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
Organization
  • 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.
Aside

Een social innovation ecosysteem voor Midden-Brabant

social innovation ecosysteemOp 16 september is er in het kader van de European Social Innovation Week een bijeenkomst gehouden over Midden-Brabant als “smart region”.  Een onderdeel van deze bijeenkomst was een discussie onder leiding van Hans Mommaas over hoe dat social innovation ecosysteem handen en voeten zou kunnen krijgen. Hier een informeel verslag voor degenen die niet bij deze bijzonder interessante discussie konden zijn.

Centrale vraag: hoe krijgen we een social innovation ecosysteem van de grond in de regio? Een voorbeeld zijn de Pathfinders.  In organisaties heb je de bestaande werkelijkheid en de exploratieve kant, die van de vernieuwing. “Transition leaders” zijn mensen die de mensen in hun organisatie kunnen meekrijgen voor die vernieuwing.  Ook die leaders hebben echter weer inspiratie nodig. In de  Pathfinders zijn 30 mensen bij elkaar gebracht uit organisaties die willen vernieuwen, met social innovation als uitgangspunt.  Doel was om de maatschappelijke thema’s door te vertalen naar oplossingen waar zowel de maatschappij als de organisaties wat mee kunnen. Ze zijn 15x bij elkaar geweest.  Een praktische doelstellng was om tot concrete business cases te komen.  De ervaring leerde echter dat zulke concrete cases moeilijk te realiseren waren. Wat wel werkte, was de aanwezige “ruimte voor toevalligheid”.  Het gaat hierbij niet zozeer om het geld, maar vooral om de beweging (de kennis, de netwerken, etc.). Het gaat om de ruil van andere types kapitaal dan alleen geld door de deelnemers uit sectoren als bedrijfsleven, kennisinstellingen, overheid, bibliotheek.  Denk ook aan de overeenkomst met de (her)opkomst van de coöperaties, waar het ook gaat om het gevoel van verbinding.

In de huidige maatschappij hebben we middel en doel omgedraaid: we denken dat we geld nodig hebben om samen te werken, het is een doel op zichzelf geworden.  Het geeft zoveel energie om gelijkgestemden tegen te komen in fora als de Pathfinders. Er ontstaat wel business uit, maar niet met als direct doel om geld te verdienen, maar om iets bij te dragen aan de maatschappij.  De kracht van de Pathfinders is dat het om social innovation in de praktijk gaat (“we moeten elkaars taal leren”), terwijl het tot voor kort het vaak nog steeds een erg bestuurlijk, abstract concept was.  Zo’n aanpak leidt tot allerlei verrassende, onvoorspelbare uitkomsten. De Social Innovation Week is mede voortgekomen uit de Pathfinders. Als onderdeel van deze week zijn nu 135 studenten van Fontys bezig met “Maak TIlburg Beter”. Wat daar de commerciële waarde van is, weten we niet, maar dat er iets uit gaat komen, is zeker!

Hoe maak je dit strategisch/systemisch, hoe schaal je dit op, zonder dat je de opgewekte energie verliest? Hierbij komen allerlei vragen op. Hoe verbind je lokale initiatieven met het bestuurlijke circuit?  Ook zijn er allerlei grote ontwikkelingen zoals social media die op mensen af komen. Wat betekenen deze ontwikkelingen voor de mensen persoonlijk?  Is bij social innovation sturing nodig, of gaat het juist om zelf de agenda te bepalen? Is het toch mogelijk om iets van structuur hebben om dit te catalyseren?

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“Designing Social Cities of Tomorrow” workshop – presentation notes

On February 17, the international  “Social Cities of Tomorrow” conference was held in Amsterdam. Prior to this conference, a three-day “Designing Social Cities of Tomorrow” workshop was held in which international participants from various professional backgrounds collaborated with local stakeholder organisations on 4 real-world urban cases: Urban Pioneers Zeeburgereiland (Amsterdam), Haagse Havens (The Hague), Strijp-S (Eindhoven), and Amsterdam Civic Innovator Network. On February 16, the results of this workshop were presented in a sold-out hall. Fortunately, I managed to get one of the last tickets. I was particularly interested in this workshop, as I thought it might generate some concrete ideas to help us co-create the new Tilburg Spoorzone. I was not disappointed, and really very pleased with the overall quality, originality, and feasibility of the ideas.

For the first three cases, quite detailed “how to do it” plans were unfolded, the presentation of the fourth case focused on the theoretical underpinnings of a civic innovator network. A good summary by Laurent Hubeek of the presentations  of case 1 & 2 can be found here, that of case 3 & 4 here. I took detailed notes during the case presentations. They’re rather rough, but I include them here to capture the atmosphere and as an additional recording of the insights presented. Hopefully they help to inspire further thinking.


Introduction

Hi-tech is increasingly influencing life in today’s cities.  “Smart Cities” are hot.  The main problem with these visions: where are the people?! Can we use the same hi-tech to make the cities more social instead of (just) smart? The key question therefore is:  How can we use digital technologies to make our cities more social, rather than just more hi-tech?
Social cities: it’s not about a blueprint, but a design approach. It’s a way of thinking about cities that are highly technological, but which is not about the technology itself,  but about the people. Now,  how do you design for social cities? How do you engage and empower publics (groups of people) to act on communally shared issues?
The digital element leads to a qualitative shift:
  • There’s a new resource: the data the city is generating
  • Name issues in new ways, discover patterns, bring up/visualize new issues in ways you couldn’t do before
  • Engage people, give them a new sense of place (e.g. storytelling, urban gaming)
  • Ways how we organize ourselves: peer-to-peer organization around issues

Taking this into account, the questions posed to the teams were:

  • How can we get citizens to feel they belong and feel that the city belongs to them as well?
  • How do we design for ‘ownership’?
Case 1: TEMPLoT (= temporary plot)
 
Municipalities are plagued by having many unused vacant parcels.  Zeeburgereiland Amsterdam is a typical case. However, most of Europe is dealing with same issues. Key idea: “temporary” could become the stimulus.
Nothing is happening on Zeeburgereiland, it is literally a no go zone. The city idea was to make it available as a 10 year-lease for 1 euro. Why not make it much more temporary:  what  if the urban pioneer was only given the land for 365 days instead of 10 years? The temp architecture initiative wants experts to meet some place to advise new urban pioneers to do something “tomorrow”. These expert roles are: owner, developer, designer, manager. However, what if the urban pioneers are the experts? Individuals could start playing those roles themselves. To do so, maybe these urban pioneers don’t need a place but a platform? This system consisting of a website plus apps could be TEMPLoT.
Zeeburgereiland = 3,6 ha plot minus 15% infrastructure. Possible uses: Recreation? Entertainment, Amusement, Do Nothing? As the area is sandwiched between superdense neighbourhoods: what if its main use were a garden? It could provide a temp infrastructure consisting of private parcels, plus an area for a larger community “Contribution Zone”. Flex spaces  would be adjacent to private spaces, which can help in the building of mini communities. Manage the collective usage online via TEMPLoT.
Follow the seasonal life cycle: in December, start planning the temp infrastructure, in January, do the bidding process, after that the building and planting etc., use summer for enjoying festivals, then in October/November, do the clean up process. Coordination can happen online. The flex space is the negotiation space (through bidding) between the neighbours. Contribution zone: everybody has to contribute something there (time, energy, skills & knowledge, teaching, network, etc.). These contributions are visible in your online profile, so your neighbors know your involvement. Potential individual uses: relaxation, family plot, artist studio, etc.
 
Stakeholder organization response:
 
It for sure is possible. It could become a way of “citymaking”. Should not only be gardens, however, the area could also be used in another way. A potential problem is that  people like it so much that they don’t want to leave? Also, the app used in the plotting process should be simple. What if it would also allow pioneers to change plot? Would be great if it could also help to increase the skills of participants.
Impressed by the “back to basics” approach. This is refreshing, as city design has become so (unnecessarily) complex these days. Nice it’s so hands-on.
Commitment:  the tender for Zeeburgereiland is already out, we could add this digital approach. Every city in Europe has such a map of vacant plots. Many other cities could also apply this approach: investigate how other cities can be involved?
 
Audience response: 
 
There’s a similar project in Ghent, Belgium. It’s about gardens, people could buy it with invented city currency, so that everybody could afford a plot, also those without money. You put in your effort and got the virtual currency. However, what was the duration of the lease? The temp focus is very important.
 

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“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.

Abstract

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.

Presentation

What’s up with the Pragmatic Web?

On September 1, I was a member of the Pragmatic Web track panel of the I-SEMANTICS 2010 conference in Graz, Austria, after having given the keynote earlier that day. The Pragmatic Web is a newly emerging field,  still in the process of being defined. Its main focus is not Web technology per se, but the contexts and communities in which these resources are developed and used to accomplish goals, develop mutual understanding, and create and realize commitments. For background see the Pragmatic Web community site, and my blog posts Patterns for the Pragmatic Web and The Growth of the Pragmatic Web.

The Pragmatic Web should not be seen as separate from, but instead as building on and feeding into the Semantic Web, which concentrates on knowledge representation and reasoning approaches. One can try to formally represent “everything necessary” in a context but (1) this overformalization often kills the necessary human interpretation of any situated context and (2) still does not answer what relevant context factors are. Mainstream Semantic Web research does not deal with the subtleties of communities, goal setting and negotiation, human interaction, and myriad other context factors. For this, you need research perspectives different from those provided by the Semantic Web field itself.  Of course, there is no precise dichotomy between the Semantic and the Pragmatic Web, instead there is a grey zone between the two fields, like the “Social Semantic Web”.

In the panel, we discussed the status and future of the Pragmatic Web. Other panel members included Alexandre Passant (DERI),  Hans Weigand (Tilburg University), and Adrian Paschke (Freie Universität Berlin).

Alexandre covered the budding field of the Social Semantic Web, which examines how social interactions on the Web lead to the creation of explicit and semantically rich knowledge representations. Hans discussed another  research area that is a major contributor to the Pragmatic Web, the Language/Action Perspective, as is its sibling Organisational Semiotics. Adrian focused on the Corporate Semantic Web, and the Pragmatic Agent Web, which represent some of the more applied research areas.

My own presentation was about what’s up with the Pragmatic Web as an area of research. I placed it in the Web 3.0 era we are entering, covered some of its fundamental questions and theories, and presented a socio-technical conversation context perspective that can be used to organize and position Pragmatic Web research (the framework is further explained in the paper and presentation of my invited talk.) I showed how the number of research publications addressing or referring to the Pragmatic Web is growing rapidly (with a small dip in last year’s number of publications). The high turnout at the panel discussion, especially given the competition of many high-quality parallel tracks, should also be a sign of the growing interest in the field. Finally, I positioned some contributing and related research fields shaping and being influenced by the Pragmatic Web. Core contributing fields in my view are Community Informatics, the Language/Action Perspective, Organisational Semiotics, Web 2.0/social media and the Semantic Web. See slide 7 of:

The discussion following the presentation, as well as many personal responses later, indicate that the Pragmatic Web as an area of research seems to be viable. One criticism is that much of the research is still very conceptual and needs to materialize much more into concrete applications and projects. This criticism is justified, but can be partially explained by the early stage the field is in and the still small number of researchers and organizations involved. However, there is also a more fundamental reason for this lack of applications: the Pragmatic Web studies context, and context by its very nature is extremely wide in scope and is always context of something else. Still, by fruitfully cooperating with more technology-driven and application-oriented R&D areas like the Social Semantic Web and Web 2.0, fundamental research insights about relevant contexts generated by the Pragmatic Web community should descend into the real world and become much more visible  in the years to come.

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.

Abstract

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.

Presentation:

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.

Abstract

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.

Communities & Technologies 2009

090722_CCT2009From June 25-28, I was at Penn State, attending the Communities & Technologies 2009 conference, the main bi-annual conference specifically focusing on this theme. As with the previous editions, I again very much enjoyed myself, both with respect to the many interesting presentations and by meeting up with old and new colleagues and friends who are part of our nomadic research tribe.

To get a feel for what the conference was about, check out the following resources:

  • A Twitter account of the sessions by multiple authors, hashtag #cct2009.
  • An excellent summary of the conference by Joe McCarthy.
  • A Flickr conference photo gallery.

ESSENCE09 Workshop

FIRST FACE-TO-FACE FORUM ON ‘ESSENCE’ ONLINE EXPERIMENT

May 5-6, 2009
KMi, The Open University
Milton Keynes, UK

The ESSENCE challenge

090503_essence1ESSENCE is the first public event organised by Global Sensemaking (GSm), a network formed in 2008 to develop human-centred computing tools to help tackle wicked problems such as Climate Change.
The overall idea behind the project is that digital discussion and deliberation technologies have the potential to provide a structured medium for building collective intelligence from diverse stakeholders, who often disagree.
Within this context the ESSENCE online experiment has been conceived with the overall goal to improve how climate science and policy deliberation is conducted, in local networks, national organizations, and inter-governmentally.
In particular, ESSENCE has been designed to develop a comprehensive, distilled, visual map of the issues, evidence, arguments and options facing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15), and being tackled by many other networks, which will be available for all to explore and enrich across the web.

Research

Within the ESSENCE project we study and develop technologies for online discussion and deliberation, with the overall goal in mind to help to build online environments for:
•    scientists to explore and discover common grounds and agendas in a very complex and extensive domain as environmental science is;
•    policymakers to identify problematic issues to be faced in order to reinforce public policies and make them more accepted or even agreed;
•    the Public to widen or build understanding on climate change issues and consensus about new climate change policies.

Outcomes

The workshop seeks to develop a roadmap for ESSENCE to COP15.  We will also discuss strategies for further research lines and challenge to address for the ESSENCE team/GSm community.

Organizing Committee

Simon Buckingham Shum (KMi, Open University)
Anna De Liddo, (KMi, Open University)
Aldo De Moor (CommunitySense)
David Price (Debategraph)

The full program can be found here.

Postscriptum

  • My presentation: