21 September 2005

Dealing with Challenges to Collaboration

Boing Boing posted a very interesting insight from friend, Biella Coleman, an anthropologist whose thesis on nerd culture addresses ethical dilemmas in the Debian project. You can download the thesis: THREE ETHICAL MOMENTS IN DEBIAN to learn more.

This paper explores many issues we face in collaboration. What intrigued me was how people addressed these challenges and came to realize that the challenge was not as important as HOW they dealt with the issues.

"The third ethical moment I investigate is crisis. Many of these crises have an acute phase in which debate erupts on several media all at once: mailing lists, IRC conversation, and blog entries. While the debate during these periods can be congenial, measured, rational, and sometimes peppered with jokes, its tone can also be passionate and uncharitable, sometimes downright vicious.

During these moments, we find that while developers may share a common ethical ground, they often disagree about the implementation of its principles. Though the content of these debates certainly matters (and will be discussed to some extent), my primary focus is on the productive affective stance that these crises induce. I argue these are moments of assessment, in which people turn their attentive, ethical being toward an unfolding situation and engage in very difficult questions. In this mode, passions are animated and values are challenged and sometimes reformulated.

Crises can be evaluated as moments of ethical production in terms of not only their functional outcomes but also their ability to move people to reflexively articulate their ideals — an important condition of possibility for further action. Such dialogical and conflicted debate reflects the active engagement of participants who renew and sometimes alter their ethical commitments. Thus, crisis can be vital to establishing and reestablishing the importance of normative precepts."

How many times along the way - as we grow something together and have to depend on participation and collaboration - do you find yourself struggling to move the project forward without giving up what you truly believe in?

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