The Infrastructure of Belonging – A Note from #cosn2022

My professional life wanders in between physical infrastructure and human infrastructure. I’ve worked on teams focused on building out information networks. Some of those teams have attended to emotional and social networks to the same level of detail and intentionality. Most have not.

I’m at the CoSN Conference in Nashville, Tennessee this week, meeting almost all of my new colleagues at SETDA in person for the first time. This morning’s general session had a focus on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. I’m very glad that CoSN is attending to this issue at their event and giving it time right smack in the middle of the event, before brains are scrambled and travel plans interfere with actualities of travel options.

As we were listening to the presentation, a panel of two thoughtful experts and practitioners, their core message about belonging resonated. And I started thinking, as I often do, about the next moves for a room full of IT professionals who will go back to work next week and try to implement some, if any, of what they experienced here.

Keynotes should certainly inspire. They should certainly entertain. But the best ones actually move people to action1.

I’d like for this one to have done that.

When, I wonder, will the folks in the audience, myself included, make space to think about how our information infrastructures create/invite/support ensuring that everyone belongs to their school or workplace? When will we attack questions like:

  • What are the moves that we can make next week or the week after that can create more belonging in our infrastructure?
  • How could we make our LMS or app environments more people-forward and less task structured?
  • Where are the excellent examples of this work that we might borrow from or outright duplicate?
  • What do the configuration changes, firmware updates, certificate changes and whatever else is the daily stuff of your IT team’s work look like that create more belonging?
  • When in a project plan are you attending to building organizational culture while also getting the project done on time? What do those tasks and deliverables look like?

Certainly, keeping bad actors or malicious agents out of our networks and schools is a piece of the work. But building a fence or putting locks on a school building isn’t how we build a place of belonging. It’s a first step.

As I’m still getting used to my new role, it’s the first time in a long time where I’m not directly responsible for a network in one way or another. I’m a steward of other folks who support and steward other other folks. I’m a little removed from the moment. I’ll have to watch that, but I also have to continue to think about the ways that the work I do does create belonging, too. How can I model, or support, or walk the walk of creating invitations and experiences that feel more invitational than confrontational2? How might those experiences support change to infrastructure in the ways I hope they will?

So as I’m here at the conference this week, I’m wondering about, and looking for, ways to set our infrastructure in ways that support cultures where everyone belongs. Thankfully, I have smart friends wondering about this too. One of them mentioned earlier that we need to ask questions about how we design the access to our networks in ways that feel more invitational than confrontational. I was reminded of my ongoing quest for a filter exception page that feels like a teachable moment rather than a slap on the wrist. I’d love to go to a session at CoSN or somewhere like it where we explore practical tips and moves for creating networks that help people belong.

Maybe you have some thoughts here, Please share your ideas in the comments3

  1. I know a thing or two about this, as I’ve given a keynote or two. I have a frustration with the form, as it’s typically expected to be a one-way transfer of information and experience – which is a pretty crummy way to teach, if you ask me. But that’s another post. []
  2. As I get older, I wonder sometimes how being skeptical might feel more of the second than the first. []
  3. Remember comments? I know – SO 2008. []

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