Ethnic Cultural Theme Parks in China and Japan

Toward an Anthropology of Intentional Tradition

Abstract

The production of “constructed culture” as a feature of the urban landscape accelerates the consumption of such artifacts in everyday life, and prepares residents to consume similar artifacts in tourist destinations. The dream of living in a theme park is realized through intentional tradition as a model for urban planning.
Intentional traditions 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.

Resurrected from 2010 blog… which was rescued from a Google Knol

Originally published in Japanese:

2004. “Ethnic Cultural Theme Parks in China and Japan:Toward an Anthropology of Intentional Tradition.” In Tourism as a Complex Phenomenon. Nobukiyo Eguchi, ed. Kyoto: Koyoshobo. 

The author wishes to thank Professor Eguchi for his support and insights. Prof. Tamar Gordon at RPI secured the funding for the research/video project to China and Japan, and directed the documentary video outcome: Global Villages

Photo Credits: Erich Schienke

Introduction

This essay will explore four sites: the Chinese theme parks at the Overseas China Town in Shenzhen and the Ethnic Village (minzucun) park in Kunming; and the Japanese theme parks of Huis Ten Bosch near Nagasaki, and Parque España in Mie.

The author visited these locales in 2002 while producing and filming a documentary video, Global Villages: The Globalization of Ethnic Display. 61:36 minute DVD. Bruce Caron and Tamar Gordon, Producers. 2004. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and The New Media Studio: Troy, New York and Santa Barbara, California. The author would like to thank Professor Nobukiyo Eguchi for his guidance and assistance over the years.

Each of these parks could have an entire article devoted to an ethnographic description, so this article will not pretend to fully explore the parks as ethnographic sites. The ethnography of the parks here supports notions of value in the study of tourism as a global cultural practice. The author will propose a set of problems from the literature on the anthropology of tourism, and look to these sites as resources to explore these problems. For example, legitimacy, as this is sought by the producers and accepted by the consumers is one of the problem for ethnic cultural theme parks. Unlike amusement parks, where the experience is designed to be imaginative, ethnic cultural theme parks are representational—they claim to show the authentic cultural practices of the people who perform these, or they claim to have recreated locations that actually exist somewhere else (e.g., Huis ten Bosch). As Stanley notes: “… once the notion of ethnographic representation becomes central, there is a stress on authenticity in all aspects of enactment (Stanley 1998, 171).” Legitimacy includes issues of cultural authority and ethnic identity. The problem remains, how do the theme parks establish their cultural content as “authentic”?

The second problem is that of regionality within the parks. Here the term “regionality” does not refer to geographical region, but rather to what Erving Goffman (1974) described as the basic “frames” for activity in any social setting. The “front” region represented the area of public display and attention to public norms for behavior. The “back” region represented more private or intimate behaviors that would be shielded from viewing from the “front” region (1959, 106). Bathing, dressing, sleeping, sexuality, and certain modes of relaxation would be performed in an area outside of the attention of strangers or the need to attend to normalized behaviors. While the front region can include both social behaviors and a dramatic staging (1974, 124) of social behaviors, where there is no actual “stage,” the assumption is that front region behavior is linked to the individual’s socialized self, rather than some simulation of this.

The spatial regionality of Goffman’s does not map easily into the psychological distinctions of “honne” and “tatemae” in Japanese. However, one would suspect that back regions are areas where tatemae is not required.

One important difference between ethnic cultural theme parks and entertainment theme parks (for example, Disneyland) could once be found in the former’s attempt to represent an authentic back region for the villages they assembled, and the latter’s construction of a consumer space with only front regions. This seems to be changing, with ethnic cultural theme parks abandoning the attempt at a display of “real life” (in all its regions) in favor of staged cultural display.

The third problem is how theme park cultural production relates to cultural production back in ethnic locales. Also, how does globalized cultural production and consumption affect the experience of ethnic cultural theme parks? What does this mean for the role of ethnic cultural theme parks in the management of national cultural and local ethnic diversity?  What separates the culture generated by theme parks from either the cultural production in the ethnic homelands or cultural production and consumption in urban zones? Does this new cultural production mark a shift in how nations and ethnic groups negotiate cultural heritage management?

The parks are managed by a partnership of government and corporate interests, but are well attuned to the political role they might play. “In political terms, the Folk Culture Villages theme park embodies the essence of CCP [Chinese Communist Party] policy towards democracy, religious freedom and support for ethnic cultures, designed to demonstrate to its own population and the world the tolerance of Chinese socialism. The Tibetan lamasery and the Uighur mosque are religious buildings only in terms of their original purpose and are now displayed as a political symbol as well as for the touristic gaze. The theme park ‘showcases’ the integration of the minorities into the one happy Chinese cultural family and the unity of the Chinese peoples (Sofield and Lee, 1998).”

Sites under study in China and Japan

Today, more than 300 million persons visit one or more of China’s 3000 theme parks every year (source: US Department of Commerce). Themed destinations have become an economic force and a cultural phenomenon in China. Over the past decades, Japan has also witnessed growth in investment in its themed destination sites, with new ventures in nearly every prefecture. While most of these destinations are amusement parks built around thrill rides (See also: Brouws and Caron, 2001), other parks offer cultural experiences instead of physical thrills.

The Overseas China Town (OCT) development in Shenzhen, Guangdong offers, in one locale, a schematic model for intentional culture production and consumption.  Within a walking distance there are four theme parks—Splendid China, China Folklore Villages, Window on the World, and Happy Valley—that span the spectrum of content from static miniature replica to expansive, dynamic thrill rides (picture Tobu World Square, Tokyo Disneyland, Osaka Universal Studios, and the Akan National Park Ainu Village built side-by-side).  The common thread among three of the parks is the presence of ethnically coded (Chinese/global ethnic minority) entertainers.

Huis ten Bosch has a larger “frame” as an actual cityscape, with a housing development, a full sewage treatment plant, and other urban design infrastructure. The downturn of the Japanese economy in the 1990s reduced the market value of the real estate venture significantly. It is important to consider Huis ten Bosch as a vision of an urban utopia and not simply a themed space.

The fourth park offers 1/15th scale replicas of notable places in China (including Tibet). In Kunming, the provincial government has constructed an expansive theme park of the 25 ethnic minority groups of Yunnan. These are only a few of the ethnic cultural theme parks now open in China.

In Japan, where the number of officially recognized minority ethnic groups and the number of ethnic minority individuals are significantly fewer than those found in China, recent theme park developments have explored extra-national locales, such as Holland and Spain. The Dutch city destination resort of Huis ten Bosch in Kyushu is remarkable for its investment in full-scale verisimilitude.

Intentional tradition is a term that is derived by analogy with “intentional community” which describes communities, such as “communes” that are consciously constructed, and intentional cultures, which are discursively negotiated (See also: http://www.ic.org/). Intentional tradition also marks the production of tradition in what Anthony Giddens calls the “post-traditional” age (1992, 74). Elsewhere he notes: “…as a direct result of globalization, we can speak today of the emergence of a post-traditional social order.  A post-traditional order is not one in which tradition disappears—far from it.  It is one in which tradition changes its status. Traditions have to explain themselves, to become open to interrogation or discourse.” (1994, 5). Giddens describes (ibid., 29) modernity as a time of increasing “institutional reflexivity.” Whereas in former, “traditional,” eras, everyday life was assembled without consideration for the action of assembling this, in modernity, even “tradition” will be consciously constructed.

Actual-sized buildings built with actual, imported materials, offers the Japanese tourist a high degree of simulated Europeanness. The Spanish destination park of Parque España in Mie, not far from Ise Jingu, was originally designed as a European destination similar to Huis ten Bosch.  Large market spaces (agora) from major Spanish cities form the main park, with various entertainments woven around these. In part the original design was never completed, and more recent additions have abandoned the “Spanish” theme for amusement zones and rides (Caron, 1999). Still, the park continues to portray itself as a Spanish cultural destination.

 

Intentional Traditions

The cultural productions managed in themed destinations offer anthropologists new objects of cultural study. In particular these sites are excellent examples of what I will term “intentional tradition.” Intentional tradition marks the attempt (usually by state organizations or by corporations) to produce authentic, traditional practices and locales as consciously constructed artifacts. This process contrasts with heritage management efforts to isolate and preserve historical, traditional practices and their locales.

created because they produce new sources for what Bourdieu (1984) called “cultural capital.” Historical sites, preserved as such, are certainly important sources of cultural capital, but the amount of this they provide is fixed, determined by their historical significance. Nations and locales mine this fixed asset by developing the historical site as a unique tourist destination (See MacCannell, 44-45).

Themed destinations break with the historical logic by creating their own uniqueness outside of any history, from an invented cultural production. Disney parks are prime examples. Now cloned from the California “original” (or rather the “non-original”) to Florida, Paris, Tokyo, and soon, Hong Kong; these parks have “visioneered” an acutely ahistorical cultural artifact. This artifact is bound neither by history nor location. As an example, the Shenzhen Splendid China theme park was copied in Florida, not far from Disneyworld.

The Florida park opening was marked by demonstrations about the issue of Tibet, and it never acquired a sufficient customer numbers. The park languished financially for ten years before declaring bankruptcy and closing in December of 2003.

In part, these new locales are

What was perhaps unexpected is how ethnic cultural theme parks have managed to copy the Disney example and invent new cultural capital through the same sort of cultural alchemy.

Consuming “Constructed Culture”

The production of intentional tradition at ethnic cultural theme parks creates practices that may not, in the past, have been accepted by audiences as “traditional” practices. But today, their audiences quite readily accept these traditional artifacts, even though they represent at best a sort of “constructed culture.” In fact, this constructed cultural output is actually preferred by what Mike Featherstone (and others) have called “post-tourists;” “Here we have typical sites for what have been referred to as ‘post-tourists’, people who adopt a postmodern de-centred orientation towards tourist experiences. Post-tourists have no time for authenticity and revel in the constructed simulational nature of contemporary tourism, which they know is only a game” (Featherstone 1991, 102).

The intentional traditions of ethnic cultural theme parks are—to their producers and consumers alike—traditional enough to offer an authentic experience. The seriousness of the intentions (signaled mainly by budget and attention to high production value) is now sufficient to legitimate the authenticity of the resulting practice. This means that their content is not legitimated by historical use, but rather, by the intentions of the producer. The claim made here is that anthropologists can no longer look at the content of ethnic theme parks as either a copy of some carefully borrowed traditional practice or as merely fantasy entertainment with no legitimate claim to traditional authority. Today, these parks are building cultural traditions the way Disney builds fantasies.

Intentional tradition mines the front region cultural practices of tourist destinations world-wide to construct cultural practices that the “post-tourist” in China, Japan, and elsewhere, apparently desires and pays to consume. But do these practices inform the ethnic identities of the performers or the consumers? Is there a corresponding “intentional ethnicity?” It may be worthwhile remembering that tourism has been the largest industry in the world for some years now. State tourism organizations in nations across the globe are investing in new destinations. Ethnic groups that achieve state recognition in this arena find that their relationship to the state and their internal group dynamics may be profoundly affected (Wood 1984, 1997). Once the groups have been selected by the state to participate in ventures such as ethnic cultural theme parks, the process of intentional tradition determines which of the markers (MacCannell, 74) are selected as ethnic icons. For example, in the Wa village at Chinese Folklore Villages and the Ethnic Villages in Kunming, the bleached skulls of buffalo are prominently displayed. Dances, songs, costumes—the whole repertoire of the ethnic theme park village becomes a set of ethnic markers. These markers are not simply externally applied to the performers, but are created through a dialogic process between the cultural performers and the managers, and also between the performers and their audience. Picard (1995, 1996) has noted this effect in Bali. Oakes (1997) noted that tourism in China—in response to the official recognition that the state provides to the fifty-five ethnic minorities, and the state’s ability to open up regions for international tourism—is a primary engine for ethnic groups to acquire and manage local identities.

Professional ethnic cultural performers returning from their contracted labor in theme parks in Beijing, Shenzhen, or Kunming, bring back more than the financial savings they have earned. Having danced in the theme park village shows running every hour or so, their performances achieve a level of professionalism far beyond that available back in the ethnic locale, where a dance might occur once a year, or even once in a lifetime (for a wedding ceremonial). Their dances from the parks are sometimes recreated to attract tourists to their home villages (Kirshenblatt-Gimblet 1998, 61). And having represented local ethnic identity in front of thousands, they achieve a status as a performer of traditional culture—however, their “tradition” is now informed by the intentional tradition practices from the theme park.

Intentional traditions treat cultural production as a form of expression removed from history as their primary source of legitimation. Instead, the resulting “tradition” is presented in terms of its aesthetic quality and how it measures up with other practices, local or global. Theme parks are free to—and expected to—borrow from and innovate off of other theme parks around the world. And when the park’s theme is “traditional culture” the resulting practices often blend elements from a variety of sources, with little regard for the constraints of the historical communities that might also claim authority over the tradition.

One example of intentional tradition is the  “ethnic” dances in the Chinese Folklore Villages in Shenzhen. Each dance was choreographed by the park staff to contrast with the other village dances so that the tourist would not see dances with similar styles in neighboring village performances. Elsewhere, at the “Maori” village in Window of the World, Wa and Uighur dancers learned their performances from Maori dancers from the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, who visited Shenzhen in order to train the dancers. But there are no Maoris in the Maori village. By 2002, in Huis ten Bosch, Romanian musicians and singers had replaced Dutch entertainers as a cost-cutting measure. Most of the costumed paraders in the daily grand parade in Parque España are local Japanese employees.

Huis ten Bosch declared bankruptcy in 2004, and defaulted on its nearly US $3 billion loan to the Industrial Bank of Japan. The park remains open and attracts millions of visitors a year.

Importantly, however, intentional traditions do not claim to provide a critique of the traditions they remake, nor do they add any type of performance “frame” to these. They do not parody or satirize the historical tradition. They simply acquire this and re-present it as something they are authorized to innovate upon. While it might be easier to innovate a tradition when representing someone else’s culture (as the Wa do in the “African” village in Window on the World), there seem to be few barriers to innovating on regional ethnic cultural traditions at these parks.

Competition with other parks is only one reason why cultural theme parks innovate instead of borrowing from traditional authority. The ethnic performers are also competing with one another in their villages and with other villages in the park to gain audience approval. And, in China, the parks are viewed as national cultural centers that need to add something of value as national cultural landscape. In Shenzhen, the Chinese Folklore Villages, Window on the World, and Happy Valley theme parks each produce lavish evening performances, which combine large professional casts, theatrical lighting, and orchestral music.

In the summer of 2002 the Window on the World evening show tracked world history from the Stone Age to the modern era. Over at Happy Valley, an “Aztec Carnival” was performed on the edge of an enormous swimming pool (with the audience in the pool), while at the Chinese Folklore Villages a parade of Chinese historical periods and theatrical forms assembled into a grand finale of song and fireworks. Earlier in the evening, inside a theater, Han actors put on costume extravaganza, based partly on ethnic styles and partly on globalized dinner theater (e.g. learning from Las Vegas) models. These evening events increase the paid attendance at the parks and cater to a market for short-time tourists who are bussed in after their supper banquets elsewhere. The cultural workers from the ethnic villages are expected to also work these evening shows, and some become headline performers. This is a step toward long-term employment with the company.

The constructed aspects of cultural production in the parks means that the performers become skilled in several styles of entertainment. “… the initial design and the development of the company, this entire place, especially the nationality villages, is a result of the opening and reforming policy in China,” noted one of the managers at the Chinese Folklore Villages in Shenzhen. Formerly a dancer in one of the ethnic troupes, he had risen in the company to become a choreographer and manager.

He also explained how the various entertainments fit together into a synthetic experience: “I classify our nationality culture [productions] into three levels, because as managers in the Folklore Villages we have to imagine the point of view of the audiences. The first level consists of primitive aspects such as dance, singing, and costumes, and also includes interactive activities. The second level involves professional modifications to some aspects of these cultural productions. The third requires research in order to further [develop] creative modifications through big shows and commercial packaging to build a perfect items of Chinese culture.” These three levels are difficult to keep separate in practice, as the same employees may perform at all three levels. Career advancement is keyed to developing one’s talent for third-level performances.

This explanation of cultural production at the Chinese Folklore Villages fits entirely into the mode of intentional tradition. Notice what is missing; there is no call for the preservation of a borrowed traditional practice, no careful reproduction of an authorized performance, no link back to any actual practice from the original homeland. Instead, the resulting performance gains its effect through the improvements made using “professional modifications” to the underlying “primitive” level.

At the end of each performance in the parks, the audience is invited to join into a dance, or simply to touch the performers and pose for photographs. The performance has achieved the threshold of its audience’s sense of authentic experience, and then invites the audience to physically share this experience with the performers. This sharing resembles that moment of cultural contact that ethnologists experience when they arrive in the field. Visitors are encouraged to encounter other ethnic cultural groups as individuals, to touch them and acquire a feeling of cultural understanding.

At Huis ten Bosch, the sense of contact is created by simply arriving at the park. Checking into the Hotel Europa (or one of the other hotels) is physically like stepping into Europe (except that the staff speaks Japanese). The rooms are European in scale, far larger than most Japanese hotel rooms. Then a stroll out into the streets, over bricks imported from Holland, reinforces the feeling of being outside of Japan.

One of the few Dutch employees of Huis ten Bosch was genuinely impressed by the quality of the simulation that the manufactured cityscape offered to its visitors. “All this place lacks are drugs and hookers” he remarked with a combination of humor and respect. This comment actually touches on the main problematic for Huis ten Bosch: how to create a Dutch destination experience without experiencing Dutchpeople. There are no crowds of imported Hollanders adding human color to the shops and the streets, and only a few random European-looking people to garnish the architectural ambiance. The Australian water-ski team is notably blonde and young and adds a splash of excitement to the brick-lined canals. In 2002, the summer nights were enlivened by imported Cuban band. A small group of Dutch college students pursue their Japanese studies at an exchange program, but are not conspicuous to other visitors (and, one would suspect might be disappointed to have arrived to study in Japan only to be located in this consciously non-Japanese locale). The human interaction with the park’s staff is no different than what one might find in other Japanese internal tourist destinations, such as the hot springs at Noboribetsu. Here it is the architecture alone that serves to displace the visitor, and by doing this, offer them an experience of being somewhere else.

ASIDE: The author went night fishing on the canals of Huis Ten Bosch with members of the Australian waterski team: MIDNIGHT BASS FISHING

The visitor from Japan is surrounded by city marked by a blend of a familiar social manners and exotic settings. The visitor from outside Japan, particularly one from Europe, would face the opposite markers, as if wandering through a familiar city that has been somehow occupied by an army of strangers.  The Japanese visitor (the park’s main customer) is freed to experience the location without the social hesitation (and even trepidation) that the same tourist might feel on the streets of a European city—in Europe, that is—a mood that has been consciously constructed by the management as the basis for the destination’s appeal.

The intended appeal of the site is rather straightforward: the Tokyoite can visit “Europe” for the weekend or longer after a short domestic flight with no jet lag and no other cultural preparations. The promise of “Europe” can, in this case, be legitimated by the faithfulness of the simulation. The destination is designed to saturate the visitor’s time for a weekend holiday visit. Many visitors, we were told, rarely leave the expansive hotels, where outside the windows is a cityscape constructed brick-by-brick on a European plan.

Regionality           

Earlier versions of ethnic cultural display at world’s fairs and museums involved the recreation of village life as this was (presumably) lived. This would include the display of back-region activities. Facilities for cooking, sleeping, daily chores, and everyday activities were on display. As the guidebook for the Java Village at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago describes: “This village gives an exact reproduction of a village as found in the Preanger Regencies, the western part of the Island. There are one hundred and twenty-five natives, among which thirty-four are women; they show the life and industries of the common people in Java. These temporary, “living” exhibits were complemented in tableaus of the everyday life of tribal groups in natural history museums.

This practice has only recently been changed in major museums from the 1970s to the present. New exhibitions focus on the articles of practice, and avoid the staged tableaus of “real life.” This new form of display was pioneered by the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka, Japan [http://www.minpaku.ac.jp/] and was seen most recently by the newly opened (2004) National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. [http://www.nmai.si.edu/].

The goal of the living exhibits was to represent what Malinowski once called the “context of situation” of the daily lives of the people represented in the display. The people on display were instructed to act “normally” as though they were back in their home villages. They were encouraged to cook and eat, sleep and converse, play with their children, etc., as they would have back in their village. They would also make craft objects to sell to visitors. Nudity, as this was a feature of their everyday life, was transported as a feature of the “authentic” display.

At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, performers acting the roles of classical European painters would paint live nudes (always women) lounging on sofas in full view of the audience, establishing the frame of “art” as another frame that allowed nudity.

The hallmark of ethnic cultural display at world’s fair exhibits was the display of back-region behaviors—peeks into the real lives of other people. Historical parks, heritage sites, and then cultural theme parks, such as the Polynesian Culture Center in Hawaii, relied on their displays of back region activities to legitimate the notion that the “village” represented an authentic place, moved, but unchanged from its “roots”. Over the past two decades, this situation has changed considerably. Two reasons may explain this change. Firstly, back regions are very difficult to stage, and vulnerable to doubts an suspicions by the audience. Secondly, amusement theme parks (e.g. Disneyland) that do not stage back regions have been very successful and cultural theme parks have attempted to copy this success.

Dean MacCannell argued that the “back-region” of tourist destinations is also “staged,” and therefore not a real “back-region” in Goffman’s (1959, 128) terms.MacCannell asserted that, “a mere experience may be mystified, but a touristic experience is always mystified. The lie contained in the touristic experience, moreover, presents itself as a truthful revelation…. The idea here is that a false back is more insidious and dangerous than a false front… (1976, 102)”. MacCannell’s claim is that the display of a back region is structurally problematic for the site. It cannot easily be accepted (by the audience) as a real back region. And once the audience feels the back region is a lie, then the front region displays become vulnerable and the entire operation loses its legitimacy.

The same holds for the new “reality television” programs. These programs are vulnerable to suspicions that their “unscripted” dramas have been prearranged.

Conversely, Disney-style theme parks attempt to present a seamless front region display. Any preparation for a performance is done outside of the view of the consumer. Walls and plantings keep the outside neighborhood from being visible within the park. The daily grand parade simply appears from somewhere, runs its course and then disappears. Even the trash barrels are emptied through an underground system. The performers are “on stage” any time they are in the park. There are no “back-stage” tours allowed of Disney parks.

Disney-fied tradition

The parks under study in China and Japan represent new venues built in the past twenty years. These parks have abandoned an attempt to portray the back region, and focus on performances in a staged front region. The result is an experience of ethnic cultural display that is constructed more like a “land” in Disneyland, and less like a “village” from somewhere. In the Happy Valley theme park in Shenzhen, a Western-land townscape offers shows of gunplay and heroics by a cast of costumed cowboys (played by Russian actors from an international theatrical company, using a pre-recorded English voiceover) while across the park in an enchanted valley scene with a waterfall, ethnic minority actors dance and sing. At the end of each performance (cowboy or minority) the audience is encouraged to touch the actors and smile at the camera.

In the Wa village in Kunming, the female dancers backstage prepared for their dance by rolling up their blue jeans beneath their ethnic skirts so that their calves were bare. The skirts were “real,” but so were the jeans, and both were emblems of other places; the skirts of the village somewhere in Southwestern Yunnan and the jeans of the emerging cosmopolitan cultural influence in Kunming. The stage setting was made to recall the village not the global metropole, and so the jeans were hidden away (but not removed).The dances were from festivals and from romanticized courtship, and the audience was invited to join in on a circle dance at the end of the performance.

Intentional culture succeeds by avoiding displays of the everyday life of the “villagers”. This is a lesson that Disney learned early on, and that other theme parks have copied. At Parque España, the daily parade bursts from behind a set of gates, tours the grounds and returns to their hidden back stage. By creating and displaying only performances that can be accepted on their aesthetic merits, intentional cultural producers avoid the trap of attempting to create an authentic back region.

The back region is left back in the home village, and, of course, out in the dormitories where the cast members live. At Huis ten Bosch, the Australian water skiing team, housed in nearby dormitories for months, decided as a group to break the rules that the Japanese dormitory managers had set down for dormitory life; they set their own rules for visitations between the sexes, alcohol in the rooms, smoking, and music. They recreated the “back region” they would have experienced in Australia.

Over at Huis ten Bosch, the visitors get to stay overnight in the park, although the park concessions are mostly closed by 8 pm. The hotels then become the main source of evening entertainment. The visible confidence and ease that the park visitors display in their consumption of the front region Dutch cityscape and its commodities (there are many shopping and dining opportunities) reminds the observer that this place is also a fully managed theme park, and not an actual city. Just like Disneyland, Huis Ten Bosch sequesters away many aspects of mundane city life (not just Amsterdam’s famous vices). Poverty, crime, garbage, factories, illness, and death are not a part of this urban showcase. The visitors are not just travelers who have arrived to complete some work (unless they came to get married, and there are more than 700 weddings a year), they are here simply to be here, and to escape from their actual city back home.

 

Intentional Tradition as the future of cultural production

Huis ten Bosch was built as a model for future Japanese cities, with new technologies for sustainable development and a plan for 150,000 citizens (the park wall would be torn down, and the city would become an actual town). The juxtaposition of city center and theme park would compel the citizens to enjoy their urban lifestyle in a manner not possible in the overly crowded streets of Tokyo or Osaka. The intentions of the government (central and provincial) and the company were realized at a grand scale and enormous cost. However, the actual combination of city and theme park in Kyushu is not Huis ten Bosch, but rather the Jerde Group’s “Canal City” development in Hakata. This project rebuilds the city as a themed environment offering “non-daily events in a metropolitan environment” in the “largest privately developed project in Japan’s history” (source:http://www.jerde.com/go/place/canalcity).

The production of “constructed culture” as a feature of the urban landscape accelerates the consumption of such artifacts in everyday life, and prepares residents to consume similar artifacts in tourist destinations. The dream of living in a theme park is realized through intentional tradition as a model for urban planning.

Intentional traditions 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.

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Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara, 1998. Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Berkeley: University of California Press.

MacCannell, Dean. 1976. The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Schocken Books.

Meyrowitz, Joshua. 1985. No Sense of Place. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Oakes, Timothy S. 1997. “Ethnic tourism in rural Guizhou: sense of place and the commerce of authenticity”. in Michel Picard and Robert E. Wood (eds). Tourism, Ethnicity and the State in Asian and Pacific Societies. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 35–70.

Picard, Michel. 1995. “Cultural heritage and tourist capital in Bali”. In J. B. Allcock, E. M. Bruner and M. F. Lanfant (eds). International Tourism: Identity and Change. London: Sage Studies in International Sociology. pp. 44–66.

Picard, Michel. 1996. Bali: Cultural Tourism and Touristic Culture. Singapore: Archipelago Press.

Picard, Michel and Robert E. Wood, Eds. 1997 Tourism, Ethnicity and the State in Asian and Pacific Societies, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Sofield, Trevor H.B. and Fung Mei Sarah Li. 1998. “China: Tourism Development and Cultural Policies.” Annals of Tourism Research, volume 25, no. 2. pp.362-392.

Stanley, Nick. 1998. Being Ourselves for You: The Global Display of Culture. Enfield: Middlesex University Press.

Wood, Robert. E. 1984. “Ethnic tourism, the state, and cultural change in Southeast Asia.” Annals of Tourism Research. Vol. 11. pp. 353–74.

Wood, Robert. E. 1997. “Tourism and the state: ethnic options and constructions of otherness”, in Michel Picard and Robert E. Wood (eds). Tourism, Ethnicity and the State in Asian and Pacific Societies. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 1–34.



Moving beyond community engagement for online science collectives

It’s time to support the passion of the scientist

Passion2

Some months ago I wrote about how scientists as a group on the internet behaved a lot like a certain class of groups; people who had been diagnosed with fatal diseases. The point of that essay was to illustrate that scientists have needs that go well beyond simple community. And I wrote it in part because I had been involved with several projects that had announced as their mission to create online communities for scientists, to develop strategies for promoting community engagement, or to train people to do this. As “community” can be described as a container for shared cultural practices, I can reaffirm that scientists really do need such containers in the process of reflectively reinventing the cultures of science. But they also need much more than communities to support their own quests to perform their science.

CommunityDatabase.001In organizational management theories, “community” (such as a “community of practice”), is useful for management as a tool to improve worker engagement, and it also makes workers more willing to share their tacit knowledge, which can then be recorded as institutional memory. “Engagement” in the corporate sense describes a positive emotional alignment of the employee with her work and co-workers. Engaged workers are said to be more productive (there is evidence for this), and so programs aimed at increasing their numbers have become routine. A somewhat more aggressive form of engagement is called “stakeholder alignment” which looks to build engagement for a specific project. This engagement helps projects move through implementation without hiccups.

“Community engagement” also extends the notion of engagement to customers or service users, in the drive for brand loyalty (in this case it’s also known as “customer relationship management”). At a time when customers have simple, powerful means to compare prices and ratings, forging a durable emotional alignment between the company and its customers becomes even more valuable. The same is true in the non-profit world where a new army of “community engagement managers” now works to keep donors loyal and their wallets open.

On the upside, the best community engagement programs support an open dialogue to improve the qualities of the workplace, or the product or service. There is a give, and not just a take here. On the down-side, the effort to promote engagement can entail a (seemingly) unending amount of emails or tweets or whatever, designed to remind workers or customers of why they need to be even more engaged.

Scientists show up at work or online already fully engaged… in their own research. They don’t need the offer of a group tour rate to cruise around New Zealand on a boat, nor another term life-insurance policy. What they need is to follow their passion: the passion of the scientist, of the knowledge explorer.

DUP402_Worker-Passion_vFINAL3John Hagel III has recently offered research suggesting—as I will show below— that scientists are actually unavailable to be engaged; that the community engagement efforts of professional associations and academic publishers will necessarily fail, and for a good reason. Perhaps for the best reason. Hagel’s argument is supported by a long-term research project he helped lead at the Deloitte Center for the Edge. See: Shift Index. See also: Unlocking the Passion of the Explorer.

Hagel notes that engaged employees or engaged customers are those who report they are happy with/in their current job, or with the current product/service. They have achieved a static form of satisfaction. From this disposition they can be relied upon to work harder or to buy more. After decades of thousands of corporate engagement programs across the US, only about 30% of employees (in their survey) self-report as engaged. The bulk of the remainder are unhappy for a variety of reasons. However, a few who are not engaged include those who come to work or to the marketplace following their own passions. Hagel is most interested in three passionate dispositions that he claims can add a lot of value to a company in today’s emergent economy, well above the return on any engagement program. Combined, these dispositions form what he calls “the passion of the explorer.” I would extend this description to include knowledge explorers: scientists.

Hagel (op cit) writes:

This form of passion has three components:

  • A long-term commitment to achieving an increasing impact in a domain
  • A questing disposition that creates excitement when confronted with an unexpected challenge
  • A connecting disposition that motivates the individual to systematically seek out others who can help them to get to a better answer faster when confronted with an unexpected challenge

That’s a powerful combination. People with the passion of the explorer are never satisfied or happy with what they have accomplished. What excites them is the next challenge on the horizon—it’s an opportunity to achieve more of their potential and take their impact in the domain to the next level. They are constantly seeking out those challenges and connecting with anyone who can help them address the challenge.

Passionate employees (in Hagel’s sense) are predictably unhappy with the status quo. Of course, an original meaning of “passion” is “to suffer.” They are necessarily immune from becoming engaged, and, I would guess, reactive to attempts made to engage them. In a 20th Century mode, these are not ideal employees. But the Deloitte study claims that these are precisely the type of employee needed for a 21st Century corporation.

In the academy, these are the scientists and the intellectuals who are passionate about their research, who are eager to teach others, and who are resource-aggressive for any new knowledge they can acquire. Attempts to improve their “engagement” in some form of community will find them refractory in the extreme. Gamification will leave them merely irritated. Emails to them will be deleted unread. The only community these scientists will really join, and then with some hesitation are those they own and manage by themselves for their own purposes. They are happiest when they can be connected to others who share their specific objects of study, and even there, their discussions point to unknowns and pain points in the research process.

Passion1How then can these passionate scientists be encouraged to connect, to coordinate their efforts, and collaborate online? What skills and knowledge do academic societies and universities need to acquire to move beyond engagement in order to unleash the collective intelligence of these scientists?

One model for such an organization is ESIP (Earth Science Information Partners). This year, ESIP is celebrating its twentieth year of supporting Earth science data use. The model ESIP uses is simple at one level but really complicated as it unfolds, because it is led by each and all of its member organizations and active science participants. Here are some ground rules that have worked well for ESIP.

The ESIP model for nourishing the passion of the knowledge explorer.

  1. Active ownership by the members, not by some board or background institution.
    Members determine the long-term goals and immediate activities. Each member is a CEO of ESIP. ESIP focuses on Earth science data. Each member can bring his/her passion for their part of this domain to the table. ESIP supplies the table.
  2. Ultra-low-threshold for participation in real-time science collectives.
    ESIP calls these “clusters”. Any group of members can call a new one into existence in a day or two. ESIP can handle up to fifty clusters at a time (more than this and the calendar gets ugly). Members are challenged to bring their full knowledge and demand the same of others. There is a lot of complexity here; clusters variegate according to the needs of their members.
  3. On-line asynchronous collaborations as the norm.
    We have this thing called “the internet.” No need to fly people around for workshops, unless this makes really good sense to do.
  4. Two actual meetings a year, with an emphasis on social interaction and interpersonal time.
    These are where ESIPers become friends and learn to laugh together. No papers are presented. Breakouts are for information sharing and learning. Networking is intense at ESIP meetings. With several thousands years of Earth data experience in the room, it’s the best place on the planet to get connected to others who have similar problems or interests. Two meetings a year keep the whole group more active throughout the year.

Open and Equal Underneath

Underneath all of this activity at ESIP is a total commitment to being open: open, transparent self-governance, open research objects, open sharing of knowledge and problems. Also apparent is an appreciation for each member’s needs and contributions. Early career and late career scientists engage in active conversations that can lead to new collaborations. In my next blog, I’ll discuss how open sharing and fierce equality can support new/old cultural norms for science.

Bootstrapping the Double-Loop Governed Organization

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Ready to blaze the trail for your organization? Photo by PixelPlacebo on Flickr. CC licensed.

So, you want to start a new virtual organization. Perhaps you have been awarded some funds to do so.

Here are Seven Key Suggestions

First Suggestion: Read Jono Bacon’s The Art of Community. Bacon has more good advice than you will find in a hundred blogs. Governance is not the same thing as management. “Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that governance is merely about decision-making. There is no reason why you can’t constrict it in this way, but you will be missing out on a wealth of opportunities to excite and energize your community.” (Bacon, 219). What Bacon will also tell you, and it’s very important, is that you need to build your community and its governance first thing. This is not a “phase 2” activity in any plan.

Second Suggestion: Connect with the community on the issue of membership. Who gets it, what levels there are, who gets to vote, who gets to lead, and how to manage conflicts: getting some early conversations done with the community, and particularly those who will be asked to volunteer, will help to draft that part of the initial governing documents. Remember that you are setting up the initial conditions for your member-led organization. Double-loop governance means that your members will be able to rethink membership rules and roles.

Third Suggestion: No matter how much you want to implement a plan with your team, and no matter how you have researched effective governance, you will only be creating a temporary framework for your membership to use as a first go-around for a governance system. Because you are giving your members the ability to make changes in the documents you have drafted , you have to understand this: they will make changes, probably right away before even an initial vote is taken. And then remember: this is a good thing. So, put the texts up on a wiki and let them have a go at it. The sooner they come to own the text, the sooner they will start to celebrate its vision.

Fourth Suggestion: Put some budget into play if you have this, but not to pay volunteers for their time (Here is some advice about money and volunteers: https://cybersocialstructure.org/2011/08/10/staffandvolunteers/). Help support communication, pay for students to do some background research for a draft business plan (the “how” of your organization), bring in some key community members for a workshop, but open this up through video conferencing, and support some others who express and interest to also be present. 

Fifth Suggestion: Always work toward a rough consensus, and never erase “minority reports.” Let conflicts rise to the surface and deal with them quickly. Leave their content open for others to see. Show your members that their time, their skills, and their opinions are honored, even if they are overruled. Jono Bacon has great advice for conflict resolution. 

Sixth Suggestion: Ignite some preliminary teamwork by having the initial community vote on two or three small, “low hanging fruit” efforts and then support ad hoc teams (clusters) to address these. By this you begin to show an initial innovation ROI the virtual organization will build upon.

Seventh Suggestion: Hold face-to-face meetings, but keep them from being PPT centric. Plan for small-group discussions and multiple breakouts, and hold the meetings in convivial neighborhoods, not airport hotels. Gather as many members as are there and read over the founding governance documents paragraph by paragraph (but only once, and then set up a process to edit the text online until the document goes up for a final vote), and let the group speak their concerns. Open up the entire budget for the membership to give their suggestions. If possible, let the membership vote on the budget after suggestions have been taken and changes made (a real vote).

These suggestions are just a starting point for boot-strapping a double-loop governed virtual organization. Once the hard work of building in double-loop governance into the culture of the organization is over, the rewarding work of seeing how this accelerates volunteer engagement can begin, and the creative work of husbanding this engagement into your organization’s business and strategic goals can be fully supported through the culture and the values, and the celebrated vision you own as a community.

Walking the walk is only hard when you haven’t tried it

For many organizations, the rush to market and the lure of some short-term exit strategy might make all this focus on congruence and culture and values and vision seem superfluous. And if your goal is to start-up and sell your business in the next 24 months, you would be wise to stick to a single-loop management plan (with a hefty stock option, because you will not have much love or glory). But if you are tasked to build a virtual organization that can stand on its community-based resources, you should seriously consider building in double-loop governance from day one.  What you are offering your membership (or your employees, or your customers) is a congruent experience: whatever your brand (or your vision) will become, it will emerge directly from your culture. When you put double-loop governance at the heart of your organization, you might want to stand back. Because ideas will definitely be having sex here.

 

References

Think of science like an incurable intellectual disease (Part 3)

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ESIP welcomes first-time meeting goers

GO TO PART ONE if you haven’t read it yet…

Part 3: Platforms and Norms: There’s a commons in your science future

Science is broken: Who’s got the duct tape and WD40?

So, here we are, Act III.

Act I was all about how personal science is. Scientists are individually infected with their own science quest. Act II was about how social science is. Why else would they take a hundred-thousand airline flights a year to gather in workshops and solve problems together (well, apart from the miles)? Act III needs to be about culture and technology. But not so much about the content of culture and the features of technology. Rather, about the doing of culture and the uses of technology.

Yes, the sciences are broken. Some part of this rupture was built-in (Merton, who outlined scientific norms in the 1940s, also outlined the integral tensions that disrupted these—i.e., the Matthew effect). But much of the damage has come from the displacement of the academy within society that has warped the culture of science.

Yochai Benker generally describes the tensions of this warping as “three dimensions of power”. These power dimensions (hierarchy, intellectual property, and the neoliberal need to always show more returns) work against science as a mode of peer production that self-commits to shared norms. Science needs to find alternative means to fight hierarchy, share its goods, and own its own returns.

The sciences are stuck and fractured, in need of both WD40 and duct tape—culture change and technological support. Scientists need to operationalize open sharing and collective learning. For this, they must discard the institutions that enable the above dimensions of power in favor of new communities and clubs (in Neylon’s sense of the term) that can house cultures of commoning, and activate global peer production.

At a recent workshop where the topic of the “scholarly commons” was the theme, I was again impressed by descriptions of how these dimensions of power are locally applied in academic institutions across the planet. The workshop was designed to arrive at a consensus on a universal statement, a short list of principles, such as a restatement of Merton’s norms. Instead, the organizers were reminded that these so-called universal principles could only be accepted as suggestions. These would need to be locally reexamined, reconfigured, reauthorized and only then applied as needed against the institutional cultural situation at hand. Here is another look at the dynamics of that workshop. 

Earlier in the Summer, I attended a breakout session at the ESIP Meeting where a long discussion about building an Earth science data commons concluded that ESIP was either already one, or ready to be one. A second determination was that ESIP was about the right size for this task, that multiple data commons could be built across the academy on the model of ESIP, but with their own sui generis culture and logic of practice, geared to local conditions and particular science needs.

The real question is not how to create the scholarly commons, but rather how to rescue (or re-place) current academic institutions using commons-based economies, and using the various norms of commoning as a baseline for the shared cultural practice of open science. The real task is then how to help move this process forward.

If commoning is the WD40 to release science for the sclerotic hold of its 19th Century institutions (Side note: Michelle Brook is assembling a list of learned societies in the UK. This list is already has  more than 800 entries), technology is the duct tape needed to help these hundreds and thousands of commons communities work in concert across the globe. The internet—which science needs to find out how to use as a lateral-learning tool at least as well as the global skateboarding community already does—holds the future of science. Shared community platforms, such as Trellis, now under construction at the AAAS, or the Open Science Framework, from the Center for Open Science can help solve the problems created by a thousand science communities supporting hundreds of thousands of clusters (collectives) needing to discover each others’ work in real time.

For commoning to gain traction in the academy, we must first explore this as a generative practice for open science. But as each commons spins up its own variety of commoning, we need to avoid prescribing universal norms for them. Instead, the most productive next step might be to unleash a more profound understanding of the circumstances of scholarly commoning by building a set of design patterns that will be localized and applied as needed to yank local institutions away from hierarchy, intellectual property wrongs, and the pull of the margins that preempt ethical decisions and norms.

Next summer, the ESIP Federation is hoping to host a two-day charrette at its Summer Meeting in Bloomington Indiana to begin the process of building scholarly commons patterns. A pattern lexicon for scholarly commoning will potentially help hundreds of science communities self-govern their own open resources and commoners.

Lessons learned (Parts 1-3):

  1. Science is intensely personal. Scientists are already engaged in their own struggle with the unknowns they hope to defeat. Their intellectual disease is fortunately incurable.
  2. Science is already social. Just in the US, several thousand workshops a year evidence the scientific need/desire to build collective knowledge.
  3. Science is cultural. Self-governed science communities can use intentional cultural practices to help scientists prepare to work together in virtual organizations with shared norms and resources.
  4. Community opens up arenas for online collaboration. Instant collectives, such as ESIP clusters, can replace expensive workshops and enable scientists to share knowledge and solve problems.
  5. These communities need to consider themselves as commons to replace institutions that have been twisted by the three dimensions of power (hierarchy, intellectual property, and neoliberal economics).
  6. Each commons needs to work locally, attuned to its local situation within science domains and academic institutions.
  7. The academy needs to harness the internet and technology platforms to knit together localized science/data commons into a global web of open shared resources and collective intelligence.

Think of science like an incurable intellectual disease (Part 2 of 3)

Or, why you’re funding the right thing—the wrong way.

ESIP_beer.jpg
Ideas aren’t the only things having fun at ESIP

Part Two: The NSF and NIH spent a billion dollars funding science workshops last year*, and all I got was a lousy white-paper.

Link to Part ONE

A little recap. In Part One we discovered that the most engaged groups online were not communities as much as they were collectives. Their engagement was already built-in because these groups were formed by individuals who shared life-threatening, or life-style challenging medical diagnoses. I then made an analogy to science, suggesting that we treat science like a life-style challenging intellectual diagnosis. The idea is that scientists who go online to do science are likely to want to create collectives rather than join online communities. I also mentioned that we still need community.

There is a larger story about science becoming hyper-competitive, and about the fear of being scooped if you share your data, and the whole neoliberal warping of the norms of science. I’m not going to delve into nor dispute this story here. Instead I am going to point out that significant scientific funding and scientist participation in collectives can already be evidenced in the activity of hosting scientific workshops to address important, shared issues. Science workshops are a major current expression of the value and need for science collectives. Workshops are where scientists gather in place to collectively respond to challenges they face in their research.

Like many of you reading this, I have travelled to and participated in several workshops over the past decade. I’ve met a lot of really smart people. Shared gallons of really bad coffee. Had more than a few beers after long, long days of somewhat-facilitated work. And I have spent considerable time helping write reports and white-papers. Most of these papers I never saw again. A few got published. Some workshops are more successful. Some are a shambles. I am currently planning a workshop (charrette) for next summer.

As a mode of collective science, there are times when a workshop makes perfect sense, and maybe always will. What I will propose below, however, is that there is a way to make the great majority of workshops unnecessary, by funding and building science communities instead.

Just as digital journal articles have acquired their granularity and an arbitrary scarcity based on the history of printed journals, workshops have acquired their own granularity and scarcity. Here are some of their limits:

  • Workshops need to have enough “work” to do to fill 1-1/2 to 2 days of effort (to justify 2 days of travel). You can’t do a half-day or, say, a twenty-day workshop;
  • Workshops need to support say 16-34 participants, and these scientists must be available at the same time;
  • Workshops get funded to explore science research topics “important” enough to justify their $40k budget.  Other collective issues and needs are not currently very fundable.
  • Workshops need to have a topic that is still an issue months after the proposal submission.
  • Workshops require moving people around in airplanes.
  • Some fraction of workshop proposals don’t get funded at all.

Workshops are a product of Twentieth Century science. Science before the internet. Science before someone figured out how to let scientists create their own collectives online at no cost. That’s right NSF and NIH funders; there is a way you can support thousands of self-organized online workshops with a net marginal cost of zero. Well… zero, that is, after investing about 20% of the current outlay for workshops to support several dozen self-managed science communities.

We can explore a working model for this Twenty-First Century strategy. Real lessons already learned and ready to be copied across other research domains. A model that already supports better, more effective, and more nimble collectives than the current workshop model.

One example we can explore today is ESIP

The working model here is the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP). ESIP runs two community meetings a year, with funding from NASA, NOAA, and USGS. These meetings are based on member-submitted sessions, and offer ample time for informal networking. The meetings are intentionally held in places surrounded by restaurants, coffee-shops, and taverns. These occasions of physical co-presence are highly valuable. They are where ESIP builds its culture.

The semi-annual meetings offer enough face-time for community members to build the personal connections and interpersonal trust that can sustain hundreds of productive online interactions. Some members go to every meeting, some once a year, some every couple years. While a great amount of work is exhibited and done at these meetings—several workshops (from 1/2 day to 2 day) are also held at these meetings—they are also social gatherings of the self-governed community. Spaces of conversation. Places where, as Matt Ridley says, “ideas go to have sex.” The real work of ESIP happens when members decide to run their own workshop-like online groups called “clusters.”

Clusters are a model for the future of online science collectives. They have the virtues of being free, instant, active, and nimble (See: Appendix). They can merge with one another or diverge from their original intent as desired. They have no requirements for a deliverable, except that they reward the services of the volunteer time they spend. And so they are motivated to get real work done. Being surrounded by the much larger community that spawns them, they can grow to whatever collective size they need. And when their work is finished they disappear, leaving their findings in a discoverable location on the community wiki, and/or published in science journals.

The key to ESIP clusters is that they are grounded by a community that supports a shared vision and shared norms. This fosters teamwork that can better avoid becoming dysfunctional.  Not all clusters will accomplish what they originally intended. Some will accomplish much more than that.  ESIP has two dozen clusters running at this time. (Note to NASA and NOAA: that’s like running 24 workshops, which would cost funders about a million dollars to do independently.)  ESIP could support a hundred clusters without adding additional infrastructure. Note: the use of clusters as a form of science collective is a practice that is still open to innovation.

A while back I wrote a list of the returns on investment for funding community growth in virtual science organizations. I need to add this return to the list: fund and grow community and it will generate any number of science collectives that can accelerate understanding and innovation within that science arena.

In a pre-internet world, funding several thousand physical workshops a year helped fill some of the need for science collectives. In the future, internet-enabled science could be based on scientist-led communities that each spawn hundreds of active online collectives as these are needed. Imagine a couple hundred ESIP-style communities, funded at a million dollars a year each, and every community supports a hundred clusters. For a couple hundred million dollars, agency funders can get an equivalent ROI of their current billion dollar funding. The question is this: will new modes of internet-enabled science collectives (clusters) drive a change in the funding model?

Six more lessons learned:

  1. Cluster-like groups can become an important mode of online collective work across the sciences, with huge savings in time, money, and effort.
  2. When funders support travel to community-run meetings that grow a culture of sharing and trust, they enable these communities to host their own online collectives. Funders will save hundreds of millions of dollars by NOT directly funding workshops.
  3. Each additional cluster can be started with a zero marginal cost (based on existing support for backbone community organizational tools and services).
  4. Funders and community staff coordinate among these clusters to amplify the impacts of their results.
  5. Funders encourage cross-community online clusters for trans-disciplinary science.
  6. Funders can target some travel and other support to improve diversity at the community level. Staff work to nudge diversity at the cluster level.

Coming Soon: Part Three: Platforms and Norms: There’s a commons in your science future

Preview: Science is broken: Who’s got the duct tape and WD40?

*I’m just estimating here. I found about 5000 active independent NSF funded workshops listed on the website, and popped in an average of $40k each. I then doubled this to account for workshops organized inside funded projects, synthesis centers and networks. The NIH budgets for workshops are not so easy to pin down, but I’m guessing they are slightly higher than the NSF, since the overall budget is significantly higher. It would be great if I could get real numbers for all these. Not even counting NASA, NOAA, DOE, etc..

Appendix: Comparing Clusters to Workshop RFPs

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Think of science like an incurable intellectual disease

collective1

Or, why your online science community engagement plans are probably wrong.

Part one (of three): It’s a collective, not a community, and that’s OK

Nearly a decade ago I was on a team that was exploring a new online network platform for ocean scientists—one of those “Facebook for X” forays that never took off. During the research phase I learned that online groups exhibited a wide range of “stickiness,” a description for member engagement. In general, engagement could be plotted on the usual power law curve; a handful of really engaged members on one side, and hundreds or thousands of mostly un-engaged members in the “long-tail” end of the curve.

One genre of online groups completely broke this curve. These were the most engaged groups online, and by a long ways. Their entire membership regularly contributed content. The problem—for them most of all, and for any online community manager trying to emulate their engagement on the open web—was that these groups were made of individuals who had been diagnosed with terminal or incurable chronic physical diseases.

These online groups, numbering in the hundreds, shared personal stories about symptoms and medication advice, uploaded and argued over new medical findings, and identified sources of emotional support for members and their families. They sought answers beyond the ken of their individual medical advisors, and they collectively shouldered the news when one of their members inevitably passed on.

The feeling of “community” was evident in their mutual concern, but this feeling was not central in these groups. “Belonging” was not the goal; it was their circumstance, their fate, their bad luck. Nobody was trying to get into these groups. Yes, they grew to care for and about one another. But they didn’t join for that purpose. Members joined because the circumstances of their lives brought them to this sad place: a space of collective struggle against a common and specific foe: their diagnosis.

Let’s explore the dynamics of these groups. Each online group focuses on a single disease or condition, from ADHD to Zika. Each member shows up already fully engaged in their own private struggle. What they need and find is an online collective, a place to share what would remain private in any other circumstance. A space of mutual learning. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown have described these spaces in their book A New Culture of Learning.  “Collectives are made up of people who generally share values and beliefs about the world and their place in it, who value participation over belonging, and who engage in a set of shared practices. Thus collectives are plural and multiple. They also both  form and disappear regularly around different ideas, events, or moments” (Pp 56-57). For more than a decade, the most engaged groups on the internet have been collectives, not communities.

The global internet has two virtues: it scales pretty will up to billions of users (e.g., Facebook); and it can host a hundred million independent groups. Online communities generally (and always when these are commercial in intent) love to grow bigger. Group size is a key metric. Belonging builds the brand. No company wants to say, “sorry, we don’t need any more customers at this point.”

On the very other hand, online collectives only need to grow to the size that optimizes the group’s collective intelligence and variety of knowledge. In fact, you know you’re in a collective when you try to join and somebody asks you what you bring to the conversation. Collectives have no long tail of non-participants. The collective may be very sensitive to an internal “signal-to-noise” ratio. The quality of participation is a feature.

To use another analogy (getting away from disease for a moment): if you joined a church congregation, you’re a part of that community, even if you only attend twice a year, and toss in a bit of coin now and then. But if you also join the choir, you enter a collective. Everyone in the choir is supposed to—you guessed it—sing. If you just stand there with your mouth shut, people will notice. If you don’t show up at all, someone will call you and ask where you are. There is no “long-tail” majority of choir members standing up in the choir loft not singing. The choir has zero need for a “choir engagement manager” to encourage choir members to actually sing. Singing is why members join. And if you happen to suck at it, others in the collective might encourage you to leave.

This leads me (finally) to science (including data science) and to the online engagement of scientists in social networks. From a series of cases and anecdotes collected from other community managers who have attempted to “engage” scientists online, it is clear that science effects its “victims” (scientists) much like an incurable (intellectual) disease. Scientists commonly spend sixty or more hours a week chasing unknowns in their labs, gathering field data, or tracking down software bugs. They share a fever for knowledge and their own common foe: the specific unknown that stands between the state-of-the-science in their specialty and a better understanding of the object of their study; the peculiar intellectual challenge (disease) they have chosen as their quest and their foe.

Scientists don’t need and don’t want to join online communities to do science. I am sorry, but if that’s all your new platform or service provides, your dance floor will remain empty. What scientists need are online collectives that can amplify and accelerate their own research, and reward their contributions to new knowledge in their chosen specialty.

Six Lessons so far:

  1. The most engaged online groups (at least in 2008) are collectives, not communities.
  2. Collectives don’t follow the power-law curve.
  3. Collectives form around specific issues, and common foes. They house a hunger for collective intelligence in the face of inadequate information. The driver here is a collective need to know.
  4. Unlike online communities, membership growth is not a desired metric within collectives. Small can be beautiful.
  5. In terms of engagement, science acts like an intellectual disease, a diagnosis of a specific lack of understanding about some object of study that drives the scientist to devote her life to discovery.
  6. Scientists will already be engaged if they join an online collective, and will already be disengaged if they are asked to join an online community.

Coming soon: Part Two: what the internet can really do for science.

Preview: The internet can provide is the capability of enabling millions of scientific collectives, linking these into a web of knowledge across the planet. It just hasn’t done this yet. We can fix that. Oh, yes. And why we still need community.

What are scholarly commons?

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I’ve just returned from the Summer ESIP Federation meeting, where we held a powerful discussion about the need for data commons (plural). This discussion got hung up a bit by a lack of clarity on the definitions of the terminology (including the word “commons”) and also a general lack of knowledge about the current literature on the commons (the group were mostly Earth data scientists).

So here I want to offer some short and very basic definitions (my own) and bring up some ideas and questions that might be of value to these discussions in the future. [I will also come back to this text  in the future and link to a bibliography that is just now being created by the Force11 team.]

Scholarly commons are…

Intentional communities (plural) formed around the shared use of open scholarly resources (a type of common-pool resource). Commoners work together as a community to optimize the use of the open resources they share. Scholarly commons are resource-near communities. They have an immediate and professional stake in the open resources they want to use. The whole community assumes a stewardship role toward these resources. These groups are self-defining and self-governing, each with their own emergent rules. Since scholarly commons are built upon open public resources, anybody on the planet can access them. When these are digital resources, they are not diminished by overuse. However, these resources cannot be sustained without the commons, or some other economy. These commons represent the social/cultural destination for any number of open-science efforts. (Note: Principles that can help all scholarly commons work together at the social level and as technical infrastructure are being considered at this moment in Force11.)

Scholarly commoners are…

Members of these intentional communities, with the freedoms and responsibilities that their communities provide and demand. Commoners work for the benefit of the whole community and for the sustainability of its open, shared scholarly resources. An individual commoner may belong to several commons. It is the role and the goal of commoners to help these open, shared resources flourish.

Scholarly commoning is…

The practice (and an attitude) that commoners bring to the scholarly commons. It begins with a logic of abundance, and depends on an active culture of sharing. Commoning is the activity to build and sustain the commons through shared practice (thanks to Cameron Neylon for this wording). Scholarly commoning is also imbued with an ethos of scholarship/science (however defined). Scholarly commoning informs how science can be accomplished through the use of open, shared resources (open ideas, open data, open software, open workflows, open-access publishing with open review, etc.) inside commons, instead of through other types of economies.

Other ideas/questions:

Can a single object in one open repository be claimed as a resource by more than one commons?

Scholarship needs to be fearless. One role of academic tenure was to protect this condition. In the face of the neoliberal market, tenure has failed in this role. Can the commons provide this protection?

Someone noted that many data objects are “uncommon” objects that require knowledge and knowhow to use and share. Scholarly commons also maintain knowledge and knowhow.

Someone said that the data commons might just be a thousand ESIPs, each one stewarding its own collections, optimizing their value, and creating APIs to share them. Sounds pretty good to me!  What does everybody think?

Using Patterns to Design the Scholarly Commons

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Force11 is looking to build an alternative academy based on a scholarly commons that supports the entire research to publication effort.

I just published a blog on the AGU blogspace.  Take a look here, or keep reading to get the gist.

Several groups (e.g., Force11 and theEuropean Commission) are calling for an integrative scholarly commons, where open-science objects—from ideas to published results—can be grown, shared, curated, and mined for new knowledge.

Building a commons is more complex than simply opening up objects to the public. The activity of commoning is what separates a commons from other examples of publicly shared resources. Research into the various commons found across the globe reveals that every successful commons is also an intentional cultural activity. And so, when open-science organizations talk about building a commons, they also need to consider growing a community of commoners.

How do we attain an intentional and reflexive cultural purview of commoning for science? One promising idea is to borrow from the open-access software community’s reliance on design patterns. Software design patterns reveal solution spaces and offer a shared vocabulary for software design.

A lexicon of design patterns could play the same role for the scholarly commons (See also: Patterns of Commoning). Since every commons requires a different set of practices suited to its peculiar circumstances, various commons within the academy will need to grow their own ways of commoning. The pattern lexicon would be expanded and improved as these scholarly commons emerge and grow.

Developing a pattern lexicon for the scholarly commons is an important and timely step in the move to an open-science future. Design patterns for a scholarly commons can reveal some promising solution spaces for this challenge, helping the academy make a transition from archaic print- and market-based models to commons models based on open network platforms.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to David Bollier for his contributions to this post.

Don’t like Open Science…?

…How about Ryanair’s Laws of Motion?

Science Laws to have new official names

For immediate distribution:

The International Council of Learned Societies has finalized new naming rules for scientific laws, based on negotiations with funders. These new names will be in effect for a twenty year period, starting January 1, 2020, after which a new competition will be made.

All schools, textbooks, lectures, articles, books, blogs, facebook mentions, and tweets are instructed to adhere to these new names. All digital files in any repository will be updated automatically.

names

OF COURSE… this has not happened… yet.

As Yochai Benkler warns us, science needs to step away from the enveloping need to compete in the market. “The Tyranny of the Margin – the need to compete in the market, to increase economic margins. A context where you have to compete and survive and deliver returns on investment. This postpones the ethical commitment. Entreprenuers with an ethical commitment vs investors raising money.” From: Notes on Benkler’s talk at OuiShare Festival.

Thoughts on Governance for your New Big Data VO

A well cared for volunteer community is like a great South Berkeley garden!
A well cared for volunteer community is like a great South Berkeley garden!
NOTE: too long for a blog (sorry), but I did want this to be available.
The West Big Data Innovation Hub held its first all-hands-meeting in Berkeley last Thursday. What follows is a short talk I gave to the newly-formed Governance Working Group.
The Hub seeks to become a community-led, volunteer-run organization that can bring together the academy and industry… and that other academy (the one with the statues), and regional and metro government organizations into a forum where new knowledge will be born to build the practices and the technologies for big data use in the western US.
To become this organization it will need to spin up governance. An initial task for the governance working group is to draft a preliminary governance document that outlines the shape of the Hub’s decision space, and the desired processes to enable those HUB activities needed to realize the mission of the organization.
Virtual organization governance is hard. And the knowledge of how to succeed is not well understood.  We do know that the opportunities for failure are numerous. Funders will need to exercise patience and forbearance during the spin-up process. 
I don’t know of any NSF-funded community-led, volunteer-run organization that can be a model for this governance. I would be very happy to hear about one.  It would be great if this Hub becomes that successful organization.    
I have three suggestions (with the usual caveats) to help frame the work of this working group.

NUMBER ONE: Your community does not yet exist.  

There is a quote attributed to either Abraham Lincoln or Darryl Royal (depending if you’re from Texas or not)… “If you have five minutes to cut down a tree, spend the first three sharpening your axe.” 
Community building activities is the hub sharpening its axe.
Right now, when someone talks about the “big data community” that’s just another word for a bunch of people whose jobs or research involve big data. That’s a cohort, not a community. If you want community—and you do want community—you have to build it first.  That’s why you need to spend resources getting more people into the process and give them every reason to stay involved.
The first real job of the hub is to build your member community. 
Part of building your community is to give your members a stage for their vision of the future.  Challenge your members to envision the destination that marks the optimal big-data future for a wide range of stakeholders, then build a model for this destination inside the Hub.  
To meld vision with action and purpose and forge something that is new and useful, that’s a great goal: think of the Hub as the Trader Joes of big data. The place people know to go to… in order  to get what they need.
NOTE: Why do you actually need community? There’s a whole other talk there….  Community is the platform for supporting trustful teamwork… without it, you will not get things done. Without it emails will not get answered, telecons will not be attended, ideas and problems will not surface in conversations… and meetings will be tedious.

NUMBER TWO: Engagement is central. 

ANOTHER QUOTE: Terry Pratchett, the philosopher poet, once wrote: “Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day. Ah, but set a man on fire and he’s warm for the rest of his life…” 
You governance effort should be centered on maximizing member engagement by giving the greatest number of members opportunities to do what they believe is most important for them to do RIGHT NOW. Invite new members to join and then ask them what the hub can do for them. This is not a Kennedy moment.
Your members want pizza… it’s your job to build them a kitchen and let them cook.
Your steering committee (or whatever this is called) needs to be 90% listening post and 10% command center. It needs to listen and respond to members who want to use the Hub to do what they think the hub should do. It needs to coordinate activities and look for gaps. It needs to remind members of the vision, the values, and the mission goals of the organization, and then remind them that this vision, these values, and the mission belong to them and are open to all members to reconfigure and improve.
The Hub needs to be a learning organization with multiple coordinated communication channels… Members need to know their ideas have currency in the organization.  
Do not be afraid of your members, but do be wary of members that seem to want to lead without first attracting any followers. Spread leadership around. Look for leadership on the edges and grow it.
Engagement will lead to expertise.   Over time, the members will learn to become better members.  The organization should improve over time. It will not start out amazing.  It can become amazing if you let it.
Each member needs to get more than they give to the organization. If they don’t, then you’re probably doing it wrong. This will be difficult at first, so the shared vision will need to carry people through that initial phase.
Creating a bunch of committees and a list of tasks that need to be finished on a deadline is NOT the way to engage members. If you think that’s engagement, you are probably doing it wrong.  YES, some things need to be done soon to get the ball rolling. But remember that volunteers have other, full time jobs.

NUMBER THREE:  There can be a great ROI for the NSF

The Hub’s success will provide the NSF with a return on its investment that is likely to be largely different than what it expects today, but also hugely significant and valuable.
Final quote here: Brandon Sanderson, the novelist wrote: “Expectations are like fine pottery. The harder you hold them, the more likely they are to break.”
The hub is NOT an NSF-funded facility, or a facsimile of a facility…
Unlike a facility, the NSF will not need to fund a large building somewhere and maintain state-of-the-art equipment. The NSF already funds these facilities for its big data effort.  The Hub is not funded to be a facility and will not act like a facility. 
The hub is also not just another funded project… 
Unlike a fully funded project, the NSF will not be paying every member to accomplish work in a managed effort with timelines and deliverables. 
Volunteers are not employees. They cannot and should not be tasked to do employee-style work. They have other jobs.  The backbone coordination projects for the hubs and spokes are paid to enable their volunteer members to do the work of volunteers. The Hub is not a giant funded project. It will not work like a giant funded project. It cannot be managed. It must be governed.  This means it needs to govern itself. 
Self governance is the biggest risk of failure for the hub. That’s why the work you do in this working group is crucial.
Self governance is also the only pathway to success. So, there is a possible downside and potentially a really big upside…
Remember that process is always more important than product.  You may need to remind your NSF program managers of this from time to time.
The Hub needs to take full advantage of the opportunities and structural capacities it inherits as a community-led, volunteer-run organization. It’s goal is to be the best darn community-led, volunteer-run organization it can be.  Not a facility and not a big, clumsy funded project.
Here are Seven Things the NSF can get only by NOT funding them directly, but through supporting the HUB as a community-led virtual organization of big-data scientists/technologists:
1. The NSF gets to query and mine a durable, expandable level of collective intelligence and a requisite variety of knowledge within the HUB;
2. The NSF can depend on an increased level of adoption to standards and shared practices that emerge from the HUB;
3. The NSF will gain an ability to use the HUB’s community network to create new teams capable of tackling important big-data issues (also it can expect better proposals led by hub member teams);
4. The NSF can use the HUB’s 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 HUB big-data community, with lateral linkages across the entire internet. This can amplify the NSF’s social media impact;
6. The Hub’s diverse stakeholders will be able to self-manage a broad array of goals and strategies tuned to a central vision and mission and with minimal NSF funding; and,
7. The NSF and the Hub will be able to identify emergent leadership for additional efforts.
Bottom Line: Sponsoring a community-led, volunteer-run big data Hub offers a great ROI for the NSF. There are whole arenas of valuable work to be done, but only if nobody funds this work directly, but instead funds the backbone organization that supports a community of volunteers. This is the promise of a community-led organization.
And it all starts with self-governance…
To operationalize your community-building effort you will be spinning up the first iteration of governance.  If you can keep this first effort nimble, direct, as open to membership participation as you can, and easy to modify, all will be good.  Do not sweat the details at this point.  Right now you are building just the backbone for the organization. Just enough to enable and legitimate the first round of decisions.
Make sure that this document is not set in concrete… it will need to change several times in the next 3-5 years. In the beginning, create a simple process and a low threshold for changes (not a super majority). TIP: Keep all the governance documents on GitHub or something like that. Stay away from Google Docs! Shun Word and PDFs!   

Postscript:

Hallmark moments in the future of this Hub if it is successful:
At some point 90% of the work being done through the Hub will be by people not in this room today. The point is to grow and get more diverse. With proper engagement new people will be finding productive activities in the hub. [with growth and new leadership from the community] 
At some point none of the people on the steering committee will be funded by the NSF for this project…  [this is a community-led org… yes?]… 
At a future AHM meeting more than 50% of the attendees will be attending for the first time.