In an interesting recent post Stephen Downes has pointed once again to the four elements that ‘distinguish a knowledge-generating network from a mere set of connected elements.’ – Diversity, Openness, Autonomy and Interactivity and Connectedness.
I have been thinking about the question of ‘Openness’ quite a lot in relation to research networks. Currently I am involved in a community of e-learning researchers – ELESIG and have co-authored a paper which explores the issues being faced by the community following withdrawal of funding. This paper has just been accepted (subject to amendments based on the reviewers comments) by the International Journal of Web-based Communities.
In his post Stephen wrote the following about the need for ‘Openness’ in a network
Openness – does communication flow freely within and without the network, is there ease of joining (and leaving) the network? In a community, this means, are people able to communicate with each other, are they easily able to join the community, are they easily able to participate in community activities? In practice, what one will observe of an open community is that there are no clear boundaries between membership and non-membership, that there are different ranges of participation, from core group interaction through to occasional posting to reading and lurking behaviour. If a community is open, then it sustains a sufficient flow of information to generate new knowledge, but if it is closed, this flow stagnates, and no new information is generated.
I’m wondering just how open is open, particularly in relation to researchers. The problem is that too much openness could invalidate the research, couldn’t it?
For the paper that has just been accepted, my co-author and I have worked in isolation from the ELESIG community. I think only two other members of the community (403 members) even know that we have done some research based on the work of the community. As yet nothing has been shared, despite the fact that the community has been set up with the explicit purpose of sharing research.
In the research that John, Matthias, Roy and I are working on, related to the CCK08 course, we startedoff with very good intentions. John set up a community wiki on the Community Ning site and invited others to join us. Currently we are designing a questionnaire and we quickly realised that we would not be able to openly discuss this design process with the community for fear of invalidating the research – the community is the very group that we hope will respond to the questionnaire. So we have moved to another wiki, in order to design our research. We intend to post our findings to the community wiki and hopefully stimulate discussion.
So I’m wondering if ‘Openness’ just doesn’t work in research communities, or have I misunderstood what Stephen meant. I seem to remember reading somewhere (although I can’t find it now) that Stephen was encouraging more ‘Openness’ in research communities, but how exactly would this work?