Welcome News for Your Science Agency: The benefits of not funding the work of this virtual organization

trust1

Science agencies fund science.

Usually this is done directly through funding research. Sometimes new facilities are funded, or larger centers.  What I want to talk about are some important science-related activities that cannot, indeed must not be funded in order for them to succeed.

If you are guiding a science agency, then the notion that you can achieve certain high-value science goals only by not funding them may be news to you. It should be welcome news. In fact there are enormous ROI potentials you can only realize when you can refrain from adding money to the mix. There is a caveat here. While you cannot fund these, you also cannot manage them. Instead, they will govern themselves.

What I am referring to here is a new form of volunteer science/data virtual organization. Drawing their members from a broad swath of experts, led by the community they build (through a governance they own), and powered by volunteers, these associations offer agencies and the academy new forums for scientific discussion, knowledge management, and collective intelligence.

The oldest and best of these that I know about is the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners, sponsored by NASA and NOAA in the US. More recently there is the global Research Data Alliance, with significant sponsorship from Europe and elsewhere. The NSF is also spinning up EarthCube in the geosciences.

Let me be clear. These organizations still need support. All of these organizations require sponsors to pay their staff and expenses; there are websites and teleconferences, and some face-to-face meetings: all the tools of communication and collaboration. But the activities, the occasions for trust building, the growing sense of community, and the actual work: these are accomplished by the volunteers for themselves without being paid.

Volunteers in these organizations also realize a return on their investment. In fact, each and every volunteer should get more than they give. This math is driven by the network effect and some other stuff. That’s another blog, I’m afraid.  Here I am writing to you: the agency manager who can finally get something for almost nothing!

Here are Seven Things…

…your science agency can get only by not funding them directly, but through supporting a community-led virtual organization of scientists/technologists:

  1. Your agency gets to query and mine a durable, expandable level of collective intelligence;

  2. Your agency can depend on an increased level of adoption to standards and shared practices;

  3. It will gain an ability to use the community network to create new teams capable of tackling important issues (also=better proposals);
  4. Your agency can use the community to evaluate high-level decisions before these are implemented (=higher quality feedback than simple RFIs);
  5. Social media becomes even more social inside the community, with lateral linkages across the entire internet. This can amplify your agency’s social media impact;
  6. Your diverse stakeholders will be able to self-manage a broad array of goals and strategies tuned to a central vision and mission; and,
  7. You will be able to identify emergent leadership and potential new employees.

Bottom Line: Sponsoring a community-led, volunteer-run science organization offers a great ROI. There are whole arenas of valuable work to be done, but only if nobody funds this directly.

Disclaimer:  The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the contributor alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of EarthCube’s governance elements, funding agency, or staff.

ello

ello

ello

@brucecaron

So, I’m writing a batch of user stories today for a software project. This got me thinking. What is my own user story for ello? What am I looking for that I’m not getting from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.? What is a social network service for?

Part of the allure of ello is starting over. I’ve made mistakes on Facebook, liked too many pages, friended too many people. And there’s way, way too much sponsored content. And every time I refresh MY timeline, it’s completely different, and I can never find what I’m looking for, that I was looking AT just ten seconds ago. Facebook is broken. Twitter is great for immediate, topical interests, and for the buzz around events. I really like how G+ handles photos, and its search-ability. G+ is the closest service to what I envision as a great social network platform. I think ello has learned a lot from it. The problem is that people aren’t there.

What I’m looking for, what my own user story is for ello, begins with my desire to stay connected to creative people I’ve met at conferences or online, or I’ve read their books or blogs. My hope is to have ongoing, constructive conversations with them, to add my thoughts to theirs, to be able to pose a question now and then, like I would when we are having a beer at SXSW, or Dent, or (way back when) Gnomedex, or somewhere else. At it’s best, ello is an ongoing, somewhat casual connection between creative folk who happen to live wherever they do. We can log in and share a bit of insight, gain some collective intelligence, show some empathy, display some artistry, and live closer to the edge of the elsewhere where innovation happens.

I like the simplicity of the interface. I like being able to see who the people I want to follow are themselves following. I like getting informed when someone follows me. I don’t need to know should they decide to not follow me sometime later. I like how it eats up my big JPEGs. I pop these up on Flickr, so I don’t need ello to be my photo library. I really like not seeing ads. I would like to see some open-source code, as this aligns the service with its pledge to become something better than a cash cow for its makers. I would like to see ello blossom as a nextgen service, one that is owned by its users (somehow). I would also like to help celebrate the makers who would enable this kind of service.

Animated GIF by Dave Whyte @beesandbombs

What’s better than Tenure?

Adjuncts Rising Up

I just did a post of some ideas on The Futures Initiative, An Open Project of the Graduate Center (CUNY) .

Here is the FULL BLOG over at Hastac. In this, I’m suggesting that faculty need to imagine a post-tenure bargain with their universities that will avoid everyone being (mis)treated like adjunct faculty are now.

Here are my thoughts of what a post-tenure university might look like:

Better than tenure

What is better than tenure? Here are the beginnings of potential guidelines, a strawman to build from:

1) A university-wide pay scale for teaching courses that allows for incremental adjustments for years served, and bonuses for class size and results (how do we want to measure results?). No second-class citizens in this system. Everyone who steps up to teach has the rank of professor. The full-time teaching load is the same for all professors.

2) Four-year contracts for all professors, with a review after three years, and an expectation of renewal unless specific causes (bad results, etc.) are evident. At the end of two consecutive four-year contracts, one year of sabbatical is provided to every professor. Teaching is the only activity under review for contract renewal.

3) Release (for a semester, or a year, or more) for externally funded research stops the clock on contract review process. Research projects fund the researcher’s salary during these periods (as they now fund other research team members). Research results and publication are not reviewed for contract renewal. Of course, these are reviewed by funders and will impact future funding. Researchers are rewarded bonuses (culled from the overhead of research income) based, say, on the metrics of their publications in open source journals. When the funded research ends, the professor goes back to teaching full time and the contract review clock starts again.

4) Faculty-run review system to guard against university actions that might infringe on academic freedom, and also to review decisions to not rehire a faculty member.

Photo Source: http://www.usw.org/districts/district-10/photos/PointPark3.JPG

So, what are your ideas for a system that is better than tenure?

EarthCube is poised to start its mission to transform the geosciences

The red areas are sandstone.

The red areas are sandstone.

Here is the current vision statement of EarthCube

EarthCube enables transformative geoscience by fostering a community committed to providing unprecedented discovery, access, and analysis of geoscience data.

The primary goal of membership in EarthCube, and indeed of the entire culture of the EarthCube organization is to support this vision. The EarthCube vision describes a future where geoscience data is openly shared, and where a new science, one based on an abundance of sharable data, assembles new knowledge about our planet. Certainly shared open source software and open access publishing are anticipated in this vision. The vision accepts that it will take a committed community of domain and data scientists to realize this goal.

What can we predict about the culture of a community committed to transformational geosciences? How is this different from the culture of a community pursuing geoscience currently? We need to start building out our imagination of what transformative geoscience will look like and do.  One thing we might agree on is that this will be a much more open and collaborative effort.

Unprecedented data discovery, access, and analysis in the geosciences coupled with open science best practices will drive knowledge production to a new plateau. Many of today’s grand challenge questions about climate change, water cycles, human population interaction with ecosystems, and other arenas will no long be refractory to solution. For now, we can call the engine for this process “Open Geosciences” or OG for short.  What will OG pioneers be doing, and how can EarthCube foster these activities?

  • Pioneering OG scientists will collect new data using shared methodologies, workflows, and data formats.
  • These OG scientists will describe their data effectively (through shared metadata) and contribute this to a shared repository.
  • OG scientists will analyze their data with software tools that collect and maintain a record of the data provenance as well as metrics on the software platform.
  • OG scientists will report out their findings in open access publications, with links to the data and software.
  • OG scientists will peer review and add value to the work of others in open review systems.
  • OG domain and data scientists will reuse open data to synthesize new knowledge, and to build and calibrate models.
  • OG software engineers will collaborate on open software to improve capabilities and sustainability.
  • OG scientists will share more than data. They will share ideas, and null results, questions and problems, building on the network effect of organizations such as EarthCube to grow collective intelligence.
  • OG science funding agencies will work with OG communities to streamline research priority decisions and access to funding.

 At this stage, EarthCube is in its most institutionally reflexive moment and is most responsive to new ideas. Like a Silicon Valley start-up flush with cash and enthusiasm, EarthCube is poised to build its future up from the ground. EarthCube can succeed in its vision without attempted to directly influence the embedded cultures of government organizations, tier one universities, professional societies, and commercial publishers. EarthCube will succeed by building its own intentional culture, starting with its membership model and focused on its vision. EarthCube will only transform geoscience by proving that its members can do better science faster and cheaper through their commitment to the modes of scientific collaboration now made possible through EarthCube. EarthCube will transform science by transforming the practices and the attitudes of its own members.

NASA image by Robert Simmon with ASTER data. Caption by Holli Riebeek with information and review provided by David Mayer, Robert Simmon, and Michael Abrams.

Intentional Culture and Anthropology: ten years later

That's me with the camera

That’s me with the video camera

Ten years ago I published a paper (in Japanese) about doing an ethnography of intentional cultures and traditions. Ten years before that, I was capturing the very intentional effort of a Korean cultural community in Kyoto to build their own public festival. In the past ten years, I have been working toward an understanding of virtual communities in the arena of science research and data.

Here is a link to the English version of my 2004 paper: Ethnic Cultural Theme Parks in China and Japan: Toward an Anthropology of Intentional Tradition

Conclusion:

Intentional cultures are not limited to theme parks and cities (such as Las Vegas) that are rebuilt as theme parks, but can be seen as the future of traditional (or post-traditional) culture. The act of producing intentional tradition represents a mode of “detraditionalization” in Giddens’ perspective: “A detraditionalizing social order is one in which the population becomes more active and reflexive, although the meaning of ‘reflexive’ should be properly understood. Where the past has lost its hold, or becomes one ‘reason’ among others for doing what one does, pre-existing habits are only a limited guide to action; while the future, open to numerous ‘scenarios’, becomes of compelling interest (Giddens, 1994, 92-93).” Theme parks compete with each other and with other types of destination for scarce tourist cash flows. The ability of cultural theme parks to innovate traditions—to attempt to manage their future—is crucial to their competitive position. So too, the workers in these theme parks use intentional traditions to innovate their own ethnic markers and construct cultural practices that offer them a future in the tourism industry: the world’s largest industry. And these ethnic markers and cultural practices are highly competitive as valued tokens in the economy and society of ethnic minority locales around China. In Japan, foreign-themed parks reinforce the islanders’ sense of belonging to the wider world. These offer local experiences of far-away traditions, experiences that are added to their visitors’ reflexive construction of their sense of self and national identity.

Giddens, Anthony. 1994. Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Photo by Erich Schienke

What is an online community architect?

Architecture

I was recently asked why I call myself an online community “architect.” A fair question. My use of the label “architect” is meant to highlight how intentional communities, such as virtual organizations, can design, assemble, and use cultural practices to become more effective at achieving their goals and their vision.

The “unintentional” communities that we find ourselves belonging to (or resisting) in our society, from our neighborhoods and schools to our language groups and nations, use cultural practices that are grounded in longer histories and broader social structures. These represent the culture we are submerged in from birth; often they are the practices that represent our sense of identity and position in society.

These practices (and associated beliefs) are what anthropologists call “culture.” They remind us that much of this is learned and then used unconsciously, as habits and behaviors that come naturally to the enculturated members of the society. Intentional communities are made up of members that carry their own cultural habits from their society. On top of these habits, an intentional community agrees to add practices that are mutually agreed upon and available for discussion and revision. 

Some intentional communities are created as counter-cultural groups, where their practices are designed specifically to conflict with those of the larger society. But many more intentional communities, from workplaces to voluntary societies and virtual organizations simply want to define their core values and to design governance practices to support these.

Often, corporations and networked communities fail to recognize that they need to develop an intentional culture to support their collaborations. They rely on the unconscious cultural habits of their members and on imposed management schemes to compel participation. Management practices can seem more effective and cheaper than the expense of building cultural practices and governance. However, in situations where corporations need to pivot quickly, or where virtual organizations need to rely on volunteers, there is no substitute for shared values supported by governance practices.

The literature on the costs and benefits of a robust corporate culture is quite large. But how can organizations gain expertise in developing intentional cultural practices? Just as a building architect is used to create an efficient and effective envelope of space, a community architect can help an organization create an envelope of practice. Every effective corporate culture is based on shared intention and honest design. It is the role of the community architect to become familiar with those design patterns that can help a new virtual organization build a robust cultural fabric to support its vision and its goals.

Photo Credit: “On The Saturday Before That” by Thomas Hawk on flickr

On the road to governance? Get a handle on your logic and keep an eye on practice.

Barn Raising

Building practices for an emerging governance gives your virtual organization community tools to explore how they want to govern their own participation. Too often, governance planners start by thinking of structures: committees, boards, and assemblies. The structures will emerge more organically if planners start with practices and their logic.

Twenty some years ago, anthropologist/sociologist Pierre Bourdieu wrote Le Sens Pratique (Logic of Practice). He noted that cultural activities were not simply reasoned, but also became embedded in their practice. Their performance included tacit knowledge that was not available to the performer, having been learned directly through the body. The cultural norms and skills are carried by their members without the need for reflection or conversation. This is precisely why “culture” is often considered as difficult to change.

How does this theory inform the work of building an intentional community governance? Mainly, I will propose that governance needs to “make sense,” not just as a reason-able activity, but as a practice that feels right. Because this community is intentional, its practices are available for reflection and conversation, and change. This is the real difference between culture out in the world and the culture of a company or a virtual organization. Any organization that loses the ability to direct its internal culture is trapped in a single loop of progress and error and will never learn its way out of this. Your culture belongs to you, and not you to it.

How can practices feel right? How do you know if a practice feels wrong? The main way is to create a small list of provisional core values. These become the touchstones that members use to judge how right or wrong a proposed practice feels. If “maximal transparency” is a core value, then a practice that hides disagreement is going to feel wrong. If “diversity of approach” is a core value, a practice that opens up to a great variety of inputs will feel right.

Don’t feel like these provisional core values will need to be written in stone. Make one of them “community owns its values” and encourage the members to embrace and celebrate them, changing them when they want to. 

Remember that governance is not simply about decision making. There are a lot of expressive opportunities that it can enable that will help your members to embody the organization’s culture through their interactions. Governance needs to encourage leadership and resolve conflicts. It should promote best practices and reward service.

Are you ready to gather your fledgling community together and start planning a governance approach? Get them to outline a handful of key values first. Then challenge them to find practices that uplift and promote these. Then you can add in use cases and scenarios for them to build structures that use these practices. Before you know it, your community will have a first draft of their bare-bones governance scheme.

Photo Credit: Elgin County Archives, Wallacetown Women’s Institute fonds on Flickr