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Thursday, 15 November 2007

Collaborating with Society














There are some very interesting themes on both the post below on NESTA’s view on collaboration and innovation, and the posting on the RSA Networks Blog about respect and democracy.

One of the challenges I feel about the current RSA agenda are the bridges not only between Fellows, but also collaboration with society, and the boundaries between where online collaboration and discussion end and face-to-face communication begins.

Two books which examine the wisdom of crowds, by actually using other people to write the books are interesting examples of mass collaboration in action. We Think by Charles Leadbeater (pic above) has been online for some time now and uses the We Think Wiki to generate contributions and comment. Charles has continued to be a futurist thinker himself, publishing The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur in 1997.

We Are Smarter than Me was published in September and claims 4000 authors about the collective intellect of mass collaboration.

Reflecting back to Mick Fealty’s post quoting Professor Stephen Coleman about respect my thought about mass collaboration is that it is inherently respectful, and it was a point that I made to Charles Leadbeater when I met him over the summer. Asking people for their contributions, listening and incorporating their ideas and opinions is possibly one of the most genuine ways of showing respect to another person.

Having returned from three days on a course with Dr Jerry Stein from the University of Minnesota on his Learning Dreams program I am more convinced than ever that the face-to-face interactions in live communities cannot be replaced by online dialogue. While the online forums provide us with a fantastic starting point we need to explore how the online social networking will serve and enable the face-to-face.

The most exciting aspect of the RSA’s new agenda is the potential not only for creative collaboration between Fellows, but creating spaces for creative collaboration between the Fellows and the communities in which we live, what Ellie would describe as 'fertile ground'. There can be few who would argue that communities themselves have a deeper understanding of their own concerns, and a greater ability to find their own solutions. Perhaps it could be part of the RSA's role to help facilitate these discussions within individual communities and activate the wide ranging expertise within the Fellowship.

10 comments:

Nick Booth said...

My online networks enrich my face to face conversations in a way which I think is unique to the 21st century. I know allmany little and big things about people - things we might have to spend many hours together to learn. I know whether they've just had a hair cut, who else they work with, what other skills and interests they have.

It's like having a constant stream of gossip - but one where the gossip is also the gossipped. It accelerates how we can collaborate.

I expect the RSA's most productive future collaborations to be a product of people who do online and off line equally well.

David Jennings said...

I heard (or read, can't remember which) the term 'ambient intimacy' to refer to the way that social networking tools enable us to keep in touch with the daily tittle-tattle (and occasionally business-relevant developments) of many scattered people. Perhaps this bed of small talk can provide a useful foundation for bigger talk in other settings/contexts?

Late Arrival said...

Interesting post

I think the way forward is through 'intention'; Once the intention is there, everything is shaped around it. All the different forms of ideas sharing and communication are channeled toward an outcome, then there is a seamless 'cross over' between real and electronic and back to real debate and advancement.

I see it more like different forms used to a singular outcome. The question is 'what outcome'?

davidwilcox said...

Thanks Late Arrival for pulling us back to the Why and Where questions. (Oh by the way, real names would be best)

I love the Lewis Carroll quote:
“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don't know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.”

Who decides where we are going? The RSA, Fellows? How?

Tessy Britton said...

Perhaps David we could just say we are 'exploring the options' at this stage and let the process evolve with positive intentions and collaborative spirit? That is certainly what it feels like at the moment between RSA and Fellows?

davidwilcox said...

Tessy - I agree with exploring the options ...your comment crossed with my later post. My point is that someone will have to make decisions about issues of access, influence, control ... the architecture of the system and the collaboration process. So far RSA staff have made those decisions in the appointment and brief for Saul and Andy, and the design of the event on November 22. It's like a council hiring architects for housing redevelopment and then inviting residents to become involved on the council's terms. Fortunately our architects seem very community-friendly ... but we should be clear about how much say we will have in the final designs. Unless Fellows decide they like the new places - and can invite their (non-Fellow) friends along too - the civic innovation estate will be rather quiet.
Well, that's my (often painful) experience of engagement and design processes, real or virtual. What do others think?

Anshuman said...

Hi David,

I feel your last statement is not quite accurate.

You assume that Andy and Saul were given a fixed brief to build a platform.

However on 31 October in a response to you on the networks blog (http://tinyurl.com/ywdgp2) I said:

"We're in the process of getting two excellent 'social technologists' to develop some open source interactive features on the current site, hopefully to be ready for the 22nd.

The process will start off with some initial research amongst the Fellows to see what they would like it to be and how they would like it to work.

Then the building process will begin and it will hopefully be a 'perpetual beta' allowing us to iteratively develop the tool in conjunction with its users - the Fellows."

The brief was actually to research what the users would want to use and then create around that.

What they have developed so far has come out of consultation with various staff and Fellows.

And this is a process that is continuing.

Nancy Drew said...

Re : "I am more convinced than ever that the face-to-face interactions in live communities cannot be replaced by online dialogue."

Face to face excludes those who cannot be where you are, when you are.

It excludes those living in isolated rural communities, those constrained by work commitments or childcare or disability. It excludes those who have not found a way to express their 'voice' in public.

Those who talk for a living meet those who talk for a living...

Tessy Britton said...

HI Nancy Drew

You are absolutely right, the internet and social networking tools cross so many barriers - including geographic. My own experience is that online communities are so inspiring because of this.
What I have been reminded to consider is how valuable our face-to-face relationships are in building and strengthening communities. Particularly as you mention with the remote, unrepresented, overstretched or unconfident.

Online networks are such a vital and enriching part of my own life, but on my recent course I enjoyed learning about how we grow Social Capital and sense of connection within communities and it was a good reminder to me to see the online and face-to-face as complimentary rather than mutually exclusive . . .and of course that everyone feels included in all the processes as much as possible. :)

Malcolm F said...

Re the Online Platform mentioned by Anshuman. A worthy project and from what I have seen so far from Saul and others working on this it will be pretty flexible and open to change and constant improvement. Of course it has to work and start providing something for the fellows that use it and it will have to survive the initial enthusiasm that such tools generate. When we first set up Openrsa London on Facebook there was much activity but that has died down now. There are plenty of empty shells on the net that were to be dream applications for some organisation or other and gettiong them to be lively active things is more of an art than a science.

On the face to face side of things - it can be just as excluding as the online as Nancy Drew says but the point is to ahve both and have them reinforce one another. What 'tools' is the RSA building to reinformce the F2F side. What about a better coffee house in JAS, free meeting space and similar arrangements around the regions.