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Social ritual in collaborative problem solving

October 20th, 2009 · 1 Comment · dissertation

One of the ideas for my research

Unlike the well-structured traditional problem resolution process, the  collaborative problem resolution that I am  interested in is frequently ad-hoc. Groups self-organize around a problem, and dissolve after the solution has been identified (hence the “swarm”).  In fact, the most successful problem-solving  results are produced by highly diverse groups from different functional areas.  The activity of joining such group could be considered a social ritual. This unarticulated ritual includes the trigger for group’s creation, the explicit or implicit permission for joining the group, the level of information-sharing in the group, the norms for using the knowledge generated in the problem-solving process, and, finally, the protocol for exiting and dissolving the group.  Traditionally, these ad-hoc groups are observed in an open face-to-face environment, where people can easily join a conversation that they happen to overhear. Collaboration becomes more challenging  in the digital environment, where participants are not interacting face-to-face. What are the new social rituals for collaborative problem-solving in the digital domain? Is it acceptable to forward and email with the question to another person who many have insights? Is it OK to quote any of the participants and what level of attribution is expected?  And so on.

The type of collaboration I have been talking about so far is the collaboration between members of the same organization. In the last decade, a new type of collaboration has emerged  –  Internet-facilitated collaboration between complete strangers providing  value to an organization they are unaffiliated with.  This type of collaboration is frequently referred to as “crowdsourcing”.  In this type of collaboration, large groups of people may solve problems through interaction in online forums (Microsoft Usenet forums or Novell Sysops forums) , generate encyclopedia content (, ,  offer tax and accounting advice to each other (Intuit Live Community), write literary reviews (,, generate entertainment (or what goes for entertainment these days – and so on. Collaboration of this type is purely digital  and has different social rituals around it.


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