant I actively follow a group of mixed media artists including Dede Willingham and Packer Di. Both artists enabled by digital technologies (YouTube, UStream, blogs, Facebook and Twitter) are representative of a large group of artists who freely share their expertise and demonstrate various techniques. This is an example of the powerful partnership between digital technology and human generosity. Their posts are motivated by a sense of community and sharing with members.

Establishing a network

As a creator of a network in my workplace, purpose, role, functions and form have informed the establishment of a group of learning designers to look at the place of the team’s wiki as part of the larger landscape of knowledge management. This has been facilitated through digital technologies (e.g. padlet, email) to share ideas, messages or questions. More importantly, this network is the result of the generous contributions of the designers to research and bring back to the group their findings on the tools and practices involved in managing information in a dynamic environment. Specifically, the purpose of the network is to examine knowledge management practices by the learning designers to establish best practice. According to Hearn and Mendizabal (2011, p.2) the network is an agency network where the members take it in turns to coordinate efforts to support its functions – to build, filter and share values (best practice knowledge management) and learning among the members. The network of designers are supported by the affordances of technology and resources supplied by infrastructure such as equipment and IT supplied by the university (form). 

A knowledge artefact Wiki the Movie that I created was also the result of the partnership between digital technology and human generosity to unpack attitudes and assumptions around the use of the wiki. The learning designers generously gave of their time allowing me to record their reflections on video.

As Shirky (2010) reminds us we are more than consumers of information, we like to share and be creative.

Hearn, S. & Mendizabal, E. (2011). Not everything that connects is a network. ODI Background Note, May, 1-8.

Shirky, C. (2010). How cognitive surplus will change the world [Video file]. Retrieved from

Simon, J. (2011, April 7). Ushahidi: crowdmapping collective that exposed Kenyan election killings [Web log post]. Retrieved from 

Steele, H. (2016). Wiki the movie [Video file]. Retrieved from

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