Libraries and Collaborative Research Communities

091001_TicerAlready a while ago, but still worth a post: on August 5, I was an invited speaker at  the Ticer Digital Libraries a la Carte 2009 summer school. In 2008, I attended their fascinating keynote summer school lecture by Stephen Abram. It was a privilege to be on the other side this year! Ticer stands for Tilburg Innovation Centre for Electronic Resources, and is a business unit of Tilburg University’s Library and IT Services. Every year, they organize a summer school, which is well attended by librarians, publishers, researchers, lecturers, and IT specialists interested in the latest developments in (digital) libraries.

My module concerned the Libraries and Collaborative Research Communities track. My co-speakers were John Butler (University of Minnesota), Judith Wusteman (University College Dublin), and Gary Olson (University of California, Irvine). We had a very stimulating day – with lots of questions from the audience –  in which we explored this lively and quickly evolving field from many different angles, including topics like virtual communities as catalysts for advancing scholarship, the role of librarians in virtual research environments, and critical success factors for science collaboratories.

My own talk was about how to activate research collaboratories with collaboration patterns. I really enjoyed discussing  this for me quite new field. It was good to see that many academic librarians agree  that a technical information retrieval focus by itself does not suffice anymore and that serious efforts need to made to integrate communities, communication, and collaboration in their library processes and systems. The worlds of digital libraries and community informatics are still far apart, but interesting connections are forming. A topic that surely will grow in scope and impact in the years to come.

BarCamp Berlin 3 revisited

081129_mcs_barcamp_berlin_3On October 18-19, Barcamp Berlin 3 took place. It was organized in the impressive Berlin Representative Office of Deutsche Telekom. Over 800 people attended, a true bee hive of creative tech people from all walks of Internet life.

BarCamps are a special kind of conference, sometimes even called an “unconference”:

BarCamp is an international network of user generated conferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants — often focusing on early-stage web applications, and related open source technologies, social protocols, and open data formats.

BarCamps live and breathe Web 2.0, not only in what they are about, but also by adopting its user-driven style in how they are organized. There is much attention on participatory process, or, rather, on providing an overall infrastructural framework, while making participants responsible for what topics are going to be discussed and in what way.

Traditionally, BarCamps are rather small and informal events. This one was huge, and very well organized, infrastructure-wise.  It was also amazing how they managed to offer all of the considerable facilities for free. The contrast between the large scale/professional setting, with the creative/anarchistic BarCamp culture was interesting. Although some were not so amused by this, I think it’s testimony to the multi-faceted, evolving nature of the BarCamp concept, that it can live in so many different skins. I agree with the claim that “‘You are BarCamp!’ and everybody has to take part in making each edition a success”. My compliments to the organizers for getting this most stimulating, very well organized event off the ground!

An open question is still to what extent, apart from organizing the infrastructure, these  unconferences need organization of content. Personally, I think many sessions could benefit from some form of preparation, although there should be sufficient space for “emergent organization” to keep the inspiration and flow of the moment.

Pitching social enterprises at The Hub

Having finished my portal project, I am in Berlin now. As it’s been a very intense project, I really felt the need to “reset my brain” and decided to have a creative breather in Berlin. It’s a great city to visit for such a purpose, and to get inspiration for new R&D ideas. At the end of the week, I will be attending Barcamp Berlin 3.0, more about that later.

To warm up, I attended a nice event organized by Self Hub Berlin yesterday. Such hubs are increasingly being established in cities all over the world as creative places for social entrepreneurs. I already visited The Hub Rotterdam, and was curious to find out how things are done in their Berlin counterpart.

Yesterday’s event was dubbed “Pitching for Inspiration” and allowed a number of new social entrepreneurs to present their visions and solicit feedback from fellow entrepreneurs and other interested members of the audience. Afterwards, there was space and time for informal discussion. There was quite a variety of themes. To give you an idea, presentations included proposals for an institute for intergenerational learning, an academy for developing and realizing visions, a network of experienced entrepreneurs helping new ones, a theatre of young people performing for primary and high school kids showing them how to better deal with conflicts, an organization  that aims to apply “wisdom of the crowds” by allowing many persons to vote on competing project proposals after a bidding period in which the proposers develop and defend their project ideas using blogs, an initiative to use web mashups to show wheelchair-barrier free locations in first Berlin, then Germany, then the world. There was also a presentation of an already established annual contest in which students can develop communications campaigns for non-profit organizations.

Most proposals were still in quite a premature stage, but it was nice to see the variety and enthusiasm with which they were presented. These hubs are all about developing relations, connecting ideas, and releasing energy, and there was plenty of all that around.

It is interesting to see how these hubs are very much place, i.e. city-based, yet at the same time they are part of a growing worldwide network, a “meta Hub”, as one of the participants called it. They remind me very much of Saskia Sassen’s work on the global and the local being necessarily very much intertwined when trying to understand what globalization really means.  In particular, these hubs seem to be a key example of thinking communities, for which providing a good communications infrastructure and location, as well as resolving a wide range of social, professional, and financial constraints is essential for their success.

Meeting The Hub

It’s been a busy time with my projects, too busy to keep up my blog. Of course, that is no excuse as very useful finally-get-into-and-stick-to-that-writing-habit sites  like Write to Done try to tell us all the time. Well, us lesser mortals will have to keep practicing to get more disciplined, I guess.

On August 11, I attended a very inspiring lunch meeting at The Hub Rotterdam. Guest speaker was Maria Glauser, a host and co-director of The Hub London.  We all shared stories about what we do and aspire as the “social entrepreneurs” of the present or near future.  In their own words:

The Hub’s business is social innovation. Our core product is flexible membership of inspirational and highly resourced habitats in the world’s major cities for social innovators to work, meet, learn, connect and realise progressive ideas. The Hub is currently located in London, Bristol, Johannesburg, Berlin, Cairo, Sao Paulo and Rotterdam. Hubs are being started in Amsterdam, Brussels, Halifax, Madrid, Mumbai and Tel Aviv/Jaffa

I particularly like the summary of their essence, as described on The Hub’s main site:

People who see and do things differently

Places for working, meeting, innovating, learning and relaxing

Ideas that might just change the world a little

The Hub is pioneering concepts, methods, and techniques for enlightened social entrepreneurship. They should be watched as a creative catalyst, linking the worlds of high ideals with practical business. Although small in size, their ideas could and should influence more traditional innovation initiatives and networks, so their impact can spread more rapidly. It will therefore be interesting to find out how all these initiatives best connect with and mutually benefit one another.

ALOIS 2008 conference

On May 5-6, I will be attending, as an invited speaker, the ALOIS (Action in Language, Organisations, and Information Systems) conference in Venice. Apart from the wonderful venue, it is going be a very interesting conference, in the best tradition of the Language/Action Perspective and Pragmatic Web conferences.

Here is the abstract of my talk and paper:

Activating Online Collaborative Communities

Collaborative communities often make use of complex tool systems. In these systems, work gets fragmented over many tools, often halting communication. We discuss online community activation in terms of the Language/Action Perspective, and its more recent offshoot, the Pragmatic Web. We propose collaboration patterns for defining high-level socio-technical design solutions for activation problems. We illustrate the approach using examples from a digital tutorial case.

Virtual Teams and Collaborative Environments – book

Proposals Submission Deadline: 3/31/2008
Full Chapters Due: 7/31/2008
Virtual Teams and Collaborative Environments:
Knowledge-Driven Creativity

A book edited by A book edited by Aggelos Liapis, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
Julian Malins, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland UK
Stijn Christiaens, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
Pieter De Leenheer, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium

One of the principal objectives of this new book is to suggest improved tools and methodologies for CSCW which can be applied in a variety of disciplines and professional contexts. The book will explore the nature of creativity and how this relates to CSCW. In particular this book will identify the factors that limit creativity in virtual teams when using online collaborative environments.

The overall objectives of the book are as follows:

  • To develop a clear understanding of the use of ontologies as an approach to developing computer supported collaborative working systems within the areas of creativity and design.
  • To identify creative approaches for supporting ontology engineering.
  • To develop the possible uses for collaborative environments that can be used to assist creative communities.
  • To provide insights that support virtual teams, communities and associated ontologies.
  • To examine the future developments in CSCW, focusing on collaborative environments.
  • To demonstrate the advantages of using collaborative environments in order to increase productivity.