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.


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.

Moving Community Informatics Research Forward

091001_movingCIThe latest issue of the Journal of Community Informatics contains my point of view on “Moving Community Informatics Research Forward”. In it, I argue that at least four aspects need to be taken into account when researching the interplay of communities and their technologies: contexts/values, cases, process/methodology, and systems. Furthermore, in order to move our research field forward, more systematic attention needs to be paid to the role of definitions, the identification of lessons learnt and the development of testbeds and collaboratories. The point of view is based on my conference summing up of the Prato 2008 Community Informatics & Development Informatics conference.

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.

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.

D-Day for Communities and Networks Connection

As you know, the field of community informatics is a very fast moving target. Trying to keep up with even only the most basic developments in research and practice, from the softest social psychology intuitions to the hardest network infrastructure deployment, is the best way to get completely overloaded. Sometimes, you just want to give up and zone out (try clicking the square in this digital sandbox for some wonderful R&R if you reach that state of emergency!) However, when you feel the “Force Is Starting To Embrace You Again”, a brand new Jedi sabre is awaiting to help you cut through the conceptual tangle and quickly zoom in on the most relevant developments: the Communities & Networks Connection blog portal.

090217_mcs_cnc_badgeIt is not a single blog, nor a group blog, but a true portal that combines a blog roll of featured bloggers  in this area with  advanced search and newspaper-style presentation options. It distills the most important keywords from all the contributing blogs, and makes it possible to navigate easily and in multiple ways through the federated content. For example, after selecting a particular blog, the site shows you the latest and the best from that blog, as well as related content from other blogs. It also shows the subset of the collective keywords covered by this blog, etc., etc.

The Communities and Networks Connection portal launched only today, and is still under some construction, especially with respect to the finetuning the keywords.   However, it already has a very pleasant look and feel to it and is addictive in that it draws you into examining related content you would otherwise not really be bothered delving into. Cheers for Nancy White and Tony Karrer who have managed to pull this off!

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: