I was lucky enough to attend a workshop about a month ago on a new site for on-line collaboration (http://www.water-wheel.net) … as the developers explain, “a platform and forum for experience and exchange, expression and experimentation, … it draws together different people, practices, places, media and modes of expression, there are no borders or boundaries …”
Truth be told, I was a little hesitant since my usual old-school focus on collaboration is between people working together in person, and it generally doesn’t involve technology, at least as a focus. But I am glad I went (and drove through one of our first snow storms of the year to get there!).
First off, experiencing Waterwheel reinforced for me the importance of creating conditions for collaboration that allow a broad range of stakeholders to engage, regardless of where they are geographically, their economic status (the service is free, and btw, I’m not getting anything for writing about it), or their particular area of expertise. In the case of this particular platform, their theme is water, and they envision and have seen in practice that scientists, performers, academics, environmentalists, students and anyone else interested in the theme all participate.
Second, the platform created with this technology promotes a variety of different media, presented dynamically. Some participants in Waterwheel events (“taps”) use audio, others video, some live performance or talk, some drawing, some uploaded printed materials, etc. I like the idea that since we all learn and discover new things in different ways, a platform like this can cater to varying participant preferences and needs.
Third, it was nice to be reminded about the “live” quality in collaboration, the dynamic interactions that you can’t script or entirely orchestrate through previously agreed-upon structures and processes, the co-development of “truths” on the spot as participants in an event create content in the moment to be shared and improvised on by other participants.
And fourth, I enjoyed this demonstration of the Open Space Technology idea that those who need to be present are – whoever shows up for their open events is who participates. In our overwhelmingly busy world, it can seem hard to find our tribe, challenging to find an affirmation for our own individual contribution to the world. And it was fun to see that technology expands that possible circle of support and collaboration, far beyond the folks I might normally turn to.
There’s still something so critical to me about being together in person and appreciating human warmth and touch and full-person interaction, without the filter or limitations of a technological device. But technology is one tool that really can support collaboration, and I have to admit that I’ve thought of and mentioned this site to several people (and now you readers) as a resource. Sometimes we can use a little technological help to make our collaborations even more successful!