Moving beyond rigidity and chaos in communities – some thoughts on integration

One of the keynote talks at the Mindful Leadership Summit that I attended in early November was by neuroscientist Dan Siegel. Siegel is particularly interested in the subject of integration, a topic I’d like to explore a little here.

Integration is a healthy state within a system where there is neither too much rigidity, nor chaos. Take for example a choir (and example Siegel also uses in his books). There may be multiple different voices in the choir, and different notes being sung at any given moment – so there’s differentiation within the group rather than a homogeneous mass of identical components. But the contributions of each member of the group are coordinated – they understand where one note relates to the note that another is singing (rather than rigidly sounding out their own melody in isolation). And so the result is a pleasant song rather than a clashing, dissonant jumble.

Which got me thinking about online communities. In talking with with many folks recently about what they use as the definition of a community, lots of them said some variant of “a group with common interests, or a shared goal”. So is integration within a community when the members feel as though they are aligned with the goals and interests? In this context, rigidity might be opposing one another’s opinions and suggestions or perhaps refusing to evolve with the changing environment in which the community exists (refusing new members, not adopting new tools etc). The opposite of this, chaos, may be a community that has not yet settled on a shared purpose or set of interests and perhaps is trying to cover too many topics, or not sharing information about activities in a way that members feel they are able to understand and participate consistently.

To what extent does a community manager play the role of “integrator” – helping each individual to make sense of the overall community, perhaps like a choirmaster or a conductor might do in a musical context? And to what extent do other members take on this role? How do the technical features of the online community promote or inhibit integration – for example, if a newsfeed algorithm is showing different activities to different members of a community, do they end up with such contrasting perspectives about the community that that don’t feel integrated with it?

I’d be curious to hear how you’ve handled this in the communities that you belong to and work with. How do you enable individuals to feel differentiated (and valuable in their own right) while also being aware of others around them and striving to interact with others in a meaningful way?

The State of Community Management 2015

The Community Roundtable produces an annual report called “The State of Community Management”. This year’s report has just been made available (click through to the CR website to download your own copy)

The report’s compiled by surveying a range of community professionals – this year representing over 200 different communities.

Some findings include:

  • 45% of members of best in class communities are actively engaged in those communities (defined as being a collaborator, creator or contributor versus inactive or lurking users). Compare this to the 90:9:1% rule that’s often quoted for lack of active participation online (Page 27 of the report).
  • 90% of best in class communities have community guidelines which encourage good behaviour as well as prohibiting negative behaviour (Page 27).
  • Discussion forums are considered to be the most essential tool for engagement – in both internal and external-facing online communities (Page 35).
  • 88% of best in class communities have at least 1 full-time community manager (Page 43).

Considering Community: a brief history of academic studies of online communities

I’ve decided to start a new series of occasional posts focused on community management tips and related information. I’m tagging these Considering Community and you’ll be able to find all the posts in the series here.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the stages of growth for online communities. I ended up reading a paper that compares the research literature on online communities to come up with a model for the lifecycle that communities follow. While I’m going to blog about that in a future post, the paper also gave a great introduction to how the literature on online communities has itself grown – and the different disciplines that have been involved.

Knowing first-hand that “community” doesn’t fit neatly into one category, this was particularly interesting to me, so I’m going to share the paper’s overview here in case it’s of interest to you too. All text below that is highlighted in italics is taken directly from the paper, which is a much recommended read.

The literature about online communities as 4 waves

The review (published in 2009) describes four waves in the community literature:

i) 1st wave – input from sociologists

During the first wave, which started in 1993 when Howard Rheingold coined the term virtual community, sociology took the lead focusing on online communities as a social phenomenon capable of modifying how people interact in society. Sociologists compared online communities to physical communities and explored the presence of various community-related concepts such as social aggregations, identity, social networks and ties, and social and collective action.

They also studied the impacts of Internet use on individuals and society, such as social isolation, social involvement, and well-being [Carver 1999; Jones and Rafaeli 2000; Cummings et al. 2002; Turkle 1995; Hampton 2003; Hampton and Wellman 1999; Katz and Rice 2002; Kraut et al. 2002, 1996]. For example, Wellman et al. [1996] and Wellman [2005] found that online communication can strengthen face-to-face communication in local communities, as opposed to producing social isolation. Moreover, they found that online interactions can facilitate accumulation of social capital which may enhance civil involvement.

Those interested in the impact of online communities on society found that by facilitating strong social relationships, trust, and reciprocity, an online community may gather enough social capital to engage in social action to achieve a collective goal [Blanchard and Horan 1998; Chaboudy and Jameson 2001; Hampton 2003; Iriberri 2005].

ii) 2nd wave – input from those studying management and business

A second wave in research on online communities started around 1996 with management researchers analyzing the value to business organizations of the content generated by online communities. Hagel and Armstrong [1997] studied online communities as viable business models capable of attracting customers who are searching for information on products or activities of interest to them, and who want to find and build relationships, conduct transactions, or live fantasies.

They suggest that if organizations provide mechanisms to identify and satisfy customer needs more accurately this can then turn into profit for vendors. When businesses provide the space for interaction, vendors can strengthen customer loyalty and also extract customer information to further improve marketing and customer service programs.

Wegner et al. [2002] focused on online communities that emerge in business organizations and are used by employees as repositories of organizational knowledge. In these communities of practice, the knowledge created and stored by members contributes to the organization’s ability to solve problems, create new products, innovate, and ultimately increase productivity [Millen et al. 2002]. This is evident in the widespread use of wikis, electronic boards, and electronic meeting rooms where team members in organizations add content and share online documents, thus reducing by one-half the time it takes them to complete projects [Conlin 2005; Goodnoe 2006].

Stuck on the shelf: How do you translate knowledge from the literature into practice?  Image caption: Flickr user wy_jackrabbit https://www.flickr.com/photos/wy_jackrabbit/4294858160/

Stuck on the shelf: How do you translate knowledge from the literature into practice? Image caption: Flickr user wy_jackrabbit https://www.flickr.com/photos/wy_jackrabbit/4294858160/

iii) 3rd wave – input from psychologists

In the third wave of online community research, psychology researchers focused on members’ relationships and attachments within online communities. Blanchard [2004] and Blanchard and Markus [2004] studied sense of community including feelings of belonging, safety, and attachment to the group. When these feelings are present, members develop lasting relationships with other members, feel attachment to the community, and perceive the online community as a source of social and emotional support.

In one online community of multisport athletes, Blanchard and Markus [2004] found that active participants develop personal friendships that in some cases move into private and face-to-face interactions.

iv) 4th wave – input from information systems researchers

Last, in the fourth wave, information systems researchers integrated previous perspectives, developed working definitions, and created research agendas to initiate a more focused and controlled empirical study of online communities [Gupta and Kim 2004; Lee et al. 2003; Li 2004]. The focus shifted to members’ needs and requirements, development of electronic tools to support online communities, adoption and implementation of these tools, online communities for new purposes such as teaching and, finally, outcome assessment [Arnold, et al. 2003; Kling and Courtright 2003; Stanoevska-Slabeva and Schmid 2000, 2001].

For example, Stanoevska-Slabeva and Schmid [2001] described the activities members conduct in online communities and matched those activities with the technology platform capable of supporting those activities; and Arnold et al. [2003] presented a model to translate member needs into technology requirements.

In the latter years of this fourth wave, the focus of the information systems discipline moved toward proposing conditions that would increase member participation and ensure online community success. For example, Preece [2000] recommended following a participatory design approach, which takes into consideration user needs, and establishing a clear purpose combined with policies of behavior to govern the interactions of members. She referred to the fostering of “tacit assumptions, rituals, protocols, rules, and laws” that define the community identity.

Similarly, Leimeister et al. [2005] proposed implementing mechanisms to encourage trust, such as discretionary levels of anonymity, which can help promote lasting relationships. Most recently, empirical studies have been carried out to test independent success factors such as presence of content quality, interaction support, organization of online and offline events, rewards for contributions, volunteerism, and posting of member pictures and profiles.

From communities on paper to communities in practice

I’ve been pondering a bit this past year how much professional roles that involve working directly with communities – whether that’s pure community management, or related activities such as marketing, customer service, and market research teams – apply what’s reported in the research literature in their day jobs. As a research scientist – whether in academia or industry – it’s a standard part of your job to keep up to date with current developments in your field of expertise. While some of that may be done alone, for example, by subscribing to updates from your favourite journals, some of it also takes place in communal activities such as lab meetings and journal clubs. How do you find and share knowledge if you’re a community professional?

There are some resources – from the #cmgrchat that takes place weekly on Twitter to the annual Community Leadership Summit founded by Jono Bacon, but it’s my sense that as a lone individual or very small team within a larger organisation, community managers can often end up feeling professionally isolated in terms of knowing how to develop new skills or where to turn to for peer-to-peer support.

Secondly, where there is useful information available  – such as websites that discuss updates to common tools that community managers use – the focus tends to be on technology updates, or on successful business reporting. Especially within organisations that haven’t fully grasped the benefit of community there can be an emphasis on the types of conversations described in wave ii) above – namely how to demonstrate the business value of online communities, whether those are internal employee communities or external engagement channels. By contrast, I don’t see many articles or other professional development resources that really focus on waves i) and iii) as described above – the sociology and psychology of communities.

Are you a community professional who’s found some resources that I’ve not yet seen, or who has successfully created your own peer network? Do you ever consult the academic literature for a different view on the daily activities that you’re involved with – or is this something that there’s not realistically enough time for in a job that already involves doing multiple different tasks in a given week?

Considering Community: What’s a community anyway?

I’ve decided to start a new series of occasional posts focused on community management tips and related information. I’m tagging these Considering Community and you’ll be able to find all the posts in the series here.

In the first post in this series about online communities, we looked at the different types of communities – from communities of practice to those of place. Now let’s think about definitions from a different angle.

I say community, you say… community?

In recent times, the word community is being increasing adopted by organisations but, confusingly, it can have different meanings. Sometimes it’s a rather vague term indicating “something to do with communicating via social media”. In other situations, community is used as a more “friendly” way of referring to customers – whether that’s customer support, customer feedback, and/or marketing activities. In yet another set of scenarios, community is used to refer to multiple, distinct groups, all of whom may be interacting with the organisation is slightly different ways, and not necessarily online. While none of these interpretations are necessarily wrong, they don’t help to clarify the usage of a word that has ended up feeling somewhat ambiguous.

So, can we be a bit more nuanced in our definition of what we mean by community without using more than the equivalent of a few tweets to do so? And can we use that definition to help us work more effectively with communities? The introduction of a paper that I read recently looked at how a range of disciplines describe online communities; I share its examples and some additional ones below. I then consider an over-arching definition of community and what it might tell us about how to successfully engage different communities.

Defining online communities

  • “Social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.”  – Howard Rheingold, 1993.
  • “Computer-mediated spaces where there is a potential for an integration of content and communication with an emphasis on member-generated content.” – Hagel and Armstrong 1997 (with an emphasis on business models).
  • “Groups of people who interact primarily through computer-mediated communication and who identify with and have developed feelings of belonging and attachment to each other.” – Blanchard and Markus, 2004.

Each of these definitions comes from the perspective of a different discipline (sociology, management studies, and social psychology, respectively). Lee et al., went one step further and combined a total of 9 definitions to come up with the following:

  • “cyberspace[s] supported by computer-based information technology, centered upon communication and interaction of participants to generate member-driven content, resulting in a relationship being built” – Lee et al, 2003

Compare these definitions of online communities to the following from this blog post:

  • “the ecosystem of people that surround a specific business or organization – from customers and employees to fans and partners.”
Defining community - going beyond a Google search.  Image credit: Flickr user dragonbe: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dragonbe/5902516737/

Defining community – going beyond a Google search.
Image credit: Flickr user dragonbe: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dragonbe/5902516737/

Common threads

So, what can we see in common with each of these definitions? Each acknowledges the importance of at least some of the following factors: individuals, online communication technologies, communication among members, content creation, the formation of relationships, feelings of belonging. Perhaps this can be re-written as:

People + online tools + communication –> content creation –> relationships +  feelings of belonging.

There’s an additional point to be emphasised here, which is that community refers to a group where people have relationships with each other, not just one-to-one relationships with a central hub – whether that hub is a leader figure, an organization or a product. Not every member may be connected directly to every other member, but they almost certainly do have interactions with more than one other person in the group.

This inter-connectedness of members encourages us to think of communities as an ecosystem – where the actions of individuals may propagate through the system in ways that cannot be controlled from a central point. As we’ve all seen on social media, you can start a hashtag campaign, but you can’t decide what content gets posted to the hashtag. And this becomes an important distinction from more traditional marketing and customer service models where interactions were more contained.

Implications for working with communities

What can we take away from the factors in this final equation about working with online communities? Admittedly, each of the ingredients would make at least a blog post in its own right, but here are some quick thoughts:

People – Do you know who is in your community or who you’d like to see join it? In order to identify potential new members, you might look for who tweets on relevant hashtags and who uses those hashtags in their online bios. Events are another good place to meet future community members.

Tools – You don’t necessarily need to provide the communication tools yourself, but you do need to be present on the channels that your community is using – whether that’s twitter, a blog network or a listserv. The channels you choose to use will depend largely on what you hope to accomplish through your interaction with the community: if it’s customer service you may need to be in multiple places where the conversations are happening, if it’s about assisting a group to organise an event, it may be that a single, central online home is needed to plan and share resources.

Communication – I think a key question to ask here is: Where can you usefully fill any communication gaps, while also respecting that you don’t need to be visibly part of every discussion? I mentioned above that a community is an ecosystem, and that means giving up the idea of dominating all the conversations and thinking about how you can make useful contributions with any content that you do create. This could be making sure that you’re clear about new developments on the project, visibly introducing and welcoming new members, and sharing details of opportunities for the community to meet in person.

Content creation – What does content creation mean to your community goals? Is it just the back and forth that happens on social media, or something more structured such as guest blog posts sharing tips and activities, or even co-creating a book together?

Relationships: Remember: you don’t control all the relationships in a community! And one way you can add value if you’re hosting a community is to help members to build relationships with each other. People love meeting like-minded people and this will result in a greater sense of belonging within the community as a whole.

Sense of belonging:  Ultimately, this is what becomes very powerful for any organisation or mission-driven group as advocacy grows from a sense of belonging. Once you’ve got an emotional investment, people are more likely to tell their friends and colleagues about their experience – just make sure that it’s a good one! 🙂

 

Considering Community: What types of community are there?

I’ve decided to start a new series of occasional posts focused on community management tips and related information. I’m tagging these Considering Community and you’ll be able to find all the posts in the series here.

Defining community

I’ve talked before (e.g. see my Storify notes from the #scioCommunity session) about how a community can be defined in general terms as people who come together around a shared interest. Once community members start communicating with each other about that shared interest, then a sense of belonging grows, and that can form the basis for creating a deeper sense of purpose within the community – such as identifying specific goals or projects to work towards.

Depending on what the community is trying to communicate or accomplish, it can fall into a number of different categories. Let’s take a look at these options below, and then consider what implications these might have for the online tools used by the community, as well as the community management needs.

Categories of community

i) A community of interest

A community of interest consists of members who are interested in – and passionate about – the same topic. The topic could be a TV show, a celebrity figure or a subject area such as an historical event. Community members come together with the purpose of sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge about this topic. Given that members might be located anywhere in the world, online tools are vital for the ongoing interactions of the community.

ii) A community of practice 

The term community of practice was originally introduced as an concept in the field of education to refer to groups where members who share a profession or craft come together to share experiences and expertise, and thereby improve themselves professionally or personally. MOOCs could be a particularly interesting example of online communities of practice, except that in many cases the tools available for direct interaction among members of a course are very limited, if they exist at all.

iii) A community of inquiry

A community of inquiry also has an educational focus, the aim being to bring together people involved in considering a problem from an empirical or conceptual perspective. The idea is that, by bringing together different members of the community, a greater overall understanding of the subject at hand might be obtained. Science as a community falls into this category, as might hackdays and similar participatory events where the end output is not clearly known in advance.

The story of the group of blindfolded men each trying (incorrectly!) to identify an elephant is an example of when a community of inquiry would be useful. In such cases, each person would pool their experience to create a bigger picture. Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/climateinteractive/13944682478/

The story of the group of blindfolded men each trying (incorrectly!) to identify an elephant is an example of when a community of inquiry would be useful. In such cases, each person would pool their experience to create a bigger picture. Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/climateinteractive/13944682478/

iv) A community of action

As the name suggests, this type of community is focused on bringing about change in the world. The Open Access community would fall into this category. As the Open Knowledge Festival showed, if the unifying ideology is large enough, a community of action may in fact be comprised of multiple sub-communities. So the “Open” community includes communities interested in Open Data, Open Spending, Open Education and Open Science. Each of these may be able to learn from similar challenges faced by the others. Online tools can be important for these groups to coordinate their activities as well as to share news and resources about what they have achieved with others who may be interested, but who are not active members of the communities of action.

v) A community of place

A community of place consists of members who are co-located – this might include a neighbourhood watch scheme, a parent-teacher association at the local school, or a group of independent shop keepers from the same part of a town. It’s likely that most members will know, or get to know, each other in person due to the opportunities for meeting up offline that are afforded by them being in the same location.

vi) A community of circumstance

This type of community consists of people who come together to share experiences related to being in a particular life situation or other circumstance, rather than a shared interest. This might include health communities – from people fighting cancer, to those experiencing adverse drug reactions – as well as LBGT communities.

Considering community 

I wonder if each of the types of community described has specific, measurable characteristics that distinguish them. And if so, can these be used to infer their needs, in terms of online technologies and community management? For example, a community of circumstance may rely more than others on anonymity so that patients feel comfortable talking freely about their health conditions in an online environment that may include complete strangers. This type of online community may also see an increased use of private messaging once members identify others that they want to reach out to in order to discuss the specifics of their shared situations in more detail. A community of this nature seems unlikely to thrive on platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn where members would be identifiable and directly linked to some of their other communities – of work colleagues or family members from whom they may want to keep their personal circumstances private.

By contrast, a community of place is likely to consist of people who know each other, at least by sight, and probably through mutual connections – meaning that this could be a much denser network of members. Does this restrict the amount or type of information shared among members? Would an online element to this community consist more of news and information about the community’s meetups than of detailed conversations? For example, the Facebook pages that have been created for science tweetups in various cities typically serve to let members know of the date and location of the next meeting. There is little additional visible interaction within these pages. Is the role of the “community manager” in these cases primarily to organise the in-person gatherings of the community, with less emphasis on online tools?

As already noted, it’s possible for any community to fall into more than one of these categories e.g. a local cycling club would be both a community of place and of interest. And if members decided to take action against proposed changes to the road layout in their city, they might also become a transient community of action. Perhaps, if a community grows to encompass new types then its online needs will also change. To continue the cycling club example, initially a basic website with bulletin board and calendar might be sufficient. But once members want to coordinate a petition to protest the changes to their cycling routes, maybe they add or migrate to discussion boards, or arrange to meet up more regularly in person.

Finally, I’m also curious as to the sense of belonging felt by members of the different types of communities. Do communities of circumstance and communities of action result in more sharing of personal information because members are particularly emotionally invested in the outcomes of the community’s activities? And does this sharing of personal information then result in an increased sense of belonging?

 

Each of us is likely to be a member of multiple communities at one time. What are your experiences of the different communities to which you belong? I’d love to hear your examples and how you’ve used online tools in the comments.

From interested, to invested to impactful – what’s needed to sustain a movement?

Last Wednesday, I attended the London satellite event for OpenCon, an event that took place in DC earlier in November and which brought together an international group of open advocates to discuss progress to date, and to consider how the movement might be strengthened (See blog posts by Ross Mounce and Jon Tennant for more about the DC event).

There’s certainly been an increasing mention of the importance of community recently (e.g. Cameron Neylon’s Open Access session at the wikimania conference –  and related blog post – as well as Peter Murray Rust’s closing slides on Wednesday). But it was a comment on Wednesday by Joe MacArthur of the Open Access Button that really helped me to frame where it fits. Joe asked, “how do we get from interested to invested to impactful [as a movement]?” Which prompted me to doodle the following:

From interested to invested to impactful - how do we increase momentum in the Open community? Image credit: author's own.

From interested to invested to impactful – how do we increase momentum in the Open community? Image credit: author’s own.

 

Interested – In order to invite more people to become involved with the open movement, we need to raise awareness of its benefits via case studies, ambassadors, advocacy projects and more. Peter Murray-Rust argues that we need more slogans, better “marketing”. Others have decided to write, and talk about their decisions about where to publish or for which organisations to do peer review. It’s these activities that may persuade others to ask questions and show interest in learning more. And it’s why I believe that it’s important to choose language and actions that are positive, open for deliberation, and don’t simply reinforce an echo chamber.

Invested – Moving from being interested in something to being invested in it requires an emotional commitment, and this where community plays a big part. I’ve spoken often of how a community is a group of people with shared interests, and that when you communicate well with the other people that you’ve come into contact with, you feel like you belong.  Belonging means you’ll go the extra mile to get things done; to work with people you like to strive towards goals that you share. This is where events like OpenCon and the OpenKnowledge Festival are important for strengthening the existing community. They help to form new connections among community members who’ve not yet met, they strengthen friendships among those who already know each other, and they help to convert interested attendees into future, active members.

However, a less rallying cry needs to be underlined here too: Peter Murray-Rust reminded everyone in the conclusion to his talk on Wednesday that the goal of building a community invested in an open future is not to sacrifice martyrs for a cause. Everyone has his/her own commitments, responsibilities and career concerns. And so the amount of caution to show is something that individuals need to make a personal judgment about – not to feel peer pressured into.

Impactful – So what are the next steps to build upon that thriving sense of community? What is needed to make an impact? This is where infrastructure starts to really matter. By infrastructure, I’m referring to things that support the growth of the community and its goals (rather than solutions that tackle the implementation of open methodologies per se). These may include:

i) Clear communication channels – a webpage, wiki, blog, mailing list, online group or whatever solutions work – so that everyone in the open community can find out what’s going on and coordinate new activities in such a way that knowledge of how to do so is shared. If a friend or colleague asked how they could find out more about the open community and get involved, where would you point them so that they could find out more?

Figured out a successful format for a meetup? Share it with the community! Figured out the 10 most common questions people always ask you about Open Access? Create a freely available doc/wiki page that anyone can reuse and put it somewhere easy to find. One of the outputs that came out of Wednesday’s event was the creation of a collaborative open glossary of terms and resources.

This is also why live-streaming (and archiving) of sessions from meetings matters, as well as creating Storifys of tweets of important discussions, or blogging ideas. Remember what it’s like to be the one who can’t make it and be generous with your communications. These records of discussions and events also serve to feed back into the beginning of this three-tier process – to open up the conversations and enable more people to show interest in them.

ii) Specific goals – As a community becomes a bit more structured, then individual members may set some more specific goals. One of the most useful sessions for me at Wednesday’s event was when we worked in small groups to envisage what an Open Access publishing future might look like. It helped us to identify the current economic, technological and social barriers, and to start breaking them down into smaller challenges to address.

Setting goals also provides opportunities to celebrate when they’re reached, or to do some reflecting when they end up being more difficult than anticipated. Without benchmarks, it’s not always easy know whether you’ve made an impact.

iii) Extended reach – Finally, good infrastructure let’s you extend your reach. Got a model for a meetup in the US? Now it can be replicated in Australia or the UK. Ran a campaign in the UK? How about trying something similar in the US? Extended reach once again feeds back to the beginning of this process and helps more people to find out about the open movement.

Big thank you to Joe for the inspirational phrase, and also to Jon Tennant who remixed my doodles into the much prettier diagram shown below.

Interested to invested to impactful - remixed notes Image credit: Jon Tennant.

Interested to invested to impactful – remixed notes Image credit: Jon Tennant.

 

 

The road is long: On the importance of infrastructure – from scholarly comms to sci comm

On Monday, I tuned in via live-stream to an interesting keynote by Geoff Bilder, Director of Strategic Initiatives at CrossRef, who talked about the importance of scholarly cyber-infrastructure (video archive here). Bilder was speaking at Shaking it up – a one day workshop in Boston to discuss “the changing state of the research ecosystem”.

Bilder started by lamenting the lack of importance placed on infrastructure, which is often seen as “unsexy” and goes unnoticed.

It can also be seen as an afterthought in many projects, or regarded as outside of the project’s scope:

Bilder then proceeded to consider the challenges of implementing centralised infrastructure, specifically mentioning issues of trust:

Wishlist of requirements for scholarly web infrastructure

So what would be the ideal founding principles of new infrastructure? Bilder outlined the following:

1) It should transcend disciplinary silos, geography, institutions

2) There should be non-discriminatory membership of the organisation.

3) The organisation should be non-lobbying – individual members can lobby, but don’t let organisation become involved with things that may become “mission creep”.

4) The organisation should be financially sustainable – and preferably create a surplus.

5) The organisation should make money from providing services not data.

6) And finally, as built-in insurance against the organisation “going evil”, the software used should be open source and information deposited as open data so that the entire system could be reproduced elsewhere, if necessary.

From scholarly comms to a science of scicomm

While this event was clearly focused on the scholarly web i.e. sharing academic research data, infrastructure is also something that’s been mentioned with respect to science communication more broadly. Specifically, Bilder’s talk brought to mind a post by Brooke Smith of COMPASS, who earlier this year argued that we need to construct “a metro for science communication“. More recently, Alice Bell has also underlined the need for science communication infrastructure.

So how relevant is Bilder’s list to the scicomm infrastructure discussions? In terms of transcending silos, there have been various conversations about sharing knowledge from different disciplines such as sociology, marketing and the digital humanities. This information exchange has been loosely termed “the science of science communication” and formed the theme for a couple of Sackler symposia held in Washington DC in 2012 and 2013. However, there’s no centralised infrastructure to facilitate that kind of information exchange on an ongoing basis nor, as far as I know, a firm set of new collaborations formed as a result of those meetings.

Have we even reached the point of widely acknowledging that such infrastructure is necessary? Or are we better off relying on smaller personal networks to seed the adoption of new norms via an ongoing process of “refining our craft” – as Dan Kahan outlined recently, using journalism as a specific example.

If creating infrastructure to support the science of science communication is a goal, perhaps it would be most realistic to start by creating a simple, (mostly online) meeting place where people from these different fields can exchange ideas and form new connections, gradually testing out the benefits of working together (rather as Liz Neeley outlines in the latter half of her post here). Maybe then we can scale to considering case studies of successful projects that might be replicated elsewhere in similar scenarios, and then move towards building a larger set of best practice resources. Something more akin to the “applied science of science communication” that John Timmer discussed last yearwhere we are eventually able to translate tested ideas into standard practice.

(Of course, this skips some of the other items on Bilder’s list – such as membership questions and funding models –  things that others have already been pondering).