Building gateways between online and offline engagement: do we have a design crisis?

Alberto's picture

The Milan consortium meeting taught us that bringing the offline debate online is hard. So far, we have followed two different approaches:

  •  ScImpulse, WeMake and City of Milano focus on an engaging offline experience for participants. Conveners take notes, photos etc. They then editorialize them and upload them onto the platform.
  • Edgeryders focus on offering people with good stories help for them to put them on the platform. Workshops are organized not by Edgeryders itself (though we do take part), but by active community members. The same also provide most of the help. 

Both methods are hard. Both have drawbacks.

The first method is mostly failing. It is difficult to make sense of notes taken during the meeting. I had this experience during "Taking care", where I volunteered to take notes with Cristina. Afterwards, I could interpret my notes, but not hers (though we were using the same  Google Doc! ). I imagine the opposite was true for her. Many notes never make it online. Those that do take the form of a report: "A said this, B said that". The community tends not to engage with this type of format. 

The second method has given better results.  Still, it discourages people who are not good communicators in writing, face language barriers etc. 

How to move forward? The Milan meeting gave us two promising leads.

The first one was offered by @Costantino and @alessandrocontini . They pointed out that the mechanics of makers collaboration is not so social. You go to the forum, ask a question, get a pointer, solve the problem and move on. It may be difficult to track it through an online forum.

The second one results from something interesting that happened during "Taking care". This: people in the Bordeaux group at some point felt their contribution was unnecessary and possibly unwelcome. They withdrew from the workshop and moved to a different room. They kept working on opencare, but in the form of writing code to look at the conversation. 

This resonates with an Edgeryders conversation thread that predates opencare. It says this: the "meeting" or "assembly" format claims to be inclusive, but in fact it is not. Instead, it rewards extrovert, confident, even narcissistic personalities. Introverts don't like to speak in public, certainly not without thinking things through. So they never speak. This issue has come to the fore in the hacker community, where many skilled developers identify as intros. Intros like online, where they can take time to think things through, and where they do not have to interrupt others to claim space. See for example this great comment by @trythis and the thread that comes with it. As a result, offline spaces are exclusionary. They do not know it... because they exclude the people who never speak up. 

The post-it workshop format has a second potential problem. It has no space for contributions in forms other than the speech (as Cicero describes in De Oratore). The role of facilitators is to "standardize" contributions. Some people (like @Noemi in "Taking care") feel that this negates serendipity and predetermines results.

If this is true, a lot of design-based methods of engagement have a serious flaw. What's worse, an unacknowledged one. Given their popularity, this is serious.

So, I propose we "go deep", doing research and producing one or more papers on:

  1. An ethnography of makers collaboration. How important is the space? How important is StackOverflow or similar? What constitues "good" collaboration (Alessandro: "the less interactive and more efficient, the better")? 
  2. A model of the interface between online and offline collaboration. We promised to build this anyway in the proposal.
  3. A critique of the post-it workshop as a technique for collective intelligence

All of this should, in my opinion, have a design perspective. I propose that @Ezio Manzini coordinates the activities and writes one or two papers under items 2 and 3. ER would be happy to support this. And I would love to see WeMake and ScImpulse appoint an ethnographer to look into item 1. 




Editorialising content to create stories

Alex Levene's picture

A lot of what you say in the second half of this post makes sense but is very much outside my field of understanding or activity.

I was stuck by some of the thoughts in the first half around creating content from discussions and events. Is the perhaps an area where an overlap with the citizen journalism scene may yield results. People are invited to participate in the event as a 'journalist' (distinct from a note taker), the objective is the try to capture the essence of the event, the connections between people and ideas etc (I'm thinking of the posts from @Yannick  at Re:Publica -

There is still an important space for note takers and people who try to capture the detail of what hapens and is said, but this is attached to a narrative or story that engages the audience.

With regards finding ways of bringing intros into offline conversations, i'm not sure if there is a comfortable and efficient way of creating a solution withour being overly prescriptive about how an event or discussion is structured. One could pre-organise a series of questions that you want to answer and post them in a digital space so that whilst the discussion happens people can aso engage online to think of answers. But i worry that you start to dictate the flow of conversation too much in the offline world. It's a very difficult path to tread.


Community journalists

Alberto's picture

At LOTE4 and LOTE5 we used the concept of "community journalists", semi-organized note-takers. It worked like this:

  • People volunteered for the Documentation Team (LOTEs are "no spectators event", you have to volunteer for something to get a ticket). 
  • A team leader would set up Hackpads or other repositories for notes. Important: these need to support real-time collaborative editing, so a wiki like you have on wikimedia or edgeryders will not work.
  • The team would have its own briefing on the morning of the first day. People would sign up for the different sessions, trying to cover them all. They would also receive some format indications. A format I personally used is attributed first person quotes. Example:

BEN – I went through a serious burnout period two years ago. Something that seemed to help was temporarily deactivate my Facebook account, because it took away the anxiety from being constantly poked and drawn back to interacting with others.  

  • In session, everyone would be encouraged to help with note-taking, but the documentation ream members took the lead. That made it easy for people less confident with note-taking to chip in maybe just a little, adding some points here and there or even just correcting typos.
  • After the session, everyone was encouraged to go to the hackpad and make corrections as needed. If my point of view was misrepresented, I could correct for it. If you don't correct, it means you are OK with it ("open").

I imagine a documentation team could be guided to produce notes that make more sense from an ethnographer's point of view. 

Notice that this is NOT storytelling, nor journalisme flaneur... though those are valuable too. First person narrative are preserved, at least when the community journalist do their job well.


Back to 'le journalisme flaneur'

Yannick's picture


I read a peace lately , in french, about bringing back the 'journalisme flaneur', a person between a tourist (in the broader sence of the word) and note taker. 

The way that person looks at an event is different, he or she is trying to give a sence to what he or she is seeing at the moment while moving between the conversations, it's a less objective note taking, but a richer experience for the reader i think. 

And to link it with the offline , i think we need the same kind of person, a storyteller more then a speaker. Somebody that make a story live through his experiences. The term 'conteur' in french is the best word to describe that. 


Yes to storytellers.

Noemi's picture

Storytelling is also what I argued for, to Costantino and Alessandro in Milano: someone that translates what makers dont have the time into an accurate entry about their work. This is in less citizen journalism and engaging documentation that goes beyond note taking. While your citizen journalism idea is another way of adding a personal voice to the online conversation, the requirement for a structured research like OpenCare is that it needs to capture more viewpoints of more people who are in an offline environment. So a storyteller would bring their own, and incorporating some other points. What about the rest of the points which in our data strategy need to be attributed to distinct users?

So what I recommended was a storyteller that plays the interviewer at the event, in a similar way that Natalia interviewed people on skype in OpenandChange and posted their stories in their name and language. 

My assumption is that almost anyone, including a technical person, would be able to articulate even half baked ideas about how they work if asked pertinent questions over a friendly, informal conversation.

@Alberto I especially like point 2) modeling online-offline. Sign me up for that.


Initial thoughts and feedback

Ezio Manzini's picture

I will start from Alberto’s post last two lines:  if considered useful, I would be happy to wrote something on “Building gateways between online and offline engagement” (I am not sure to understand which activities should I coordinate but, I am sure, some explanations will follow.

Here few first thoughts/feedbacks on the Alberto’s post (more will follow).

Premise 1: if the Milano consortium meeting taught participants that “bringing the offline debate online is hard” and that there are at least, “two different approaches”, it means that this meeting and workshop have been successful (as a matter of fact, at least of what the workshop was concerned, its goal was exactly to trigger a conversation on this point).  

Premise 2I understand that the OpenCare research asks for promoting on-line discussions on the issue of open care and, then, measuring, representing them as graphs and discussing these results.  NB: writing OpenCare I refer to this specific research – writing open care, I intend the issue of open caring activities in general (as I did in previous posts).

1. Alberto is right saying that the two different approaches he indicates emerged in the workshop conversations.  But, in my view, these two approaches are of quite different nature, and cannot be proposed as polarized answers to the same question.

In fact, in general terms, the issue of care can be the subject of a wide range of conversations:

  • (A) some conversations aim at solving specific problems (we can call them “vertical conversations”, generating “vertical projects”);
  • (B) other conversations aim at creating environments  where other, vertical conversations can emerge and be enhanced (we can call them “horizontal conversations”, generating “horizontal projects”).

2. In this framework, I would rephrase the two approaches emerged in the workshop, and the related questions, in this way:

Approach (A)

  • opencare issue: (A.1): how to deal with, and possibly solve, specific care-related issues in an open way (for what regards both processes and results).
  • opencare issue: (A.2) how much of this open result-oriented activity can be done on-line and, therefore, how much measurable conversations can be generated.

Approach (B)

  • opencare issue (B.1): how to engage in useful discussions on-line people who are interested/active in care-related issues.

  • opencare issue: (B.2) how these on-line conversations can be triggered and supported and, finally, how much measurable conversations can be generated.

In my opinion, both (A) and (B) are relevant and should be considered, for the sake of the OpenCare research, the focus has to be on the point 2 (A.2 and B.2).

NB but  it must be observed that there would be no need to have (B) if –at a given point - it would not generate (A)

3. I think that, for the sake of both open care and OpenCare, we should have a third level o in our questions, that is:

  • A.3/B.3 what are the advantages, in terms of care giving, of having rich on-line conversations like these A.2 and B.2 ones? How to make them more effective in practical terms and more capable to create a new culture of care?

Positive vs. normative research questions

Alberto's picture

@Ezio Manzini thanks for this. It does seem that the existence of two approaches is now established. We knew this from before "Taking care", but I at least found it useful (if difficult) to go through the full experience of offline.

That said, I would like to suggest a different approach from the one you propose. You questions are obviously relevant, but I think we are not in a position to address them yet: we lack the necessary evidence. We have anecdotes ("people find writing difficult", "hackers are good collaborators", "good collaboration minimizes verbosity"), but no real research on the matter. So, I propose to move from normative to positive research questions. You ask "how can we obtain something which is desirable, for example open care services?" I would like to ask "how do desirable results actually obtain?". 

There is little doubt that better, cheaper, faster coordination is conducive to better outcomes in all collaborative efforts, including open care (following your notation: open care is the care that happens out there and is open). von Hippel, for example, makes a strong case that what he calls "free innovators" systematically underinvest in diffusion efforts (documentation). He is supported by empirical research in six countries. So, I would start by building a micro model of how collaboration (building and making accessible documentation) actually happens. I would keep very close track of online-offline. 

Example: one of the examples given by von Hippel is NightScout. In the story as he tells it, the collaboration happens entirely online, and is triggered by, of all platoforms, Twitter:

On May 14 last year, he [Costik] tweeted a picture of his solution: a way to upload the Dexcom receiver’s data to the Internet using his software, a $4 cable and an Android phone. That tweet caught the eye of other engineers across the country. One was Lane Desborough, an engineer with a background in control systems for oil refineries and chemical plants whose son, 15, has diabetes. Mr. Desborough had designed a home-display system for glucose-monitor data and called it NightScout. But his system couldn’t connect to the Internet, so it was merged with Mr. Costik’s software to create the system used today.

I am sure that's not the whole story. So, here's the paper I'd like you to write, possibly involving some students:

  1. Some in depth case studies of collaboration taken from open care initiatives. The case studies would go micro on collaboration: ok, so Desborough saw Costik's tweet. Then what? Did they meet? When? To do what? Did Costik redirect Desborough onto GitHub, or BitBucket? Did he email his own notes? What happened as the project scaled? Etcetera. There is an obvious partner for this: Patient Innovation. 
  2. Some field work on the same thing based on what OpenCare (the project) is doing. How do people collaborate in the WeMake lab and with the broader world (technical forums etc.)? How is free-form conversation conducive to people working more together? How is working more together conducive to creating better results? We have at least four cases of people "doing things together" that seem to have met through OpenCare, but researchers could also track some of the hundreds of initiatives that have been reported. 

So. You (Ezio) could build a small team and direct them. This would result in a paper called something like "Online and offline environments for collaboration in free innovation: the case of care services", or similar. 

Financially speaking, this thing could be funded by what we used to call the big Fellowships. Now they would entail being appointed by ScImpulse, but that's just a bureaucratic detail. @markomanka promised to send me a draft of a possible call for expressions of interest, which we could direct according to what we decide to do here. The stroke of genius would be to embed some participant observation: get a member of the NightScout community to take responsibility for the NightScout case study, etc. This would "embed" OpenCare in those projects. 

Makes sense?


Interesting insights,

Moushira's picture

Interesting insights, @Alberto.  I have a few questions:

  • An ethnography of makers collaboration. How important is the space? How important is StackOverflow or similar? What constitues "good" collaboration (Alessandro: "the less interactive and more efficient, the better")? 

How do we define "good"?  By the number readers? Number of comments? Actual resolution of the discussed problem? All? Defining what "good" engagement looks like, can determine the importance of the space. IMHO a solely quantitative metric could have misleading indications.

  • A model of the interface between online and offline collaboration. We promised to build this anyway in the proposal.
    • Can you please elaborate a bit on this?
  • In line with your thoughts, I still do think we need to analyze our previous experience of offline/online engamenet models. FWIW, we already documented an ongoing case here, and more will follow.





Looking at things from a distance

melancon's picture

And I mean a distance, because my background places me rather far from both care and ethnography.

On a personal and cultural level, I easily link with Alberto's comment on the fact that offline (shall we say "on-site") engagement may be difficult for some people. Bringing your thought into public space is challenging. Personal differences (personality, language, culture) get amplified. Online forums are asynchronous, this is what gives you time and space to form your ideas and bring them into words. And it's true you don't have to "fight" to get to the end of your sentence :-) (Take it from a Canadian, living in Europe for quite a number of years, I had to learn how to "fight" and I am still quite bad at it ...). Also, engaging in synchronous space is difficult partly because participants have different background on the questions being discussed, some being specialists, other having "real" experience dealing with the issues being discussed ... etc.

I suppose the best of the two worlds is to be able to mix synchronous and asynchronous interaction.


More importantly, I wish to make a comment on another aspect of the question Alberto is putting on the table.

My understanding is that there is added value in studying the engagement process (here the exchange of ideas between participants). Studying the process: being able to see ideas or knowledge collectively form. Now the process we study is, not only asynchronous and/or synchronous, it is distributed: occuring at different times and locations, involving different people in numerous parallel conversations.

This is where we may hope to use a bit of technology to help us recover the dynamics and look at things. The direction we follow is to collect exchanges between people and use this as a fairly reliable trace of how the process developed. Having a longer piece of content summarizing the exchanges is not the same, as you cannot "replay" the exchanges -- although it certainly is valuable (don't get me wrong, I am not saying storytelling has no value).

So in a sense, the problem is not having things online or on-site. Any trace allowing to replay the dynamics can be used to look at the collective process.

If we'd have a (cheap, please) technology that would recognize people's voice signature, and reliably turn audio signal into text, we'd be fine and the opencare consortium would have saved itself time and energy struggling between online or on-site. We'd turn on this technology during on-site activities and feed whatever container (to make the exchanges available to others to hear live or listen to later (we'd even be able to make it avialble to the visually disabled!). People would be able to comment and keep discussing afterwards with people who were not necessarily on-site.

We'd still need to offer both on-site (synchronous) and online (asynchronous) forms of exchanges though to increase the openess of the conversation.


This is what we must aim for: a combined synchronous-asynchronous mode of exchanges deployed both on-site and online, with whatever is needed to keep the best posible traces of the process. Then go recursive: feed the process with whatever knowledge we can gain on the process itself, as it develops.


Hey, I got to the end of this post and you read me through without interrupting! :-)



Crowdsourcing the costs of editorialising

Alberto's picture

@melancon , thanks for this – a hell of a contribution! 

I agree with your analysis (asynchronous and distributed vs. synchronous and centralized). I disagree with your solution, though, even if it were technically realistic. Dictation software would just take a "snapshot" of what people say as they say it. This would make for unreadable material: lots of "ehms" and "ahs", sentences that do not close, missing body language (like nodding when others speak). 

The act of writing contains editorialisation. It is a real transcoding from one medium (speech) to another (writing), not just a copy-paste. Ethnographers know this well: they are used to working with recordings. By insisting on natively online conversation, we crowsdource the editorialisation, and that saves a lot of researcher time. Additionally, it empowers the participant, who takes control of the medium in which her content will be consumed by others. Chances of being misunderstood or misrepresented go way down. For example, if I say something with a light-hearted mood to a journalist in an interview, I trust that person with putting my light-hearted remark in the right context, and not making it sound like a serious one. But if I am blogging,  I can take care of that myself. I can also censor myself. And, believe me, I do. 

So, no microphones in the room. Let's not make a reality show of a result-oriented conversation! :-)


Is this a care conversation?

Alberto's picture

Calling @Amelia

This conversation we have here is very interesting, but what is it? People involved are the research teams but also two fellows (and I expect that @Federico Monaco will soon jump in). We are talking about research, but we are also talking about the architecture of community-provided care services... is this stuff that you would want to code?


I'd like to code it

Amelia's picture

if nothing else, to capture the conversations about methodology. I also have codes for "definitions of care" so aggregating those will be useful as well. I will use a limited number of tags for these kinds of conversations so it shouldn't create too much noise/distraction from the more overtly community-driven conversations.


Added to the OE queue

Alberto's picture

Way to go, @Amelia :-)


Alcuni Spunti.

Francesco Maria ZAVA's picture

*/ Alberto


Concordo con Melancon sull'idea di utilizzare delle tecnologie semplici (economiche) per consentire l'unione tra il mondo sincronizzato (offline) e quello asincrono (online) durante gli eventi ed i dibattiti che costituiscono la realizzazione delle idee e dei progetti che nascono sulla Piattaforma Edgeryders, che si sviluppano attraverso il Progetto OpenCare attraverso il supporto dei suoi partners o che possano vedere la luce nel più ampio alveo del “Prendersi Cura”. Ritengo infatti che l'adozione di un sistema di trascrizione – indubbiamente ricercando soluzioni aperte laddove quelle commerciali possano costituire un ostacolo – possa contribuire alla “cattura” sia dei contenuti sia delle emozioni (gli “uhm”, i “bah” o gli “ehm”!) che non dovrebbero essere dispersi in funzione – se pur importante – dei dati etnografici e delle elaborazioni prettamente statistiche. A questo proposito faccio inoltre umilmente notare che durante le sessioni di co-design e nei lavori di gruppo del Workshop tenutosi a Milano sui tavoli c'erano audioregistratori professionali, utilizzati previo consenso e liberatoria firmata a suo tempo da tutti i partecipanti, la cui finalità immagino sia la documentazione di tutti i processi del Progetto e che potrebbe divenire base per una riflessione ulteriore.

Credo pertanto sia opportuno non distrarre il focus di tutto questo lavoro che è – dovrebbe restare – la persona con tutte le sue “colorazioni”.


Concordo inoltre sull'importanza della “costruzione” della storia, materiale non elaborabile prerogativamente dai soli giornalisti o dagli esperti analisti, che in realtà contribuirebbe in modo sostanziale alla “fuoriuscita” della cultura aperta, libera e condivisibile della progettualità e del prendersi cura degli altri dal – forse sin troppo esclusivo? - mondo digitale nella quale rischia di rimanere relegata, laddove non già monopolizzata dai circuiti elaborativi caratterizzati da un pressoché assente coinvolgimento e partecipazione diretta delle persone “portatrici” legittime di istanze e di aspettative.


Chiudo queste mie osservazioni aggregandomi alla richiesta di Moushira circa la realizzazione di un modello di interfaccia per la collaborazione online-offline.

Il quesito è se tale “oggetto”, oltre che un software oppure una applicazione orientata ai dati ed alle correlazioni, possa essere costruito come una struttura in grado di produrre contenuti “community generated” polimediale che possa garantire funzionalità “editoriali” e comunicative multicanale.


Rispondendo al Tuo quesito: Sì, questa è una conversazione che si prende cura delle persone che, a loro volta, si prendono cura degli altri attraverso la specifica sensibilità e le particolari attitudini! :-)





Mi scuso per l'esclusivo utilizzo della lingua italiana che, d'altra parte, mi consente di dare apporti (spero) maggiormente pertinenti ed approfonditi.


Francesco's main points

Alberto's picture

Non preoccuparti, @Francesco Maria ZAVA . Scrivi come ti senti comodo, in qualche modo ci capiamo. Ezio, Noemi, immagino Moushira e anche Guy (@melancon ) capiscono l'italiano qui. Io poi ti rispondo eventualmente in inglese, mi pare che tu mi capisca.

Guys, Francesco basically agrees with Guy and disagrees with me. Transcription would work for him. Main reason: he likes the authenticity of emotional expression (pre-editorialization). 

He points out that at Taking Care we had audio recorders, so the documentation is there (in audio form).

 Finally, he thinks that this is indeed a conversation on care. He has quite an original formulation for this. His exact words (rendered to the best of my abilities) are:

"This is a conversation that cares for people as they, in their turn, take care of others through each one's specific sensitivities and abilities."


My reply to Francesco

Alberto's picture

@Francesco Maria ZAVA : from what I know, most ethnographers would agree with you. "Normal" ethno research works with audio recordings, that are then transcribed. And transcription is a very big deal in ethnography. Researchers are armed with resources like this: write (H) when the informant  utters an "audible inhalation", (Hx) when she utters an "audible exhalation". Write @ for laughter ("one per pulse", so @ @ @) etc. etc.

Trouble with that, there is a tradeoff between transcription accuracy and costs of data, so, ultimately, between transcription accuracy and number of informants that ethnographers can afford to have in a study. Already 10 years ago, in a relatively low-cost (Western) country like Italy, transcriptions cost 100 EUR per hour of recording. My colleagues at UNIMORE tried the time-honored academic move to deploy unpaid students as transcribers, but it did not work. The transcriptions were of too low quality. So, ethnography was always a small-numbers research techniques: 20 informants is a respectable number in a study. In opencare, with 50% of the project done, we have already 202. 

Ethnography in its traditional form will continue to exist. But opencare is trying to repurpose it to serve it as a tool for collective intelligence. And collective intelligence needs... collective, i.e. fairly large numbers.

The professional quality audio recordings of Taking Care, I think, go to prove my point. We have them. But no one, it seems, has the time and  interest to listen to them and transcribe them... so they stay unavailable. You could put them on SoundCloud without transcription, but I doubt many people would play them and engage with their content. Whereas I got in touch with Luca from Dynamoscopio, armed with my written notes, and we agreed to do a post on Mercato Lorenteggio in English together. We will publish, probably, it next week. 

In fairness, though, there are people who like audio. @trythis is one of them. 


Attenzione “Op3n Care” Community!!!

Francesco Maria ZAVA's picture

*/ Ciao a Tutti


Accolgo entusiasticamente l'iniziativa di dedicare uno spazio importante al Progetto OpenCare sulla Piattaforma Digitale Edgeryders! :-)


Tuttavia mi permetto di fare osservare alcuni aspetti di “criticità” di natura strategica e comunicativa:

1. Sovrapposizione web del Progetto – Esiste lo spazio raggiungibile su Edgeryders ( ed uno apparentemente esterno ad esso ( Questo comporta una potenziale confusione, prescindendo dalla legittimità e dalla “bontà” di entrambe le risorse, considerando la visibilità e le dinamiche di coinvolgimento e di identità sia per la Community sia per il Progetto medesimo.

Eccesso di ansia e di scrupolo? :-/

2. Incongruenze stilistiche e di nomenclatura – Allo stato all'interno delle varie conversazioni, oltre che nelle diverse implementazioni grafiche nei vari spazi web, si legge “opencare”, “OpenCare”, “Op3nCare” oppure ancora “Op3n Care” che lascerebbero intendere una eterogeneità di iniziative o di micro progetti correlati comunque ad una attività finanziata dalla Comunità Europea attraverso il Programma di Finanziamento Horizon 2020. Credo sia opportuno fare chiarezza.

Un passato di dtp autodidattico e di “sviluppatore” web difficile da dimenticare! :D





Come si apre una nuova discussione sulla Piattaforma, in generale, e sullo spazio Op3n Care, nel dettaglio?