Presentation at the National Research Council Canada

090321_nrcc3On Monday, I will give another version of the talk “From Inspiration to Activation: Making Online Collaborative Communities Work” that I gave at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, this time at the National Research Council Canada Institute for Information Technology in Fredericton, New Brunswick. It’s good to have another opportunity to present  and get quality feedback on these ideas that have been keeping me busy for such a long time.


Inspiration is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for collaborative communities to work. Such communities often make use of complex Internet-based tool systems. In these systems, work gets distributed over many tools, often leading to the fragmentation of communicative acts. To address this problem, explicit attention needs to be paid to community activation. We outline a conceptual model of online collaborative communities. We introduce the use of collaboration patterns for defining socio-technical design solutions for activation problems. We illustrate the approach by discussing the results from a digital class experiment. Applications ranging from e-government to scientific collaborations are discussed.

The talk will webcast live: Mon March 23, 10:30 am – noon Atlantic Daylight Time:

Distant participants should be able to ask questions via chat.

(The archived version of my talk is available at:

From Inspiration to Activation: Making Online Collaborative Communities Work

Invitation to my UAH lecture, January 21, 2009On January 21, I presented my lecture “From Inspiration to Activation: Making Online Collaborative Communities Work” in the UAHuntsville Distinguished Speaker Series. It was a revised version of the invited talk I gave at the ALOIS 2008 conference in Venice in May 2008. In the lecture I addressed how collaborative communities require not only the sense of purpose and drive provided by inspiration, but also the activation of the community in terms of explicitly supporting the initiation, execution, and evaluation of  goal-oriented (online) communication processes. To this purpose, a socio-technical design process is needed in which the communicative context and tool system are matched.

A major theme in my lecture was the paradigm-shifting approach of the Obama administration to involve the general public, not only in getting elected, but also in providing ideas for and feedback on the policies proposed. Key priorities are communication, transparency, and participation, which, not coincidentially are also the foundations of the field of community informatics. Only four years ago, this new reality seemed only but a distant dream. It is incredibly exciting to witness community informatics history in the making, right in the heart of our global democratic system!

Although the Obama approach is a unique and most promising experiment on an unprecedented scale, it will need to go beyond current ambitions of soliciting feedback from individual citizens. In order to at least partially address the many highly complex, interlocking wicked problems like the credit crisis, global warming, poverty, environmental degradation and war, it will need to invest heavily in creating and nurturing a multitude of collaborative communities. These communities should bring together representatives of societal stakeholders such as government, science, corporations, NGOs, and so on. These communities should help them work together effectively and efficiently and break through organizational, political, disciplinary and ethnic boundaries. Only in this way can scalable solutions be developed that are workable and acceptable to the majority of people affected.

My presentation given at UAH can be viewed here:

Building Capacity for Learning: towards a Library 2.0

On August 27, I attended the Library & IT Services Innovation Lecture at Tilburg University.  The speaker was Stephen Abram, SirsiDynix’s Vice President of Innovation. His talk was titled “Building Capacity for Learning: Affordable Technology Preparedness“.  Stephen held a passionate plea for reform of university library practice, urging librarians to fully embrace rather than feel threatened by the Web 2.0-and-beyond world that students live in. Stephen raised many interesting points, a few of which I will mention here, as they are so relevant to collaborative and learning community capacity building in general.

The rate of library change is going to be orders of magnitude higher than before, we ain’t seen nothing yet. There is going to be a change of paradigm. To mention only a few of many fundamental changes that will need to be absorbed : e-books, the dawn of a “paragraph-level instead of an article based universe”, the role of libraries in distance education, and so on.

Context of use is all important. For example, there are hundreds of citation styles, but who (besides librarians!) uses which particular styles in which workflows? A fundamental issue is how to move content into context?  Facts out of context are useless. Rather than overloading students with facts, universities should be teaching them the processes that let them get the facts when they need them.  For instance, they should deeply understand the politicized knowledge processes like web search engine retrieval results manipulation. More in general, what are the information literacy pieces needed to contribute to the students’ success? Rather than working with isolated steps, we should work with an information ecology.  Professors, TAs, students and so on should all be trained at the community level.

Using Web 2.0 thinking will be essential to accomplish these goals. Basically, the meaning of Web 2.0 is “the things you can do times the people you know”. For librarians, this means that they are not anonymous, interchangeable staff, but accessible individuals with unique skills who interact intensively with their student community.  Social software like Facebook could play an important role supporting this process, e.g. through the wise use of pictures and descriptions.

In sum, the main question is: how do we prepare library staff to do things and know people? In the “Library 2.0”, the user is at the centre, not the librarian. Web 2.0 tools are affordable and easy to experiment with. We should not be afraid to try and make errors, such an experimental approach is the best way to learn how to empower students by building on their skills. The Special Libraries Association Innovation Library has a wealth of resources to discover and discuss emerging Web 2.0 software learning tools and see how they can be used in the library context of the future.