Record time for burnout on a conference! I think it is, at least in part, that I was pretty burnt by the time I got here. Everyone I talk to seems to agree that the quality of the presentations are fairly middle-of-the-road, or maybe that’s just the jaded eye of intellectuals. I don’t think that most of them are bad, but the signal-to-noise ratio seems a bit low. For whatever reason, everyone seems to be dragging a little, but that may just be me.
Went to see a bunch of former and current UWers talk about problems with using ethnographic approaches. What really needs to be done is a session on advantages of ethnography. That is in no way a slight, it’s just that given our field’s tendency to look down upon ethnography (and I am not at all sure that it does–while there is still a core of quants, the field seems to have largely moved toward more qualitative perspectives), it seems to me that this would be a good venue in which to extol the virtues of ethnographic methodologies. Yes, acknowledge the disadvantages, but only because if you don’t someone else will. On the whole, though, there were some interesting issues raised in the session.
Went on from here to a session on organizations as complex systems. This is an area, of course, that I am very interested in. I was, on the whole, disappointed by the use of complexity as a metaphor, rather than as a way of explaining quantified data. Steve Corman echoed this in his role as respondent. He was, perhaps, more pessimistic than I would have been, but he clearly wondered to what degree ideas about complexity were useful in a metaphoric sense.
Devan Rosen presented a paper in the session on flocking behaviors. It an interesting premise, and I look forward to reading the paper, but if the presentation is an indication, he will still need to thresh out the conceptualization a bit. He is looking at the flocking behaviors described by Craig Reynolds (play with boids to see) and trying to apply them, by metaphor or analogy, to organizations. One of the ways he hopes to demonstrate this, is via an agent based model. So, here’s the obvious question (which I didn’t ask him because I wanted to read his paper first): Won’t the simulation be exactly like Boids in every respect? That is, if he finds that organizations share equivalent micro-rules to flocking birds, re-running the simulation seems moot. Anyway, he is a grad student at Cornell now, but it turns out he was at Buffalo just before I arrived. It will be interesting to see where he goes with this.
Went to see a panel by the KDI group. Their project, as a whole, is very interesting, but there wasn’t so much to go on here. They indicated the importance of pizza to the research process (incentive for subjects). Some interesting questions about how to get people to participate, what it was they got out of the process of externalizing their knowledge. Noshir Contractor had a couple of interesting remarks, though it is unclear how central these are to their research.
One was that the most frequent result of an individual contributing to an online KM system was that they were more sought after by their colleagues. By putting their knowledge online they showed that both (a) they were experts in particular areas and (b) they were willing to share that knowledge. Therefore, paradoxically, this does more to increase informal person-to-person knowledge exchange than it does to replace it.
Second, he spoke a bit about the problem of conceptualizing networks of networks. Many of the speakers talked about the degree to which knowledge exchange had to be constrained to the organization, whether for competitive advantage or for national security, or whatever. Even so, most of these smaller units operate within a larger network context. Conceptualizing this is an interesting problem, and one of the most basic problems in describing hierarchical structures in any system.
Went to (parts of) a few sessions on internet-related methodology. There were a few interesting things that came of this. A paper presented by Gi Woong Yun suggested that server logs were just about as good as client logs at describing use of the Web, which would be a nice justification were I ever to make use of such logs in my work.
Had a chance to meet up with Maria Garrido and Tema Milstein for dinner and talk. Maria and I are going to reserve some time to roll out a new version, or different version, of the Zapatista stuff we looked at before. I am not sure whether I want to keep looking at hyperlink networks, at least not on their own, but I think that we could do a much cleaner version of the work we already did. Tema is a new Ph.D. student at UW, and is doing some interesting stuff. I’m going to try to make her presentation tomorrow, which is related to her masters thesis. It examines the ways in which JET participants experienced an increase in self-efficacy.
Oh, and even when its hazy, San Diego rules.