Could digital platforms integrate non-digital space?

Or, “on integrating face-to-face dynamics into the structure and expectations of online platforms.”  Here, as a work-in-progress, an initial compilation of possible measures:

* Start with these guidelines:
1. Participants at any session always bring a lot of knowledge about the topic of the session. So, allow that to be brought to surface and acknowledged.
2. What you really learn from a workshop or participatory experience is what you integrate with your own concerns.

Guideline 1 invites platform designers to make space that respects the participants.  Guidelines 2 invites participants to take space to respect themselves.  In the spirit of guidelines 1 & 2:

* When designing modes of participating in, say, online patient communities, invite people to join an online dialogue hour (five-phase) session to clarify what they need, when, how,…

In the spirit of guideline 2:

* 30-minute limit to online surfing, accompanied by equal time to digest (post)

* Convene a rapid Problem-Based Learning (PBL) session, in which people explore questions about a topic and, in doing so, get an experience of re-engagement with oneself as an avid learner.  (See extended discussion of PBL)

* Add in this guideline:
3. Participants are asked or led (e.g., at the close of a dialogue hour or rapid PBL) to define a small set of directions in which they are trying to develop or get help (including but not restricted to online participation) and then to repeatedly use Plus-Delta to take stock and make changes to improve.

* What this would mean in practice would a platform that cannot run itself, give or take participant input and interactions.  There would need to be facilitators of the real-time interactions (such as, the dialogue hours and rapid PBL). Having an apprenticing feature would seem necessary given that such work is beyond the usual revenue models for online platforms.

* Evaluate a platform in terms of whether the processes enabled by it result in “Greater than the Sum of the Parts”:
1. Generating new perspectives = Knowledge and further research questions can be generated that the collaborators (individually or in sum) did not have when they came in (Olsen and Eoyang, 2001).
2. Durable = Guided by skillful facilitators, collaborators can become invested in the plans, policy, and ongoing collaborations that emerge from the research (Stanfield 2002, 17ff).
3. Developing capacities = Collaborators develop skills and dispositions for collaboration in various settings, as warranted by the rise of citizen participation and of new institutions of “civil society” (Burbidge 1997, Taylor 2005, 204ff).

Some other resources:

* e-etiquette (which could be adapted into guidelines for moderators and participants on online platforms)

* Four R’s of developing as a collaborator (which underly the suggestions above)

* Taking Yourself Seriously

Burbidge, J., Ed. (1997). Beyond Prince and Merchant: Citizen Participation and the Rise of Civil Society. (New York: Pact Publications).
Olson, E. E. and G. H. Eoyang (2001). Facilitating Organization Change: Lessons from Complexity Science. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass).
Stanfield, R. B. (2002). The Workshop Book: From Individual Creativity to Group Action. (Toronto: Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs).
Taylor, P. J. (2005). Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

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