Collaboration Patterns for Social Innovation: The Dutch – US Connection?

As part of my visit to the  University of Alabama in Huntsville I gave a presentation “Creativity Meets Rationale – Collaboration Patterns for Social Innovation” at the College of Business Administration. It was based on the book chapter with the same title that was published earlier this year in the book “Creativity and Rationale: Enhancing Human Experience by Design”. The slides can be downloaded here.

From the discussion, it seemed that Europe is ahead in implementing scaled applications of social innovation,  although the US is catching up and making it a national priority as well, as indicated by the White House having created an Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.  See also the Economist article Let’s Hear Those Ideas. It would be interesting to see to what extent collaboration patterns for social innovation are alike and differ in the US and European contexts. As Huntsville has an incredible wealth of high-tech engineering knowledge seeking new applications, it would be a very worthwhile exercise to build and compare libraries of collaboration patterns in the Dutch Noord-Brabant and US Alabama cases. A common theme to investigate could be civil aerospace applications, for instance.

New publication: Towards Sheltered Communication Systems Design – A Socio-Technical Perspective

The proceedings were just published containing my paper: A. de Moor (2012). Towards Sheltered Communication Systems Design: A Socio-Technical Perspective. In Proc. of the 9th Community Informatics Research Network Conference, Prato, Italy, November 7-9, 2012.

130322_Sheltered communication systems


Social media are powerful conversation technologies. However, exactly how social media afford and constrain complex social requirements in collaborative communities is still ill-understood. One of these requirements concerns the need for sheltered communication systems: systems that support and interlink spheres of stakeholder communication with different required degrees of opacity. We introduce our Socio-Technical Conversation Context Framework as a way to analyze and design such complex socio-technical communication systems. We use collaboration patterns grounded in this framework as conceptual building blocks to capture design lessons learnt about matching community requirements with enabling tool functionalities. We illustrate the approach with the “sheltered communications” lessons learnt in a Dutch case of developing an e-learning tool system for students with physical and mental limitations.

New publication: “It’s the Conversation, Stupid!” – Social Media Systems Design for Open Innovation Communities

130114_open innovation conversations

My joint book chapter with Mark Aakhus, “It’s the Conversation, Stupid!” Social Media Systems Design for Open Innovation Communities was just published in J.E. Lundström et al. (eds.), Managing Open Innovation Technologies, Springer, Berlin. ISBN 978-3-642-31649-4.


Open innovation is about crossing boundaries to create networked synergies in/across collaborative communities. Conversations are the lifeblood of communities, building the common ground of shared meanings, beliefs, interests, norms, goals, trust and social capital. A fundamental challenge for open innovation lies in the successful crafting of the social media systems supporting the community conversations. Innovation communities (which are not limited to business interests but also include public and civic organizations and communities) therefore need to continuously make sense of the conversation context of the tools they use. We provide a conceptual lens with which to examine this socio-technical conversation context. We illustrate the use of this lens with a plausible scenario of open innovation in the societal stakeholder networks around climate change research.

“It’s the Conversation, Stupid!” – Social media systems design for open innovation communities

On November 5, the Swedish Open Innovation Forum organized a “Managing Open Innovation Technologies” workshop at Uppsala University, to present and discuss state-of-the-art research insights into open innovation & social media and for authors working on an anthology on this topic to get feedback on their draft chapters. It was a very lively meeting, generating lots of ideas for new research. Concluding, it was clear there’s still a very long way to go for social media to realize their full potential in this domain.

At the workshop, I gave a keynote on social media systems design for open innovation communities:

After that, my good friend and co-author Mark Aakhus (Rutgers University, USA), reflected upon what I said.  Mark wasn’t physically present, but participated from his study at his home in New Jersey, 6000 km away. Of course, I have been in many videoconferencing sessions, but normally these are cumbersome events, requiring lots of high tech, special rooms, microphones, cameras and what not. However, this time none of this was needed. All we used was a Mac and Skype. As Mark was presenting, he was displayed larger-than-life on the main screen using the projector:

Mark Aakhus presenting

Reception was crystal clear, he could hear everything being said, even in the back of the room. Things really got weird after he was finished.  The laptop was left on the table, and Mark’s image removed from the screen when other people used it to present their Powerpoints. However, once in a while, suddenly, the laptop started speaking, as Mark commented on something being said. The funny thing was that we all quickly got used to that situation, looking at and talking to a laptop as if it were a human being. Still, sometimes, Mark/the laptop would suddenly make a sound, and the whole flow of the conversation was disrupted, nobody quite sure what to make of it. A very strange and powerful experience of, literally, “extreme computer-mediated communication”!

Using Collaboration Patterns for Contextualizing Roles in Community Systems Design

On October 28, I presented my paper “Using Collaboration Patterns for Contextualizing Roles in Community Systems Design” at the Community Informatics Research Network  2010 Conference (CIRN 2010) in Prato, Italy. Here are the abstract of and link to the paper, as well as the presentation.


Activation of collaborative communities is hampered by the communicative fragmentation that is at least partially caused by their distributed tool systems. We examine the role of domain, conversation, and functionality roles in modelling community activation. We show how collaboration patterns can be used to design appropriate socio-technical solutions.  These patterns contextualize the various types of roles by linking them to the (1) relevant usage context (2) communicative workflow stages and (3) functionality components across the tool system.


Conversations in Context: A Twitter Case for Social Media Systems Design

On September 1, I gave the invited talk for the 5th AIS SIGPrag International Pragmatic Web Conference Track of the I-SEMANTICS 2010 conference in Graz, Austria. Here are the abstract of and link to the paper, as well as the presentation.


Conversations are the lifeblood of collaborative communities. Social media like microblogging tool Twitter have great potential for supporting these conversations. However, just studying the role of these media from a tool perspective is not sufficient. To fully unlock their power, they need to examined from a sociotechnical perspective. We introduce a socio-technical context framework which can be used to analyze the role of systems of tools supporting goal-oriented conversations. Central to this framework is the communicative workflow loop, which is grounded in the Language/Action Perspective. We show how socio-technical conversation contexts can be used to match the communicative requirements of collaborative communities with enabling tool functionalities. This social media systems design process is illustrated with a case on Twitter.


Collaboration Patterns as Building Blocks for Community Informatics

From 4-6 November 2009, the 6th CIRN Community Informatics Conference was held in Prato, Italy. As in previous years, the conference brought together an interesting mix of researchers and practitioners from North and South, discussing ways to effectively use information and communication technologies to foster community building. This year’s theme was “Empowering Communities: Learning from Community Informatics Practice”.

I gave a keynote address at the conference. Title of my talk and the accompanying paper was “Collaboration Patters as Building Blocks for Community Informatics”. Below the slides of the presentation and the abstract of the paper.


Community Informatics is a wide-ranging field of inquiry and practice, with many paradigms, disciplines, and perspectives intersecting. Community informatics research and practice build on several methodological pillars: contexts/values, cases, process/methodology, and systems. Socio-technical patterns and pattern languages are the glue that help connect these pillars. Patterns define relatively stable solutions to recurring problems at the right level of abstraction, which means that they are concrete enough to be useful, while also sufficiently abstract to be reusable. The goal of this paper is to outline a practical approach to improve CI research and practice through collaboration patterns. This approach should help to strengthen the analysis, design, implementation, and evaluation of socio-technical community systems. The methodology is illustrated with examples from the ESSENCE (E-Science/Sensemaking/Climate Change) community.

Optimizing Social Software Design with Conceptual Graphs

Today, I gave a presentation “Optimizing Social Software Design with Conceptual Graphs” at LIRMM, Le Laboratoire d’Informatique, de Robotique et de Microélectronique de Montpellier:


Collaborative communities are complex and rapidly evolving socio-technical systems. The design of these systems includes the communal specification of communication and information requirements, as well as the selection, configuration, and linking of the software tools that best satisfy these requirements. Supporting the effective and efficient community-driven design of such complex and dynamic systems is not trivial.

To represent and reason about the system design specifications we use conceptual graph theory. We do so because the knowledge representation language of choice must be rich enough to allow for the efficient expression of complex definitions. Also, since design specifications derive from complex real world domains and community members themselves are actively involved in specification processes, a close mapping of knowledge definitions to natural language expressions and vice versa is useful. Finally, the representation language must be sufficiently formal and constrained for powerful knowledge operations to be constructed. Conceptual graph theory has all of these properties.

We explore how conceptual graphs can be used to:

1. model the core elements of such socio-technical systems and their design processes.

2. specify communication and information requirements and match these with social software functionalities.

We illustrate these design processes with examples from a realistic scenario on building a knowledge-driven topic community on climate change.

Understanding Design: 150 Reflections on Being a Designer

Understanding DesignI recently finished “Understanding Design: 150 Reflections on Being a Designer“, by Kees Dorst. It’s a delightful book with 150 single page stories that you can’t stop reading. The stories have been organized in four main themes (Inside Design, About Design, Being a Designer, Around Design), and cover everything from the philosophy and morality of design to very practical guidelines on how to do and teach design. A must for everybody remotely interested in this complex but so intriguing field.

Design for development

Richard Heeks and Bill McIver sent useful references in response to my post on the Another Perspective on Design-symposium.

[Richard Heeks]

Just to follow Aldo’s original point, the whole area of “design for development” seems to be a growing one. Examples are the work of The Cardiff Group: (which helps organise the Development Studies Association’s Design and Development group:, and Design for Development: Up-and-coming are the outputs from the BGDD project – – which is approaching the issue from a computing/interface design-for-development perspective.There are also a lot of organisations working more to help multinationals understand and design for emerging markets, e.g. CKS in Bangalore –, in turn, have been involved in one of the main design-and-development functions, the Doors of Perception events:

Prof. Richard Heeks
Development Informatics Group
IDPM, SED, University of Manchester

[Bill McIver]

See also:Low Technologies, High Aims


Published: September 11, 2007

Re-engineering Engineering


Published: September 30, 2007

Outside the Box
Published: November 4, 2007

The inaugural International Development Design Summit (IDDS) at MIT on 16 July – 10 August 2007

Bill McIver,
Research Officer
People-Centred Technologies
Institute for Information Technology
National Research Council Canada