How about a little democracy for your virtual organization

 

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What follows is the text from an unfunded NSF proposal in 2008

We had offered to assemble a knowledge resource for NSF-funded virtual organizations to create governance systems that were “open, trustworthy, generative, and courageous” (taking the lead here from Maddie Grant and Jamie Nodder’s book: Humanize). The idea was to raise the level of knowledge and awareness of NSF program managers and funded PIs to the challenges and rewards of creating actual democratic governance when they build a community-led, volunteer-run virtual science organization. The operant word above is: “unfunded.” From recent events it looks like the NSF still could use a broader purview of the role of governance in its funded networks.

New Knowledge is Essential to guide Governance Plan Decisions for future CI Projects

Building the cyber-social-structure that supports cyberinfrastructure projects is equally important as building the information technologies. While critical-path project management might be sufficient to get the code done, it takes community engagement to get that code used. Every project that uses “community-based” research or promises to “serve a user community” needs to consider the issue of project governance outside of critical-path task management. However, a search for the term “governance plan” on the NSF website (January 5, 2008) shows that only five program RPFs (ITEST, PFC, MSP, CREST, and RDE) have ever asked for a plan for project governance. Even in these cases, governance was associated with task management, rather than community engagement/building. Other large scale NSF CI projects such as the DLESE digital library effort, which were/are centered on community-based content development, have had no requirement (nor guidance) on matters of community-based governance. The simple fact is this: the knowledge that would enable the NSF to give guidance to CI/VO projects about community governance planning and execution does not today exist.

Today, there is no place where NSF Program Managers or project PIs can go to gather the knowledge required to make an informed decision on a community based/led governance plan for a proposed project. The literature on VO project/task management and communication has grown considerably of late (See: Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1999), Monge and Desanctis (1998)). However, the role of community participation in decision making for VOs is mostly undertheorized and poorly understood. The Virtual Democracy Project will produce useable knowledge that the NSF and project PIs can use to make concrete decisions on the issue of community-based governance.

Dialogic Democracy in the Virtual Public Sphere

The Virtual Democracy Project centers its work on a novel extension of the theory and practice of “dialogic democracy,” as this occurs within virtual organizations (VO). This term was coined by Anthony Giddens, who wrote in 1994, “…it is the aspect of being open to deliberation, rather than where it occurs, which is most important. This is why I speak of democratization as the (actual and potential) extension of dialogic democracy—a situation where there is developed autonomy of communication, and where such communication forms a dialogue by means of which policies and activities are shaped.” The notion owes much to Habermas’s (1992) notion of the role of conversation in the public sphere (see also: Calhoun 1992).

Large-scale VOs (such as digital libraries and national collaboratories) are created outside of single institutions. They serve as bridges between communities and organizations. In order to be truly interdisciplinary (and/or inter-organizational, inter-agency, or international), they require an external position to their constituent groups. They become, in fact, “virtual public spheres” where discussions concerning the needs and goals of the VO must avoid collapsing into competing voices from within the various communities to which the members also belong (academic disciplines, universities, etc.). A VO of any scale engages this virtual public sphere whenever it proposes to use “community-based (or -led)” research or outreach.

Just as the Public Sphere opens up the space for dialogic democracy in the modern nation-state (Calhoun 1992), the virtual public sphere inside the VO opens up the dialogic space necessary for authentic community-based governance. How is this virtual public sphere created and sustained? How are practices within it enabled to shape policies and activities of the VO? How does this governance effort interact with the project management effort? These are questions that many VOs must face or ignore at their own risk.

Which form of governance is right for your CI effort?

A funded project’s policies and activities can be shaped and decisions made in many ways. When these are made through open communication among peers, a form of democracy is achievable. Conversations, commentaries, discussions, multiple opportunities for feedback into the decision process: practices such as these mark the emergence of a dialogic democracy within a VO. Fortunately for researchers, dialogic democracy is not a subtle, hidden practice. The implementation of community-led governance is a visible, recordable, completely reflexive event. This means that it’s absence is also markedly noticeable. Ask any member of a VO who makes the decisions for the project, and the answer will reveal the presence or absence, the strength or weakness, of dialogic democracy in that organization. Examples of strong and weak community governance in VOs are available for study.

Take, for example, two large, currently active VOs that have chosen completely different governance structures. The Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIPFED) uses dialogic democracy as the basis of all of its workings. Its members spent three years creating the organization’s Constitution and Bylaws (ESIP Federation 2000). By contrast, the National Science Digital Library (NSDL), early in its founding period, chose not to embrace community-led governance, even though this was prominent in early discussions (NSDL 2001). How important is/was dialogic democracy to the work and the sustainability of VOs such as the ESIPFED and the NSDL? How much will this have an impact on future CI-funded VOs? How does the NSF manage funding when this also needs to be managed through community-based governance structures? As a part of the Virtual Democracy Project, PIs (past and present) from the ESIPFED and the NSDL will be surveyed about the role of dialogic democracy in these organizations.  The Virtual Democracy Project will be the first NSF funded effort to look at the value of and evaluate the practices and the return on investment of dialogic democracy practices (or their absence) in existing VOs.

Software/services with built-in democracy features

While many social networking and peer feedback software services appear to offer functionalities that can be used as-is within community-led governance efforts, democracy places its own requirements on the channels and administration of communication resources. In addition the need for active communication among peers there is a new need for appropriate monitoring of these channels to ensure that their use is transparent and sufficient to support minority voices and sustain a record for review and for possible redress.

The Virtual Democracy Project (VDP) provides paradigm-shifting research for both social-science and computer-science research approaches. The application of the public-sphere based dialogic democracy model to “virtual public spheres” within VOs represents a novel research perspective for CI governance issues. The software services that constitute the vehicles for peer interaction need to also be democratically available for members of VOs, just as the files and folders, the rooms and chambers: the venues that inform the councils of government need to be available for citizens.

Computer scientists on the VDP team will be evaluating available social networking and peer-evaluation services to devise ways for software/services to be open to community inspection. Other software issues include maintaining the privacy of online voting records while allowing for independent validation of results, and maintaining logs of more public member contributions for proper attribution and rewards.

Geography offers a particularly useful domain for VOs that include unstructured crowd-sourcing (such as Yahoo Maps, Wikimapia, and geo-tagging on Flickr). Thousands of strangers every day add nodes and layers to Internet maps that are openly shared. The role of community -building/-governance practices that would promote reliable management of these voluntary community contributions for scientific research offers a window into the very front end of Web 2.0 development.

New IT services are generally built according to the emerging needs of users. Through the proposed research, new user needs for IT in support of dialogic communication will certainly emerge. Because of the dual requirements of privacy and attribution, one can predict that these software services will require novel thinking about database structures and security. The need for non-technical persons to have confidence that information assembled by the VO to inform its decisions is accurate and reflects the contributions of its members requires the construction of new diagnostic tools that can monitor software services to look for evidence of tampering or rigging. A whole new set of questions and concerns will inform the next generation of IT based social networking services that will need to meet new standards for use within VO governance structures.

Meeting concerns for the future of an inclusive cyberinfrastructure

This research effort will have immediate benefits for the remainder of the CI effort, as its outcomes will lead to practical guidance about which forms of governance might best be applied to any proposed CI program/project. Where the proposed effort embraces community participation, the activity of governance for community-building can be better budgeted for time and labor and also timing. Democracy also takes time. A three-year project that starts community-building in year three will probably fail in this task. The larger question of how much should a government agency spend on community-building efforts for any project also needs to be addressed. Planners and program directors will be able to turn to the cybersocialstructure.org site for decision support.

Where issues of community participation and dialogic democracy really come to the fore is in practices designed to improve and reward the efforts of underrepresented communities and individuals within VO decision making. Assuming the goal is actual inclusion of a diverse range of voices and interests in the decision process, authentic (and authenticatable) democratic processes are an obvious need and solution. The Virtual Democracy Project will explore the use of dialogic democratic practices as a feature of building a more inclusive cyberinfrastructure.

A final note, however, is that democratic practices also can inform and potentially improve communication by building community (and so, trust and identification with project goals) within the core group of PIs and Co-PIs (Wiesenfeld, et al 1999). There are potential benefits to the core task management effort that need to be considered in any cost-benefit decision.

Photo Credit: Backbone Campaign (CC general 2.o)

2008… a dog, a cat, and a rat

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greg and his dog/cat/rat on state street

One stroll down State Street in Santa Barbara in 2008… (retrieved from a prior blog).

While one can normally count on State Street to be a bastion of conformity and bourgeois manners, not withstanding the antics of tourists and occasional juvenile hijinks. But today was a day of small revelations. On a day like this one, we can again imagine a town ready for art and conversation.

Outside of Barnes and Noble there was Greg, whose busking talent lay (literally) at his feet: a dog, a cat, and a rat in blissful harmony. Greg is energetic, enthusiastic, and likes to talk about which YouTube video does his pets the most justice.
About the time I ran into Greg, it began to rain. Here is the problem. It began to rain, a serious squall, but the sun shone brightly and not a single cloud darkened the sky. Pedestrians stood and stared at the sky. A young girl threw her arms up and cried “It cannot be raining, it just can’t!” Five minutes later the rain stopped.
Each of us on the street had a new answer to the old Creedence song, “Have you ever seen the rain?” (coming down on a sunny day).
That’s a big “yes.”
Further up the street, now in the bright sun, couples and families were sitting out at Andersons bakery. A street performer, probably homeless, carrying a guitar, went from table to table passing out five-dollar bills. The first one he gave to a young girl, who showed it to her father. “It’s real.” He handed it back to her. The second on he laid on a table of another family. The third he gave to a couple, who tried to give it back.
“Take it,” he ordered. “That’s the last of my money. The final 15 dollars in my pocket. Now it’s up to my guitar to save me.”
He strode away toward the Art Museum, challenging pedestrians to listen to a new song of his. We all watched him go. This was the first day of the rest of his career as a busker.
The spectacle of street-people giving money away on a rainy-sunny day made the stroll up State Street just about perfect.   What with the dog-cat-rat, all it needs now is a lightblueline.

What kind of ignorant fool am I now?

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[NOTE: This is resurrected from a blog post I did in 2010. Ignorance never goes out of fashion.]

Another week, and a week of reading through another flurry of aggravated blogs and blog comments on topics environmental, political, and other. One of the common strategies in these postings is to accuse someone of ignorance. “That ignorant so-and-so can’t seem to understand ________.” Calling someone ignorant is an increasingly easy, and unfortunately increasingly non-trivial attack these days. Me, I can’t understand how anyone would consider Donald Trump to be in any fashion a candidate for president. To some of my friends, that displays my own ignorance. I plead guilty. But what kind of ignorance am I guilty of?

Professional-Ignorance

Just as knowledge can and might well be considered to have a wide variety of types, so too does ignorance. The top of this list, up in the rarified climes of professional expertise, is the increasing ignorance of scientists in the face of an increasing deluge of scientific information (publications) and data resources. Even those in tiny specialties have seen the content load of new science double every few years. Some decades ago when I was a graduate student at Penn, I shared a house with three medical students. After their required specialty rotations each of them decided that pathology might be the only real occupation for their future. “We actually know so little about the human body,” they lamented, “It might be safer to study them after they’re dead.” Let me call this type of ignorance “professional-ignorance.” While scientists do their best to keep up and keep pace with the information load, they are all a little guilty of this. In their defense, they are the folks who face the actual precipice of the unknown–the edge of knowledge; and they are tasked to expand this knowledge envelope for us all. Their work defines the boundary between ignorance and knowability. However, “professional ignorance” is not the ignorance I’m usually reading about in the blogosphere,  even though science-bashing is back in vogue.

Educated-Ignorance

The next type of ignorance we find is what I would call “educated-ignorance.” There are far too few hours in a day or even a year to stay on top of all of the many possible topics of interest to any one individual. If even the experts have a hard time in their own fields, what sort of chance does anybody else have? Educated-ignorance is pretty much my life. I’ve spent several years learning how to learn various subjects, but I’m more or less (sometimes, I hope much less) ignorant about any of these, as I swim the mighty currents of an omnipresent information overload. Educated-ignorance is reflexive enough to understand its shortcomings. It is the knowledge virus of the information age. Fortunately, its victims are also savvy enough in just-in-time learning to turn a temporary lack of understanding into a more robust purview on any one selected topic. The educated-ignorant individual is appropriately suspicious of the entire notion of certainty. For even as she can, with some effort, cure her ignorance of, say, the impact of volcanic dust on jet engines, or the mysteries of credit default swaps, she knows that, in the weeks ahead, her lack of attention to these topics will increase her ignorance of them.  Calling someone who understands educated-ignorance “ignorant” has no real effect. They are prone to agree with you.

Infallible-Ignorance

The remaining realm of ignorance is where its invective is based. It is used mostly by people who have selected a few cherished sources of information (perhaps a radio talk-show host or a famous blog). The insult is directed at everyone who have either chosen other sources of information or who have disagreements with the writer’s sources. The writer is usually certain that the messages his sources have revealed are so evident and so rational that anyone who listened to them would have to agree with them, and so would agree with him. This certainty is the launchpad for any number of claims of ignorance in others. It also reveals a more focused form of ignorance in the writer. As Eric Hoffer noted, “We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand.” Let’s call this “infallible-ignorance.” The infallibly ignorant has gathered all of her knowledge eggs into a tiny basket, and defends this with an unbridled ferocity. Here we find the bellowing of the demagogue, and the bluster of the true believer. The infallibly ignorant may have an under-developed skill in researching beyond the sources they trust, and can never understand the depth of their own ignorance.  They can change, of course. Most of us were like this at some point in high-school or college; clinging to the right to bullshit our way through life. Most people do move on, but the infallibly ignorant just dig in.

While there is certainly enough ignorance in the world for each of us to have our share, we can try our best to avoid the folly of infallible-ignorance, and to discover and overcome the limits of our knowledge at least for another day.

Rethinking leadership in an open science world

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I posted a blog on the AGU blog space today.

You can read the whole blog here:

Problematics for science leadership in a data-rich, open-science world

What I conclude is this:

“I would like to propose just two metrics for now:

  1. The sharing of data with full provenance and,
  2. The reuse of these data.

As global open science emerges, data resources will be added to a variety of open repositories, from individual and institutional collections to national and international repositories. These data—big and small—will be generated through ever-more ubiquitous collection methods by a still-growing number of scientists across the globe. Combined, these new resources enable entirely novel synthesis opportunities for new knowledge created from existing data. The network effect, which calculates how the value of networks multiply as they grow, holds true for data. Adding a single new data resource to an open repository multiplies its value for scientists everywhere. When everyone, including Top Chef scientists, share their recipes (their data), the internet opens up lateral learning potentials that can push science to a higher velocity of discovery.

Opening up your data requires a lot more than publishing a PDF of your spreadsheet. Remember, data is the pluperfect participle for the Latin verb do, “to give.” Data are “things that have been given.” The value of this gift is highly dependent on its provenance and the completeness of its description. Producing shareable data also means opening up and sharing workflows, methodologies, and software. Haec omnia in datis sunt: “It’s all in the data.” That includes the reputation of the team that created the data.

Science leadership for a data-rich academy

In the not-too-distant future, when it comes to choosing a scientist to lead your science organization, you might want to pick somebody who has a track record of sharing the data their team spent so much time and care to gather and describe, and whose data are actively used by others to create new knowledge; somebody who has shown integrity in their workflow and a concern not just for their own research but also for the wider science research realm. Using data sharing and reuse as metrics for science prizes, career decisions and leadership positions realigns global science with the promise of its digital future.”

 

5 signs that you need to rethink and reboot your membership engagement effort

Members feeling disengaged?  Maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Members feeling disengaged? Maybe you’re doing it wrong.

In your volunteer-run, virtual organization, how do your members become engaged in sharing their time and knowledge? Do they come away from these activities enthused? Or do they feel like they never want to come back? Here are five danger signals that mean you should rethink and possibly reboot your organization.

  1. You can’t agree on what engagement is.
    What are your metrics for engagement? How are you collecting these? What does engagement look like in your organization? If you cannot answer these questions, then you need to start over and rethink why anybody should become a member.
  2. When members tell you what’s important to them, you have no way to respond.
    Engagement is where your organization shows it’s value to its members. Your members are intelligent, enthusiastic, and busy. They showed up. Every member needs to be able to find support to do what is important for them (inside the boundaries of the vision/goal of the organization). When your organization can amplify the efforts of each member to solve their immediate problem or support their creative input, they will be engaged. And they will engage each other. Remember the first rule of a volunteer organization: each member needs to get more than they give. Members need every reason to come back and bring their colleagues. When a new member shows up and tells your staff, “I really need to solve this problem” that becomes a priority for your organization. If it’s not then you need to start over.
  3. You’ve invented a list of tasks that you want volunteers to work on.They need to chose from this list if they want to engage with your organization.
    Helping the organization with higher-level organizational work: planning, strategy, etc., is not engaging. It’s a service. This is something that people who are already engaged will do in small doses. In volunteer-run organizations members eat the pudding first, and then get the meat. If your answer to a member is to look at a web-page with a list to things you want them to do, then you need to start over.
  4. You’ve got an “engagement team” instead of being an engagement organization.
    Volunteer-run organizations are propelled by engagement. This is the locomotive that pushes all other activities. If your organization has an engagement team somewhere trying to figure things out, then you’ve lost your locomotive and you’ll only grow and move as fast as the team can pump a hand car. If engagement is not your first order of business, then you need to start over.
  5. Nobody is certain how decisions are made.
    Engagement runs on trust and and is propelled by a governance that is open and responsive. Members of volunteer-run organizations need to know they are in control. Every time a decision is rethought or rescinded by the staff or through some back-door conversation with donors; every time the membership only gets to vote on a document somebody else wrote, every election where the nominations fall to the same people: members become less engaged. If your governance is not actually run by the volunteers who are your members, then you need to start over.

Photo credits: poor doggie: bull-dog story

Science association renowned for its legacy of churlish behavior sees no need to change.

Satire alert: This is an Onion style parody…

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The American Sciences Society announced today that it would not review the need for a membership code of conduct for its next annual meeting. This reporter visited their headquarters on M Street in Washington DC. The Society President was clear about this decision. “We’ve never had a code of conduct, and we have no need to start one now.” Steve Wilber stated. “We’re not philosophers or anthropologists, we’re scientists for Christ sake. We know better.”

When asked about the avalanche of misogynist claptrap vocalized by the Nobel-winning, first-day keynote speaker that caused the majority of female participants at the last meeting to storm out in protest and start their own society, Steve remarked, “I think everyone who was even vaguely offended is now gone. They’re welcome back, but they really should grow a pair before they return.”

Lauren Sample, the Society’s public relations manager stepped in to clarify the organization’s position. “Steve may have misspoken. What he meant to say is that our members are individually tasked to stand up for themselves any time they feel any level of harassment. If we created a politeness police, who would monitor their behavior? Will we need to create politeness police police?”

“It’s a really slippery slope,” Steve interjected, elbowing Lauren aside. “First thing you can’t say anything about how distracting their legs are in the laboratory, and before long, they’re authoring papers without a single real scientist among them. Look at Lauren. PhD from Princeton, three post-docs, and now she’s found a perfect career in public relations.”

“Real scientist?” Lauren said, taking back the microphone. “I hope you’re getting this down. Steve here, who hasn’t authored an original paper—or had an original thought—in over a decade, is fond of hiring female post-docs and having them do all the work while he comes up behind them and strokes…”

“The point here,” Steve stepped up and yanked the microphone away from Lauren. “…is that we’ve always managed to get along just fine. Anyone in the Society who has problem can send me an email. Our next meeting is in New Orleans in the fall. All of our members are looking forward to…”

Lauren leaned in and shouted, “…giving their pro forma papers and heading out to the titty bars… I quit.”

“Too late, you’re fired! Can you believe that? There she goes. Man, I would totally hit that. You’re not recording this are you?”

The point of this parody is that a clear, strong code of conduct that reflects and amplifies the core values of a community, and which is constructed, refreshed and celebrated by the community is a signal that the community has these shared values and holds them dear.

Photo Credit: Igor Pavlov CC license: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pazlpazlpazl/5708049245/

In May I gave a talk about open science at a conference at UC Santa Barbara

Sustainable Science Communication Conference: UCSB, May 14, 2015

This is the kind of science poster we need!

This is the kind of science poster we need!

Pretty much channelling here. Talking about new open science organizations. Take a look: http://www.uctv.tv/shows/29772

Most of this conference will be looking at how scientists communicate with others. My talk will look at how scientists are forging new forums to share their scientific know-how and acquire a whole new range of knowledge that will enable them to take advantage of emergent open-science content (open data, open source software, open access publications, and open reviews). By leveraging the social multipliers of networked collaboration, new communities-of-purpose will add real value to shared content, and real reasons to share more often. In the geoscience community, The Federation of Earth Science Information partners is designed to build, test, and finally implement novel modes of communication and forums for sharing. Across disciplines and around the planet, the Research Data Alliance is hoping to build and share data stewardship information. What does open-science look like, and how will it transform the geosciences? These are the questions science is tackling today. Some day soon, perhaps science will actually know what science knows.