Dialogue Mapping: The Ying to SharePoint Yang

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I don’t know about you, but as a SharePoint practitioner, I love the fact that I do not do SharePoint full-time anymore. I’d like to take some time to explain why this is the case, and how my non IT work helps me be a better SharePoint practitioner. To do so, I will talk about a recent non IT project I worked on. Who knows? This may give you some insights into how you view and approach collaborative work.

Western Australia is BIG

File:Kimberley region of western australia.JPGIn case you don’t know already, I live in Perth, Western Australia. You can see Perth if you squint at the map on your left and look to the south west area.

Western Australia is a bloody big land area and extremely isolated. One claim to fame about living in Perth is its distinction for being one of the most isolated cities in the world. In fact we has a population density is on par with Mongolia (this is dead-set true – I researched this fact). Of the 2.2 million people that live in the state, 1.8 million live in the Perth metropolitan area and the rest are scattered far and wide. In terms of distribution, there are no other major cities in Western Australia. The next most populated town outside of Perth is Mandurah with some 83,000 people. 

In the north of Western Australia, these towns are often separated by anywhere from a couple hundred to more than a thousand kilometres. The weather is very hot, the landscape is breathtakingly beautiful and the isolation here is hard to comprehend without visiting. The wealth of Western Australia (“GFC? What GFC?”) comes from the north of this vast state, via huge mineral deposits that China seems happy to buy from us, which in turn keep me and my colleagues busy putting in SharePoint around the place.

Now if you think Western Australia is big, get this: The Kimberley region of Western Australia (the top section marked in red) is almost as big as the entire country of Germany. For American readers, it alone is three fifths the size of Texas. For all that space, only around 45000-50000 people live there.

These wide distances create all sorts of challenges. At a most basic level, think about the cost of basic services to such a remote location with such a small population density. Cost of living is high and services like health care are always stretched and people living here have to accept that they will never be able to enjoy the same level of service enjoyed by their city slicker cousins.

Now that I have painted that picture in your mind, let me intersect that with one of Australia’s biggest wicked problems. The indigenous people’s of Australia have many social and health issues that have had a massive human cost to them. We are talking chronic alcoholism, physical and sexual abuse, depression, suicide and the whole range of mental illnesses. Families and communities tear themselves apart in a seemingly an endless negatively reinforcing cycle. Like many indigenous groups around the world, intervention approaches from earlier periods have had catastrophic long term consequences that were never considered at the time (a classic wicked problem characteristic). When you read the stories about the stolen generations, you cannot help but be deeply moved by the long term effects, the damage done and the sad legacy left behind.

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