From purpose to space
We have seen that Web 2.0 components can be configured and combined to form knowledge-sharing and collaboration systems within organisations. In this chapter we use the notions of ‘spaces’ and ‘flows’ to characterise the different types of usage to which Web 2.0 tools can be put. Where conventional business systems are neatly proscribed by application domains, process definitions, functional specifications and data models, Web 2.0 tools are not. They can be configured and used in many ways and the rules of engagement will vary depending upon the modalities of use. Firstly, this can make it difficult to conceptualise how the tools can be configured, designed and put to effective business use. As wiki guru Stewart Mader says: ‘It doesn’t just do one thing, and because people are used to thinking of software as having a specific use, it’s sometimes harder at first for them to grasp the potential of a Wiki.’1 Secondly, it makes the framing and development of business cases more difficult and increasingly organisations demand ROI cases to justify any IT project initiative.2 Business cases for the introduction of application software to improve customer yield by 5 per cent or service turnaround by two days are generally easy to conceptualise. There is rigour, precision, enhanced control and clear payback. But the enhancements to underlying systems of organisational memory, knowledge creation and location, innovation, power and control and social identity are difficult to articulate and enumerate. Web 2.0 can induce a kind of decision-making agoraphobia not present in the closed lanes of enterprise resource planning or financial accounting. The intent of this section is to present ways of describing Web 2.0 technologies so that managers and potential users can conceptualise the different types of purposes to which the tools can be put and match these to their own needs and requirements.
First let us consider the concrete purposes to which Web 2.0 tools can be put. Establishing purpose is the key event in the life of a Web 2.0 tool. The domains of work within which Web 2.0 tools can be usefully applied are almost limitless, as are the ways in which they can be implemented and appropriated: health, road safety, education or environmental protection, while in private industry it might be banking, manufacturing, engineering or construction. Within all these domains there are activity types which can be supported by Web 2.0 tools.
Purposes like these reflect business objectives or ‘points of pain’ in performing work. A clear purpose will lead naturally to a value proposition which can be used to underpin a business case and give direction to implementation projects. We now apply the notion of space to specify more clearly the various purposes to which Web 2.0 components can be put. Space is ‘the material support of time-sharing social practices’ and is constituted by digital infrastructure, software function and the rules which determine the allowable actions that occur within it.3 A space is created to achieve the purpose of the productive activity that is to be accommodated within it.
A space is an area in which something happens, where an activity takes place. The space is clearly demarcated by a boundary which accommodates infrastructure, the functions and capabilities of Web 2.0 tools for example, and consists of flows of information and signals between the players.4 There are spaces where we advise people, where people collaborate or where we tell people exactly what to do. A Web 2.0 tool, like a wiki, might contain many spaces. A space might contain multiple sub-spaces. Each space can be understood as accommodating a kind of game with a more or less clear set of rules and a more or less clear set of players. Engagement with the software capabilities is guided by the game’s social institutions which define what is a good move, a bad move, an allowed move or a nonsensical move.5
These institutions vary from space to space and game to game. In a ‘procedure space’, the rules for discussing and authorising ways of working might be very formal, whereas the rules for a ‘personal space’ might be far more relaxed. Some of these institutions might be explicit and some implicit. Some institutions may function to prohibit or constrain the use of Web 2.0 tools for the conduct of games (the need for secrecy or fear of embarrassment). Some of the institutions are directly concerned with the exercise of power and coercion and may hinder voluntary contribution using Web 2.0 tools, irrespective of how functionally useful they are.
It is like a playing field for a particular game, which is defined by its regulations and some amount of semiotic infrastructure, such as white lines on the grass and some goalposts.6 The digital space of an empty wiki or blog has editing equipment and storage and tracking capabilities as infrastructure, but the various implementations of wikis and blogs constitute spaces made material in digital form (policies, categories, security restrictions, purpose) in which only certain games can be played. The game defines who the players are: so identified, the managers and users can determine the rules of engagement and institutions that a game in each particular type of space with particular flows will require.
A space is instantiated by flows of information through it: meanings and acceptability are given to these flows by the rules of the space as enacted by the players. To use Wikipedia to manage fixtures and communications for your Under 12 soccer club is not a permitted flow within this space, but an article about the history and background of the club is. Web 2.0 spaces generally have boundaries and infrastructure which are malleable and allow flows at different speeds and volumes. Contrast this with another example of an Internet space, that of a business-to-business e-commerce hub using Internet electronic data interchange (EDI): here highly structured data is exchanged between players in rigorously defined interactions. The game of EDI is highly constrained to a narrow corridor of usage.
The notion of spaces helps us to move from the open-ended set of possibilities inherent in Web 2.0 to effective implementation by providing a context, rules and expectations for the implementation of detailed functions. One can easily enumerate useful applications for specific tools, such as e-mail substitution or discussion threads, but a conceptualisation of the specific game is required to lay down the modes of conduct and interaction that go beyond simple policies for use. A space is the context, the flows are the movements of information and both together provide the meaning and purpose to which the tools can be applied. For managers, this may be a more acceptable and constrained method of ‘letting go’ and helps to articulate to them the specific benefits of using a wiki, blog or company Facebook in a certain way. For users, it provides an orientation for how to design the structure of their information and the necessary flows, without overly constraining them.7
The flows within spaces, which are constrained and facilitated by varying social institutions, make different contributions to the organisation. One cannot assume that benefits result automatically, as some institutions will inhibit action and behaviour in certain types of space. A collaboration space will be inhibited by fixed ideas about hierarchy and who is allowed to argue with the boss, and a ‘Britannica’ encyclopaedia space will be inhibited in organisations where knowledge is not valued but will be facilitated where truth is seen as absolute and stable. As shown in Figure 4.1, each space will have its own topology of institutions and norms, a kind of landscape of concepts and behaviour, which makes passage through it straightforward, challenging or doomed.
By conceptualising a space and its flows we can establish ground rules and management strategies for enhancing adoption and shaping expectations. Each space has a particular dynamic and set of outcomes and each space will vary in its interaction with the underlying social institutions, organisational memory, identity building, transactive memory, power and control. The examples of spaces in the following sections have evolved out of praxis and experience, and are usually generated by a situational need to frame the general type of activity that would take place using the Web 2.0 tools. It is up to organisations to clarify their own notion of space, but the following samples are a reasonable beginning and serve to illustrate the idea.
For example, a manager might articulate a problem or purpose to a Web 2.0 administrator thus: ‘A lot of our older personnel are retiring over the next two years: how can we use these tools to capture knowledge from these experienced personnel?’ Instead of moving straight to functional methods for capturing and uploading videos or blogging, the conversation should turn to the kind of space needed; in this case it would be a departure space, a place where people go once it is clear that they will be leaving the organisation. What kind of information would be the subject of this departure space and what flows would support information capture and usage? What kinds of Web 2.0 functions would work for these flows, and what sorts of resistance or challenges might one encounter? How should one behave vis-à-vis departing personnel? What can one expect from them and, in particular, is there an example of a departure space from somewhere else in the organisation – or from the Internet?
In summary, the idea of space gives most players an intuitive grasp of what the game is about: we can name collaboration spaces, innovation spaces, advisory spaces or personal spaces and the act of naming the space creates (but does not specify in excruciating detail) a whole landscape of what is allowed and what is not allowed, what is intended and what is relevant. More rules can emerge as the game progresses and players discover too much breakdown is occurring.
An encyclopaedia space is perhaps the best known instance of wiki use, although encyclopaedias meet with mixed success in the corporate world. This space works to facilitate the construction of web pages which reflect the knowledge of a discipline, practice or body of knowledge and is analogous to the paper- or CD-based encyclopaedias like Britannica (now mostly digital) or the German Brockhaus (now exclusively digital), a lexicon or a dictionary. An encyclopaedic page will be a coherent topic, with the title of the page generally reflecting the scope and the content. As a page grows through contributions (it may initially be an empty ‘stub’ reflecting only a need for a page) it may be divided into more detail, it may be melded with others or it may require a higher level page which provides contextual information.
Although providing a forum for the emergence of knowledge by public contribution, the tone of such a page will tend to be authoritative but not prescriptive. It will tend to reflect best knowledge at a point in time but may not make any exclusive claims. This is the nature of wiki encyclopaedias. In organisations, authors are often experts of which, by definition and resource constraint, there are few. However, their knowledge can be built upon, kept up to date and even corrected by others. There will generally be a high ratio of readers to editors, but this is to be expected and indeed welcomed, as it suggests a high leverage of knowledge by non-experts through greater diffusion and accessibility.
The pharmaceutical company Pfizer employs thousands of scientists and researchers who continually investigate new drug compounds and discover new treatments. But the distribution of scientists and the volumes of material generated make it difficult to build upon the work of others or avoid repeating work performed elsewhere in the organisation. In a bid to address this, a group of research scientists set up a server running Mediawiki, the open source wiki software which runs Wikipedia. In a low-key but steady process, scientists began to post their work on the wiki for others to make use of, forming a ‘Pfizerpedia’ of leading-edge chemical and pharmaceutical data (see Figure 4.2).8 Pfizerpedia now has over 2,500 contributors and over 5,000 content pages. In total, there have been over 11 million page views and approximately 100,000 page edits since it was set up.
Importantly, Pfizerpedia does not replace any document management systems within Pfizer but provides a way to easily link into them while maintaining the access controls to the primary, approved documents. This mode of knowledge sharing behaviour is typical of researchers in many scientific or academic domains, and also serves to establish the credit for who discovered something first.
Not all encyclopaedia spaces are about abstract or ‘discipline’ knowledge though: an Australian state government agency responsible for finances and budgets needed a better solution for updating and distribution of its procedures. PDF and MS-Word files were too cumbersome and information was difficult to find even when one found the right file on the local networked drive. The IT department mentioned the possibility of using the wiki contained within the free Microsoft Sharepoint product, and so a project was initiated to examine the feasibility of using this. It was very important that the procedures, while they should be available to all users and easy to find and update, should only be updated after review by the relevant manager.
The project was almost cancelled as it didn’t seem possible at first to guarantee this. Open update of the policies and procedures was viewed as unacceptable and mentioned by all stakeholders as the first objection to wikis. But a solution was found: the articles can be searched for and read by the whole organisation and anyone can make a proposal for a new article or a change to a procedure description within the wiki, but this first remains in a private wiki area. The proposal is then reviewed by the wiki administrator who checks that the relevant manager has endorsed the content and then moves it into the public wiki area. Now all procedures have been transferred to Sharepoint wiki articles.
This use of wiki software to manage procedures is encyclopaedic in nature. The knowledge in this encyclopaedia is proprietary and prescriptive, so must be controlled; at the same time it needs to be available to all staff within the corporate intranet, easy to find and use (with no or limited training required), and easy to improve organically (particularly without further IT intervention being necessary). The wiki meets all these criteria and the organisation is considering other applications in the future. Whether or not universal update will one day be allowed or adopted will depend upon not only the type of document but more decisively upon the organisation’s otherwise fairly conservative and careful culture and people’s willingness to put themselves ‘out there’ for possible embarrassment or critique.
It is illusory to think that all knowledge can be codified, or that even any significant proportion of what is known can be written down. Tacit knowledge is not only the overwhelming proportion of what is known, but the application of that knowledge via the human mind to problem situations allows problem contextualisation and the development of specific responses. An encyclopaedia can’t look at things another way in an instant, or ask the specific questions needed to clarify your question, match it to similar, previous experiences and develop a unique solution which defines and matches the salient characteristics. This will often happen in conversation, in a complex, interactive series of requests and responses, rather than as a piece of customised wisdom handed down from an expert. The quality of this interaction depends upon many factors, not the least of which might be personal chemistry, clarity of expression, patience, the motivation for an expert to help and their available time. But in order to make a start, you need to find the knower and ask the question. Web 2.0 can provide space for the location of advisors and the enactment of advice.
The most obvious Web 2.0 technology for giving advice is the personal blog: by giving experts the ability to blog their thoughts, thereby creating not only a source of knowledge but also the metadata to search upon to locate the knower, firms give them a persistent medium to advise others. Other staff can also ask questions and seek advice from the expert bloggers who have distinctive knowledge.
But the need for particular advice cannot always be anticipated and experts usually need to be found and asked specific questions. Expertise profiling is the construction of metadata describing the skills and experience of individual members in an organisation. People typically build up personal directories of who knows what and organisations will usually create a series of signs (such as job titles and department names) which guide access to knowledgeable people. However, the larger, more anonymous and dispersed an organisation, the more important networks based upon generally available directories become. The incidence of anonymity, specialisation and refinement of knowledge is likely to be higher, making it more difficult to make knowledge visible.
There are a number of possible approaches to providing expertise profiling, location and inter-personal networking (not the least of which is to arrange for people to meet and talk). First, one can provide a personal profile managed and fully customised by the user, with their preferences, links, group memberships, photo, interests, expertise, past projects and special skills (e.g. languages, specialised training) descriptions and so on. The most suitable and sophisticated tool is social networking software like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. All wiki products have a personal page to which one can add material and contact details. Wiki personal pages do not generally have group formation, friends’ lists or ‘where I am now’ type functions, but do have the advantage of being directly linked to any contributions made by a specific user.
There is a trace of who has made a particular change to a particular entry. This can be seen as a proxy for expertise and interest in the page topic. One can work out who has actively edited a particular article and sort these by the number or volume of contributions. This will allow others to find an ‘expert’.
There is tag metadata, which classifies a page as belonging to a certain category (which may be personally or organisationally standardised). Those who edit pages in the same (or related) categories might be characterised as a ‘community of practice’ and provide a ‘go to’ group for expertise.
There is Watchlist and RSS metadata, which records which users wish to be notified when a page changes. Those who watch the same page, or pages belonging to the same category, might be characterised as a kind of ‘community of interest’.
Thirdly, there is information about people embedded in many places in organisations. There are commercial products which can ‘crawl across’ all digital information, collect information about personnel from a variety of sources (HR, project documents, e-mails) and construct knowledge profiles based upon recurring and interconnected concepts. These can then be searched for or navigated through.
This metadata about individuals needs to be findable under a variety of circumstances. An enterprise search engine which has indexed documents, application databases and metadata can be used to locate specific instances of what I am looking for (e.g. I am looking for ‘safety engineering’ and find a document, a report and a person). Alternatively, because metadata has a far lower volume than object data, it can be visually scanned (as when one looks down a thesaurus or table of contents) or manually navigated, if the concepts are linked with each other. The enactment of advice happens subsequently within the threaded discussion pages of wikis and blog discussion groups or even Twitter.
A mining company conducting geophysical exploration in remote parts of the Australian outback was confronted with the problem of having to make decisions on the spot whether or not to survey and sample large areas of rugged land. A boom in the mining industry had meant that those in the field were relatively inexperienced and needed advice in order to avoid expensive and unnecessary sampling and measurement. Experts were not only scarce but the remoteness of the work meant that to send an expert on expedition put them out of reach of others who needed their advice. The firm implemented a mobile wiki system, in which the field workers could look up information about the area, read up on rules of thumb regarding approaches to and methods of surveying, and so on. If there was no relevant information, the field workers entered questions into wiki forums which triggered experts at the head office to consider and respond through the wiki. These responses were all tagged, classified and stored in wiki articles as part of the advice-giving process and so incurred no additional overhead in the response. However, mission-critical organisational memory was accumulated within the wiki for future use by other staff in other remote locations.
A group space emerges through a need to share information within or about a more or less persistent collection of people such as a department or a project. There are a variety of flows in such a space, but it is predominantly an information push application. In such a space one might publish information about what a group does, who is in it and how to contact them, what they are responsible for and how to use their services or access procedures relating to their services or such as records management, audit or quality assurance. It might also be a space to post information about group events, announcements affecting the group and so on.
Prior to Web 2.0, internal intranet websites were often created by groups or divisions to document their services, inform about themselves and declare procedures or rules of interaction and so on. Microsoft Sharepoint or a general purpose web content management system can be used to manage the group space. Web 2.0 tools supply similar services. A set of wiki pages can typically be used for these purposes but has the advantage of being immediately updateable and usually universally accessible within a corporate intranet. One often finds within a group someone responsible for information management and distribution. It might be the group’s administrator, for example, or a librarian or research assistant. It could be a project manager or a departmental head.
After initial establishment, the pulse of this information is fairly slow: it generally does not change very quickly but there is a background level of comings and goings, new events and so on. Many intranets have been done in a first flush of enthusiasm for telling the world about a group and their mission, vision and values but have withered on the vine. One reason is the difficulty of upgrading conventional intranets or the need for particular skills or intermediation by technical specialists. A more interesting reason is that the publication of this information does not assist one’s own productivity in a way which is measurable or, in other words, is not clearly defined as part of a job specification.
A global building conglomerate announced a strategic decision to adopt uniform use and principles in their SAP Enterprise Resource Planning system: instead of allowing local modifications and rules, all operational accounting principles would come from head office. They established a global project of technical managers, business managers and executives and a video was released by the chief accounting officer explaining the necessity for the project. From a standing start, a global project had to be structured and simultaneously proselytised. The enterprise wiki (available to all staff globally) was used to quickly establish a space for the group, and the space itself became a vehicle for the formation of the group, its personnel, contact details, roles and structure. A home page was established for the overall project, with key headings such as ‘Mission’, ‘Personnel’ and ‘Timeline’ and so on and the key players were invited to contribute material, questions and improvements. Some information, which was clearly indicated, could be edited by any visitor (all of whom were identified) but key documents and plans were kept in controlled document management systems. Managers directed their staff to the site for information. Several problems were identified in this way early in the project by other stakeholders who were not project members.
A collaboration space is one in which knowledge is created as part of the interaction between parties who share a common goal or who have a common interest. In such spaces, the rate of information flow and the need for signals are high. Several people work together in a collaboration space to achieve an intersection of common goals or something to a mutual advantage. The outcome of collaboration in the workplace is usually information or a decision. The participants in collaboration can be within the same organisation or organisational sub-group or from different organisations (possibly multiple different organisations). Collaboration requires flexible, integrated tools for conversing synchronously or asynchronously, sharing information and developing ideas and solutions within flexible but reliable security constraints.
Collaboration infrastructure must be open, inclusive, flexible, simple and self-organising, allowing the rapid formation, integration and dissolution of groups for large and small purposes. These groups must be able to build upon the knowledge of previous similar groups and leave their own contribution to organisational memory. Therefore there is also a requirement for persistence, structure and findability through search and navigation. The information collected will include decision, design or judgment outcomes, decision reasoning, challenges and traceability of participants. These tools have a strong social dimension and must support work at a rate and pulse which mirrors the natural ease of face-to-face conversation. They will also support the construction of a consistent organisational identity and set of values through micro-interactions.
In spite of pre-emptive and scheduled maintenance on large capital equipment, the maintenance and repair section of a large oil and gas organisation was occasionally confronted with major breakdowns. This equipment is extremely costly and every hour in which the machinery is inoperative means substantial losses. The organisation had a number of maintenance management applications (SAP’s Maintenance Manager, for example) which contained structured schedules, actions, machine drawings and so on, but post-event analysis was conducted in a sporadic way and the outcomes not used effectively for learning across the many locations where a particular type of machinery might be used.
The department introduced a process of systematic learning to try and learn from each breakdown and then share this across locations. The analysis of each maintenance event went through a set of standard questions about the event, the machine, the cause and the repair done, and it was decided to replicate this in a wiki. First, a set of linked categories (or tags) was set up in a wiki: a MACHINE has DESIGN PARAMETERS which lead to a MONITORING SCHEDULE. A MACHINE can be affected by a MAINTENANCE EVENT which has a CAUSE and a RESOLUTION. A wiki template was established which generated the pages for each category (linked to each other by hyperlink and placed in matching categories) for any new event. E-mail requests, containing links to the pages, were sent to participants to create collaborative answers to each question in the discussion forum associated with each page. From the discussion contributions, a consensual analysis was then created on each main wiki page. This created well-defined, encapsulated objects within the wiki. Pictures, videos and interviews with personnel involved in the event were uploaded into the matching page. Each page was automatically listed on a menu page and on the category listing page, and could also be found via search.
A learning space is one in which the primary activity of the user is one of deliberate and sustained information internalisation. This is to be distinguished from the activity of information retrieval for a specific and immediate purpose. Within a learning space then, information is provided generally to those requiring both instrumental and contextual knowledge: the why, how, where, when, what. A typical learning space might be for a new starter in a job or a graduate trainee, a position in which a large range of information and context must be absorbed and understood.
Modern digital learning environments such as SAP’s Knowledge Warehouse provide structured facilities for the storage and presentation of learning materials. In a time of ‘on-demand training’, classroom sessions become less viable: the workforce is mobile and transient and the subject matter highly variable, rapidly changing and often job-specific. Job roles are associated with a number of competencies and these are certified by the completion of specified courseware, which, being digital, can be called up at any time, from any location and which can independently manage and record the progress and performance of the student. The job roles are remunerated by course completion. Promotion, or even entry, to a job is determined through the profiles managed in human resource management software.
Online learning environments such as Blackboard or WebCT which are targeted at universities are ‘pure play’ examples of learning spaces. In these systems it is possible to present materials, form and manage study groups, conduct online tests and assignments, record and present marks and interact with students. Learning Objects Inc is the leading provider in this area and provides the Blackboard educational system with wiki’s, blogs and podcasts and the literature on the use of Web 2.0 training is extensive and advanced.
A clear distinction needs to be drawn between structured learning (which reflects a management need for control, measurement and labour management) and unstructured learning which is required to make sense of working environments, become a generally useful contributor and contextualise whatever structured learning materials or processes that are present. As a management imperative, structured learning environments have been established to mandate passage through levels of competency, tie these to remuneration, provide audit trails and ensure management is not exposed to accusations of inadequate oversight (for example for not educating staff in occupational health and safety). However, the unstructured sense-making which is required to accelerate structured learning is often not supported and the effect of this on learning effectiveness is generally not measured or appreciated. Further, the dynamics of modern business make just-in-time, socially based learning a more realistic option than rigorous instructional design.9
The knowledge transfer paradigm behind this is one of absorption rather than co-creation, handed down by experts, didactic and Cartesian, not constructionist and social. But while useful and probably necessary, this is partially the illusion of control and a useful myth to those who prepare reports using key performance indicators: true learning occurs within communities oriented towards the achievement of certain goals. ‘Even in the case of … tailors, where the relation of apprentice to master is specific and explicit, it is not this relationship, but rather the apprentice’s relations to other apprentices and even to other masters that organize opportunities to learn.’10 Educators realise that students who learn in groups are generally more motivated, better prepared and perform better than students who learn alone. Communities in which this learning occurs have certain characteristics which are not considered in and are perhaps antithetical to the structured approach: communities are social networks which are anti-hierarchical, self-selecting and boundary-spanning. The knowledge shared and created within them is tacit and considered more valuable than the explicit ‘knowledge’ delivered in mere courses. Any system of learning which ignores such communities is missing the point (which is not to say that communities won’t form, only that they are doing so in spite of the learning machinery, not because of it).
Therefore a key potential application of Web 2.0 tools is to support the interactive, co-creating, constructivist view of learning by giving opportunities for peer-peer learning support, as well as intervention by experts and mentors when required to offer advice. Seely Brown goes so far as to call this ‘Learning 2.0’, borrowing heavily from the tools and metaphors of Web 2.0.11
A second key role of wikis and blogs is of course the presentation of content, both specific and contextual: other spaces (such as the encyclopaedia space, the group space, the personal space) provide a (variably) coherent source of background information for the overall firm, the specific department in which new starters find themselves, the task one is expected to do, the tasks with which a task interacts (sales produces orders for the manufacturing group …), methods of managing quality, safety and innovation and so on. Individuals often have personal learning preferences: some prefer to read, others to listen, others to watch. Because Web 2.0 tools can accommodate any form of data (video, audio, text, image), they are able to cater to these preferences in regard to speed, repetition and presentation medium.
A third role of wikis in particular is to link to other sources of information beyond the Web 2.0 suites. It is a simple exercise to create a wiki page which contains background information and links specifically for new starting engineers or scientists or electricians and links to procedures, drawings, maps or data stored in other systems.
One of the challenges of establishing a Web 2.0 space such as a wiki is to reduce the barriers to participation to almost zero. The first barrier is that of knowledge of the tool itself: the capabilities of immediate editing, tagging, RSS, linking pages and the page history and so on. A second barrier is to clarify the purpose of the tool itself: what it is good for, how to use it and how not to use it. This training needs to be available at all times, to all participants in all places.
A division of a company that had implemented a division-wide wiki was confronted with this problem, so the wiki administrator created a learning space for the wiki itself. This ‘Tutorial Space’ consisted of areas on how to use the wiki editor, how to create pages from a set of templates, how to use categories and how to upload and link files and pages. All these were captured as dynamic screen narrations using the (free) Microsoft Media Encoder product. The second key challenge was to demonstrate what a wiki could be used for. The notion of spaces was used: group, encyclopaedia, learning and collaboration were listed as the possibilities and explained using a narrated PowerPoint presentation which included screen shots. There were also links to operational spaces within the wiki which exemplified the characteristics of the space type. A page was set up for suggestions for improvement, discussions, and frequently asked questions (FAQs), which were subscribed to and managed by the wiki administrator. As the wiki administrator said: ‘After this learning space was set up, the Wiki was – almost – on auto pilot.’
Interaction between organisations has increased as fragmentation of value chains and the reduction of transaction costs open up opportunities for outsourcing or partnering. The spaces within which such interactions take place span a wide spectrum from the highly structured and automated to the discursive and innovative. E-marketplaces, for example, are digital transaction spaces where a firm can reverse-auction an order for nails, gear boxes or paper according to specifications and wait on the most favourable offer to be made. When a relationship is established, the firm’s ERP suite will automatically order, reconcile and pay for the items. This ghostly, anonymous, semi-autonomous, data-driven and highly structured process is complemented by Web 2.0 software which stands at the opposite end of the automation spectrum: it is personal, unstructured, spontaneous and emergent. The advantage of such software in building partner spaces is for significantly improved collaboration and communication on significant projects, contract handover and maintenance.
Many business processes are not structured or are, at best, semi-structured. In particular knowledge work is non-routine, non-repetitive and has no clear relationships between the volume of inputs and outputs. There is no easy way to measure either productivity or quality, which has led many to the conclusion that the best way to manage knowledge worker productivity is to enhance motivation and commitment: knowledge work is a volunteer, not command and control, activity. Many companies outsource knowledge work to the degree that it does not represent a core competency or where the expertise elsewhere is better than that found in-house. Depending upon the product, I may decide to do my engineering in Germany and my necktie design in Italy as these represent the best expertise available. Business partnerships will form virtual teams of their best experts who work together to develop a new product or a solution to a project requirement.
The space within which business partners interact can be characterised in many ways: it can have collaborative, group or advisory space functions, but it is governed by institutions which make the flows expected of and by participants different to those of intra-organisational interactions. While flows in partner spaces may be friendly or familiar, they differ in the important aspect of being between different legal entities. The threat within partner spaces is that important distinctions between client and vendor become blurred, behaviour becomes overly familiar, and classified information is shared and leaks out of the organisation. There is a need to maintain ownership of intellectual property, to be wary of making legally binding commitments and to not give away confidential information about profit margins in a contract, internal financial positions or worries about competitors. Therefore participants need to be guided in understanding the nature of the flows of information: that perhaps approval is needed before information is volunteered, instructions given or commitments made. It is nevertheless likely that this panoptical, permanent visibility of exchange serves to restrain foolish remarks more than e-mail.
A social space is one in which the underlying reason for the use of the space and the infrastructure is social rather than instrumental interaction, where a question asked or a detail given is for a personal reason rather than a business one. It is where the weekend football is discussed, the office party or upcoming holidays are planned and even marital or child-raising issues canvassed. This is not to be confused with business events which are socially pleasant (such as a collegial inventory or design meeting), are the social consequences of business events (such as self-esteem or realisation in a job well done) or are sociological by-products (such as changes in pecking order or work relationships) of business conversations. A social space is delineated for social purposes and represents one of the great fears of management: excessive personal use of company time and resource.
The importance of these interactions varies between individuals, organisations, industry types and national cultures: group theory has told us that affective engagement is critical in securing organisational commitment and positive organisational behaviour. So a space which provides a forum for the enactment of a felt and socially appropriate need would seem to be a useful addition to the water cooler. The use of social networking software to conduct such interactions is associated with some generational characteristics as well.
The rate of use of such a space in a work context will vary: it may be in bursts, when particular events occur (either in the private or organisational sphere) which one may wish to discuss intensively when they occur. Or there may be a perpetual level of chatter (Twitter …), as identity externalisation behaviour starts to move to the digital medium. There is of course a concern that staff waste time on trivia and non-business-related activities; however, staff are embedded in a social context of organisational belonging.
Beyond the firewall there are risks in allowing the use of social networking services (such as Facebook or Second Life). Social groups or individuals may appear to represent the company in an official capacity and do so inappropriately or inadvertently disclose information. On the upside, these are growing forums for corporate self-presentation in a ‘cool’ and contemporary environment.
One subset of social space is the area of maintaining professional links and networks with peers and colleagues beyond the organisation. One might be a member of the Project Management Institute, a university’s scientific forum or the network of Chartered Practising Accountants. Not to be seen purely as instrumental and utilitarian, these social spaces are forums for the enactment of the professional self, one dimension of social identity which is a critical motivating factor in the business world.
Viewed from the perspective of control, professional groups maintain professional standards which enable them to fulfil comparable duties across different organisations. Professions among knowledge workers can be seen to provide self-imposed surveillance of norms of productivity and aspiration. A profession constitutes an internalised panopticon, by which members of organisations watch themselves for indications of deviance or under-performance and hold themselves accountable to the values generated and maintained by organisations and professions which have evolved to provide intellectual muscle. These institutions are reinforced within social-professional spaces.
Standard attrition rates in organisations can be anything from 5 to 20 per cent, and will be exacerbated by the expected departure of longserving baby boomers, leading to lost productivity, increased downtime, repeated mistakes and relearned lessons. Some proportion or aspect of tacit knowledge stored in the heads of experienced staff needs to be captured, structured and made readily available to others. This will not only mitigate some of the loss of expertise, but will facilitate greater leverage of the knowledge existing within experienced staff. The use of departure spaces for knowledge capture can be triggered by identifiable events, such as retirement, internal transfer, promotion or resignation.
A departure space is specially constructed to capture wisdom, insight and possibly even a sense of history of the firm. Thought needs to be given to the most effective way to do this, both in the capture and the presentation of the material. Wikis provide ideal departure spaces. Knowledge can be captured and loaded in video and audio format using well-structured interviews and conversations as a means to uncover interesting material: this allows the knower to expand upon a topic, tell a story and illustrate with examples at a low personal cost. They should not need to write or prepare anything – the material might be verbal. In this, the effort for the firm is a little higher than the incidental contribution normally expected of wikis as part of workflow, but the knowledge is deep and worthy of respect: this should be demonstrated.
Blogs are also ideal infrastructure for departure spaces and will suit people who choose to share, who are comfortable with these modes and mechanics of communication and will take the effort to do so. It may be more likely that departing staff (especially long-serving employees) are willing to share their knowledge but will not learn or use a technology which requires them to make a substantial effort. Then the structured, recorded interview technique is preferable.
An occupational health and safety consulting company was worried that during the boom years of 2007–8, it was losing too many experienced old-timers. The company was very lean, with little or no redundancy or backup in any of its key positions. An enterprise wiki already existed, so it was decided to use a knowledge capture methodology to interview and transcribe job descriptions, roles and insight about a job into wiki pages. A standard set of questions was developed for any exit interview. The recording of responses was done via video recording, transcribed into text and then loaded to a set of wiki templates specifically set up for job positions. In this way, a history of incumbency was developed, a richer picture of the job was put together than is possible in a formal job description, and the in-flight projects and tasks at the time of handover were described for the new person. In a similar vein, a senior geologist at a large mining company resigned quite suddenly for reasons of ill health. He had been instrumental in surveying, assessing and developing mining plans for a large mine and so was interviewed about the mine history and the mining plans based upon the geology. The reasons for the layout of the mine, the sequence of mining and the particularities of the ore were explained on video and loaded to the enterprise wiki. This was important knowledge which was not captured in any accessible documents. Viewing this video became part of the induction process for young geologists sent to the mine.
Another nice example comes from the electricity sector in Australia, which creates high-value, long-lived physical assets. The manager of the substation design division implemented an online wiki forum and established user accounts and Internet connections for retiring engineers. Through the wiki, the engineers were notified about questions pertaining to older substations. When one substation began to subside, it was a retired engineer who could inform the utility through the wiki that a rubbish dump near the site had probably compressed, causing shifts in the earth. Another one was able to tell the younger engineers that the obscure dimensions were due to the fact that the station was built in a time when yards, not metres, were still being used.
While formal, packaged training delivers structured and relevant information, pedagogical theory and research into situated learning recognise the importance of sense-making in enhancing and accelerating learning for new arrivals in organisations. Sense-making is the process of developing a hypothesis or model of elements of which one is aware in the environment in order to render them intelligible. Socialisation is the process of identifying and internalising the prevailing norms and institutions. The knowledge required for making sense of an environment is often most invisible to those already within that environment. Large organisations often have their own acronyms, their own vocabularies, idiosyncratic processes, mission statements and histories, not to mention tacit norms and ways of going about things. In complex environments, such as large organisations, sense-making is achieved through the reduction of ambiguity and uncertainty. The formal learning which is often used as a proxy for induction is slower and less effective if there is high environmental uncertainty or causal ambiguity (the reasons why certain things are done in a certain way).
Sense-making is particularly important for new entrants into an organisation or department. Therefore designers of induction programmes need to locate new learners in a context which reduces uncertainty and ambiguity through providing an informational and social context. This leads new learners to clarity and good decisions. Systems supporting this might provide links to e-learning courses, procedures and process maps, forums for discussion with peers, directories for locating and asking mentors and experts, glossaries and so on.
Web 2.0 technology is ideal for this at several levels. The learning and ‘sense-making’ space can be built very rapidly and naturally through information integration augmented with specific information for a particular role rather than through the construction of new pages especially for that area. While there may be formal learning management systems and standardised content provision, a wiki page may be ideal as the new learners’ starting point, with links to other systems and other knowledge (i.e. wiki) pages which contain existing contextualising information, background articles, FAQs and so on. The directory information (who writes which article) is explicitly tracked in wikis and provides expertise and personnel location systems. Forum management can be set up for questions and answers to experts and other new starters (e.g. wiki talk pages, blog comment pages) and new starters can subscribe to feeds of new courses, events and so on through wiki watchlists and RSS. The ontology of linked categories reveals the very conceptual skeleton of the organisation onto which specific events are grafted.
The finance department of a large organisation engaged a web programmer to develop a series of induction pages for new starters in the accounting, finance and marketing branch. The programmer spent several months exploring the available company information, designing and reviewing web pages with users, and then making the pages available to users. The programmer also received a maintenance contract to update the pages as information changed. The wiki administrator at the same organisation was asked by one group engaged in scientific analysis to help design an induction site for the 20 new hires they engaged each year. He happened to look over the shoulder of the young programmer, who gave him the web links to the finance induction site, some of which were general purpose. Within two hours, the wiki administrator had set up the framework for an induction space for young scientists: he had established links to human resource pages for employees, conditions of employment, various forms, links to safety guidelines and procedures and how to get IT support. Links to company-wide material such as the annual reports, business overview, mission and values were included, and some organisational videos were uploaded and made available (they were not available on the intranet). Links to pages specifically for help with scientific matters and contact with experts were also included, as well as an FAQ and ‘apprentice forum’. Links were also established to some of the finance pages. No further maintenance or help was required – the users and young starters did it themselves.
If an activity has the word ‘programme’ in it, then it is probably a candidate for Web 2.0 style applications. A programme is usually a set of related measures or activities with a long-term aim in contrast to a process which is a set of work routines directed towards a specific and more immediate outcome. In business organisations, programmes often involve regular but not highly structured interactive communication with a wide range of stakeholders. It is likely that several sub-spaces will be utilised within a programme space:
A health programme which encourages employees to cycle to work, exercise regularly or eat a healthy diet will typically provide advice, seminars and classes and organise health events for which registration is important. Access to this information must be universal, though at the same time one should avoid e-mail spamming the entire organisation with event information which is of interest to only 20 per cent. Blogs offer an excellent way to do this. They can be made attractive and interesting, they are under the control of the health programme coordinator and require no particular technical skills to set up. Interested staff can subscribe to the blog, can feed back comments and raise issues or questions. They can register for health events via the blog, their name and contact details being automatically left in a return form via their user ID. One can make simple forms in blogs for demographic information which might determine the level of event in which they participate.
A business excellence programme, or a continuous learning programme, involves learning from experience, the application of methods to generate new insights into experience and the propagation of ‘best practices’ throughout an organisation. A six sigma programme, for example, might have wiki pages devoted to sharing the notion of measurable improvement, links to procedures and tools, training materials and media files with testimonials, and blogs by organisational experts. On completion of projects (after which people are often dispersed) post-project reviews may be initiated and conducted using a collaborative wiki forum. The results might be posted using a wiki template which generates a tagged page of key lessons learned.
Functionally then, the technology meets a perceived need. It is open and flexible and has the ability to be adapted to these requirements. Almost as important are the non-functional requirements: the technology can be understood, established and managed by someone non-technical. There are no web development tools to be mastered. Further, there is no need to seek services such as site set-up or security administration from the IT department, which incurs costs and takes time. Finally, everyone in the organisation will have immediate access.
A large resource development company ran a number of programmes for employee well-being, health and safety. Communications with staff took place via e-mail containing attachments and links, but in order to avoid ‘corporate spamming’ the e-mail policy restricted the amount of e-mail they could send. The programme personnel, consisting of health professionals and social scientists, cared deeply about their mission and the organisation’s members, and were frustrated at their inability to reach and interact with the staff. When a corporate wiki became available, the staff enthusiastically adopted it as a programme space: from their own health programme home page, they were able to create pages for new events, a photo album of events, and a page for health tips and linking to interesting articles, diets and health activities (hiking areas, bicycle rides and so on). General staff members could place suggestions and questions about health matters or simply find out who to contact privately if they needed to. Staff could subscribe to an announcements page on health matters using their RSS readers.
A personal space is one which is available to an individual to shape, fill and use according to their need but also their taste. Some of this need may be associated with a job role, for example links to applications or information which is used often by the warehouse attendants or accounts clerks. Some might be taste: reshaping the sequence of applications on the screen, changing the default screen background and so on. A personal space would also allow one to have quick personal links for personal purposes – to allow personal banking, or links to newspapers for example – and perhaps even place personal advertisements – the sale of a bicycle or the availability of birthday cake in the staff room. But to be a personal space, it must also provide the capability for self-disclosure or externalisation of information decided upon by the individual: ‘this is the sort of person I am, this is what interests me, and these are my beliefs’.
Such spaces exist most decisively within social networking software, whose very purpose is predicated upon the proposition of the importance of self. Wikis also provide a more modest personal page, which can be completely structured according to one’s preferences, with the bonus of being linked to by any wiki page where one has made a contribution.
Personal spaces using Web 2.0 tools overlap partially with corporate portal software in which people are allocated a role that defines a screen interface, providing relevant applications by default, standardising the look and feel of the information environment and accelerating learning and sense-making. These portals generally also have segments which allow a user to customise according to their own job peculiarities or preferences. However, although this is described as personalisation, this is only to the extent that the individual has been ‘depersonalised’ by the standardisation of their needs into a business role.
There are many managerial and social institutions which complicate the definition and successful adoption of personal spaces. Many managers feel this kind of thing has no place in an organisation and is a trivial diversion, and many workers will feel they have no desire to reveal anything about themselves in an environment that they view as adversarial or quite separate from their personal lives. But as we see on the Internet, and in some firms, the evidence of generational change is substantial, even though this may not translate to an organisational context.
Innovation within business describes the generation and institutionalisation of both radical and incremental improvements to products, services and processes. The degree of innovation required in a firm varies from industry to industry, but generally globalisation, technology and new forms of organising have led to relentless hyper-competition and assertive customers who demand personalised yet cheaper products in increasingly short cycle times. To achieve this, both radical and incremental process innovations are important in order to generate and then diffuse improvements. Companies need of course to ascertain the degree and type of innovation they require.
However, an isolated innovation, while useful, is a lost opportunity. The diffusion of innovation is critical to translating ideas and localised improvements to new products, services and generalised business processes. According to Rogers, the seminal writer on diffusion of innovations, this typically requires five stages: gaining knowledge of the innovation, persuasion of its usefulness, deciding to adopt the innovation, its implementation and confirmation of success.12 Five factors typically affect the rate of adoption of an innovation: perceived advantage, compatibility with current systems, trialability of the innovation, complexity and the observability of the benefits. Transfer of innovation also depends upon the absorptive capacity of the potential adopter, which is a function of the adopter’s prior related knowledge, workload and understanding of the reasons for the innovation.
Innovation is therefore supported in a number of ways by a cross section of Web 2.0 technologies. Wiki collaboration spaces and blogs support idea capture, evaluation, progression and portfolio management (idea management). Wiki partner spaces support co-creation with customers and partners in cross-functional idea exchanges. Wiki collaboration spaces support the collaboration between developers of innovative services (new product/service development). Wiki group spaces support the diffusion of the innovation throughout the organisation by providing low-threshold publishing of the advantages of the innovation to persuade of its usefulness, by publishing implementation methods and expertise, by reducing complexity through information sharing and by sharing stories and audio-video about the success. Wikis and blogs can consolidate and publish measures and statistics of improvement and anecdotal feedback about the innovation. The transactive memory systems within Web 2.0 (blogs and wiki contributions) can be used to locate and involve innovative thinkers.
The school of management within a business university decided at a strategic planning session that it needed to improve its research output. Teaching was working well at the time but the level of journal publication was low compared to other universities in the sector. This implied that the teaching was in danger of becoming staid and conventional. One group of academics decided to create a more innovative dynamic by instigating a research cluster in their discipline of human resources. The trouble was that it would result in the same people just looking at each other over the staffroom coffee table: to become innovative demanded new ways of thinking and new relationships. So the group established a Google site, which they opened to the world after initial construction. They began by developing some high-level headings such as ‘Publications’, ‘Ideas’ and ‘Discussion’ and placed their personal information there.
Some of this required them to overcome a natural fear of sharing, because for academics, ideas and insights are their personal competitive advantage. They sent links to the site to their colleagues at other universities who began to contribute their own suggestions and ideas. One sub-group of academics had the idea of writing an article within the innovation space to which others were also able to contribute. The result was a space which led to radically new ways of developing ideas, gained new inputs and ideas and accelerated the innovation trajectory of the human resource discipline within the university.
It is possible to use Web 2.0 tools to support routine, predefined workflow, not just ad hoc, unstructured knowledge development and exchange. Technology support for workflow is usually associated with database applications, which use structured data to manage the progress of information through the value chain. For example, a sales order might be captured in a software system with all relevant data such as the customer details, the products ordered, delivery requirements and billing arrangements. The sales order information will be updated as the order moves through different statuses such as being accepted, credit checked, products reserved, products sent, products delivered, products returned or partially delivered, invoicing and payment. This space of work is generally routine and measurable and the data elements precise and clearly defined. There are also work products which manage the movement of unstructured information between knowledge workers. Typically this might include reports, proposals or policies which move from statuses such as in edit, under review, submitted for approval and approved for publication.
Decisions to use Web 2.0 tools for workflow should be taken carefully. Although it is clearly possible to predefine and then implement structured data fields within a wiki or blog, or predefine document statuses and notifications that a document requires attention, this moves the undertaking into the realm of standard applications development and diminishes the degree of personal control and self-organising which is typical of – indeed the defining and attractive element of – Web 2.0. There are risks at several levels. There are technical risks, in that Web 2.0 products which implement technologies to structure data and automate processes are more likely to be immature and have gaps than historically proven solutions such as a database management system or a document management system. There may be user acceptance issues: Web 2.0 systems which are structured and predefined are more like standard applications and may be rejected or not fit the business well enough. There are strategic issues: if a structured workflow is implemented, any strategic move towards agility or self-organising within an organisation or with partners may be thwarted.
One final argument against workflow spaces worth mentioning is that if users are confronted with a predefined workflow system that will constrain independent thinking and innovation, then they will generally perceive the system in that way. All the liberating, interactive and community-oriented capabilities of the software will cease to be salient because the tools will be perceived as incorporating a system of management control rather than one of self-organisation.
Nevertheless, workflow space may be appropriate in some instances. Mediawiki, for example, offers the ability to define data fields within a wiki page using or writing PHP extensions. The Watchlist function will allow a person to ensure notifications are sent to required participants. But most likely a wiki or blog is not the right tool to manage workflow. Take the case of a group responsible for multinational marketing operations and contracts negotiations. With marketing staff in Singapore, Hong Kong, New York and Hamburg, these staff managed contracts, delivery schedules, technical projects to test deliverables and customer relationships using telephones and e-mail. Although they dealt with the same client in different countries, staff in Singapore and Hamburg did not know what each other was doing. The group was too small to justify use of a customer relationship management system, but a better solution was needed than e-mail.
A process analysis was done by a consultant using a wiki as the information-sharing base: the key processes were to record and monitor contracts, to record and monitor contacts with clients, and to follow up and record technical projects which were agreed with the clients to examine the quality of the delivered products. Templates were set up to provide pre-structured empty wiki pages for filling out when a new customer, contract or project was added. Using a wiki as a service from a provider such as Google or Socialtext would solve the key problem of immediate information sharing and universality of access.
From the process perspective, the wiki could supply all functions of information edit, tracking, confidentiality, upload of images and so on. But there was a requirement for what was essentially a data structure: as contracts approached renewal, notifications had to be sent to the participants to remind them to follow up with the client and pursue new contracts. This meant that in some cases, information had to be processed at the field level: the wiki technology (at the time) was unable to do this. And in fact, it was decided not to use the wiki after all: the particular ‘reminder’ function could not be supported and, in general, it was decided that data was not to be managed within wikis because of the need to apply data management disciplines and oversight within the context of the overall systems architecture.
The spaces established for direct interaction with organisational customers provide a clear case study of the hazards and uncertainties of Web 2.0. These customer spaces will be messy, difficult to regulate and confusing, so it is very important to establish a clear purpose and rules for the space. Is the purpose to conduct co-design of products or discuss product problems? What are the boundaries of the space and what constitutes the rules of play? How do we send someone off? Do we allow any users or only registered customers to play?
If a truly collaborative and creative ambience is to be set up, maintained and taken seriously a company has to take risks. One cannot anticipate what might be said by customers. So responsiveness and the management of the knowledge transformation processes become critical as do the establishment and monitoring of the institutions which form the landscape within the space. Management attention needs to focus on certain institutions: respect for the customer’s ideas and opinion, transparency in responses, fast turnaround and high performance, for example.
The cost of establishing customer spaces may be quite high, but one needs to consider the cost of not adopting them. The relentless appearance of consumer and opinion blogs means that there is an occupation of any company’s Web 2.0 territory anyway, with the potential to hijack the agenda – and the brand. A well-managed, responsive Web 2.0 customer space is a start.13
Microsoft has enjoyed greater success with customer-facing employee blogs than many other leading technology providers. There is a story of how a customer, Ken Dyck, noticed a spelling mistake in a Windows function. Finding it too difficult to go through the process of formally registering the problem, he placed it on his own blog. A Microsoft engineer picked it up and the issue was taken into the Microsoft review process. From within the firm, Microsoft now has dozens of customer-facing blogs run by its own employees, which can be viewed and commented on by the public (as shown in Figure 4.3).
Figure 4.3 The Microsoft blog portal – a customer space Source: http://www.microsoft.com/communities/blogs/PortalHome.mspx
From a firm that has been notorious for operating behind closed doors, Microsoft has evolved towards the benefits of providing and monitoring blogs to reduce mistrust and increase transparency and satisfaction. As George Pulikkathara, a marketing manager at Microsoft, said: ‘If Microsoft does not monitor such issues on blogs and forums they lose both the customer and maybe leave some negative PR on the web forever.’ Interestingly, this creation of spaces to interact with customers has largely taken place without a unified management strategy in place. There appear to be many schools of thought within the firm, from dread of potential legal consequences to excited anticipation. Pulikkathara also says:
… many people at Microsoft recognize that they are in business to serve their customers, and they see that blogs are helping to connect their product teams to customers directly. Effectively blogs are helping Microsoft to redefine their approach to ‘customer focus’ through one-on-one interaction with customers.
Not so long ago employees were not encouraged to give out such information, management thinking was that customers should go through the existing channels, plus any value provided by an individual employee should accrue to the company rather than an individual. Blogs are helping employees break out of this large company mentality to help Microsoft become more customer focused.14
An excellent example of the establishment of customer space is the way GlaxoSmithKline managed consumer uncertainty about the side effects of its weight-loss drug Alli. It set up the myalli.com community (http://community.myalli.com/) which now has over 300,000 members contributing to forums and blogs and which allows the company to provide product information, encourage mutual support and information exchange between customers (such as the formation of weight-loss groups) and above all address concerns in a completely open and transparent way. This has transformed a potential public relations disaster into a thriving marketing campaign.
There are many purposes to which wikis, blogs, social networking and so on can be put. These systems are open, flexible and configurable and therein are concealed great opportunities but also a real problem: how are decision-makers to conceptualise what these tools are good for and ensure they work towards improving outcomes for the firm? In order to frame the toolset we need to first understand the general purpose of the activity and the nature of the interactions which contribute to the purpose. We can then clarify the type of space which is required (is it collaboration? is it publication? is it partnering?) as well as its boundaries. We need to understand the type of knowledge that is to be captured and shared and the flows within the space which contribute to this. The nature of the firm and its various group subcultures will reveal institutions which define the permissible way the flows can move. But unlike structured applications, we need to ‘let go’ at a far earlier point: we cannot specify in advance what the users will decide is important or what they will choose to say.
Figure 4.4, which demonstrates how these elements hang together, consists of the following elements:
social identity which binds participants in the space into groups and which provides a specific set of institutions which guide their use of the functional infrastructure and their creation of information.
Many spaces might be situational and simple: one might only need to establish a single space with a single purpose and a uniform mode of interaction to achieve whatever purpose one has in mind. But a purpose might require multiple different forms of space to achieve its objectives. The Web 2.0 space which emerges to serve this purpose might be complex, have different sub-purposes and activities and so require different forms of sub-space. A space therefore can also consist of other spaces. Each sub-space can be clearly articulated as being served by the components in Figure 4.4: each sub-space might have a different set of flows, functions, information objects, institutions and power relations depending upon the purpose of the sub-space and how it contributes to the purpose of the space of which it is a part.
Take, for example, a large project run by an engineering consulting firm which has an expected duration of a year or more, several engineers assigned to work on it, an audience of interested people (the public and the government) and a set of suppliers. The overall space will be the project space, the purpose of which is to manage information and communications which are needed to complete the project in a timely manner to the satisfaction of the stakeholders. This space is instantiated within company-internal wiki software and consists of a main wiki page containing the project mission and overview and links to the key project sub-spaces: this instantiates the sub-space relationship to the main project space. Tags are established for each sub-space type and pages are tagged with at least the sub-space type. This enables all pages belonging to a space to be identified. The sub-spaces are instantiated in a variety of software products, some of which may not be Web 2.0 tools.
In Figure 4.5 we see how a variety of sub-spaces might be linked within an overall project space.
A group space – here the cornerstone information about the project is kept: the project plan, the key documentation, the procedures, information about the project members, their role in the project, their tasks and assignments and so on. This information is kept within wiki pages.
A workflow space – here the information will be created and itemised which is part of routine engineering and design work. This information must be version-controlled, approved and protected. Only project team members can access or change this. The workflow space is a Lotus Notes area, but the engineering designs are created in CAD packages and stored in a content management system. The workflow space contains information about each design and its status, requests for review and links to the object in the content management system.
A personal space – this space will probably be outside of the project space. Each project member owns their own personal space, where they manage their personal networks, their personal skills and preference profiles and maybe advertise their mountain bike or the book they are reading. This is managed using WorkBook, the enterprise social networking software.
A customer space – the public are the ‘customers’ of this project and there is a space for them to ask questions and contribute their concerns and support for the project. This, while open and honest, is managed carefully by the public relations department only. Engineers are not permitted to comment. It is run as a blog on Bloglines, external to the company’s system.
A partner space – a space is set up to manage communications with each partner. Only supervisors within the project are allowed to use this, as the communication is restricted to commercial dealings and deliveries. The history of relationships with suppliers is adversarial and hence very formal.
A collaboration space – the engineers within the project need to discuss requirements and design concepts, as well as ask for help regarding materials and structures. This collaboration space is intended for engineers only and is instantiated as a project-specific e-forum.
An encyclopaedia space – the project is a major learning opportunity for the company. As new solutions are created, proposed entries are created in the organisation’s encyclopaedia space which are then reviewed and edited by enterprise experts and patrolled by the librarian and for which employees are rewarded for contributing. The encyclopaedia is stored on the corporate enterprise wiki beyond the project space.
While an information system to manage project information communications can be established using a commercial content management system and use ‘standard’ information and web design principles, the notion of space offered here has some advantages, especially in complex cases. The notion of space involves defining a purpose and the drawing of clear boundaries of flow and participation. The information to be created and used is itemised and the flows which contribute to achieving the purpose of the space can be articulated: it is not just a matter of sitting around at the design meeting asking what else can we put in here … where can we put this?
The identification of information objects and purposeful flows leads to an articulation of the technology functions which create that kind of information and support those kinds of flows. In some cases, the information flows can be managed using wikis, blogs, social networking software, tags and ratings, but in other cases special software might be needed: this can be linked to from within the Web 2.0 technologies. Finally, it allows the expression of the norms and behaviour required and expected of participants in that space, as well as an analysis of whether the social and power institutions will actually support conformational and productive contribution.
One can almost paraphrase the cyclist Lance Armstrong at this point: ‘Web 2.0 – it’s not about the technology.’ It is about understanding the information behaviour of people within the workplace. This behaviour is guided by capabilities, intentions and institutions which constitute the infrastructure of specific contexts or spaces. Having established a view of Web 2.0 spaces and flows which encompass work effectiveness, software function, information flow and the institutions which guide information behaviour, in the following two chapters we will drill more deeply and see how to translate this into implementation.
The next chapter takes from the space diagram in Figure 4.4 the constructs of information and functionality to describe a method of designing and establishing spaces which will provide a tool which is ready at hand and which will contribute to getting work done. Within a wiki, a blog or a social network site, using text editing, video upload, tagging, templates, RSS and semantic web principles, a system which is ‘fit for purpose’ can be designed and made available. But this is not enough: the road to technology adoption hell is strewn with tools that are ‘fit for purpose’. Somehow people in the workplace must take this tool in hand, as individuals, as workgroups and indeed as entire organisations, and actually start to use the tool in a sustainable way. So we then move to explaining how understanding the other elements in the space (social institutions, power and social identity) can help to manage and steer us towards more successful adoption and use of social software.
2.An American Institute of Information Management survey (AIIM – The ECM Association, 2008) found that 70 per cent of businesses required a firm business case for Web 2.0 tools, of whom 77 per cent were unable to find an acceptable level of return.
4.The notions of spaces and flows are taken from Castells (2000). His focus is on the global component of space and the agglomerations of competencies that evolve to optimise global production. I have adapted this to the local context within firms. For Castells, ‘Space is the expression of society … the material support of time-sharing social practices … the space of flows is the material organization of time-sharing social practices that work through flows.’ For him, there are three layers: ‘The first layer, the first material support of the space of flows, is actually constituted by a circuit of electronic exchanges … The second layer of the space of flows is constituted by its nodes and hubs … The third important layer of the space refers to the spatial organization of the dominant, managerial elites (rather than classes) that exercise the directional functions around which such space is articulated’ (pp. 441 ff.). The growing global influence of Web 2.0 tools could very usefully be analysed within this framework.
6.Wittgenstein’s (1958) notion of the language game is decisive in formulating the space as hosting a kind of game, and I use it because it is so intuitive and easily understood. Although he expressed it cryptically himself, a language game is a set of rule-based communicative interactions which can take place within a form of life. A form of life is ‘the system of reference by means of which we interpret an unknown language’. The term ‘language game’ ‘is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life’ (p. 23), so a language game defines the allowable moves, what can be said and what nonsense is within the form of life. ‘In the practice of the use of language, one party calls out the words, the other acts on them … I will call these games “language games” … I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven, the “language game”’ (p. 7). A language game constitutes one set of moves one can make, although not all moves in a form of life are to do with language. The meaning of objects is their use in language games: the scope and purpose of the game, that is the space within which they are conducted, are therefore what give the equipment, moves and skills of the game their meaning and gives us, as players, the motivation and capability to play. ‘We remain unconscious of the prodigious diversity of all the everyday language games because the clothing of our language makes everything alike’ (p. 224).
7.In one wiki study, Kosonen and Kianto (2009) explain that a significant hurdle in getting people to use an enterprise wiki was the uncertainty of behaviour: ‘However, the culture of openness has its limits and many employees feel uncomfortable about their rights and responsibilities … It is relatively easy to implement practical guidelines on implementing social software, but it is much more difficult to give guidance and encouragement on how to use it, particularly in the corporate context.’ I am hoping that the notion of spaces and flows allows a clearer set of behavioural norms and expectations to be developed, while taking advantage of enterprise-wide availability of information.
8.Available at: http://www.cipd.co.uk/helpingpeoplelearn/_pfzrpd.htm.
13.The use of Web 2.0 and the Internet for customer-facing spaces is an area of enormous interest at the moment and exceeds the boundaries of this book. For excellent books in the area see Li and Bernoff (2008), Tapscott and Williams (2006) and Rosen (2009).
14.See: http://www.backbonemedia.com/blogsurvey/52-Microsoft-case-study.htm and the article by Efimova and Grudin (2007).