Preaching the benefits of human networks

By on 21 Feb 2019

Categories: Community Development

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Moin sharing his skills as Community Trainer in a workshop in Malaysia

In a technical environment dominated by talk of infrastructure, it can be easy to overlook the human element driving it all.

APNIC’s Training Delivery Manager Tashi Phuntsho, who is working hard to expand the Community Trainers Program, or as he describes, “evangelise human networking amongst the technical community”, shared his views about why the human element still matters.

“The human element can definitely be missed in a technical environment”, says Tashi.

“But the Internet cannot work without human networks. In the context of training, how do you capture someone’s personal narrative about the problems they are facing? That is difficult to find in books or any online content. That’s why you still need the human element.”

Tashi encourages the team to engage in open consultations and share their experiences–how they’ve broken and fixed things, how they’ve built networks, and what they’ve learned from others’ experience.

“How not to do things is as important as how to do them. Sharing experiences helps to build on the content from training materials, which members can easily access online.”

But given APNIC’s 56 diverse economies, delivering in-person training, to meet all local demands is a big challenge.

“Teaching content is the easy part but trying to convince people to build human networks amongst themselves is a challenge. We can’t scale and there’s huge demand for training. The online platform (APNIC Academy) is one way to scale but the community trainers help us to bridge the gap.”

The Community Trainers program is voluntary, and encourages people who are operationally active and willing to share their time and technical expertise with their local community. This collaborative, networked approach ensures that training provided is tailored and relevant to the local context.

“Our team can provide the technical concepts but the community trainers then bring local context. They know what is relevant to their community. In that way our overall training is better, having involved them.”

Since recently introducing a more structured approach, interest in the the Community Trainers program has continued to grow. In 2018, APNIC received 24 Expressions of Interest (EOIs) from the region, of which eight people were successful in becoming a community trainer.

As part of the EOI, applicants must meet the specific criteria, they must be:

  • technically competent
  • operationally active
  • knowledgeable about their local ecosystem, and also
  • be active in their local community

“We have been trying to structure the program so there is greater consistency and quality. Many people are eager to become a trainer, so to help maintain continuous quality, and ensure it is an open and transparent process, we brought human resources on board to manage the EOI process.”

Following an initial screening of those criteria, applicants are then invited to participate in a remote demonstration, which includes presenting a fundamental and real operational problem.

“Some people are great technically but they haven’t been actively locally and don’t understand the local challenges. While they’re very enthusiastic, they’re still new to the field as network engineers, and technical knowledge can only take you so far.”

“You have to be active within your community–you can’t just have knowledge and not share it.”

“We are very upfront. We provide formal feedback to the unsuccessful applicants, and we give them ideas about ways to meet the criteria and encourage them to apply again. We have seen those people now getting more involved in their local NOGs.”

The Community Trainers pool currently comprises 14 in total, which includes most of the original participants since the program’s inception three years ago.

Tashi says at the moment all the Community Trainers are men, but he is keen to change that.

“We have been requesting more women to apply and join us. There are some really good female professionals in our field, especially in the security field, so we are trying to change the mix.”

“The spread of trainers we are getting is good, it’s not just from one economy. Ideally, we would love to have at least one in each economy but realise that’s not always feasible, so we’re working to build sub-regional trainers too.”

In addition to growing the community trainers network, there is also a focus on building online materials for the APNIC Academy and enriching the training content to ensure what APNIC delivers is current and relevant.

“This is something the community trainers can help with too. It’s not just about helping to scale training delivery, but also about content development and validation.”

For anyone who might be shy about signing up for the task, Tashi stresses there is always support available for the trainers.

“Some technical people are not eloquent speakers, but what’s important is that they have experiences they can share. And the people we teach are engineers, so there is always sympathy from the crowd!”

Join the Community Trainers BoF at APRICOT 2019 on Monday 25 February, visit the Community Trainers Program webpage, or register an Expression of Interest today.

Jaclyn Knight is founder and director of Frank*, specializing in open innovation, design-led consultation and planning, crowd sourcing, strategic communication, employee engagement and visual communication.

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The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.

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