Disclaimer: I work in Google's Policy Team, developing multistakeholder cooperations for internet governance & policy themes, hence I want to point out that all the opinions and ruminations on this blog are mine, not Google's.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Collabowriting an Institupedia to enable cothink

Recently i came across Nobel laureate Herb Simon and his ideas about how science should be creative. He basically believes that it is much more productive to create reality rather than to research the 'pure' existence. More straight forward he thinks that when we try to create something - let's say a rocket that flies to the moon - we will learn a lot during the process of the construction; we might not have understood 100% what and why things are happening but at least we have "mastered" a challenge and can reap the benefits. In comparison when we start out to understand and describe gravity, we might investigate for a long time, generate a lot of "knowledge" but can not exploit it. [please excuse the outrages simplification of Simon's thinking]

Having that said, I believe that, as words replace matter in the meta-physical world, the creation of new words is the essence of Simonian social science. So without further delay allow me to propose three new words: Collabowriting, Institupedia and cothink.

Collabowriting is the most straight forward of the three and its significance should be easy to decifer as it is a simple combination of the word collaborate and write to describe the practice of writing a document together. Collabowriting has been possible long before the advent of wikis and other IT collaboration tools, but the practice of jointly letting a document emerge was much less dovetailed and with less interaction. So true collabowriting is a rather recent phenomenon and most of us are still rather stone-age when it comes to doing it efficiently.

Institupedia is inspired by the popular encyclopedia wikipedia, which uses the collabowriting tool wiki to create an open encyclopedia on the internet. Following Wittgestein's claim that all thinking and human being originates in words, I suggested during my time at UNDP as well as in my university UOC to create an institutional enceclopedia in order to allow for collective and discursive definition of the institutions vocabulary. After i received an invitation to attend a webinar on "
Ways to create an internal “Wikipedia” inside your company" (organized by socialtext), I decided that my proposal might have been viable after all.

There is several reasons why an institupedia (UNDPedia, UOCipedia, etc.) helps to create an enabling environment, and i plan to elaborate on that in due time. For now allow me to cherry pick just one: Cothink is a literal translation from the German term "mitdenken" that my dictionary translates as: 1. show some initiative, think (things through); 2. [please cothink!] help me (oder us) think; 3. follow someone's train of thought.
In general i would claim that cothink happens when an individual identifies to some degree with the scenario and thus applies his being to the situation. Two conditions have to be met to enable cothink: (a) the individual has to be motivated to help (team spirit etc. come to mind) and (b) the person needs to know / have information about the scenario. Developing an institupedia where the emerging plans, projects etc. are defined will enable at least the latter condition and probably contribute to the former as a positive spiral can be triggered.

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