Building a Theory of Collaborative Sensemaking

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Using new media technology to make the filmmaking post-production process more collaborative has uncovered some interesting theoretical insights. It has introduced some constraints that have allowed me to abstract some broader concepts that can be applied to journalism and collaborative sensemaking.

Below I explore some of the parallels between Collaborative Filmmaking, New Media Technology, Journalism, The Intelligence Cycle, Knowledge Management Pyramid and the Scientific Method...

* Constraints Can Be Good
* Scaling Up Complexity with Folksonomy Tags & Playlists
* Towards a Theory of Collaborative Sensemaking

Constraints Can Be Good
When people collaboratively write a Wikipedia article, the users are free to change any word or phrase with very little constraints. This isn't as easy with collaborative filmmaking in that there are more defined and discrete building blocks that the users have at their disposal to create a multimedia product.

In the case of the Echo Chamber Project, the building blocks will be the audio sound bites and visual clips from the 50+ hours of interview footage and 40+ hours of ABC, CBS and NBC pre-war evening news coverage. I will be defining the default IN and OUT points of these sound bites, but users will be free to lengthen or shorten the boundaries of these media elements. This will create a common context for collaboration that will allow me to further develop these collaborate principles, methods and technology.

It is easy to edit someone else's sentence, but it is more difficult to chop up and move around audiovisual media. These chunks of rich media add the dimension of time to the collaborative process, which is a constraint that limits the possibilities and will potentially yield some interesting insights for how collaboration can be achieved in new and different ways.

Some of the limitations with comment threads and Wikipedia articles is that they have an upper threshold for the amount of participation that they can handle, and they also fail to produce relevant social networking effects beyond a certain level of complexity.

Scaling Up Complexity with Folksonomy Tags & Playlists
Using segments of rich media makes it possible to aggregate context and meaning on these chunks by using a number of different mechanisms. Starting with a granular node -- be it a sound bite, visual clip or written fact -- it is possible to aggregate contextual metadata through a series of steps that emergently progress from:

* Starting with thousands of defined Audio Sound Bites & visual clips
* Rating sound bites and clustering them with folksonomy tags
* Sequencing audio sound bites within playlists
* Collaboratively building larger sequences with nested playlists
* Independently controlling the video & audio tracks with 2-dimensional nested playlists
* Evaluating Multiple Storylines and Hypotheses with a 2-dimensional playlist matrix
* Visualizing complex networks by mapping out feedback loop relationships between nodes

This progression came from designing a system that could be used to collaboratively generate a film -- or "a 2-dimensional nested playlist" where the audio sound bites are synched up with a sequence of visual images.

This progression involves collecting deeper and deeper levels of context and meaning on the source material as it progresses through the workflow.

As I've been piecing it together, I've been able to abstract some underlying principles and come up with a larger Theory for Collaborative Sensemaking.

Towards a Theory of Collaborative Sensemaking
The ideal collaborative sensemaking system would allow people to add their own context through each of these phases in a way that is both easy to participate and easy to productively make sense of the user input in a cumulative fashion.

I imagine that there will be a web-based multimedia experience of the film that is able to can get smarter as time goes on and more people are interact with the material by adding their context and meaning to it -- as well as produce remixes and contribute new source material back to the ecosystem.

So while the finished 90-minute documentary becomes a static product that is released and watched by a mass audience, there will also be a multimedia experience of the source material that will grow and evolve over time as users continue to interact and contribute their meaning to the material.

Two Questions Come Up at this Point:

* How am I planning on making sense of this process as it evolves?
* How am I going to coordinate these various phases and harness the chaos of the participation and collective wisdom?

I will certainly be learning a lot as real people start using the system, and I intend on doing some top-down leadership by expressing specific questions to look into, themes of sequences to cut together and trying to process as much of the incoming participation as possible.

It will be a very uncertain and chaotic process, but Wikipedia has shown that the anarchy can be productively harnessed if there is an agreed upon set of collaborative principles, a group of people with common intentions, and through enough open communication.

I also have some predictions for the how the project will evolve that will be guiding me along the way. Some of the progression will be discrete and have well-defined phases while other aspects will have blurred boundaries that organically emerge and evolve from one phase to another.

Taking this into consideration, I'll be integrating and incorporating the elements across all of the following development phases:

The Process of Filmmaking
Shot Logging Sound Bites -> Thematic Clusters -> Short Vignettes -> Edited Film as well as Interactive Multimedia Experiences

Technological Mechanisms for Aggregating Context
Granular Piece of Data -> Folksonomy Tags & Ratings -> Playlist Sequences -> Nested Sequences as well as Analysis of Competing Hypotheses & Non-Linear Systems Patterns

The Journalistic Filtering Mechanism for a Deliberative Democracy
World Events -> News -> Conversation & Dialogue -> Collective Decisions

Intelligence Cycle
Planning & Collection -> Processing -> Analysis and Production -> Dissemination

Knowledge Management Pyramid
Data -> Information -> Knowledge -> Wisdom

Scientific Method
Facts -> Hypotheses -> Theories -> Laws & Paradigms

Progression of Analytical Depth
Event -> Who, What, When & Where -> How -> Why

Increasing Levels of Abstraction
Literal -> Analytical -> Theoretical -> Philosophical

So there are parallels between all of these as well as increasing levels of understanding, levels of contextual depth, degrees of order and a reduction of complexity. For more details, read this article on Emerging Perspectives on Knowledge Management.

These progressions are helping inform me as I think about how to implement this collaborative filmmaking schema and have users participate in the system.

just observation

nice work..keep it coming..

Theory building

Given constraints for building a theory of collabrative sensemaking is very clear to study. The sub heading given are also good. Steps for development is been given clearly and easy for the new users like me :-)

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This is interesting project. I can understand the major differences working with video and audio compared to text. The article comes with some interesting views. I like the ideas presented here. Nice work I will keep an eye on this site for future developments.

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Nice one

It is nice article. It is to the point. Contemporary,too. Keep it up.

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