Communities & Technologies finally meeting Community Informatics

workshopI’m currently in Siegen, Germany. attending the Communities & Technologies Future Vision workshop. A main goal of the workshop is to build more common ground between the two very related fields of Communities & Technologies (C&T) and Community Informatics. We’re having very positive, fruitful discussions. To give you a flavor, here are the notes I just took of the discussion about the possible points of intersection in a breakout group consisting of Volker Wulf, Michael Gurstein, Susanne Bødker, Marcus Foth, and Aldo de Moor.

Common research themes
  • Societal role: the roles of communities in their various forms in society.
  • Common goals & Institutions. Community norms sometimes translate into goals, institutions.
  • “The Other”: Communities can also be against something, working on the boundaries, The Other.
  • Emergence of communities: the potential of communities to take a form and articulate itself, often in response to an external opportunity or threat. The time dimension is very important.
  • Context of communities: Is the goal to study communities or communities in a particular context? The latter: we should not just look at the narrow direct context of immediate users, but the broader (institutional) context and ecology. Essential in complex domains like health. E.g. the institutional sponsors.  Then you can also better tie in with practitioner communities, governance, etc.
  • Ecosystems of tools: communities do not just use one tool, they live in a whole ecosystem, a rich space of physical and online tools.
  • (At least in in the CI) it’s not so much about the development of new technologies but about how the effective use and appropriation of community technologies. How can we model and use rich, situated context that informs socio-technical systems design without constraining community behaviors?
  • (C&T) Explore new technologies and try them out in new communities. Make the opportunities that these tools offer available to communities. In an ethnographic way try to find the ways to help them transform communities.
  • In CI: the interesting problem is identified by the community, the socio-technical systems solution emerges in the collaborative response to the problem CT: the interesting problem is in the tool community potential.
  • The common theme is really about how the larger societal context meets the relevant community technologies.
Key research questions in the next 10 years:
  • The Surveillance Society, how the net is turning into a Societal Control Device. What are alternatives?
  • Governance: how do you govern systems, disaggregate governance of systems so that communities can be empowered. Is the local level accountable to the higher level, or the higher level accountable to the lower level? It’s a systems design question
  • Employment and wealth distribution
  • Put the local back in communities.
  • Inter-community issues: networks of communities, collaborating/intersecting/mashing/clashing communities
  • Make technological power (such as Big Data (and “tinkering technologies” such as 3D printing, Raspberry Pie) available to and usable by the people. How does it affect communities?
  • The notion of citizenship, not just users/consumers is key.
  • Migration, urbanization, depopulation: how can technologies strengthen sense of community?
  • Political activism, new ways of shaping democracy
  • Thematic conferences: more context-awareness should lead to more thematic conferences. Risk is that it scares away people working on other topics. There are all kinds of ways to deal with these, e.g. separate slots
  • Conference attendants could meet members of specific communities, and e.g. work with them in separate community-driven workshops. Could be too optimistic given the complexities of trying to ground academic discourse in practice. A workable approach could be to have sesssions where community members present their communities and their issues in very rich, informal ways, and have a well-facilitated discussion with the attending academics about some possible directions for addressing these issues. At the next edition of the conference, academics could then (also) present their follow-up (action) research jointly done with these communities on these cases in the more academically oriented slots, while continuing to give useful feedback in comprehensible and acceptable ways to the communities they have started to work with.
  • Turning it around: having “academic streams” in practitioner-oriented conferences.
  • Hybrid approaches are necessary in terms of different participants having different motivations needing different kinds of outcomes for the conference to be rewarding for them.
  • NB such innovative approaches are a lot of work, there is often a language barrier to be overcome, etc.
  • The range of potential funders does become much larger this way, e.g. government, corporate funding.
  • Ethical issues need to be taken care of very well: the communities participating are not in a zoo! What are legitimate ways of involving them?
  • The communities being researched should get a permanent community representation within the overal C&T community, so that trust can be built, criticism can be seen and shared, lessons can be learnt, more legitimate and useful longitudinal research can be done. E.g. the communities could have their own space within the overall C& community space, where they can present themselves in multimedia ways, comment on the research being done with them etc.
  • Various types of conferences: E.g. thematic conferences with invited people from the issues being focused on with dedicated funding, the overall academic conference should not be overall thematically-focused.
  • Boundary-spanning activities between various communities would be very valuable as a research (conference) strategy.
  • The Community Informatics community is large and diverse enough by now to help out contributing at least time-wise. Represent many different communities, a great context to work with.
  • We need to work on a (communications & activity) commons around which the Communities & Technologies and Community Informatics communities start to find more common ground.