Chapter 2: Collaboration as an Information Processing Activity
Three Scenarios
Model of Information Type and Flow
Issues for Research

Issues for Research

Implicit in this discussion are a number of unanswered questions and issues for further research. In this section, I briefly discuss several of these. This list, of course, is not exhaustive. Rather, it is intended to suggest the type of questions and issues that can be inferred from the discussion. I hope that others occurred to the reader, that they were noted, and that they will stimulate discussion and, perhaps, future research.

Detailed descriptions for a broad range of collaborative groups would be valuable for a number of reasons. First, they would open the area up for inquiry so that we could see what collaboration is as a general mode of work across different tasks. From this data we could also infer a repertoire of both common and unusual behaviors. And we could begin to see which behaviors and patterns of work tend to result in more effective or more efficient collaborations versus those that are less productive. Latour & Woolgar (1979) provided a good example of close description based on ethnographic methods; for computer-based collaborations, we should be able to supplement their methods with system recorded data to observe a greater range of individual and collective behaviors as well as the rhythms and interactions between the two.

The information flow model needs to be validated against a wide range of collaborations in different organizational contexts. As detailed portraits of groups become available, the model should be tested against those data and updated as needed.

A related issue is further refinement of the model. Each of the transformations depicted as a line between information types signifies a wide range of more detailed processes. For example, the transformation from private to shared intangible knowledge frequently takes place in group meetings (it is not, of course, limited to such gatherings), but it occurs in different ways. It can come about through a statement made by an individual in a discussion, a statement within a more formal presentation, or a response to a question. Each such action consists of a complex structure of finer-grained social and intellectual processes. Thus, by a vocabulary of collaborative actions I mean a list of the different kinds of behaviors that transform information of one type into information of another type. Such a list will, of course, be extensive if it is to cover the many different situations in which collaboration takes place. But identifying them will be worth the effort because these actions could serve as the basic elements in a process model of collaboration.

Collaborative actions normally take place in sequences or "phrases" rather than as isolated events. For example, a discussion normally includes a number of different statements by different members of the group, interspersed with individuals' drawing diagrams, referring to documents present or absent, showing transparencies, waving their arms in the air, and so on. These different events are woven into a fabric of discourse. If identifying a vocabulary of actions is a first level of analysis and characterization, identifying short repeated sequences of actions is a second level. Groups use such sequences to build small component structures and/or to link new information into an existing conceptual structure. Thus, if we are to understand how groups develop large, complex artifacts over long durations, we must first identify the basic process sequences they habitually use.

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