Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:19:11 PM EST
In Part One I talked about our recent experience of working together on a submission to an EU Consultation on biofuels, (now up on the relevant Energy page, under European Tribune in the category NGOs, scroll down), and sketched out some ideas about how to organize this kind of work in future.
The collaborative tools we used were the Scoop software of this community site - diaries and discussion threads - and the ET Wiki (see pages here). Quantitively, far more work was done with Scoop than with the Wiki. For one thing, diaries that appear on the community site attract immediate attention, whereas new postings to the Wiki don't. For another, Scoop is more discussion-friendly than Wiki. On the other hand, Wiki pages are like a permanent notice-board, while Scoop diaries go by like shooting stars (not at DKos speed, but still...). And when a comments thread gets long, it is no longer suited to the kind of ding-dong question/answer here's-my-number-for-this what's-your-number-for-that back-and-forth that working together involves in its most intense stage - for each comment, however brief, the entire page has to be reloaded with all its comments, and, above all, all its server calls with possible waits for this or that server to handle the call.
Immediate disclaimer: this is not a grumble. There's nothing to moan about. On the contrary, thanks are due to those who make this software available and keep it running - Jérôme and Colman mainly. These are just some reflections and queries - asking for input - after the biofuels work, into which I want to bring a discussion that came up in Toulouse last month, between Alexandra in WMass, Alex in Toulouse, and me.
Perhaps we can look at this under two headings, two phases of our activity:
A: Data-gathering and analysis
- We need to find resources and interpret them quickly. (Are we dealing with advocacy, on one side or the other? Or are we dealing with a resource that is less concerned with an agenda?)
- We need data (raw statistics, for example) and we need to reach a decision on whether they are dependable. It's also useful if they are comparable (measure similar things in the same units of measure, so as to reduce time and risk of error recalculating). It could be interesting to have a picture of what data points crop up again and again, because they are pushed by advocacy groups, or have been picked up by the pundits and the media, and are generally (rightly or wrongly) accepted.
- We want to see the ideas and arguments that are being put forward on a topic, and identify those that (in all likelihood) serve an agenda with some weighty lobby behind them.
- We may have knowledge of sources in books or other printed publications, and/or have access to a major library. It's very much an individual matter.
- Mostly, we're looking out towards the internet. The tools we have are Google and other search engines - not things that have evolved much over the last few years (except commercially?). We can also use "knowledge" resources like Wikipedia that link to further resources, and more focussed sites that will indicate major links on the topic we are working on. (Examples, by no means exclusive, are Euractiv.com for anything to do with the EU and EU policy, or the technology site Sven recommended, VTT). What else might help us?
- We should also be pointing inwards. ET is in itself a resource:
Individual users who have specialist knowledge should be co-opted whenever possible as co-ordinators for a work project in hand. When it's not possible, they should at least be asked to review the work done by others.
Then there's a considerable amount of good work and discussion in past diaries and stories (useless Scoop distinction). This was the subject of our discussion in Toulouse the other week. How to make all this work available?
We have the Scoop search function, and we have the site Google. It's been pointed out often enough that these are not perfect tools.
An example: Jérôme just posted a Countdown to $100 Oil in which he mentions Dr Bakhtiari, oil expert. I wanted to check a past comment on Bakhtiari. Google gave me three references for "Bakhtiari". The site search gave me one, different from the three. The site archive search gave me none.
We also have the ET Wiki which acts as an archive. Upper right of the ET page, Colman, may he dwell in peace, has given us a set of clickable subject headings. But the wiki doesn't have a search function. It might become pretty hard to move around and find stuff in, if we spent time filling it up. It's also vulnerable to spam.
With patience and a lot of work, we could dredge up past ET information on a subject and produce a synthesis document that summed up data and arguments, complete with links. Should we try to do this, and, if we did, should it go into the wiki? What other content management options might we try?
We might also put in the work by tagging things so searching would be easier.
Or look for a different kind of search capacity altogether. Any ideas?
B: Drafting and editing
Here I'm wondering what Web-based solutions might be found for collective document writing and editing, the diary and comments thread system being usable for this, but less and less comfortable as comments are quickly exchanged and the thread lengthens. A wiki page can be used for more leisurely exchanges, and there are also sister sites LocustWatch and faireurope.eu with discussion capacities. But, whether we're working on a synthesis document as above, or producing a position paper or consultation contribution, what content management software might help throw stuff together and edit it more easily?
I'm not putting this up in hopes of having some glitzy cool stuff to play with, but because I think that, if we do get down to work - more of us and on longer documents - we will soon feel the limits of a blog structure that is best used for discussion and debate, and what is more we'll get in the way with multiple text diaries at the editing stage. Diaries should be posted to show what work has been done, and to get reactions and discussion, but it might be handy to have a place off to the side to work in.
And my apologies if it's a jumble, there were a number of ideas I wanted to pull together, and probably made a heap.