Computer Support for Community Work
Designing and Building Systems for the "Real World"
CSCW 98 Tutorial
(NOTE: The Tutorial slides from CSCW '00 in Philadelphia will be on the web soon.)
November 15, 1998
9:00 AM - 5:30 PM
The Westin Hotel
Seattle, WA USA
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, WA 98505...even the poorest in social relationships is a member in a chain of social contacts which stretches to the world's end.
- Robert MacIver
Goals and Objectives
This tutorial is designed to introduce CSCW researchers and implementers to the field of public CSCW applications, services, and institutions (or, what I call "Computer Supported Community Work"). It is the goal of this tutorial to present the major challenges and opportunities involved in this endeavor and to engage all the participants in a dialogue as to the future of these new systems. Each participant should, after attending this tutorial, have a much clearer idea what systems might be developed and what they themselves can do to make that happen.
Content and Kinds of Activities
We will look at a variety public projects that have been launched over the last several years. Often these have been instigated by institutions (state or city governments, universities, or various public library initiatives, for example) or by citizen groups and non-profits (like Plugged In in East Palo Alto or the Seattle Community Network) although for-profit models are also possible.
In the tutorial we will focus primarily on existing systems. Why they were started? What challenges do they face? How were they designed and implemented? How are they evaluated? What has been successful? What hasn't been? We will also spend some time looking at ideas that the participants bring with them. The subject matter will be explored through these perspectives:
- Introduction - What are public CSCW applications and why does society need them?
- New services, applications, and institutions -- What has been done and what can we expect?
- Policy and Education -- New areas for CSCW;
- Technological Infrastructure - How will it work?
- Challenges and Strategic Issues;
- Evaluations and Research Issues;
- Action Plans; and
- Wrap-up -- What have we learned? What should we do next?
The first part of the tutorial will consist of formal presentations and discussions on each of the 8 sections above. The second part will consist of a guided workshop in which small teams will begin to develop action plans for planning and implementing community work systems.
This tutorial is open to any interested person at any level of technical expertise. For the tutorial to be as successful as possible there should be a good mix of experiences, interests, educational and cultural backgrounds among the participants. It is important for potential participants to note that the focus of this tutorial is on public CSCW systems and the discussions will be focused on those types of systems. It would be advantageous if participants had some experience in designing and working with these types of systems but this is not a requirement. The only requirement is a strong interest in the development of public CSCW systems.
Doug Schuler has a MSE (Masters in Software Engineering) from Seattle University and a MS in Computer Science from the University of Washington. Doug worked in the CSCW area for over seven years in the Advanced Technology Center of Boeing Computer Services and is currently teaching in the Computers and Society area at the Evergreen State College. Beyond that Doug is one of the founders of the Seattle Community Network, a free, public computer network with over 12,000 registered users. He has given presentations in Asia, Europe, and North America to technical audiences, students, librarians, lawyers, and church groups on public issues surrounding computer network use. Doug is the co-editor of several books, and the author of New Community Networks: Wired for Change (Addison-Wesley, 1996) and many other articles on computers and society topics.
This proposal is for a full-day tutorial covering a very broad range of issues related to the development of public CSCW systems.
The major part of the day (about 3/4) will be taken up by eight topics. The instructor will provide an overview of the importance and current work of each of the eight topics. (The topics are as follows: 1. Introduction; 2. New services, applications, and institutions; 3. Policy and Education; 4. Technological Infrastructure; 5. Challenges and Strategic Issues; 6. Evaluations and Research Issues; 7. Action Plans; and 8. Wrap-up.) Each mini- presentation will be followed by a list of strategic questions that are designed to help expose participants to the most relevant challenges and opportunities in the area and to help point to useful solutions to the questions. Before moving on the next topic there will be some general discussion.
The second part of the day will be taken up with a guided workshop on developing an action plan. Based on the discussion of the first portion of the day tutorial participants working in small teams will start on a rough draft of an action plan.
I would like to develop during the course of the day an appropriate collection of the knowledge gleaned during the day. This could include lessons learned, important resources (including pointers to the literature), and useful ideas and suggestions. This could then be put on the web or submitted to a journal.
The structure of the tutorial is reflected in the sections below. Each topic will be discussed briefly by the instructor and will be followed by a list of pertinent issues and questions. Since each community is unique, each community work application will be different. For this reason I will not (and can not) provide definitive answers to the questions. I will also distribute some useful handouts including articles and lists of useful resources.
Annotated Tutorial Outline
Part I. Presentation and Discussion
1. What are public CSCW applications and why does society need them?
Fueled by rapidly diminishing computing costs and a ground swell of grassroots and organizational enthusiasm, creativity, and hard work, community work applications are both a new type of computer application and a new type of social institution. People in many communities are interested in creating community work applications without necessarily considering what it is that they hope to accomplish. Others have a good idea of what they would like to accomplish but no underlying foundation that will help others share the vision and keep the project focused on these goals over the long run.
- Why do you want to develop a community work application?
- What specific goals do you (and others) have for your community work application?
- What principles do you want to develop that can help provide vision and direction?
- Why formalize the mission, motivation, or principles?
- How will you evaluate and assess programs that use the system?
2. New services, applications, and institutions
There are a nearly limitless number of services that the community work application could provide. It is these services -- and the activities in the community that they help engender -- that will determine the success or failure of the community work application. Most (if not all) of these services can be said to support one or more of the six community "core values" namely conviviality and culture; education; strong democracy (Barber, 1984); heath and well-being; economic equity, opportunity, and sustainability; and information and communication) (Schuler, 1996).
- What community groups should collaborate?
- What kind of training will be provided? Who will do the training?
- Who will coordinate the structuring of the information, etc.?
- Should the project provide mentors that will make sure a process is followed?
- How should the user interface organize and present the services on the system?
- Calendar, survey, and voting software are often mentioned as desirable public CSCW. What issues are
- involved in these systems and what other capabilities might be needed in these systems?
- What is the relationship between on-line services and the project's principles?
- What is the relationship between on-line services and actual community projects and services?
- What new types of software will be needed in the future to support community programs, discussion, and decision-making?
3. Policy and Education
Policies are the rules that guide the operation of the community work application organization, the limits of acceptable behavior on the part of users, and the procedures for resolving problems between users of the system. In addition to the above mentioned internal policies there are external policies, imposed from the outside, that may be relevant to community work applications. Unfortunately many community work application developers often treat these external policies as being entirely outside their control, thus granting increased power and influence to other organizations and interest groups.
- What type of policy document is needed?
- How does Internet pricing and taxation affect the community work application?
- What government policies affect public CSCW and what should we do to know about them and influence them?
- What public education issues should community work application take up and how should this education be undertaken?
- What types of telecommunications (or, in general, information) activism are there and how should we be pursuing and advocating them?
- What type of user activity is likely to face criticism from the community?
- What types of user abuses might you expect?
- How should you react to different kinds of alleged/proven user abuse?
- How should community work practitioners be organized to more effectively share information and ideas?
4. Technological Infrastructure
Although there is a lot more to community work applications than hardware, software, and delivery channels these technological ingredients are absolutely indispensable in a community work application. What software and hardware you choose has important implications for you - the developers - and for the communities you wish to support.
- What services to you want to provide?
- How many total users do you expect at various stages of your system's evolution? How many users at one time?
- How will users access the system? Over the Internet? Via telephone and modem? From public sites? (like where?)
- Some community work application users come in all flavors: some will have had no computer experience and some may be computer-phobic. Some may have disabilities that make using "standard" computer equipment difficult and some may not speak English and/or use non-ASCII alphabets. What implications does this have on the user interface? What types of interfaces are required and how might these be implemented?
- How would you organize your software and hardware to support the peculiarities of community work application systems, that may include heterogeneous machines, the need to grow to support large numbers of users, lots of simultaneous and varied use.
- What software and hardware is available at an affordable price?
5. Organizational Issues
Community work applications help facilitate communication between large numbers of people using fairly sophisticated technology. This is a challenging enterprise requiring some degree of organization to help manage the process effectively, efficiently, and humanely. Even more challenging, however, is the desire to move beyond mere management of processes into an atmosphere where users of all types are finding that their use of the network is rewarding to themselves and the community.
- What's the best way to get started?
- How can citizens be strong contributors and designers in these systems?
- Should the project be its own non-profit organization or should it be part of an existing organization?
- If it is its own organization, what is the purpose and character? E.g. non-profit, commercial, etc.
- Why cooperate with other groups?
- What groups in your community are good possibilities?
- How would you work with groups to maximize their effective use of Community work applications?
- What features characterize (demographics, strengths and capacities, problems, circumstances) your community and how could (or should) these influence your strategy?
- What things can you do to maintain your independence and your principles?
- With increasing frequency, projects with a "community work application" flavor are popping up all over. What criticisms might you make of some of these and what can you do to influence these efforts in the right direction?
6. Challenges and Strategic Issues
It's a safe bet that public CSCW will be confronted with a bewildering and bedeviling assortment of challenges over the next few years. Not meeting these challenges can mean legal difficulties, financial ruin, emotional chaos, or, most likely of all, a slow and steady slippage of the community work application into marginalization, disinterest and disuse.
- What types of legal issues should be expected?
- What can community work application organizations do to anticipate and avoid legal problems?
- How can community work application developers work with elected officials and governmental agencies?
- What legislative challenges can we foresee and how should we respond?
- What funding options seem most effective in your community at start-up?
- What funding options seem most effective in your community on a sustaining basis?
- What are the funding priorities?
- How do you evaluate your systems and communicate these results to the rest of the world?
6. Evaluation and Research Issues
Evaluation and areas of future research are universally acknowledged as important but often go neglected in the "real world." Organizations that are involved in the development will need to collaborate with researchers to incorporate evaluation into their plans.
- How can concerns of users be incorporated into the ongoing development of the application or service?
- How will researchers and implementers each inform each other?
- How will research ideas diffuse into future public CSCW projects?
7. Action Plans
In this session we will discuss what belongs in an action plan. This portion of the first session is designed to lead into the second session in which small teams will develop action plans for real projects.
- Who should develop action plans? How can users be "owners" of the process?
- What elements belong in an action plan?
- Is a media or public relations plan necessary?
- Are "politics" necessary for the realization of the project?
- How can we tell whether a budget or schedule is realistic?
- What funding opportunities should be pursued?
- What constraints exist?
In this segment of the tutorial we will review all the topics earlier discussed. At this point we will also distribute any handouts that have not yet been distributed.
Part II. Building an Action Plan -- A Guided Workshop
In this session the participants will divide into small groups to develop a first cut action plan for the development of a public CSCW project. Using a guided workshop approach with material from the first session, the teams will identify an application, service, or institution and develop an action plan that could be used to launch a successful public CSCW project. The action plan will incorporate elements from the first session, including technology description,
Public Space in Cyberspace, December, 1995, Internet World
Resources list -- bibliography, webography, organizations
Please also see "Designing Across Borders: Community Design of Community Networks" , a PDC 98 / CSCW 98 Workshop.