Design Levers in Collaborative Systems

Bronze Roughneck by takomabibelot on flickrAt HICSS-41, I heard a talk by Dr. Yochai Benkler on cooperation in human systems.

One aspect of his talk was design levers that influence how well a group of people cooperate.

As intrinsic motivators, Dr. Benkler listed: humanization, trust, fairness and solidarity. Extrinsic motivators were punishment, reward and transparency.

  • Humanization occurs when participants see others as real people with feelings, strengths and weaknesses, connection to others and history.
  • People are more likely to trust when they are themselves trusted prior to earning it. Trust requires risk. If nothing is at stake there is no need for trust. Dr. Benkler pointed to sociology studies that show when you reduce the need for trust you actually reduce trust.
  • A perception of fairness is closely tied to our reading of others intentions as much as outcomes.
  • Solidarity is cohesion and a sense of belonging. It’s bolstered when a group is self-governing and can be strengthened or weakened by an external threat.
  • Reward, punishment and transparency have complex and unpredictable effects on intrinsic motivators. Even correctly applied within a given cultural and group context, they may crowd out trust and solidarity as well as having mixed effects on human connection and perceived fairness of the system.

Managing collaborative groups requires iteratively inspecting and adapting.

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About Ken Judy

I am an executive manager, software developer, father and husband trying to do more good than harm. I am an agile practitioner. I say this fully aware I say nothing. Sold as a tool to solve problems, agile is more a set of principles that encourage us to confront problems. Broad adoption of the jargon has not resulted in wide embrace of these principles. I strive to create material and human good by respecting co-workers, telling truth to employers, improving my skills, and caring for the people affected by the software I help build.