Archive for Tech Collab & Facilitation

Stigmergic collaboration: A theoretical framework for mass collaboration

Continuing work on my 5th competency:  Servant Leadership in Technology Facilitation and Collaboration.

Elliott, M. A. (2007). Stigmergic collaboration: A theoretical framework for mass collaboration (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Melbourne, 2007). Retrieved from http://mark-elliott.net/blog/?page_id=24

Notes (instead of a summary)

This work is incredible, detailed, and presented in an attractive way. I feel that I can’t do it justice, but here are a few notes.

Definitions: “Collaboration is the process of two or more people collectively creating emergent, shared representations of a process and or outcome that reflects the input of the total body of contributors” (Elliott, 2007, p. 31).
“co-created emergent shared representation” (p. 45).
“Stigmergy is a class of behavior in which collective activity is coordinated through the individuals’ response to and modification of their local environment—one agent’s modification becomes another’s cue (p. 8). (swarm intelligence)

Some principles: Non zero sum outcome (i.e. win win)
Includes creative activity (not just cooperating together); must create (p. 40).
Generate multiple solutions to a problem and one is selected by the collective (p. 40)
Collaboration transcends and includes cooperation which transcends and includes coordination (p. 41)
The Internet is fundamentally a stigmergic system in that it supports mediated indirect communication and inspires users to respond to its encoding by further encoding it (p. 92).

What does it take to create the environment for it?

The individual must relinquish some control to the collective, including sole authorship (p. 49)

Collaborative output requires “constant attention and redevelopment” through out the process, and the purpose needs redefining daily, each moment (p. 50)

Procedures must be previously agreed upon (p. 51).

What are the participants like?

Multiple participants with varying social capacities, personalities, histories and relationships (p. 53)

An ideal prospective collaborator…
1. is enthustiastic about the subject of our collaboration
2. is open-minded and curious
3. speaks their mind even if it’s an unpopular viewpoint.
4. gets back to me and others in a timely way.
5. is willing to enter into difficult conversations
6. is a perceptive listener. (p. 54)

Communication happens through all types of mediums, and may not stay in the same medium. It also isn’t two-way, it has multiple paths and multiple participants.

What does it take for digital stigmergic collaboration to happen?

Someone has to:

“Define an objective for which collective creative contribution is required in order to build value through user contribution.

Define a set of procedures designed to provide the capacity for participants to make such contributions.

Develop an online environment which caters for these contributions and enables the emergence of collectively created shared representations, and cultivate a community which supports the objectives.

[Then]  “Compliant participants make creative contributions and benefit from collective efforts.” (p. 104)

——

Reaction:

Wow. This deserves much further thought! Preferably stigmergic collaborative thought.

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Thinking on the Web Book Review

Continuing work on my 5th competency:  Servant Leadership in Technology Facilitation and Collaboration.

Alesso, H. P., & Smith, C. F. (2009). Thinking on the Web : Berners-Lee, Gödel, and Turing. Hoboken, NJ: A. John Wiley & Sons.

Summary
This book is written for computer science students and web professionals, however even a casual reader can gain an understanding of a vision for the future of the web. The book intermingles philosophy and questions about intelligence with logic and programming languages. The book begins with a section on what is intelligence, including the big questions asked by Gödel (what is decidable), Turing (what is machine intelligence), and Berners-Lee (what is solvable). If you thought the web was just static HTML pages, think again!

The second section of the book looks at web ontology and logic. Ontology in this context is all about organizing information in a way that the machine can read it. People write “ontologies” to categorize and organize information so that software agents can use the information to make decisions. This section reviews the Resource Description Framework (RDF), Web Ontology Language (OWL), logic and inferences, and the Semantic Web Rule Language (SWRL).

The book ends with a description of how the semantic web could be used for search engines to search concepts instead of terms (p. 208), and for software to perform complex tasks for humans.

Throughout the book, the question keep arising: what is meaning and what is meaning-making? Can a machine “understand” or only follow rules? What does it mean to understand?

Interesting Concepts
The authors state that the web was designed for humans, but it should be designed for machines too (Alesso & Smith, 2009, p. 68). Does this mean rewriting all the pages on the Internet to include RDF, OWL or other semantics so the machine can read it? Or will something easier and faster be created? The limitations of the web today is that it’s not in a form that the machine can use it.

p. 178 Web services ought to be able to interact with each other and “call” each other. They can’t do it now because of interoperability issues and propiertary server technologies. They can’t do it now because the issue of trust is a huge problem.

p. 203-204 The semantic web is where software agents take on actions and perform complex tasks.

p. 232 Open standards are critical to make all this work.

p. 246 The goal is for computers to understand the web in order to do complete tasks.

Reaction
Just when you think you have a good feel for what the web is and are keeping up with the tools, a radical concept such as the semantic web comes along. While most of the programming and logic in the book is over my head, I gained a glimpse of the vision for the next generation Internet. If we think the world is interconnected now, wait till the machines themselves interact with each other to do work/tasks for us!

What does this hold for e-learning online? What will be the effects for distance collaboration? How will it affect e-Ministry? The comments in the book suggest that the semantic web could “create the ability to work across distributed locations in communities of learning and enable content creation outside of the classroom” (p. 181). It could work well for “project discussion, remote working, and collaborative document creation” (p. 181). Interestingly, I see and use all these applications already with the current web. How would it change if I had my own personal software agent to do work for me? I’m not sure. Still, it’s interesting and intriguing to see what the web gurus are thinking about!

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Leading Through Collaboration Book Review

Continuing work on my 5th competency:  Servant Leadership in Technology Facilitation and Collaboration.

Glaser, J. (2005). Leading through collaboration: Guiding groups to productive solutions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Summary
Glaser (2005) sees a leader not as a head of an organization, but anyone who watns to help bring solutions to problems. His book is written to give leaders the tools to develop attitudes and skills to “align the organization around learning” (p. ix). In part 1 Glaser emphasizes attitudes. While some may be tempted to skip to the part 2 skills section, his writing on attitudes about coherence, the self, shared meaning, and groupthink lay an important foundation. From there, the skills section teaches the fundamentals of aligning the team, focusing on the vision, finding solutions, and agreeing to the solution. Filled with stories and real-life examples, this book will inspire you to improve collaboration skills beginning with the next problem you have to solve!

Initial Reaction
I didn’t get very far into this book before I was surprised at the focus on conflict, conflict management, and listening for agreement and disagreement. I’m not sure what I expected, since I collaborate with others daily. But I was not prepared for the focus on getting past disagreement and conflict. But on reflection, clearly you can’t have collaboration without strategies to address conflict and disagreement appropriately. After reading the book, I feel that I have very few, if any, of the skills listed, yet I do collaborate with others. I believe that as I am able to implement what I’ve learned, my collaborations will be stronger and more respectful of others’ views. Not just respect, but actually incorporating all the views and needs of others into the solution. I wonder if sometimes my Strategic strength jumps to a solution without full participation from the group.

What is Collaboration?
Glaser (2005) begins with a definition of collaboration: “to work together to solve a problem or create something new” (p. 3). In addition, he defines coherence as “the condition that exists when individuals are aligned on a given subject or task, and are ready to harness their collective energy to move forward on a common ground solution” (p. 3). As I consider these definitions, I am evaluating my own collaborations.  Just for reference, here are a few of them:

Glaser (2005) suggests that effective teams have the following qualities:

  • joint commitment to shared goals
  • trust of all members to understand their roles and get the job done
  • shifting leadership based on task and circumstances
  • excellent communications
  • understanding each other’s needs and perspectives
  • a sense of humor
  • willingness to set aside differences and to work together for the greater good (p. 4).

The Jazz workshop certainly has this. The one area where we have to work hard to make it happen is the communications, because of the physical and technical distance between us.

Things to Learn

  • The first and main lesson for me from this book is listening. Not just listening to understand, but listening to detect coherence. Glaser told a story of hearing a group discussing who thought they had disagreement, and he asked permission to summarize what he heard, and everyone agreed (p. 9). I want to fine tune my ear to hear like that! In addition, Glaser describes a teacher listening “openly and attentively” to a complaining parent, even when the complaint is presented emotionally (p. 114). I want to be able to listen openly and attentively instead of getting “riled up” along with the other person! “A power leader and problem solver should cultivate an ability to inquire deeply into the nature of what motivates people” (p. 118). This means being able to understand an issue as others see it. Again, later in the book, Glaser (2005) emphasizes listening for the common ground… listening carefully and constructively. “A powerful, consensus oriented leader will develop an ear for how different perspectives fit together, focusing on areas of agreement versus separateness” (p. 143).
  • Another important lesson is to pick up the phone and “call each other before small organizational rubs become huge conflicts” (p. 16). It’s too easy to write an email or Skype message when a phone or VC would resolve the issue and maintain the relationship.
  • Define the problem is another principle from the book. Information needs to be shared so that all understand the ramifications and have shared their perspectives. The work needs to be addressed against the problem, not against each other.
  • Aligning the team includes setting up the meeting to focus on the problem, not on fighting each other. The book includes several suggestions on chair placement, focus of the room, etc. to help with them.
  • Be firm and flexible at the same time! I need to learn to be firm in “articulating and identifying the nature of our interests, while remaining flexible about how those needs get met” (p. 112). This is an important key to true collaboration – meeting the needs/interests of everyone in a creative way. The book has several suggestions for clearly communicating interests, as it is so important to understand the “why” behind the person’s position.
  • Knowing when to push for agreement. Glaser describes several techniques and tools for bringing a group to a solution and/or closure on an issue. These helpful tips include asking each person to articulate that they can support the solution.

Leading by Consensus

Page 175 has a nice little chart with the checklist for what it takes to lead by consensus:

  • Demonstrate leadership commitment
  • Develop a vision and keep it in focus
  • Attend to relationships
  • Maintain open and collaborative communications and problem-solving mechanisms
  • Structure the organization to deliver what is promised
  • Remain mindful of the learning

The book ends with a detailed summary on how to accomplish each of these goals. I found this book very helpful and inspiring and will definitely refer to it as I continue to collaborate with others.

Cross References

  • Learning from this book can be used in my reflection paper for the Communication competency, as well as the Ethics competency.

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eMinistry Book Review

Continuing work on my 5th competency:  Servant Leadership in Technology Facilitation and Collaboration. My commentary includes reflections on the web ministry of Pioneer Memorial Church, of which I am a team member.

Careaga, A. (2001). E-ministry : connecting with the net generation. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Summary
E-ministry is written by volunteer youth pastor and journalist. His book begins with a description of today’s youth online, including the differences between generations and an exploration of post modernism. He describes in detail the experiences of youth online looking for and participating in religious activities such as searching the net and online chat rooms. This book has a detailed description of the perils of the Internet contrasted with the positive possibilities. Finally, he describes “digital discipleship” including online communities, using the Bible online, and addressing the felt needs of the youth online.

Concerns
This book didn’t have the strong Biblical foundation and rationale that Church Next included. In addition, since it’s from 2001, the focus was on some more primitive bulletin boards and chat rooms  and is of course missing any commentary on the Web 2.0 phenomenon. There are quotes of interactions in chat rooms that could make traditional Christians uncomfortable; including interacting with a “BibleBot” called JesusFrk that spits out verses on demand. The book is much more anti-post-modernism than Church Next. It compares post-modernism to the tower of Babel and emphasizes the post-modern ideas of no absolute truth.  It does suggest that postmoderns may be more open to Jesus that the reason-emphasizing moderns (p. 76). I believe that all worldviews have some truthand some error, and that as Christians our goal is to find the positive to make a connection and lead others to a clearer understanding of truth and a closer relationship with Jesus.  Church Next has a better foundation for the theology of change; where this book has some warnings and concerns about online ministry, it’s more “free flowing” and open. I found this book more disturbing and challenging than Church Next.

Interesting Ideas

  • In the first page, Careaga (2001) calls the “global hive of interconnected computers known as the Internet” the “‘Roman Road’ network of our day” (p. 15). This reminded me of the following quote from Desire of Ages :

“When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son.” Providence had directed the movements of nations, and the tide of human impulse and influence, until the world was ripe for the coming of the Deliverer. The nations were united under one government. One language was widely spoken, and was everywhere recognized as the language of literature. From all lands the Jews of the dispersion gathered to Jerusalem to the annual feasts. As these returned to the places of their sojourn, they could spread throughout the world the tidings of the Messiah’s coming” (White, 1898, p. 32).

  • The book describes a conversation on faith between a boomer, an Xer, and an N-Gener. The author asks “Could such a discussion happen anywhere besides cyberspace?” (p. 64). How often do these generations even worship together, let alone have a discussion. How can generations be brought together online? Later in the book (p. 92), the author mentions a chat room is staffed by a retired chaplain. This model is working well for the prayer requests from the PMC website, and could be used for online communities/small groups/seminars online as well.
  • The author describes the online Christian gatherings as being much more like the “primitive church’s house meetings than to the regimented weekly services of most Protestant denominations” (p. 123). These gatherings are focused on experiential faith. Hmm. Conversation and fellowship can happen with believers online, but can online groups/faith communities challenge people to service in their daily life to those immediately around them?
  • Along with the Church Next book, Careage (2001) also suggests that the church should use stories to tell the stories of the Christian faith (p. 139). Narrative evangelism (p. 142) is telling our story with God’s story and sharing it with others.
  • An idea that I’d never thought of before was that of going “door-to-door” in chat rooms, inviting web surfers to tune into a cybercast (p. 149).
  • Careaga suggests also that you can’t win others to Christ if you spend all your time in a Christian community, online, face to face, and never meeting anyone outside your faith. This includes online experiences too (p. 152-153).
  • Careage quotes Jimmy Long that postmoderns have a two step conversion – they are “converted” to a community – small group or larger community; and then they commit to Christ (p. 154). Careage suggests that we should first invest time in a community online. What would/could that look like? He suggests that online evangelists should do the same as any missionary – planting by cultivating relationships, sowing the seed of the gospel, and then reparing the fruit.

Questions Raised

  • Is an online church a gathering or assembling together? Is a physical gathering critical for an ekklesia?  Is an online church “the congregation of the disembodied” (Careage, 2001, p. 19). How important is physical presence? Does watching a streaming service constitute “assembly”? What does it mean to “meet together” (Hebrews 10:25)? It seems that whether in physical presence or online, merely “listening or watching” is not enough. We must interact with each other. Interactivity is the medium online, not just passivity (p. 37). How can we incorporate interactivity both in face to face church and online? Small groups seem to be key.
  • Can the Internet be used to disciple young people (as suggested in the third section of the book?). What does it mean to disciple someone no matter their age?
  • Denomination distinctions fall down online and successful cyberchurches collaborate with other online ministries (p. 40). How does this reality fit with Adventist understanding of our unique mission to the world?
  • What questions are young people asking? A illustration from the book is Christian teens trying to learn about tatoos and body piercing. Not much (was) available when searching “Christian” with these terms. The author suggests that many religious answers online are not answering the questions that young people are asking (p. 108). In our media ministry, we have the benefit of a campus of college students, who are often surveyed to understand what they want/need to learn. The Chosen series is an example of addressing questions by students.

Thoughts on People Today

  • James Emery White (Careaga, 2001, p. 23): “People are very interested in spiritual things, are asking spiritual questions, and are on spiritual quests as seekers, yet they have no interest in the church.” How do we connect to these seekers? How are we noticing and responding to the spiritual hunger around us?
  • Quoting a young person (Careaga, 2001, p. 30). “The Internet is the way to reach my generation. It is a way for cowards like me to grow in faith privately until we get the strength to say our beliefs out loud.”
  • Even young people who like the online cyberchurch idea are still skeptical about cyberchurch as the only means of connecting to God’s people (p. 31).
  • “N-Geners are very God-conscious” but not grounded in the Christian faith”. Later in the book, Careaga describes churchgoing kids with an eclectic mix of faith. “I’m a born again Christian. Yeah I believe that Jesus was the Son of God. But I’m also a practicing Buddhist” (p. 72). This is a warning and a call to ministry that gives the young a foundation in truth. Recent series from PMC are definitely addressing the need for a foundation, i.e. The Sabbath, The Truth about Death, The Truth about Hell.
  • Teens want to be engaged in a cause bigger than themselves (p. 52). Are we calling the youth to serve Jesus? The Primetime series certainly does. How are we connecting and mentoring them for ministry?

Potential Challenges

  • One of the recurring themes of this book is young people saying whatever they think online. Careaga (2001) suggests that “if one is to participate in the rough-and-tumble community of Usenet newsgroups, one must be willing to put up with such harsh criticism online” (p. 83). Is it possible to have an online community where other views are respected and still be a community that is committed to leading others to a closer walk with Jesus? I think it is… in an online community where people have committed to learn from each other and respect those in the community. A wide open space may be harder to manage, but short time-limited communities (seminars? classes?) should be more manageable.
  • The author suggests that when setting up an online ministry, it’s important to find out what other ministries are already out there and how the new ministry fits with the other online ministries (p. 88). An analysis of within-denomination and inter-denomination online ministries is probably helpful before venturing into a new experience online. For example, 360Hubs has an online networking tool for church members. Here’s a church that has a women’s group online; and another; and “can you do small groups online?” I want to think about this more because I believe that my local church could be doing more for our online/web/podcast listeners, especially those from “creative access countries.”
  • Careaga (2001) suggests that Christians should use the Net to “introduce the Net Generation” to the Bible. That the Word should be “released from the tyranny of the printed page to read a wired, digitized, hyper-connected world” (p. 114). Careage reminds us that the Word was mostly “heard” by early Christians. The oral tradition may be returning in today’s age, and can be met with audio and video podcasts.
  • Is there a way to use the Net to “connect” young people and other online seekers to a physical church community? “Net savvy teens … are suspicious of highly structured institutions” (p. 134). It seems that only with a supportive relationship built online could someone be convinced to jump from “online” church to joining a physical church community. (BTW, I reject the use of the terms virtual and real because online communication is just as real as print which is how we receive the Bible!)
  • Careage quotes Jimmy Long as suggesting that instead of the Great Commission, Christians should emphasize the Great Commandment. This concerns me a bit, because I think the Great Commission is at the core of who we are as Adventist Christians. Maybe instead, one could try to meet the command of the Great Commission through the method of the Great Commandment. This way it is “both” instead of “or”.

Again, while I was familiar with most of the technology tools explained in this book, I found it a challenging and interesting read to consider the ways to minister online. I want to think more about how our church web ministry could add an online community component of some form.

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Church Next Book Review

I’m now starting work on my 5th competency:  Servant Leadership in Technology Facilitation and Collaboration. As part of my work for this competency, I’ll be sharing some book reviews.

Malphurs, A., & Malphurs, M. (2003). Church next : using the internet to maximize your ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel.

Summary
The book begins with a summary of the problem of American Christianity in decline, with statistics and descriptions of the problem. Next the authors discuss issues of reaching the buster and bridger generations (also known as Gen X and Gen Y). They propose a theology of change which makes a distinction between the functions of the church which are Biblically mandated (i.e. mission, worship, and the “together” mandates), and the forms of the church, which may change in different cultures and different times. In this section, the authors also describe the concept of postmodernism and how it affects how current generations view church and are reached by the gospel. Finally, the book ends with a review of the importance of the Internet, how the Internet works, and specifically how to use the Internet in ministry.

Principles Learned
Since I’m already very comfortable with the Internet, the sections explaining it were mostly review and I skipped over them. However they are well written for lay and clergy who are uncomfortable with the Internet. The main contributions from this book for me were the background principles that provide a “why” for using the Internet for ministry.

  • Some of the church’s functions which are mandated by the Bible include: teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer (Acts 2:42); community (Acts 2:44-45); worship and evangelism (v 47).
  • Examples of forms include meeting in house churches (Act 2:46, 8:3, 12:12), meeting in the temple (Acts 2:46).
  • Forms can be understood as the method of ministry. Paul set an example of “becoming all things to all people” and adapting to the needs of those he meant to reach (1 Cor 9:22).
  • Forms may fit along a continuum of legalism to liberty to license. Legalism puts restrictions on the church that aren’t found in Scripture (i.e. what time to meet). Liberty is freedom within God’s law/Word. License removes any Biblical restrictions.

These principles and ideas form the basis of a theology of change and therefore reasoning on why to use the Internet in ministry.

Ideas Gleaned
I’m already involved in my church’s web ministry (www.pmchurch.org) and (www.pmchurch.tv) and we are doing many of the things listed in the book. On page 131, the authors list some ways that churches are using the web for ministry:

  • Encourage visitors to attend their church (we’re doing that)
  • Post mission statements, sermons, text concerning faith (we’re doing that)
  • Links to denominations and faith-related sites (we’re now discouraging this due to link-rot)
  • Links to Scripture studies or devotional material (we’ve dabbled in this and could revisit it)
  • Post schedules, meeting times, communications (yes, email announcements, but need to get more people to sign up for the listservs)
  • Post photos of events (mixed success on this; it’s hard to do consistently and keep fresh)
  • Post youth group material (we’re doing that)
  • Material promoting missionary work (our TV ministry does this)
  • Seek volunteers for congregational work (new “Get Involved” section does this)
  • Provides space for prayer requests (we’re doing this)
  • A sign-up feature for classes/programs (we do this for the women’s ministry programs)
  • Allows online fundraising (not doing this with very specific reasons why)
  • Webcasts worship services (we’re doing this, but not live)
  • Provides discussion spaces for study or prayer groups (not doing this)

As I read through the ideas, I realized that I’d really like to see us find ways to minister to those getting the podcasts. Is there a way we could connect them in to online small groups? We have some other seminars that would make great little online group studies as well. I wonder how the FAST scripture memorization group is doing with their new online training. I think we could develop some cool things with this, if a few people had time to commit to it. I wonder if anyone would pay for it to help cover the cost? Or if donations would cover the cost? It’s certainly something to keep considering.

This was a useful book to explain WHY a church should be using the Internet, and had suggestions for even veteran online churches.

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