Association, Aggregation and Acknowledgement

In the last year I have been exploring how a connectivist approach to sharing information might support the flourishing of digital communities of practice in sport. In this post I:

  1. Signal the development of an International Content Partnership in high performance sport.
  2. Note discussions about the role an International Association for Sports Information (IASI) can play in a connected world.

I hope that both these items will help me explore association, aggregation and acknowledgement as important attributes of adopting a connectivist approach to learning. (I like Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith’s (2009) approach to learning in this context: “We see learning as an integral part of life. Sometimes it demands an effort; sometimes it is not even our goal. But it always involves who we are, what we do, who we seek to connect with, and what we aspire to become.
George Siemens (2004) has identified some key principles of connectivism. These principles frame my understanding of how we might build self-organising groups interested in the sharing of information (see, Stephen Downes (2007)). In a connectivist aproach:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality.

In the next part of the post I will share some information about an emerging partnership in high performance sport.

International Content Partnership
Richard Young (Technology, Research and Innovation, SPARC, New Zealand) is developing an international content partnership with its foundation in HP Sport.
New Zealand has developed a knowledge capture and collaboration website that has been operational in its present form for nine months. It was set up for New Zealand coaches and athletes and restricted international access.  However, after a short period of time New Zealand opened access to the website and membership grew to twenty-four countries.  The site developers were surprised by the interest in and by the quality of contributions from people unconnected with New Zealand high performance sport.
As a result of this interest the developers decided to take the next step and connect to other countries that may be facing the same issues and who may see benefit in a common location for non-secret, useful information. An international contribution platform could serve as a high caliber resource making it faster to find information that is publicly available or repeated across a number of countries. This information would include, for example, conference video, keynote speaker interviews, research papers, calendar events and world championship results. This information could be accessed (uploaded or linked) through any partnered site.
Richard has invited those interested in the partnership to join ( and have a look at the content and functionality of the site. The intention is that it will operate as an independent site built for the global high performance community.
At present there is no agreed structure to this collaborative initiative. It is a dynamic system that will be developed by partners who see the potential of volitional involvement in the processes of association, aggregation and acknowledgement.
I am involved with the International Association for Sports Information (IASI) too. At present this organisation is exploring its role and relevance in a digital community of shared information. In the next part of the post I want to use three exchanges about the place of IASI to further my consideration of association, aggregation and acknowledgement.

The first contribution comes from a new member of the IASI Steering Group. This member wrote as follows:

The purpose of my email is to ask questions I have and, in some way, to put one’s foot in one’s mouth. Things are getting confused about the ex-IASI…
Indeed, as I understood, IASI was disbanded in 2009. The reasons why are not quite clear to me. Maybe the reason was the lack of candidate for presidency. In that case, we should wonder why there was no candidate.
A steering group was then created and supposed to discuss the situation one year later and decide whether it was worth continuing or not. One has to admit that nothing really happens during this period, not even on the Ning platform that was dedicated to the discussion.
Well, I wondered why. Perhaps the IASI is not necessary anymore. Maybe the elite sport context is nowadays too competitive and countries are not eager anymore to share information about… information !
So I think the real question is : are we ready to group and share information about the way we work ? maybe bilateral exchanges are easier and more adequate.
Admitting we meet next year, what are we ready to communicate on?
I need to clarify the situation before taking the decision about the possible need of a meeting. I hope you will understand my initiative and accept the debate.

A member of the IASI Steering Group responded a few days later:

The email raised several questions which are really crucial to discuss before putting more effort into a possible future of a body designated to support international cooperation and communication in our field of expertise. The questions put forward have been waiting for reliable and sustaining answers for several years.
When IASI was discontinued in Canberra in 2009 that decision was only the final point of a development which we had experienced for a couple of years.
When the email arrived I thought (again) that would be a good starting point to discuss what the different elite sport research institutions and the information/documentation/communication specialists in our field consider worth working for by means of international cooperation.
My position is clear. As a first step I am really interested in international discussion and communication on what we think could and should be done for our major clients – the coaches and the scientific support staff working together with them. And because we are all living in the same world of international elite sport smart experts “see” the same problems and “see” similar solutions (in agreement with the basic national approach in elite sport). So my intention (still) is to initiate international communication on national solutions, discussion on possible international contributions, readiness to present these approaches to colleagues. Of course, we are also in a competitive position as we are working for our national elite sport, but that should not prevent us from talking about what we consider reasonable and effective to serve our clients. That does not mean that we open up all our national doors to everybody, but we have a lot to learn from each other.  And I am convinced that we are not yet faced with such kind of competitiveness that would prohibit those international contacts.
By the way, many of our “mother” institutions are members of the International Association of High Performance Sports Training Centres and have a regular cooperation there (my institute joined that international association only a couple of months ago). So the management of our institutes obviously consider a membership in that association worthwhile (maybe this association might also be or become a framework for international contacts in our field of expertise).
I cannot see any bigger difference between several bilateral contacts (with Tokyo, Magglingen, Canberra or Paris, which I am happy to have very good contacts with) and multilateral/international contacts. Only the latter, for me, is more effective and more interesting.
For me the most critical point in the email was the willingness of institutions and persons to contribute, which obviously is very limited.  I absolutely agree that we need to understand if there is a “content” for international cooperation and if we have or would like to develop “methods” of international communication and cooperation in information/documentation/communication in elite sport and elite sport research. Is the missing discussion on that topic an expression of no need for international communication and cooperation? If the answer is yes, it would be of no use to put more effort into a revitalisation of an international association.
In the months since the Canberra decision to discontinue IASI I step by step have understood that a well established organisation as IASI needs more input to live.
So even though the last year has not just been encouraging, I am not yet willing to accept that the need for resp. interest in international contacts within the formal framework of an international organisation is vanishing. That has also been the major reason to offer international information and communication experts in elite sport and elite sport research a forum to meet and discuss next year in Leipzig, but, honestly speaking, today I do not really expect a huge interest in this “event”.
To sum it up, I am less convinced today that there is a real future for IASI, but I am really convinced that there is a need for international exchange and communication.

In a third email, the coordinator of the IASI Steering Group wrote in response to the first email from a new member:

Thank you for being forthright and honest in your email. I agree with your observations concerning the confused status of the International Association for Sports Information (IASI).
IASI experienced a technical dissolution in 2009 due to a combination of factors. It is my view that these factors include:

  • the global financial crisis and subsequent contraction of national sport (sport library, research and travel) budgets
  • IASI’s failure (as a group) to respond to a global paradigm shift in the way information and knowledge is shared;  and,
  • the membership’s unwillingness to commit to more of the same.

The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) remains committed to international collaboration in all areas of sport and active recreation. I believe there is a need and place for a revitalised IASI today more so than ever before. It is my hope that IASI will reform with a genuinely committed membership – that is a membership willing to make a contribution beyond simply attending annual meetings that conclude with no real outcomes.
In the meantime, I intend to review (and possibly upgrade) our site at: The purpose of establishing this site in May 2009 was to ensure the organisation and its members continued to have some form of international  connectivity and visibility.
It is a ‘lifeboat’ of sorts. At this stage we are considering implementing two levels of membership on the site – an open membership level for all sport information enthusiasts, and a closed and much smaller membership group for key international IASI partners (i.e. those progressive members who are prepared to make a genuine contribution to IASI). I am keen to receive the Steering Group’s guidance here.
Additionally, we continue to maintain the IASI Listserv. However, I plan to decommission this in the near future and will encourage anyone who wants to stay connected to move to the Ning site. The future (or no future) of IASI is really in our hands.
I applaud you for raising these very relevant and timely questions with this group.

News of an international content partnership and the attempts to revitalise IASI are both important signposts for me about the need to find connectivist approaches to sharing and supporting in sport.
My position is that a community of practice is sustainable with voluntary effort, drive, energy and passion. I like Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith’s (2009) vision of and for technology stewarding. ‘Technology stewards’ are individuals who take responsibility for a community’s technology resources for a time. Technology stewards are:

people with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with or interest in technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewarding typically includes selecting and configuring technology, as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community. (Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith’s (2009, page 25).

I do think that people do have a finite amount of energy to give. The appeal of a connectivist approach for me is that “learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources”. My hope is that a community has sufficient awareness of its constituency so that it is possible for stewardship to pass to others, from node to node.
I am hopeful that the International Content Partnership and IASI can find stewards for their work. From my perspective association, aggregation and acknowledgement are keystones of non-zero sum approaches to learning.

The more complex societies get and the more complex the networks of interdependence within and beyond community and national borders get, the more people are forced in their own interests to find non-zero-sum solutions. That is, win–win solutions instead of win–lose solutions…. Because we find as our interdependence increases that, on the whole, we do better when other people do better as well — so we have to find ways that we can all win, we have to accommodate each other…. (Bill Clinton)

I do believe that the competitive edge in sport is to share and collaborate. I see this as the way for sport to remain relevant. I think sports information can lead the way in this sharing … if we can connect our energy and passion.
Photo Credit
Scaffolding Sculpture
Blue Scaffold


  1. Hi Keith,
    Thanks for this thoughtful post and for referring to the international content partnership. I can relate to the comment from the new IASI member that ‘..maybe the elite sport context is nowadays too competitive…’. Sharing will require a paradigm shift and once it starts rolling we will realise how important giving is to receiving. We are keeping the wrong secrets and a partnership for non-secret useful information can enhance a nations competitive advantage. I agree with your final comment that sharing and competitive advantage are not mutually exclusive….we just need a few very committed to action the start! I feel we are on our way.

    • Richard
      Thanks for posting a comment. You have inspired me and I hope that the self-evidence of what is possible becomes even more evident through examples of practice.
      Best wishes

  2. […] We will need global collaboration if we are to go beyond ethnocentrism in our use of information services. I see Richard Young’s initiative in New Zealand and Gavin Reynold’s plans for Australia as examples of what we can achieve in an International Content Partnership. […]


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