Groupware for a Small Planet
in Groupware in the 21st Century:
Computer Supported Co-operative Working Toward the Millennium
edited by Peter Lloyd
Adamantine Press, London
© 1993 Awakening Technology
Fortunately, there are encouraging signs -- and just in time. For years people have been rediscovering how to work with rather than against the limits of the Earth's richly complex and nurturing ecosystem. Some are exploring lifestyles that are outwardly simple and inwardly rich (Elgin, 1981). We are even beginning to learn how to reconcile generations of deep distrust and hostility, although we have a long way to go. Taken together, these sketch an outline of emerging humane and sustainable culture.
We are going through a global transition at least as profound as that from hunting and gathering to agriculture, or the scientific revolution that ushered in the industrial age. While some refer to this post-industrial period as the information or communications era, we prefer more value-centered names like the Compassionate Era (Theobald, 1993) and the Era of Reconciliation (Elgin, 1993). The key is how we relate to each other, not the channel or technology that supports it.
During the scientific revolution we developed our analytic intelligence which is now embodied in the incredible machines we call computers. Today we are discovering two other kinds of intelligence -- one ancient and one new -- that extend our capacity to relate in new ways. One is access in the present moment to our essential connection with each other and all life, something we "forgot" in order to capitalize on the mechanistic worldview.1 The other is the capacity to hold in our minds the complex dynamics and inherent paradoxes of whole, living systems. These related ways of knowing are necessary complements to mechanistic/analytic thought. Integrating them gives us the capacity to use our technologies wisely.
The complexity and dynamics of change are greater than any one person can hold. Group/team learning is a key. The emerging task for leaders is to help others learn and adapt creatively to change (Heifetz, 1992). We are becoming a learning society. To thrive in the rapids of change, companies are becoming learning organizations (Senge, 1990). We are learning how to use our differences creatively (Johnson-Lenz, 1992c), and learn our way into a sustainable culture (Milbraith, 1989). Consistent with living within environmental limits, the primary purpose of work is beginning to shift from ever-increasing production and consumption of goods to lifelong learning (Harman and Hormann, 1990). Managing open-ended change requires relying on real-time learning and self-organizing political interaction in groups (Stacey, 1992) within business and society at large. Institutions already rely heavily on information technologies. But groupware is the enabling technology of the learning organization (Opper and Fersko-Weiss, 1991) and the learning society.
When the two of us coined the term groupware in 1978, our whole-systems definition was "intentionally chosen group processes + the software to support them" (Johnson-Lenz, 1980). Groupware includes software in the computer and in the minds and hearts of those using it -- a shared mental model of what the group is doing (purpose) and how it is doing it (process). More recently we have written that groupware is computer-mediated culture (Johnson-Lenz, 1991). It is an electronic embodiment of social organization, partly in the computer and partly in us.
Technology serves best when tailored in support of human values, meaning, and purpose. Groupware that helps us create a sustainable culture will be shaped to embody the principles of that culture, augment our new and ancient ways of knowing, and facilitate our learning and collaborating together more effectively than ever before.
Groupware for Learning Teams
Tahomish, April 10, 2003 -- From the telework center2 at FoxHedge, the co-housing3 community she'd joined three years before, Laurel Li could see the Tahomish eco-village4 silhouetted against the dawn sky. Nearby were other housing clusters, green spaces, and the companies and factories in the industrial ecology5 park.
Laurel felt content. While electronic networks hummed around the clock, she had found her own ways of tuning into the deeper rhythms of the planet. She paused a moment more to breathe deeply, center herself, and open her mind, heart, and spirit to the new day, silently giving thanks once again for the awesome majesty of creation.
As Earth Community Relations6 director for Industrial Metabolism Ltd., Laurel had her choice of company-sponsored community service projects. Today she was working with the Resourceful Cascadia Learning Team on bioregional water management issues. Like most companies, IM was organized around cross-functional teams and quality circles, but widespread support for citizen governance teams was a recent innovation.
The Cascadia Team used the WEB (Worldwide Electronic Brain), a global groupware and knowledge system, for its on-line work. Laurel had to chuckle over the name. In 1996 when the WEB was created, people were still using the metaphor of the brain as the location of intelligence!
She touched the Team icon on the flat panel wall display. The facilitator's software agent checked her status in the group's workflow and gave her dynamically updated instructions, delivered in the facilitator's voice.
Good morning, Laurel!
Since Monday, team members around the region have been evaluating the questions we've generated to frame the issue of dynamic and sustainable management of Cascadia's scarce water resources. You're one of three people who have yet to complete this part. We've taken last week's 53 questions and comments and organized them into nine clusters. You'll note we're using several different rating scales this time — centrality, immediacy, comprehensiveness, and inclusiveness. Please use the hypertext buttons next to each cluster to get additional background information and a range of participant comments.
As soon as you've rated the clusters, you'll see the results to date and get more instructions for the dialogue that's to come. Next we'll be considering why each of the highly rated questions is essential and whether any critical pieces are missing from our multi-perspective framing of this issue. Thanks for your thoughtful participation!
As she rated the question clusters, Laurel realized again how complex this was. The Team was still wrestling with how to frame the problem sufficiently. Water is life, and this difficult and "wicked"7 issue was at the very heart of resource management in the new millennium. Almost everything needs water!
The oil wars of the late '90s had brought everybody up against the bankruptcy of special-interest lobbying and single-issue negotiations. Computer-augmented learning teams had developed out of the living democracy8 and community-based change movement, but this was the first time one had been officially charged with developing issue maps and recommendations on such an essential issue. The Team represented the interests of all stakeholders, including future generations and nonhuman members of the bioregion. Eventually they would create a multi-media hypertext of their recommendations, issue maps, agreements and disagreements, how they thought about and reached their conclusions, and other supporting materials including dynamic models of regional resource flows.
The Power of Presence
Toronto, June 29, 2003 -- Industrial Metabolism's annual corporate renewal meeting still brought key employees together face to face. For most of their work, they used all modes of telecommunication, but it was considered important to meet in person to celebrate successes, renew their common vision, and share food and stories. For all the industry hoopla, telepresence12 just wasn't the same. But as fossil fuel supplies dwindled, non-essential travel was increasingly expensive and socially frowned upon -- not good for IM's earth community relations! They would have to find a better way.
Laurel was still fired up from the afternoon session. They had used an electronic meeting system13 to brainstorm and evaluate ways that IM could be more socially and environmentally responsible in the coming year. One manager who couldn't fly in participated from San Francisco via computer and audio links and made very creative contributions, particularly in the area of social accounting.14
That evening in the garden of the inn, Laurel used her Nexus15 to check in with Sanctuary,16 her on-line support circle. Now living on three continents, its members saw each other infrequently but stayed in contact almost daily through the WEB. They used groupware for simple rituals and dream sharing, celebrated the seasons of their lives, helped each other through crises, and were the very best of friends.
She meditated a moment, moving her attention to her heart center. Her Nexus displayed the familiar rose-window mandala opening into the virtual circle process.17 Bach was this week's musical theme, playing softly in the background. On the screen, beginning in the east she touched the four directions, opening the sacred space -- Father Sun, Mother Earth, Grandmother Ocean, Grandfather Sky. She kythed18 with each member of the circle as their images appeared on the screen, one by one.
The current round in the circle was about everyone's experience of presence, what pushed them beyond their capacity to stay present, how they regained their balance, and what the group could do to support them. After viewing responses from several other people, Laurel began to write...
Later Laurel wondered how she might translate some of her experiences of on-line presence with the Circle into more of the electronic group work at Industrial Metabolism. Conventional wisdom held that the orientation, trust-building, and renewal stages of team performance were best done in a same-time/same-place environment.20 But she had developed deep trust with several Sanctuary members she had only met once, as a result of their intention and willingness to be present and authentic with each other on line. IM already had extensive training for collaboration via computer, including coaching in taking the time to read/listen and reflect before responding, but she knew more could be done.
Evolution of the WEB
Tahomish, July 23, 2003 -- After almost four months of intense work, the Resourceful Cascadia Learning Team had developed its frameworks and issue maps for bioregional water management. The dynamic computer models developed around 1999 of resource flows into and out of the region really helped. The prolonged recessionary adjustment toward a sustainable economy tempted some team members into short-term thinking, but Laurel continued to stand for a whole-systems, long-term approach.
The Learning Team facilitator was impressed with Laurel's growing capacity to be "big enough" to appreciate the diversity of viewpoints, bring them out in the group, and keep asking questions to help the group think in more encompassing ways, even in the midst of strong disagreements. Laurel listened with care and compassion, expressed her own thoughts, feelings, and desires clearly,21 and kept searching for integrative approaches and solutions.
When asked if she'd like to train to be a facilitator, Laurel jumped at the chance. It was a great honor and responsibility. She also knew it would take study, practice, and continued self-development. She was eager to know more about the evolution of these Learning Teams and their groupware processes. So with the help of a knowbot,22 she began to explore the WEB.
Capacitance and Other Facilitation Skills
At home/Tahomish, September 29, 2003 -- Laurel had apprenticed to a master on-line facilitator to learn some of the personal skills and disciplines essential to serving a group, as well as the subtleties of asynchronous group dynamics. These could only be learned experientially, since they depended on knowing in one's body/mind how group energy is flowing, where it's blocked, what's hidden and needs amplifying, and what moves might make the group more "alive" and creative.
Laurel was good at extending her empathic attention to sense and keep track of where each group member was in the process, conceptually as well as emotionally. She was still having some difficulty learning how to work effectively with the "rolling present,"24 speeding it up or slowing it down as appropriate. That took some practice.
She also began to see that an essential skill was helping the group hold multiple and conflicting perceptions in creative rather than destructive ways. That required her own capacitance25 as well as encouraging others to move between positions and bridge both inner and outer polarities.26 Groupware tools and processes helped, but self-development was also necessary.
The WEB, October 15, 2003 -- As Laurel navigated through the WEB, continuing her apprenticeship, observing other learning team processes, and reviewing community memories of issue framing, deliberation, and resolution, she came to appreciate the power of tailorable groupware.32
"Groupware is more than just software," she thought. "It's really the capacity to create and adapt forms33 that hold evolving group life in effective patterns."
Powerful, graphically based tools allow facilitators (and interested members) to see a group's living process unfold within the form that contains it, according to its own rhythms, defined by appropriately permeable boundaries. Laurel learned to sketch shared images of the group's process to help plan appropriate next steps. In response, the computer suggested useful patterns and tools. With a few mouse clicks, she could open new containers, rearrange activities, summarize results, create agents to act on her behalf, put an important event in the group's flow where they would be sure to encounter it, and much more.
The tools were powerful all right, but to serve the group, she had to summon all her skills of presence, listening, empathy, and capacitance to know which to use, when, and how. Facilitators who got carried away with their favorite groupware designs didn't last too long, at least around citizen governance learning teams.
The WEB, November 25, 2003 -- As she learned more about the WEB's groupware tools and processes, Laurel began exchanging messages with Aluna Paz, one of the WEB's senior weavers. Laurel wanted to try some new approaches to working creatively with differences, but the tools didn't quite fit. She asked Aluna how new groupware tools were designed, developed, and evaluated. That's when she found out about the Bootstrap.
Aluna had joined the Bootstrap Team two years ago, bringing her extensive expertise in software architecture, group dynamics, and knowledge structuring to the learning team at the core of the WEB. Aluna shared some of the Bootstrap documents with Laurel and promised to take her groupware ideas and concerns to the Team.
Laurel remembered last April's note to herself to find out more about the groupware architecture of societal memory and group learning on the WEB. She followed the network of hypertext links to this item.
The more Laurel learned about the WEB and the ways that computer-supported citizen inquiry teams had developed, the more impressed she became. Diverse groups of ordinary people were actively involved in identifying and framing emergent issues, deliberating difficult tradeoffs with the aid of skilled facilitators and groupware tools, and making well-informed, well-considered recommendations for steering through the rapids of change into the future.
Laurel thought back to her experience with the Resourceful Cascadia Learning Team and all she'd learned about the personal disciplines of presence and capacitance. They had done a fine job on a very challenging issue, even though the resolution required increased cut-backs and extremely creative conservation. But the priorities were clear and took all needs into account, including future generations. She felt a deep sense of fulfillment knowing she was playing her part in this vitally important process.
To ease this transition, many, many people must be involved in learning and leading, rethinking and restructuring, considering tough tradeoffs, and making dramatic changes as compassionately as possible. We believe that groupware can play a critical role in the communications, learning, and knowledge systems to support this great work.
Our future depends on a creative, ethical, compassionate global mind supported by the planetwide reach of our electronic global brain. Groupware for a small planet begins with us.
1. See Johnston, 1986 for an explanation of the evolutionary necessity of such "forgetting."
2. Telework center: a place where people telecommunicate or work at a distance; usually located in neighborhoods or communities, often with child care nearby; a way to balance the need to work in a social environment while reducing the need for commuting.
3. Co-housing: begun in Denmark, an innovative approach to housing design that retains the benefits of private homes while fostering a truly cooperative community (Fromm, 1991).
4. Eco-village: a community living in balanced harmony with itself as well as nature (Gilman, 1991).
5. Industrial ecology: industrial infrastructures designed as a series of interlocking "ecosystems" where waste and other by-products from one company serve as raw materials for another (Tibbs, 1992).
6. Earth community: the community of all living things on Earth including the natural world (Berry, 1988).
7. Wicked issues: issues so complex that they are dilemmas with no single "right" answer (Rittel and Webber, 1973).
8. See Lappé and Du Bois, 1994.
9. See Stacey, 1992.
10. See Heifetz, 1992.
11. Active Listening: listening with empathy; paraphrasing what has been said well enough so the other person feels heard (Gordon, 1970).
12. Telepresence: the use of technology to establish a sense of shared presence or shared space among geographically separated members of a group (Buxton, 1991).
13. Electronic meeting system: groupware originally developed for same-time/same-place meetings; group intelligence tools for idea generation, organization, and evaluation, often used in a room where everyone has a computer and the results are displayed on a group screen; also called group support systems; see Jessup and Valacich, 1993 and Bostrom, Watson, and Kinney, 1992.
14. Social accounting: a method for accounting for the resources invested, benefits, costs, net return, and return on resources of all stakeholder groups in a corporation, including investors, employees, customers, associated firms, and the public (Halal, 1978).
15. Nexus: a bond or link between members of a group; the brand name of Laurel's palmtop, solar-powered, wireless, gesture- and voice-sensitive, multi-media workstation; its trademark slogan: "We put the whole group in your hand."
16. Sanctuary: a safe and sacred space for practicing "forgotten" ways of knowing and new ways of being in community.
17. See Johnson-Lenz, 1992a for a description of a virtual circle groupware process based on a native ritual of "passing a talking stick" and taking turns to tell one's truth from the heart.
18. Kything: the art of being spiritually present with another (Savary and Berne, 1990). Telepresence is the attempt to connect people through cyberspace (technologically created "space" where we met by telephone, computer, videoconference, etc.), while kything is presence in hyperspace (imaginal "space" were we meet mind-to-mind, essence-to-essence). See Johnson-Lenz, 1989 and 1992a for discussions of the difference between cyberspace and hyperspace.
19. See Johnson-Lenz, 1992a for accounts of the impact of presence on personal/spiritual growth work via computer network.
20. See Johansen, et al., 1991.
21. See Short, 1991 for more on leadership through self-differentiation, bringing whatever one is experiencing into a group, thereby increasing group intelligence and learning.
22. Knowbot: a software agent programmed to search knowledge networks; a knowledge robot.
23. Asynchronous: not at the same time; people using groupware at times of their own choosing, rather than being on line at the same time.
24. Rolling present: the moving "window" of group attention in asynchronous virtual meetings; what the group is currently focused on; "now" is larger than a single moment and may range from several hours to several weeks, depending on the flow of interactions (Henry, 1985).
25. Capacitance: the amount of "aliveness" one is able to embody; one's ability to hold multiple conflicting points of view in creative relationship (Johnston, 1986).
26. Inner and outer polarities: (1) a polarity within oneself, such as work and play, masculine and feminine, success and failure; (2) a polarity in an issue or domain, such as labor and management, economy and environment, liberal and conservative; bridging polarities involves understanding the larger whole of which the poles are a part (Johnston, 1991).
27. See Smith and Wagner, 1984.
28. See Heifetz, 1988.
29. See Mindell, 1992.
30. See Johnston, 1991.
31. See Johnson-Lenz, 1992c.
32. Tailorable groupware: flexible groupware which can be shaped to support a group's purpose and process, ideally by those using it. We first encountered the term tailoring in the work of Murray Turoff and Roxanne Hiltz on EIES®, the Electronic Information Exchange System (Turoff, 1971; Hiltz and Turoff, 1978). The high-level programming language in which EIES could be tailored was unique and powerful, but too complex for nonprogrammers. More recently, Malone and colleagues have come closer with Object Lens whose goal is "to be 'radically tailorable;' that is, nonprogrammers can customize the system for a wide variety of applications" (Malone and Lai, 1992).
33. See Johnson-Lenz, 1991.
34. The Jefferson Center (Minneapolis) has been conducting Citizen Jury panels since 1976; randomly selected members participate in several days of hearings before voting on recommendations announced to the public; for example, a 1992 panel made recommendations on US federal budget cuts.
35. Learning Democracy: we first heard this term in early 1993 from Ron Thomas, Community Design Exchange, Seattle, Washington.
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