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:
- 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")?
- A model of the interface between online and offline collaboration. We promised to build this anyway in the proposal.
- 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.