Collaboration Ninja 忍者

Work-in-progress: please join in and share your insights

Collaborator Experience Design

Customer experience design is driven by the moments of interaction for the customer. Similarly what’s the environment that you need to create to encourage interactions and optimise the potential of your collaborators? We look at governance, legal frameworks and web tools that can help you do that.

From Hierarchy to Wirearchy

In general the more open it is the more collaborative it is.”- Keith Sawyer

One of the first considerations in structuring your collaboration is where on the spectrum of governance should your collaboration fall? Keith Sawyer considers collaboration along a simple spectrum with hierarchal ‘command and control’ governance on one end and decentralized zero control, completely distributed and diffuse collaboration on the other end of the spectrum. The open source software networks and the alqaida terrorist networks both fall toward the later end of the spectrum. In encouraging collaboration, Sawyer encourages us to stay towards the decentralized end of the spectrum, as it is the model that has proved to empower people to participate fully in collaboration, while “It’s less motivating for people to realize that the ultimate decisions is made by people superior to them.“- Keith Sawyer

When considering governance models of successful collaboration, most observed that collaborating in the networked world usually requires a hybrid model of governance that is a bit unfamiliar to those of us used to the old institutions of the un-networked world.

Jimmy Wales famously described Wikipedia as part anarchy, part democracy, part monarchy, part meritocracy. According to Wikipedia administrator Chris Applegate, one of the real successes of Wikipedia is it’s hybrid model between democratic voting and consensus. For most decisions (when the monarchy does not kick in) votes are tallied, but people must provide a reason lending the decision making model towards consensus.

This take on a hybrid governance model is probably what you will need to look towards in your collaboration, but consider this advice from Roland Harwood: “I think generally we have too much monarchy and aristocracy and not enough meritocracy, democracy and anarchy.”

“I think if you give everyone who’s participating that equal opportunity to contribute and it’s not too hierarchal and managed that will just come. If people aren’t getting something from it- they’ll soon use their feet and go somewhere else. I think it’s just about being transparent and open. If large numbers of people within the collaboration in whatever business model it is feels that it’s not working there’s got to be some way of that being taken on board to be able to take the thing in a new direction.”Geoff Brown

As a result what we end up with is often not a hierarchy, but what Jon Husband has coined as a Wirearchy: ” If anything, wirearchy is about the power and effectiveness of people working together through connection and collaboration … taking responsibility individually and collectively rather than relying on traditional hierarchical status. The working definition of Wirearchy is ‘a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology'”

Shared risk + responsibility + accountability = Empowerment

If you want to keep motivation high, give everyone the feeling they are in charge. Its always this principle of empowerment, of listening to your employees or delegating decision making to the individual”- Peter Gloor

“I think one thing that we see again and again is if you don’t up front have an explicit or implicit agreement that you’re going to share the risk or share the reward that’s when the collaboration will break down. I think its really important people are taking a similar stake.– Roland Harwood

Designing for Self-Organisation

The responsibility of participation

The flattening of the traditional hierarchical governance model in favor of a more ‘starfish-like’ chaordic model of working collaboratively has changed the way we view responsibility within a project. When somebody opts into working collaboratively, “it’s not about spoon feeding, it’s not about making it too easy. At the end of the day people have to step up and take responsibility for their discussions their conversations their learning” (Geoff Brown). Collaborators often have equal standing and responsibility which is much easier if they themselves are working with their passions. “Whatever the conversation or the context is, it has to bring people in who are passionate about that. It has to be based around peoples passions. I think whatever structure you put in there it’s got to be about people taking responsibility for the discussions and what happens during that discussion” Geoff Brown

The key to self-organization? Let go of control

Delegation and self-organisation, those sort of things are very helpful for turning an organization into a very big Collaborative Innovation Network (COIN) or into an ecosystem of different COINs. That means you don’t give people orders, but you give them a task to do and then its up to them to decide how they want to self-organize and they want to do the task.”Peter Gloor

I think whether it’s in business or community I think it needs to have that degree of flexibility and self-organization you know….collaboration doesn’t happen best by an institution trying to control things so whatever the structure is it’s gotta be free and flexible and allow the crowd to be involved. Don’t try and control it- let the crowd come in and take control” – Geoff Brown

The role of Social Capital

When dealing with hybrid governance structures, operating along the principles of wirearchy, through self-organization, social capital tends to be the glue that holds this all together. It’s about being nice, having good values, knowing the difference between right and wrong and having the structures in place to enforce self-governed accountability. Chris Applegate’s anecdote about his time at Wikipedia is very helpful in exemplifying the way these forces tend to interact together:

“Most open collaboration I’ve participated in…generally followed benevolent dictator model with rules. There’s one person in charge maybe the founder although there’s often an evolution to become that person. It can be one of the first contributors- at the start they’re creating a lot of content- and then become defacto leader. Sometimes they’re elected (Apache). Behind it all there is usually a father figure, benevolent dictator- the person whose project it is. They might not have any legally defined role- the project will continue without them- but until then they are the ultimate authority. There’s no formal basis for it- but it’s as much to do with the informal currency or social capital they’ve earned either by founding or supporting- they become the most senior person. (Applegate 2009, 33 minutes)“Comes back to the contrasts between informal social capital and hard and fast rules within a community. Hard and fast rules can only go so far. You need to have a philosophy and an ethos and good strong leaders enforcing a moral code, philosophy, and clear sense of direction of where that collaboration should go.”Chris Applegate

The Binding Structures for your Collaboration

“Our agreements are our structures” Jon Husband

Create boundaries and structures

To many it is the randomness of the Internet that holds much appeal. However it is important to create structure and guidelines for any successful collaboration. That structure may just be your agreement to work towards a shared vision. But it’s important to establish a core set of rules to hold the boundaries of the collaboration: be nice, utilize certain tools in certain ways.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but a big part of creating boundaries and structures is to allow for greater openness and flexibility. We need to create enabling structures that allow participants to have randomness: those water-cooler conversations from which so much innovation stems. Roland Harwood’s experience at NESTA studying collaborative innovation has led him to realize that the way we currently allocate time to work is very ‘productivity’ focused, and can be constraining of creativity. In the initial phases of a collaborative project, where innovative thinking is at its most vital, making space for idleness, for randomness is essential.

Ensure space for creativity and risk

In the first phase of collaboration, allowing for experimentation and risk can foster innovation and learning. Many of today’s tools are great for testing ideas, and the Internet provides a cheap ‘sandbox’ for experimentation and the hatching of ideas, making mistakes and learning from them. I think that the job of leaders is to really be really strong about creating an environment where they say: we won’t punish you if things aren’t perfect the first time. What we really want to incentivize is you’re going out there and trying stuff.” –Dan Munz

Similarly, if too much control is exerted on a group process, thereby not allowing space for concepts to be explored intuitively and deeply, the level of motivation may be reduced. Neglecting the importance of relationship by pushing a group towards its goal can have unintended consequences you might have killed off quite alot of the creative spirit.  Creativity doesn’t run on a schedule and isn’t linear.” Johnnie Moore

Eco-systems of participation

The governance of, and eco-systems of collaborative networks can look quite different. We have to be considering the wider network, with nodes and cells and all the synapses of communication that happen. Within all collaborative projects, you wind up with nested eco-systems of collaborative participants.

“But you couldn’t point to one particular person and say that person is the person who is leading this charge. There are lots of people all around and you can maybe point to one person amongst your group of friends who influenced you, but they’re not necessarily the leader of that organization, they’re just the leader of your little cell or node of that organization.”Chris Thorpe

Peter Gloor and his colleagues realized this is true for all collaborative innovation networks. In reality one collaborative innovation network is never that big itself, but it’s interlinked and networked within a larger eco-system of collaborative networks. Wikipedia, whilst appearing outwardly quite huge, is actually a networked connection of many smaller collaborations. So when designing your collaboration, focus on quality, not quantity. “Getting huge collaborative innovation networks is of less value than having a small group of fully dedicated people  … quality not quantity” (Peter Gloor).

“If you look at wikipedia, its consists actually of an ecosystem of many small COINs.  People, who are always [soley] working on articles about religion, articles about energy, articles about physics. Wikipedia has been research very intensively about the activity levels of the different contributors. It turns out that there is what is called a long-tail distribution which means that very few people dedicate very many hours, and very many people dedicate very few hours.”Peter Gloor

Designing for Diversity

That’s where creativity comes from in a collaboration: through that diversity”Roland Harwood

One of the greatest benefits of collaborative working is the diversity of ideas and mindsets, that combined in new ways can lead to truly innovative breakthroughs. When designing a collaboration to encourage diversity, we must enable people to participate in their own way. From the user-interface to the method by which you recognize individual contributions, it is easy to unintentionally design a collaboration very specific to your own mindset. To avoid putting up barriers to participation, you need to design a collaboration that embraces the different working styles of your participants.

Embracing differing levels of usership

You can consider there two be two main categories of is the more casual participant who adds comments or makes occasional contributions in terms of content and then there’s meta contributors whose job is to maintain the utility of the resource as a whole.” (Mark Klein). Peter Gloor talks uses Deborah Ancona‘s metaphor of X-teams to explain these two usership levels in terms of ‘Pigs’ and ‘Chickens’ in an English Breakfast. Pigs who participate with their full selves, and chickens who make a big contribution by dedicating an egg (Peter Gloor). Gloor also talks about ‘Cows’ who participate much less by giving a little milk. These Cows are more the spectators of your collaboration, not participating, but part of your stakeholder group non-the-less. These usership levels are exemplified by wikipedia, which allows for self organisation within its two levels of meta users and everyday users. It has a mechanism which allows users to ‘move up the ranks’ as they make the transition from ‘chickens’ to ‘pigs’.

In Wikipedia you have people who just author and people who worry about whether to lock articles, whether to delete, whether people should be kicked out… those are the meta-contributors and you have the same thing in other tools. It seems that the thing that is working is to have a way for regular contributions to graduate and become meta contributors so the community kind of self governs through that self- promotion process“. – Mark Klein

Within most collaborations there is a role for everyone. This is one of the key benefits of embracing differing degrees of usership. If all someone does is correct a spelling mistake, that was still beneficial to the collaboration (Chris Applegate). You can enable people to make small contributions by lowering the bar to entry which involves keeping your user-interface clean and clear and ensuring the method for participation is intuitive. (Danielle Germaine- Collaboration Project)

Be considerate of the technical sophistication of your contributors

Keeping things intuitive is key when you consider the difference in user styles between digital immigrants vs digital natives. Digital Natives (people who have been using the internet for a long time and have a high degree of familiarity with it), have a different form of interaction than their digital immigrant counterparts, who are much less at ease. Accommodating these two groups is challenging, as digital immigrants tend to be much less trusting of the web, and need to be convinced of its usefulness, whilst the digital natives are accustomed to working at the rapid pace that the web provides (Danielle Germaine). If your interface requires a degree of complication that is beyond the capacity of your audience, you will demotivate those less sophisticated participants (Dominic Campbell).

While the technology, and our understanding of it, is improving every day, there are still quite a few barriers to involving digital immigrants in your project and increasing the ‘meta’ participation within your project. If you want to increase the amount of people contributing large amounts, you need to consider how the voices of those digital immigrants and outlying participants will be heard.

“The top 10% of users responsible for 90% of edits. As a result, the 10% of people making 90% of the edits are also making 90% of the complaints about the software. Even for a technologically savy person it’s annoying to report a bug. The software needs to open itself make sure it caters for that 90% who don’t speak up as much, have a harder time getting there voices heard to maximize the contribution of its users.” – Chris Applegate

In the end it’s about fostering shared language, respect for different viewpoints and respect for diversity, to build trust and success.

Communication & Trust

Communication and trust are really the key issues in designing any collaboration. If we cannot communicate with each other, we cannot collaborate. If we cannot trust each other, we cannot collaborate. Many aspects of ‘keeping the trust’ will come in how you design the business and legal structures, here are some initial considerations for how you’re communicating and maintaining trust in web-enabled collaborative communities:

Try to use Shared Language

One of the great advantages of web-based collaboration is bringing different people with diverse perspectives to the table. However you’ll find that engineers, artists, computer programmers and community activists…  all utilize the English language quite differently:  it can be difficult to build a shared understanding through words. This is exasperated when you have people from different cultures, with different native languages. There’s no quick fix to the cultural confusions that come through language, but Peter Gloor recommends we remember the importance of stories, and utilize people who know the ‘languages’ of the different groups coming together to serve as Gate Keepers.

Don’t tell processes, tell stories

“You need gatekeepers. You need people that can translate because the people in … wherever, they understand the words, and they form their own mental image, and this mental image is very different using the same words.  You need people that are aware of that and can translate from one to the other. Telling it in stories – that’s what I found helps a lot. Don’t tell process, tell stories.”-Peter Gloor

Syntax, insider culture, and jokes

In regards to motivation, it’s a great sign if your participants start to build their own culture: their own language, their own jokes. But according to Chris Applegate, this can create a barrier for new participants joining in the collaboration; if they do not understand the joke, they will feel apart from the ‘tribe’. This is no different than with off-line communities, it’s how we develop our herd and our culture. But do your best to build inclusive language and dialogue and remember to keep it human. Some of us have been communicating over SMS, wikis, and chats for so long we’ve forgotten what a confusing syntax those mediums present to new users.

“Also remember that within these technologies, what might be a barrier to entry is adopting a manless style of voice, a tone. The language you use…it can be hard to educate people in the language of the community. (for example: educating about neutral point of view on Wikipedia is quite a full time job and quite difficult) For example with the younger generations using acronyms not capitalizing first word of a sentence, using ‘u’ ‘r’ are barriers…. and this is not meant to scaremonger that computers are destroying literacy, that’s not the case at all…but older generations aren’t comfortable with that language tone of voice.” – Chris Applegate

Be Inclusive with Your Communication

An easy way to de-motivate your collaboration is to have lots of communication appearing to happen ‘behind closed doors.’ The key to success is for communication to be transparent, open and inclusive. There are lots of ways to exclude participants in communication. One is utilizing a medium they are uncomfortable with (e-mail lists are not good for everyone) so at the beginning of your collaboration make sure the technology you are using is accessible to everyone.

The easiest way to cut off an audience from collaboration is to not consider the accessibility of your web-site. Chris Thorpe is a designer and researcher in this field, and readily admits that most of us have not done a good enough job considering the accessibility of websites for people with disabilities. Please take this into consideration, and let Chris Thorpe know if you have any questions – he has a passion for this field 🙂

Another is by accidentally leaving others out of communication. People get dropped from e-mail lists by accident, or people have meetings face to face and forget to include their distributed co-collaborators. When part of the group moves on without the rest of the group, you’ve got a problem.

“People meeting face to face have a huge advantage, because they can get immediate feedback and they will either have built up trust and then work together as a team or they will just have fallen apart and then its obsolete anyway. Bottom line is it will be a much tighter knit community then those working abroad. The people that are co-located need to be very aware of the problem and try to be as inclusive as possible of the people that are not in the same place. Always send them transcripts of meetings. Invite them to meetings to join them through skype or phone or chat. Just include them in any email communications or send emails with a transcript of what they have discussed face to face.”- Peter Gloor

Do whatever you can not to lose the implicit communication

The largest disadvantage of on-line collaboration is you lose implicit communication; when someone’s body language or mood communicates how they feel just as much as their words. However there are strategies for bringing implicit communication in to on-line collaborations.

Johnnie Moore tells us don’t be afraid of emoticons ” 😉 ” goes a long way towards communicating sarcasm or playfulness that would otherwise be lost. Or a well placed ” 🙂 ” can tell everyone I’m feeling good and positive and happy, even if my words may be expressing concerns.

“Using emoticons or those little smileys to give feedback is very valuable, there is a little bit of research that if you use those things its very good for productivity and makes people feel more cohesive.”- Peter Gloor

Use audio over typing for real-time conversations:

Johnie Moore explains that “quite important emotional information… gets stripped out in purely typing”. Your presence, the tone of your voice and the meaning you convey with your body language is lost.  As a solution to this presenceless mode of communication he offers that  “Skype in particular allows us to actually talk which adds a whole different quality to the conversation, compared to doing something merely by writing words through Twitter or Blogging. You actually can feel the person’s presence…the pauses in my speech” (Johnnie Moore). Cisco to date has the most technologically advanced solution: “Cisco system called Telepresence with these huge monitors that give you the feeling you can almost smell the other person. The resolution is so high you can see everything…. and you get the feeling that you are interacting with the other person face to face” (Peter Gloor). This technology is not yet as ubiquitous or accessible as skype, but always keep your eyes open for opportunities to increase the presence in your communication.

Beware Signal to Noise Ratio: Costs and Ease of Communicating vs. Benefit Derived.

It always takes effort to participate in a collaboration, so make sure you’re considering the benefits contributors will derive from participation against the cost (time) of their communication. Often communities chose e-mail lists because it has the lowest cost of participation: we’re all pretty comfortable with e-mail and can do it from our own accounts. However the noise (for example volume of e-mail) can overwhelm the signal (useful information). So make sure you are considering the cost benefit analysis of any communication mechanism you chose… “make it clear to people that what they’re doing is likely to have an actual impact on a problem they care about.”Mark Klein

“For some tools, like a web forum, it’s really easy to enter stuff – you don’t have to think about where to place it or how to structure it so the cost of entry is low. The problem is that the value of the contribution can also be relatively low because what you enter can easily get lost among the hundreds of posts from other people. The deliberatorium asks you to do more work when you enter, so the initial cost is higher, but the chances of your post being seen and used by other people is substantially higher because it will be placed in a well-organized structure with a higher signal to noise ratio. These tradeoffs are also substantially effected by scale. For a small-scale discussion, a web forum may be fine. For a large-scale discussion, a more structured tool like the deliberatorium begins to shine.” – Mark Klein

When considering an interface to facilitate optimal benefit for different users and to help them avoid the ‘noise’ it’s important to think of progressive engagement strategies.

“The key thing is Progressive engagement: this idea that I give quite a lot,  is sharing tea and biscuits with people. No one hands you a form at that start which asks you what you want. You don’t have to tick a load of check boxes. Its a conversation. Would you like a cup of tea, yes. Would you like a biscuit to go with that? Yes please or no thank you. It happens piece by piece rather than in a big long form with a submit box at the bottom… you can get people to tell you a lot more about themselves if you just ask them questions one by one and give them something in return every time.”Chris Thorpe

Designing for Trust

“Trust is everything. That comes back to terms and conditions and identity and licensing. You need to be open at the start: what’s going to happen with this data that you’re asking people to provide you with,  and what the potential outcomes could be: where it will end up. Trust is everything.” Chris Thorpe

So if trust is everything for collaboration, how do we keep the trust? Especially in on-line communities, where as Andrew Keen points out it can be easier to be insincere and pose as something you are not. Dominic Campbell believes that from the start we have to all make the choice to be more transparent. Use your real name, full name all the time. There’s no point in hiding, the truth generally comes out, so we need to be comfortable representing ourselves openly and honestly on-line. Peter Gloor agrees, pointing out that “Transparency builds trust…that means that you give as much information about yourself as possible. That can just mean enter a link to your facebook page. If you tell people why you are doing a certain thing whether it is to get rich, whether it’s because you want to change the world, whether its because you want a new car or a  dress or whatever, if you tell that, then the other person will trust you much than if you leave him/her in the dark ” (Peter Gloor). From there: well it’s really the same as off-line.

“And trust well trust is critical and trust is a funny thing because a lot of my friends who knock on-line things they are generally not trusting of it. They won’t buy on ebay or put their credit card details out there. They’d be asking me questions like ‘how do you know this Alice-Marie isn’t some sort of crazy psycopath that’s trying to track you down and take your identity?’  You can’t convince those people otherwise. But i think trust is just something that happens when your in that space with a group of people, where the vision is clear and your passionate about the topic. You connect with them on-line in a way that you connect with them face to face that’s one of the nice things about blogging. There is a degree of trust that builds up between people that’s really surprising…..just by reading their twitter feeds and reading their blog you really get a good idea of what a person’s like I think” – Geoff Brown

Finally, don’t be afraid of the off-line world! Getting together face to face can make a huge difference to building trust, especially at the early stages of a collaboration. “In all my projects, and I have done many of them where I haven’t met people face to face for a year… I have met everybody that I’m collaborating with very closely… face to face and that has always been a great boost and energizer for a project.”  (Peter Gloor)

Andrew Keen points out that while the web makes communication very easy, communication is not collaboration. So how do we make the leap? How to we get past talking, to acting and actually collaborating? Well motivation has a lot to do with that.

Legal frameworks

Open Knowledge: “The term knowledge is used broadly and it includes all forms of data, content such as music, films or books as well any other type of information…A piece of knowledge is open if you are free to use, reuse, and redistribute it” (Open Knowledge Definition)

Considering the degree of openness:

“I think that openness – the ability for larger numbers of people to participate in solving problems – is the added value that social computing brings. It can have a lot of powerful effects for the good. I think there’s still a lot of hype and confusion around when social computing is the right answer. To a certain extent it’s trendy without people fully understanding when openness is a win and when it is a quagmire but it’s clear that the openness enabled by having cheap internet communication has enabled radically new and powerful possibilities that we didn’t have ten or twenty years ago.” -Mark Klein

To share, or not to share

While it seems difficult to quantify why, most people who participate in open collaborative communities have found the benefits of erring towards open.  “The experience I’m having with the Internet: you put x amount in and you get x + y back… I think when you put things out there in an open way it all swings back to you.” (Geoff Brown)

“If there is the question of sharing too little or too much, I usually ere in the direction of sharing too much.”-Peter Gloor

Barry Schwartz has pointed out that by restricting ownership and creating rules, you stop people from being able to use their practical wisdom (moral will + moral skill), and to do their best: thereby breeding mediocrity. This is exactly what collaborative innovation seeks to avoid. When creating structures to protect information and ideas, you need to give people room to ‘do the right thing’, to use their practical wisdom. With this in mind, it probably makes sense to share? Many who are engaging in collaborative, on-line communities have taken this philosophy…
“I tend to look at it: what’s my part of the puzzel? How do I look on my own intellectual property? What probably is emerging is that people who want to play on a more liberal playing field are creating a system of our own. If you follow what creative commons have done, they’re working within the existing structures to create these common areas where we decide to share and share alike.” –Johnnie Moore
However Dominic Campbell encourages us to remember the end goal is not to share and be open just for the sake of being open. This is not a dogmatic debate, it’s about believing that through sharing and collaboration we are wiser and create more innovations. If at a certain point you need to be ‘less open’ to bring that innovation to market, that may be a trade-off you have to accept.
“There’s an awful lot of collaborative projects that just end up being pointless, that just end up being a talking shop. People end up thinking that the end in itself is having an open collaboration, rather than actually changing the world with that collaboration.” – Dominic Campbell
Below we’ll discuss some of the best legal structures to enable openness and sharing that is productive towards collaboration. But bear in mind just setting up a legal structure will not enable sharing. There are institutional and cultural norms against sharing we need to address in parallel with the legal structures.
“It has to do with people being territorial about their turf- about having some sort of strategic advantage in having privileged information and therefore being reluctant to share information. There’s an entire cultural matrix around competition, secrecy: you don’t really share; you trade… however there’s diffuse reciprocity that takes place in the most effective on-line collaboration environments. That’s a social norm that needs to be learned and it’s difficult to unlearn those old norms.” –Howard Rheingold

Who’s going to own it all?

“Any sort of legality has to protect openness and protect sharing in order to promote collaboration”Chris Applegate
Should ownership be given to the incividual, or should it be decided for the whole community via the platform? There are arguments for both.

“Everyone owns their own opinion… that opinion is still theirs even thought they’ve freely given it to you, so it’s up to them to decide the license of it “(Chris Thorpe).

David Bollier puts forth the idea that choice on open platforms allows a greater circulation of content. Some people want to own and monetize their own intellectual property (IP), and will not collaborate if they are unable to do so. Giving participants that choice to decide how their contribution should be used is then critical for motivating their participation.

One argument for allocating control of license to the platform is that “it is advisable to have an entire collaborative site covered under a single license, rather than giving too much nuance to every author as this becomes confusing for ‘re-mixers’ and consumers of the content”(Joel Marlon). This point of view is echoed by Thorpe who recommends “you have to have some kind of structure for who owns the data once its been given or  who controls it” (Chris Thorpe).

Cultural considerations

One of the intriguing factors when considering the international application of law and wether to use a legal framework that encourages distribution of your work in the commons is that many countries operate outside of the accepted western legal system or don’t have access to a civil society legal system. The commons in developing countries tend to be more socially negotiated rather than legally protected, and this has in many cases been sustainable. Beyond this, the idea of ‘owning ideas’ is completely foreign to many cultures so they don’t respect Intellectual Property laws, commons based or not. So keep in mind if you’re looking for a truly inter-cultural collaboration you may not have any choice but to be open- as certain cultures don’t understand the concept of marking up ideas as property. (David Bollier)

Different risks and fears in being open

We’ve come across three areas of concern regarding products, services and subject of collaborations and possible abuses of intellectual property.

Firstly, how do you guarantee that what you contribute won’t get destroyed or mis-used? Once you’ve finished with it, what happens when open data is misused? Where does your responsability end? (Dan Munz). Legal frameworks are emerging to deal with this but have to be put to the test in law cases. As we try to be more open, copyright becomes a limiting factor, however as a contributor you need to trust that your intellectual property will not be abused. “We need to create structures that enable people to have their fears allayed… There needs to be some form of effective safety net.”(Dominic Campbell)

The second is that of the types of data being shared in collaborative projects.  In particular personal data pertaining to what you do online, what you listen to, what you look at. How this data can and can not be used remains a grey area. (Chris Applegate)

Lastly,  how can I TRUST that my ideas won’t be taken advantage of, that I will get something in return?

The power of attribution

The concept of attribution is really key for collaborations to succeed. The demand is great as exemplified by emergence of @, # and RT in Twitter. People wanted to be able to attribute the information they were finding.

When sharing, the expectations are evolving into those of give and take. People are gifting their Intellectual Property, but the expectation is one of thanks in the form of attribution: “I’ve gone for the most liberal creative commons liscence I can: Help yourself, but attribute me if you use it.” (Johnnie Moore) This system of ‘gift and attribution’ is the engine driving the surge in sharing online we see today. “That forms a virtuous circle with regards to social proof. Both thanking me for my idea and also promoting me to my peers. You can very simply give people a reason to share again effectively by attributing ideas to them”. (Chris Thorpe)

Licensing Advice

The first thing to consider is whether you want to favor the individual contributors or the community. “Alot depends on the goal of the project and context” (David Bollier). In many cases the purpose of a collaboration is for a community good so you may want to use a license such as GPL (General Public License), or define a creative commons liscence that applys to the whole content. In this scenario the community comes first, and as contributors, you just have to accept the legal construct if you want to participate. Creative common’s on the other hand can facilitate the individual picking the terms of their contribution between attirubition and share-alike for any purpose, to more restrictive terms where sharing is limited to non-commercial uses. The choice between community and individual ownership is dependant on a fine balance between the needs of the community and the needs of individual participants.

If you do choose to favour the individual, many consider “creative commons are the way to go with these sort of things. They’re really simple, really easy to understand. You can by default give people a chance to decide which one of the licenses they want, whether they want it to be share-alike or whether they want it to be a remixable one, or whether they want people to cite them” (Chris Thorpe).  You may also want to use CC as they allow people to contribute in different ways. (Roland Harwood) Equally there is this idea that: “protecting the commons is one way to protect the collaboration over the long term”. (David Bollier)

There is a movement towards being more open that recommends you pick the most open licenses for your  contributions. It comes from this undercurrent of doing ‘good’ by being more open and giving. “In a way the nice thing to do would be to pick the most open license at the start of the collaboration and then let people restrict their bits of it later on. That restriction would then trickle down through the branches of the collaboration” (Chris Thorpe). On a much grander scale, Dan Munz would like to see data treated as a national asset, both free and open ( Dan Munz ).
The add on to this ‘open as possible’ attitude can be to require recognition for your contribution: “you’re welcome to take it and remix it and create your new derivative of it, but you have to credit the original” (Chris Thorpe).

Did we mention trust?

The addition of legal constructs to the web such as creative commons, is enabling people to contribute more of their intellectual property because ‘Law’ is still deemed by many to be more trustworthy than an implied social contract. “Lots of sharing was going on before the creative commons, but it was kind of a legally grey zone- you didn’t know if you’d get sued”( David Bollier ).  An important progression has been that investors are now able to look at collaboratively produced products and services and see more clearly how they can generate a more legally secure return on their investment.

A legal framework however won’t stand alone to support web-based collaborative innnovation projects. The ethical and moral codes of collaborating communiteis need to develop into a culture of collaboration.  Self – organisation and rating systems seem to be at the root of many successful web-based platforms where a high degree of trust is required for interactions to take place. For example and “Look at Wikipedia. That shouldn’t work because it’s open for anyone to go in and edit anything. Yet if I go it…and tamper with it and change it to all this stuff that isn’t right within minutes or hours it’s changed back again because the crowd steps in and changes it: it self-organizes” (Geoff Brown)

Also keep in mind that whatever legal structure we generate, there will always be grey areas of morality.  For example sharing the wrong kind of data. In combination with  law, our collaborations need “a philosophy and an ethos and good strong leaders enforcing a moral code, philosophy, and clear sense of direction of where that collaboration should go.” (Chris Applegate)

The needs of today: the legal structures of yesterday

Current legal constructs don’t work well in a networked world. For example with the new ‘Open Government’ emerging from the USA under new mandates from the Obama Administration, questions are arising around how diffferent laws interact with government platforms. “For example we have the freedom of information act(FOIA)- this law that basically gives citizens the right to request certain information from government… A [government] wiki creates multiple versions of a page. How many versions of that page can be requested by a FOIA?…there is no wiki section of FOIA ” (Dan Munz). Laws created in a time prior to the internet need to be re-evaluated, as they typically don’t address the implications of collaborative and iterative media (Dan Munz).

“The creative commons are an answer some of the time, and thats an interesting development.”(Roland Harwood)

We find ourselves right in the midsts of a phase change. With many people opting away from tradiitonal copyright towards the commons, it becomes clear that in many cases, the legal structure needed for a networked world is yet to emerge. The Creative Commons (CC) is easing that transition, providing a step in the right direction (Johnnie Moore ) by opening doors in terms of the ways people can share their IP, however for many, CC, is not quite the answer. “I’ve certainly never come across a satisfactory set of rules to manage this new world. Creative commons and things like that are great, it gives you the opportunity to be far more open than ever, but this is where I have this dispute with people who believe open collaboration is an end in itself… because ultimately I don’t think they’d be feeling that way if their  idea was then taken, and replicated and improved upon”. (Dominic Campbell)

Within current systems, for example patenting laws, the favor lies with the more wealthy disputor. “For  a small company vs. a large company trying to contest a patent there’s just no contest because its far too expensive, not only to protect yourself but then to enforce that protection.” (Roland Harwood)

Recently attempts are being made to address the implications of the globally distributed work-place and international scale collaborations. A big advancement has come in the recognition of certain new organizational models: “The State of Vermont adopted a law which allows people to create virtual corporations without the usual procedural requirements that physical real life corporations have to create, so you have a state sanctioned law that allows you to become a corporation even though all the members can be geographically dispersed, no offices, collaborating on-line!” (David Bollier)

An undeniable force of the Internet is a tendency towards openness. Ultimately things difuse and open up- and it’s happening quickly now with the rapid growth in on-line participation and communities. It’s uncertain what the future holds for international copyright law- but we know we’ll be on the edge of our seats just waiting to see what emerges.

Web tools

When it comes to picking the right tools for the job, it’s hard to make generalizations. Every collaboration is unique. Here we’ve tried to gather some tips, some questions to consider, and things to watch out for when selecting tools. But in the end, remember….”You only start learning this stuff through action” (Goeff  Brown) So get out there and start trying. We really think the web offers a lot of opportunity, especially with the evolution of web 2.0 technology. As Chris Applegate points out… “the nice thing about web 2.0 is there’s a lot of tools out there. Lots of ways of passing messages around- communicating- conversing. The innovative part is bridging the gap between what technology is and what the goal is.” (Chris Applegate)

Questions to ask when selecting tools:

What problem am I trying to Solve? Who is my Audience? The first thing to think about when selecting a tool is: what problem are you trying to solve?  You need to choose a tool appropriate to your problem, rather than the other way around.  The same applies to your choice of audience: “We really try to drive home the point that you need to start with the problem your trying to solve, then think about the audience you need to engage and the tool to help you do that ” (Dan Munz).

What value exchange will I provide? The next thing you need to consider is the value exchange. For people to engage with you and give you their ideas, they need some kind of return. “So I think if a tool does nothing else if it could affect some kind of real value exchange where people felt that in exchange for their time they got to tangibly see the results of what they were suggesting: that’s a baseline requirement” (Dan Munz)

How does the size and complexity of this collaboration effect the tool needed? an important part of designing systems is being aware of the cost benefit tradeoffs that people face when using your tool. For some tools, like a web forum, it’s really easy to enter stuff – you don’t have to think about where to place it or how to structure it so the cost of entry is low. The problem is that the value of the contribution can also be relatively low because what you enter can easily get lost among the hundreds of posts from other peopleThe deliberatorium asks you to do more work when you enter, so the initial cost is higher, but the chances of your post being seen and used by other people is substantially higher because it will be placed in a well-organized structure with a higher signal to noise ratio. These trade-offs are also substantially affected by scale. For a small-scale discussion, a web forum may be fine. For a large-scale discussion, a more structured tool like the deliberatorium begins to shine.” (Mark Klein)

How much / what type of control do I need? Different types of collaboration require different types of control. For example mass-problem-solving is quite a controlled system. You’re proposing a problem up front then you want to lead that problem through an innovation pipeline, and solve it as you go along in quite a controlled environment.  Your not trying to create a new world, you’re just trying to improve the one that you’re living in currently. Customization is like that as well: if you’re trying to customize products or services, its still a fairly controlled environment. Its in insight gathering that you need to be more open. you need to be able to throw stuff at the wall, to get your ideas out there.  ( Dominic Campbell )

Is this problem a flow, fit or share problem? “There are three generic ways that people can interact: Flow, fit, share. Flow means getting information from one person to the next in the proper sequence, for example when you’re processing applications in an insurance company. You can use work flow tools for something like that. Sharing is where you want to allocate resources to the people who want them. You can broadcast replicable resources, as in flickr or youtube, or you can use things like online auctions for limited resources. Fit: that’s where you have multiple individuals each making interdependent decisions – the value of the decisions they take are impacted by the decisions made by other people. If I change the design of a carburator, for example, that impacts on what the engine design should ideally be. For that kind of situation, you have to ensure that the decisions being made by different individuals fit together to produce a whole that achieves the goals that you want. That’s the most challenging kind of coordination, and the least well addressed by current technology”. ( Mark Klein)

What’s the motivation? How hi-tech you need to get with your tools often depends on the motivation of your participants. If people are really motivated, you may not need such high tech tools: “Collaborations like the open source programmers are low tech because they just use email and no fancy conferencing, and that’s good enough if you have a shared goal. Thats the big diferent if you are a company: if you are a bank and you collaborate on developing a new product, everybody is participating because they get the salary to do it.  If you have some open source programmers who collaborate on linux, its not because they are getting a salary, its because they care about the idea. Then you don’t really need high tech – low tech is good enough”.  ( Peter Gloor)

Don’t let bugs in the machine put you off

We arn’t at the stage of having perfect software based tools available to us just yet, and many are still in the process of development. We need to keep in mind that generally these tools provide flexible and innovative ways to approach our problems.

“It’s always the case that software will be buggy because they’re not human they don’t know exactly what you want them to do but collaboratively built tools tend to operate on a much more agile model” (Dan Munz). “It’s not just innovation in terms of using the tools… you need responsiveness and innovation from the developers of the tools- those are the best collaborative tools” (Chris Applegate). If we want to improve our tools, we can support the r&d process by feeding back any problems we come accross and any good stuff too!

The reputation for these tools to be buggy is a little undeserved. “I work in an office now where a lot of people use word and Microsoft and excel and noone thinks those are great bug free programs that run great all the time. But we’ve used them for so long we’re used to the normal ways they break. Whereas with collaborative tools you get errors, but they’re new errors and you’re not used to them.” (Dan Munz)

Guidelines when picking webtools

Good Enough is good enough: “Good enough technology is what all these things have in common – they’re very far from perfect, but they’re good enough to generate a critical mass of participation.” (Johnnie Moore). Don’t waste time and money on creating a gimmik ridden platform.

Keep it Simple Stupid: “Pitch the technology so that its easy for the least technologically advantaged people that you need to address to take part. Simple is good and then if people within your group want to do more sophisticated things well that’s fine for those who want to play, as long as you bear in mind that not everyone is going to be taking part in that.” (Johnnie Moore)

Engage people using the technology they are already comfortable with: “In lots of cases people try to reinvent the wheel too much. If you are asking  people to collaborate on things then get them collaborating using the tools and the identities that they already use… …If you want people to submit you a video get them to submit it to YouTube….It also saves money on building collaboration tools if you can wire them out of bits of the internet that exist already” (Chris Thorpe).

Use cheap tools that allow ideas to emerge: There is an argument for not spending much money on start-up projects, as Johnnie Moore explains, “There have been lots of quite grand failures by big organizations spending millions on very clever technology and getting it wrong… Stuff that uses simple cheap tools that allows stuff to emerge is really good, blogs, twitter feeds, using hash tags, using rss feeds – these simple syndicating methods that  don’t cost anything are really good…” Wise words then from Mr Moore who goes on to say: “Getting some consultancy to design you a beautiful bespoke system is probably a mistake” (Johnnie Moore).

Keep interfaces clean and clear: “There’s no hard and fast rules in terms of look and feel, but there are hard and fast rules in terms of the wiring of peoples brains and how they like to interact with the world and the online world as well. Work with those rules- keep your interfaces clean and your propositions clear as possible”. (Chris Thorpe)

Getting your tools to be conversation and user centric:

Point at it – make it easily shareable: “Then sharability is the other thing. Once you’ve made your comment, you probably want to share it with other people, so make sure that you can always just point at it. Tom Coates and Jyri Engstrom have blogged about this quite a lot in the past”. (Chris Thorpe)

Build a Herd orientated user interface: “Any good user interface is one that works well with the people on the other end of the conversation. All sorts of websites are built without thinking about that. There’s lots of simple rules of collaboration and how to work with the herd behavior that humans have.”(Chris Thorpe)

Make it appropriate for the job: “What it looks like depends on what your asking people to put in. You wouldn’t give a text box if you’re asking them for a design for a new city So it depends on what you’re asking people to do”. (Chris Thorpe)

Enable small communications as they can lead to bigger things: “its the model that most excites me because they are self-organized. Not like someone in the centre has orchestrated them. They emerge from a series of little conversations. I imagine they started with two people meeting and saying I’m angry, your angry, lets do something about it and it grew from there. Its probably like songs at football matches. No one knows who starts them, but eventually a third of the stadium is singing them. But nobody’s been handing out the lyrics.” (Johnnie Moore)

Ask your friends: “good to have word of mouth with people that you know who can put you in right direction and help you find the most appropriate tool. (Chris Applegate)

Use tools that make the experience closer to meeting face to face: We miss out on so much when we arn’t face to face. Using tools that bring us closer to that experience can hlep build trust and avoid miscommunication. Video conferencing is getting very advanced. At the budget end of the scale you have skype which is free, then you have things like  Cisco’s  Telepresence “with these huge monitors that give you the feeling you almost smell the other person. The resolution is so high you can see everything…. and you get the feeling that you are interacting with the other person face to face” (Peter Gloor).

Use Version Control if you need it:  On GIT hub: “If you’re not a programmer then its difficult to use, but that’s the same with all version control systems. When you get into a team of people building something together: what you want is to create a final version of that thing. But you also want to be able to track all of the versions along the way that worked for different people. That’s why you use a thing called version control.” (Chris Thorpe)

Build shared understanding around the purpose of the tool: “There tends to be a widespread belief, even among really forward leaning people, that a blog is something you can just start because the technology is cheap it’s easy to launch. But what we really try to drive home to people is that building a business case is just like anything else. You need to think about loading it with resources you need to think about how it will relate to other elements of the organization you need to think about who needs to be involved in the approval process you have for it…how it’s going to be staffed- once you have it up you need to make sure it’s running. The worst thing is when you have a Blog on a website with no new postings in 8 months. That means the tools isn’t working and it wasn’t set up properly. So you really need to look at how it’s going to be staffed on an ongoing basis.” –(Danielle Germaine and Dan Munz)

Other things to consider

Information overload: the challenge of balancing on and off-line life is immense. Try to design out that pain.:::The painful process of being an ‘online’ citizen, and how it should feel more natural:  The thing I worry about is that everyone has to go through same process I’ve been through. Its been quite painful. It would  be nice if people could jump through this painful bit, where there’s the information overload, and just start to get the benefits of all of these tools, of connecting them with people, of reducing isolation and bringing people together in a very collective intelligence way bringing the power of many brains together. But without it impacting peoples personal lives, because it really is starting to I think for a lot of people, impinge on their lives.  It would be quite good if we could just get to a point of managing this stuff a lot better and just mainstreaming it into peoples lives, so that there’s a real mix of on and off line. Bringing people together on and off line in a way that is a bit more natural, a bit more low-impact.  At the moment it feels a bit separate from real life. Rather than it being totally integrated into everything you do.”When talking about the future of the user interface, Dominic spoke about wanting something “that blends with a more natural way of being would be very helpful”  (Dominic Campbell )
Don’t be seduced by the technology- it’s about the people using the technology: Internet is not a solution: The technology is very exciting the problem is the humans being using it. We have too much technology human beings are lying behind. Human beings criticize technology they’re critizing themselves. Human beings can save the world. The internet is not a solution. In some ways it’s a problem cause people exaggerate its value and over-rely on it.  Although I do think the internet does have some value in terms of stopping us use our cars as much. One of the internet the internet has not developed properly yet is education through video and audio and real time audio. Television radio kind of get combined. It will enable people to stay at home and drive less, which is generally good for the environment.   (Andrew Keen)

It takes time and effort: “I’ve probably added two or three hours to my day just by getting immersed in this world”.  (Dominic Campbell) We feel for you Dominic!

Keep your eye’s peeled for bonus side-effects: Sometimes the best thing may not be the initial product of a collaboration. By opening the space and bringing people together, you may find exciting and unpredicted things emerging. For example wikipedia teaches people how to spell, to write things correctly, cite their sources, ciritical thinking,  learn all these skills judging the voracity of a statement is a huge side benefit. Sometimes the best tool for a particular job may not be a tool designed for that goal because as a side benefit of the goal it was designed for you get what you need. (Chris Applegate)

Tool Review

We’ve tried to categorize different types of tools and what they’re good for with some reviews by the experts. But make sure you check out How to Pick a Web Tool for some useful advice in considering these tools. First and foremost remember, very few tools are stand alone. So play around and discover what’s best for you. And remember, keep it simple. As Peter Gloor, lead researcher into Collaborative Innovation Networks points out, it’s often the combination of simple tools that can make the greatest impact.

“The one which we use the most is email. The one which comes afterwards is skype,  and then there is something called flash meeting which is allows up to 25 people to video conference together via webcam…then we have the wikis for sharing information… we have google docs for sharing document editing.” –Peter Gloor

(The review on web tools is under construction on our new site! There is such a tremendous amount of information, we need a smarter site to aggregate and lower that signal to noise ratio. But if you have questions on tools, drop us a comment here and we’ll do what we can to help out.)

  1. Audio-Visual Tools (skype, ichat, presence, flash meeting)
  2. Social Media & Networking tools (nings, facebook, blogs, micro-blogs)
  3. Sharing tools & platforms (flickr, slideshare)
  4. Asynchronous communication tools (e-mail, forums, chats)
  5. Collaborative writing tools (google docs, wikis)
  6. Idea Generation and Aggregation Tools (voting mechanisms, folksonomy, idea generation platforms)
  7. Argumentation Tools (the deliberatorium)
  9. Semantic Web
  10. Appliances (mobile phones)


One Response

  1. […] hopes of pioneers who currently lead online collaborations. So read on to find out more about the web tools to use, but also the invitation, experience design,  and human elements that enables everyone to […]

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