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Challenging our Assumptions: Making Sense of the Sharing of Social Knowledge



This chapter explores the assumptions we make, the questions we ask, and the "social knowledge" we use to make decisions about our personal and business lives. It poses provocative questions challenging assumptions about using social media to know what we know. The three co-authors take the position of transparency to engage in a dialogue around issues that they agree are critical to any thoughtful exploration of social media: trust, assumptions, and reality. Personal experiences and anecdotes provide context for scholarly ideas and references. The chapter offers its readers a method to continue the dialogue. "Cada cabeza es un mundo" ("Every head is a world") - Cuban proverb.
Challenging our Assumptions:
Making Sense of the Sharing of
Social Knowledge
Suzanne Roff-Wexler
Compass Point Consulting, USA
Loretta L. Donovan
Innovation Partners International, USA
Salvatore Rasa
im21 (innovation/measurement 21st. century), USA
This chapter explores the assumptions we make, the questions we ask, and the “social knowledge” we use
to make decisions about our personal and business lives. It poses provocative questions challenging
assumptions about using social media to know what we know. The three co-authors take the position of
transparency to engage in a dialogue around issues that they agree are critical to any thoughtful
exploration of social media: trust, assumptions, and reality. Personal experiences and anecdotes provide
context for scholarly ideas and references. The chapter offers its readers a method to continue the
"Cada cabeza es un mundo" ("Every head is a world") – Cuban proverb
In this chapter, we explore the assumptions we make, the questions we ask, and the “social knowledge”
we use to make decisions in our personal and business lives. We pose provocative questions challenging
assumptions about using social media to know what we know. The structure of the chapter departs from
the traditional in several ways. First, in the spirit of transparency we share who we are and describe our
approach. Secondly, we disclose our biases in an effort to express our own authentic perspectives and
voices to the topics under consideration. Finally, we do not attempt to provide a formal review of the
literature, and have chosen instead to suggest the relevant research and points of view which inform our
thinking and may illuminate the way to greater understanding.
Who We Are
Suzanne Roff-Wexler is a consulting psychologist focused on 21st technology and psychology, social
media, narrative, and collective knowledge. She is co-founder and senior partner of Psychology21C -- a
collaborative venture dedicated to applying new technologies, including virtual environments, to the
science of human behavior. As president of Compass Point Consulting, she provides executive coaching
and consulting to client organizations. She has a passion for bringing people together to have meaningful
conversations, learn, collaborate, and make sense of personal and organizational life.
Loretta L. Donovan is a cutting edge, versatile contributor to organizational development and corporate
learning. Her professional life includes the internal role of Corporate Director of Organizational Learning
and Leadership with the Health Quest, a hospital and healthcare system, and external consulting as an
associate of Innovation Partners International, and principal of the Worksmarts Group. Based on a wealth
of experience as an executive, consultant, and academic, she has focused on dialogue, knowledge creation
and critical action in organizational life. She is an early adopter of Web 2.0 and fosters the use of open
source and social media for digital collaboration. Technology companies, professional sports teams,
healthcare institutions and universities are among the places where she has helped successful
transformation of vision and viewpoints, new organizational structures, and redesign of business
Salvatore Rasa claims that he usually does not fit in anywhere in particular. He has a B.A. in philosophy
and a M.F.A in directing. Fortunately, he has been able to work in a variety of learning, organization
design and strategic communication projects for global companies, the people who live on his block in
New York City, and several of the world's wonderful arts institutions. Often, his work has involved teams
experiencing radical change in over 120 countries and sometimes, it's been with a small group of
dedicated professionals who understand that their own networks provide answers that should be shared.
Providing, they can be heard. Sal is a founding member of im21 (Innovation - Measurement – 21st
Century) which focuses on inclusive communication in a diverse global workplace. He is president of
generating community – driven solutions dedicated to the notion that the ability of an organization or
community to communicate is a direct reflection of the overall health of that entity.
Our Approach
When we began the process of drafting this chapter, the references that each of the co-authors assembled
tended to fall along two distant poles: one abstract and statistically academic, and the other promotional
and close to marketing hype. We were looking for something different – more personally expressive,
collaborative; challenging not only assumptions, but the way in which much social media oriented
literature now exists. We decided to position our writing within a middle zone. We conjured a place
where we were transparent as co-authors and where we could dialogue around what we agree is critical to
any thoughtful exploration of social media: truth, assumptions, and reality. It brought to mind a quote
recently shared by a friend that came from his grandfather, “If you want to know anything, ask five biased
people because there isn’t any other kind.” Well, here we are three biased people eager to dialogue about
knowing what we know. Or as Socrates reminds us, “I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I
know nothing.”
“Don't Keep Secrets”
Michael is five years old. His parents work in IT. He has three BlackBerrys to play with.
Q. Michael, do you have good teachers in your school?
A. Our teachers are very good. We do fun stuff with them.
Q. Why are they good teachers?
A. They do fun stuff with us and that’s kind of learning.
Q. What’s an example of what they teach you?
A. Definitely not hitting. All the kids don’t always listen to the teacher.
Q. Do you learn things from people other than your teachers?
A. Kids learn from other kids.
Q. Do you teach other kids?
A. I don’t teach them how to train cats.
Q. Why do you like to train cats?
A. I work with cats and cats are very soft and they are nice.
Q. So you don’t teach other kids about this, but how did you learn to train cats?
A. I did not learn, I just know. I did not learn anything from anyone else.
Q. Why do you like BlackBerrys?
A. I like the BlackBerrys because I can send and get e-mails. (His parents say he never does either. But
Michael insists he does.)
Q. Do you know about the Internet? What do you like about it?
A. You listen to people when they say nice things. When they don’t, you don’t listen.
They tell you things you might not know and sometimes, they ask you things you might know. They have
to be nice (on the Internet) or I would not listen to them.
Q. What do your parents teach you?
A. They teach me things that I do not know.
Q. Do you like to learn things from the other kids?
A. Not always. Because we might be having a disagreement and if there is not a teacher, that might be
Q. How can I learn things, because I don’t go to school anymore?
A. Don’t keep secrets.
We have chosen to begin our examination of social knowledge by looking at trust and its implications
with Suzanne opening the dialogue. In her words:
Trust, assumptions, and reality are integral aspects of my practice as a psychologist in non-clinical and
clinical settings. As I begin this conversation with my co-authors by focusing on trust, let me add that for
me trust, that intangible quality, is a felt sense between me and a client. It involves many unconscious
and conscious verbal and non-verbal cues, but it is so much more than “trust me.” I am a licensed
professional with an ethical responsibility to maintain confidentiality, to do no harm, and not to profit
personally from the client relationship. Trust, in that role is a reflective self-awareness, a kind of pattern
recognition, an internal state of calm, perhaps emanating from a strong sense of being “true” to oneself.
But that is only one category or way to view trust. If there were a taxonomy of trust, you would see
many different categories in addition to trust of self, such as trust of others, of organizations, of country,
of God, or of social knowledge. I assume its presence, therefore I am alive and evidence of that principle:
trust begins with self, is experienced with others, and then is further challenged by workplaces and 21st
century technology.
It is almost a cliché to state that trust is the foundation of any good relationship. What interests me here is
trust in the context of how social knowledge is created and used. In the essay, On Regulating What is
Known, social epistemologist R. Buckminster Fuller (1987) suggests that “having knowledge” is
ultimately a matter of credibility. What is striking is that his ideas have much significance for a Web 2.0
world that did not exist when he wrote them. Fuller argues that given the numerous ways people can
draw on each other's work, centers of credibility in the knowledge production process do not necessarily
imply a convergence of opinion that is any deeper than who the credible knowledge producers are. We
see this in the phenomenon of social knowledge coming through the emerging social media.
What is credible (and what is trusted) and how do we know it? Fuller (1987) points out that a premium is
placed on works which can render redundant much of what is already in circulation. Think of wikis,
those continuously editable Web pages. He tells us that our interpretations and synopses pass as
translations for the original work and begin to accrue credibility for their new producers while
diminishing “if not entirely subsume the credibility of the producers whose works are replaced” (p. 180).
His punch line is that with all these revisions and translations that supplant the original work, retention
becomes spotty and “the contents of a text can be lost without ever having been definitively refuted, only
to be recovered at some future date to revolutionize the particular knowledge production process” (p.
Fuller’s ideas as well as those of other epistemologists (e.g., Alvin I. Golden, 1986) provide intellectual
fodder to our exploration. Isn’t trust just another paradigm of what is intrinsic to survival? It requires a
context such as a relationship (with self or other) or a reliance on something more intangible, such as
knowledge. Can I trust social media – full of collective intelligence – to provide what I need? Can I trust
myself to be cognizant enough to sort through information that may imposter as knowledge and make
sense of it? Once, we trusted or were skeptical about what we read or heard in traditional mass media
(newspapers, radio, and television). Now we have a different paradigm to navigate. Social media begins
to be about new “kinds of communication where factual content, opinion, and conversation often can’t be
clearly separated” (Manovich, 2009, p. 326). We see this in blogs where much of an entry consists of
comments about something copied from or linked to another source. Likewise, forums generate posts
leading to discussions that go into new directions often with the original item long forgotten (Manovich,
The questions then become: "Is trust a trait, that is, an innate propensity that emerges as a state given
certain contexts?" "Can one truly love without trust?" "Do we trust each other not to criticize or hurt the
other?" "Do we trust each other to tell the truth and not deceive?" "What is it that I ask you to trust about
me?" Our assumption abound at the same time: "To survive in the world, we need a certain adaptive
intelligence that relies on trust to initiate behavior." "Trust can be earned like any other commodity."
"Children are socialized to trust their parents but often learn that it is not an absolute."
Let me take my thoughts one step further. Inviting colleagues to collaborate to write a chapter requires a
leap of trust. Can I trust that my co-authors will contribute in a timely fashion? Can I trust their integrity
to give credit where credit is due and not plagiarize others’ works? Must I assess my sense of them when
face to face, our interaction through virtual conferences, social networking sites, etc.? How do I know
that I can trust them? Furthermore, can I trust the synergy that our three contributions will be greater than
the whole? Yes. On the other hand, can I trust scientific research to provide me with findings sufficient
enough to answer my questions?
Let’s now turn to a brief story that may illustrate some of my thinking. This is about a recent engagement
with a coaching client (identity is a composite of several clients). She often struggles with whether or not
she can trust some of the people she works with. From my perspective, trust has been a lifelong challenge
for her and it’s getting played out in the workplace as if she were in her family of origin. Over time she’s
grown to trust me, demonstrate vulnerability, and be more open to the interpretations I make. We often
focus on how her goals, much like life, can be nonlinear. She may plan and execute a management
decision that does not go the way she predicted given the complex context within which she works. She
assumes that things go linearly from point A to Z and gets disappointed when they don’t. Perhaps it’s an
irrational position but this disappointment fuels her sense of not trusting. Outside of the workplace, she
has a few close relationships within her informal networks where she can trust too much. Our coaching
work has focused on this critical aspect of adapting to life – finding the best degree and balance between
trusting herself and others. These dynamics play out in a coaching – client relationship built on trust. But
I can’t tell you where it comes from. Psychoanalytic thinkers might call it transference (an unconscious
feeling from early life with caregivers that is transferred onto the current situation). Others might say
trust is learned each time there are more positive results than negative ones. While it is not my purpose to
explore the developmental and behavioral theories regarding trust, I think trust underlies our ability to
adapt to life and be resilient to its challenges.
Sal continues the conversation, asking, "What are the languages of social knowledge and how does our
use of language build trust?" In his words:
My colleagues, Suzanne and Loretta, are used to my launching into stories. They always take time to be
patient with me. After all, trust takes time and time changes (or at least it feels like it does), depending on
what form or type of communication we engage in. Trust, however, always begins and ends with
ourselves. How we trust and authenticate information today relies on how we respond using the
communication tools we now have at hand. While they may seem unique, they are not so terribly
different from those found any time in history. The difference may be that today we expect that
technology will always change based on our interactions. This is a bit different from waiting to learn
what’s new. No longer do we live in anticipation for the next World’s Fair to exhibit where we are
headed. Now, it’s just a “start up” time away. The next entrepreneur comes with the morning coffee as
we browse the Web. Consider as well, that the role of shaman has moved from the center of the physical
circle to the margins of communities that populate the Internet. Every tribe has had its storytellers. Today,
we interact with them and not just listen. In my view, trust emanates from the ways in which we use and
understand language. Let me explain this point of view further by way of some stories.
A Great Mentor Who Understands the Humanity of Language
I first met Cicely Berry when I was a graduate student, working as a stage manager. While touring with
members of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) around several New York colleges, Cis and I would
often hide out in my Volkswagen Beetle to avoid people who wanted to talk to and be photographed with
this world renowned voice expert. We became friends. More than thirty-five years later, in 2007, I co-
produced and directed a documentary on her work called “Where Words Prevail.” The title comes from
The Spanish Tragedy, an Elizabethan tragedy written by Thomas Kyd between 1582 and 1592. The full
quote is: “Where words prevail not, violence prevails.”
While working on this documentary, which took several years, we were told by interested people that the
subject matter would never make it to television. However, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
telecast in the United States alone reached over ninety-million households within four weeks. While
Cicely’s work focuses on understanding and accurately speaking the text as actors and directors, she
continues to be a powerful force helping diverse communities all over the world. She is currently voice
director of The Royal Shakespeare Company. A Marxist, she nevertheless earned an O.B.E (Order of the
British Empire) and recently, a C.B.E. (Commander of the British Empire). More than one world leader
has asked for and accepted her advice.
Cicely’s life’s work is remarkable from the great stages, to the most challenged living environments on
earth. Her workshops on speaking the text of Shakespeare have affected the work of many theater
professionals. However, these same workshops have also deeply enriched people’s lives all over the
world, in prisons and places such as a Brazilian favella where the ability to speak is often directly
connected to survival. People find the subject matter of the documentary Where Words Prevail quite
accessible because, through her voice work, Cicely always presents an unwavering commitment to the
human spirit. Neither position nor power can ever influence her to take that sense of trust away from
anyone, regardless of their circumstance. If our “inner voice” is inhibited, as she says, terrible things
happen. Nothing should inhibit our ability to trust our need to communicate freely. While she works with
the most accomplished actors, directors and writers of our time, Cicely will do the same work with people
in places many of us would fear to visit.
Cicely has taught me: “All we do, we do out of a need to survive." For her, a fundamental issue of trust
resides in our agreement to dignify all people and to hear one another, no matter what the language. In her
latest book, From Word To Play: A Textual Handbook for Actors and Directors (Berry, 2008), she writes:
“There are now roughly six thousand languages spoken across the world. By the end of this century it is
estimated by linguists that probably only about three thousand will have survived.”
In her statement, she is referring to Mark Abley's Spoken Here, Travels Among Threatened Languages
(2005). Cicely also mentions Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, as a “great South African actor” whose native
language is Zulu. Ka-Ncube said to her one day: “Each language has its own way of naming the world.”
With all this in mind, she asks two critical questions: “The essence of just how many cultures are we
going to lose?” And, “how are we naming our own culture?”
Walter J. Ong, in his book, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (2002), an exploration
of the differences between oral and literate cultures, makes a clear distinction between our traditional
languages and what he calls “…so called computer languages.” So-called computer languages resemble
human languages (English, Sanskrit, Malayalam, Mandarin Chinese, Twi or Shoshone etc.) in some ways,
but are forever totally unlike human languages in that they do not grow out of the unconscious but
directly out of consciousness. Computer language rules (‘grammar’) are stated first and thereafter used.
The ‘rules’ of grammar in natural human languages are used first and can be abstracted from usage and
stated explicitly in words only with difficulty and never completely (Ong, 2002, p. 7). This provokes a
thought. Does grammar actually create a framework for trust? Was that a fundamental role for the
development of grammar? How are we changing that framework with “computer language” and social
knowledge exchange?
Is There a Language of Social Knowledge That Does Not Exclude People?
For Cicely Berry, it’s our drive to be literal with today's language that she finds dysfunctional and not
expressive. She communicates concern and describes issues such as the business language of the
Internet. She asks if it will actually change the right- and left-brain use of poor people. She questions our
ability to “hear language.”
I recall reading several years ago about The World Economic Conference at Davos, Switzerland, where it
was stated that over 500 million people were already using the Internet while more than 400 thousand
people had yet to make their first phone call. Cicely’s wisdom questions our ability to 'hear language' as
she puts it. Her discussions of social knowledge and information sharing provoke me to question the way
language is getting reduced to a new shorthand today. LOL, K, BFF, are now complete thoughts.
In another example, Cicely explains that the primary form of entertainment, during the early days of the
Gold Rush in America, was reciting the words of Shakespeare. Because many people could not read, the
words were passed on from one prospector to another. The heightened language was a delight to the well-
worn workers in pursuit of gold. Perhaps, the rhyme and rhythm provided a sense of relief and relaxation,
while sharing history with their everyday realities. What was it that they shared as social knowledge?
They could hear the language and speak it. Cicely often points out that reading Shakespeare is very
different than speaking it. That’s why so many literary critics miss the humor, sexuality, and political
importance of Shakespeare’s works. I witnessed this while filming teenagers in one of Brazil’s most
dangerous favellas one day, as the students were analyzing a scene from Hamlet after one of Cicely’s
workshops. The discussion was startling. And the one-week, ten-hour a day workshops were totally
energetic and productive. The students were never bored and always focused on the work. We could
regularly hear the usual gunshots from the neighborhood. In that extremely difficult environment, with a
great mentor present, we all could hear the language of their lives.
Drive Through Trust or, An Integrated Supply Chain of Trust? It’s our Choice.
Today, we demonstrate our sense of trust or we authenticate truth for ourselves in new ways -- often in
collaboration with people or entities we know nothing about. Take the ATM machine for example. If my
grandparents had been told forty years ago that they would put an identification card into the machinery
of a bank with which they had no relationship, who may even be a competitor of their chosen bank, they
would have never believed it to be sane. Yet, every time we insert a debit card to get the money we want,
there exists a system of partnerships and alliances that work for thirty seconds or so, to authenticate,
before the twenty bucks slides out with a receipt loaded with highly confidential information.
We live like that in many ways today. Traditional transaction, while implicit, is also now represented by a
completely different set of circumstances that rely on an integrated supply chain of trust. In the very
fundamental issues of survival -- health, finance, and politics, we are providing an astounding collection
of living metaphors that name our world. In the words of young Michael, if you want to learn . . . "don't
keep secrets."
Making assumptions about trust is always a risk. The word trust may be interpreted as something that
creates safety. For example, when is it safe to share information with a trusted person or group of people?
However, the intentions for seeking trust may not always be unilaterally safe to everyone.
Here’s a story published by KTLA in California, in 2009.
Cyber Thugs: Gangs Use Facebook, Twitter to Recruit and Organize
12:44 PM PST, November 19, 2009
“ONTARIO, Calif. -- State lawmakers are holding a hearing today in Ontario to discuss the rise
in the number of criminal gangs using networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Officials say the hearing entitled "Gangs 2.0: The Emerging Threat of Cyberthugs" will explore
the use of social networking tools in gang recruitment and gang-related crime.
Assembly majority leader Alberto Torrico, and attorney general candidate says gang members
both in and out of prison are making more use of technology.
"Social networking is a great way to reach out to others, update them on activities, exchange
information and support a cause," Torrico said.
"Unfortunately, gangs are using these tools to communicate, recruit, issue threats, traffic
narcotics, promote violence and expand their criminal activities."
According to Torrico's office, gang members are heavily involved on social networks, with a
recent survey finding:
70 percent of gang members say it's easier to make friends online than in the real world 89
percent of students say they are the primary users of technology in the home 41 percent do not
share with their parents where they go on the Internet
Cell phones are another tool used by gangs to coordinate activities, including among members
who are already behind bars, Torrico says.
Over 4,100 cell phones have already been confiscated in California state prisons this year and
corrections officials consider them a top security threat”.
Questioning our assumptions about this story might also ensure that we not discount the potential or
actual value of social networking to positively affect gang and prison issues.
What determines our ability to develop ethically and be truly grounded in respect for our humanity is now
(as it has always been) directly related to how we communicate. I have a bias. I believe that something
about our methods of "formalizing" information in education and in many business organizations makes
us believe that we should underestimate our imagination.
The philosopher, Immanuel Kant in The CrtiqueCritique of Pure Reason, implies that the imagination is
the seat of our logic. In that sense, the fundamentals of trust reside in our ability to see the imagination as
an organizer of truth and not some human methodology for whimsical thinking. We are taught to revere
the imagination as artful and distrust it as a means of deeper understanding of reality. Our imagination is
meaningful to helping us understand today's visual and audio driven environment for sharing social
knowledge. And, we must take care not to exclude those who may not see or hear. Hearing language is
part of our humanity, no matter what our circumstance.
In business, traditional transformation over the last two decades has included concepts such as: common
process, information management, and building collaborative behaviors. These are all ways of work in
which organizations invest time and money with the purpose of achieving and then measuring profitable
change. Today, we also share accountability within instantaneous supply chains that must generate trust in
conducting business.
Stéphane Garelli (personal communication, 2008) is Professor at both the International Institute for
Management Development (IMD) and the University of Lausanne. He is an authority on world
competitiveness and also the director of the IMD's World Competitiveness Center: his research focuses
particularly on how nations and enterprises compete on international markets.
I asked him in 2008, why he had added the concept of «vulnerability» to his list of competitive
“Dear Mr. Rasa,
I am indeed highlighting the fact that vulnerability is a key concern for CEOs today. The
outsourcing policies that we have seen during the past decade have lead to a value chain that is
leaner but longer. It means that every company is now confronted with a multiplication of
partners to work with. As a consequence, the level of complexity has increased and also the level
of vulnerability. In the latter case, it means essentially that if a link of the value chain is exposed
to a breakdown, it can stop the entire value chain. Even a small business partner can stop a
larger company from operating.
I hope that this will be useful.”
Sharing knowledge through social networking and media has never been solely a corporate owned entity.
However, the direct affect to ROI and the bottom line becomes more and more evident as technology and
behavior intersect.
In the time it has taken to write these thoughts, informal networks of people around the world have made
informal agreements based on trust that will make it less possible tomorrow morning for large companies
to accurately measure the value of the organizational changes they have invested in over the last ten years.
You may hope that’s an exaggeration. It is not. In large organizations, where phrases like “task force,”
“communication plans,” and “employee campaigns” are still used, workers will have networked their
collective intelligence far ahead of the management strategy timeline to achieve expected results.
Measurement of such initiatives is often illusionary. Examples were painful for companies such as
American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) and International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) when
information regarding downsizing and retirement changes were accelerated by employees talking to
Loretta reflects and responds to these ideas with an eye to the world of social media. She continues:
The expectations and means for communication began a major pattern of shifts from oral and printed
modes more than one hundred fifty years ago. In The Social Life of Information (2000), John Seely
Brown and Paul Duguid suggest that the telegraph was the first technological change to accelerate the rate
of information dissemination from the rate of human travel. The addition of each successive technical
medium for mass communication has increased the pace and span of information sharing, with the
telephone, radio, movies, and television achieving larger audiences and greater immediacy. Even with the
arrival of Internet technology, the ratio of originator to audience remained 'one to many' as a single author
or source broadcast information to the masses. There was little means for the receiver to interact with the
sender. Technology had caused a level of interference in the social aspects of communication. The
underlying beliefs of the producers of software, and its component digital code, gained a belief in their
personal power. They became the driver of new egalitarian ways of work and work products: free agents
and open source technologies. And this is the intersection of trust, communication, and social media. It
has spawned a new concept, "Radical Trust." Collin Douma (2006) explains how this sweet spot calls for
a new relational contract among those who participate in the culture of social media (especially in relation
to consumer markets):
You must radically trust that people:
1. are best equipped to determine their own needs, and left to their own devices are best equipped to
get those needs met.
2. would rather be communicated with than spoken to.
3. require freedom of expression, but often require guidelines to create expressions within.
4. will self-regulate communities to the level guidelines suggest and that the collective group they
comprise will accept.
5. will disconnect with a brand that silences them and will align with brands that give them a voice.
6. (This one is the hardest) People are inherently good.
In 2006 the concept of Web 2.0 was barely two years old. Chris Heuer saw the potential of this new form
and co-founded the Social Media Club so people would assemble to share knowledge about social media,
technology, and related topics. He explains why he promotes social media as a means to come together:
Because participation is more broadly available across society, it is the contexts in which we
interact with others that is most crucial – within those contexts we communicate with each other
and if through those communications, we reach agreement to trust one another, we can
collaborate towards common goals. (Heuer, 2007)
Heuer and I both offered to assist Sandy Heierbacher, founder of the National Coalition for Dialogue &
Deliberation (NCDD) at a 2006 San Francisco conference and to bring social media onto the radar screen
of community advocates. They placed their trust in us to take them into a realm they never envisioned, yet
alone participate in. We had, by means of a social contract, mimicked the relational trends we were
Early adopters of new Web technologies seem to enjoy the risk and thrill of trying something new. They
seem to operate more from instinct than from any other motivation. However, trust is essential for the
second wave of users, the people who are next to adopt new ways of living, working, and community.
That cohort needs trust in the technology, the security of support, and the community of users they can
reach out to. An example of that occurred as Heuer and I met Juanita Brown whose brainchild is the The
World Café (TWC), a method for convening in-person conversations around critical issues. She already
had an online forum but was entranced by social media and started a blog right after our meeting. What
she wanted to inspire needed social media and led to the launching of The World Cafe Online Community
using Ning, a social collaboration site ( John Inman, a TWC
community member, posted a comment that demonstrates the importance of the underlying premise for
the practices and beliefs shared among the members, "Trust in the conversation and trust in TWC process
as that is where all of the work is done." With over one-thousand members, this community of practice
relies on technology and the presence of trusted members to be a vital force for enhancing the skills and
tools for robust, thought-provoking digital conversations.
So what is it that we are counting on in our relationships, collaborations, and technology when we refer to
trust? Theorists have made us keenly aware of the need for trust while they look at this construct through
many lenses. Since our perspectives are multi-disciplinary, a definition that has been derived by finding
the commonalities across many fields is especially suitable. For that reason, the multidimensional
definition proposed by Megan Tschannen-Moran and Wayne K. Hoy (2000, p. 556) is one I have adopted:
“Trust is one party's willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on the confidence that the latter
party is (a) benevolent, (b) reliable, (c) competent, (d) honest, and (e) open.”
In my mind, as the relevance of social media to our lives and work has already made its mark, the human
factors that establish norms for interaction are no different from those we have valued and adhered to in
our face-to-face associations for centuries. Recommitting to them and adapting them to a Web 2.0 world
is what we invite you to consider.
Sal takes the lead as we explore our second point of departure, assumptions. In his view, Assumptions
Can Be Comforting.
Christopher Columbus did not set out to prove the world was round. During his time of exploration, the
scientific community had pretty much come to that conclusion. It was really about business, spices,
power, and misconceptions about "other worlds."
After many centuries, we still teach children the wonder of his quest. The only problem--the assertion
and the assumption to that sense of wonderment has little to do with the reality of his quest. But it’s an
easy tale to tell. The common understanding about Columbus is poetic in the sense that our ability to
exchange social knowledge has for centuries conditioned us to separate common exchange from empirical
We believe what we are told or what we read, often without looking for other forms of documentation.
Questioning, however, is also part of our nature. And, when we question or seek documentation, we
sometimes accept results, even when they contradict our individual or collective experience. How long
has it taken, for example, to learn about the horrific practices of Christopher Columbus along his journey
and do people indeed really believe the evidence even today? Depending on what community one relates
to, the reality may be more or less compelling than continuing to spin an inaccurate story.
We have a need to "authenticate." Social media from the days of the cave drawings to our current posts
and blogs push the virtual envelope of forcing us to confront our sense of articulating our experience.
Social knowledge creates the kind of disruption that helps us to authenticate.
What is Today’s Equivalent of Saying that Columbus Set Out to Prove the World Was
One might consider that social knowledge sharing focuses on the conversation rather than just the
hypothesis or single question. Mass data allows for different questioning than just a single story. In fact,
traditional business models are changing or attempting to market their need to change as a value to clients
and customers.
Take for example, the Public Relations business. It’s the nature of PR to tell stories. Listen to what large
PR companies describe as their mission today.
Phrases like “facilitating the conversation.” “We don’t create the message anymore, we help people to tell
their story” and “Advocacy” are common terms that I have heard in discussions with PR executives.
I am not disparaging any particular skill or type of organization. I am saying that concepts such as Web
2.0 and 3.0 will be and are already being commoditized as a kind of “value add.” That kind of
manipulation may not necessarily drive progressive transformation to accelerate the ease and relevancy of
social knowledge sharing.
Authenticating Is a Process of Understanding and Not a Paternal Dictate
Clarity resides in development of perception in the context of what is real. From the point of
phenomenology, the truth is revealed through the use of our inquisitive imagination to determine a
reality. What is real, we cannot change. Martin Heidegger said: "reality not the real, is dependent upon
Social knowledge is more complex than telling stories and more fundamental than the technology formats
that we know will constantly change.
Take for example, a recent statement from a New York head and neck surgeon regarding treatment to a
man with an injury to his hearing. “The information flow through his electronic medical records
demonstrated an injury due to an altercation.” The legal and medical issues became integrated. “His
treatment from one physician to the next was always connected to the altercation. Until, it got to me. My
examination clearly demonstrated that his problem had nothing to do with the altercation. Yet, an entire
stream of documentation and treatment were based on the earliest of the recorded electronic
That story demonstrates how not questioning assumptions can create a false sense of trust.
Here’s Another Story
A doctor of informatics, whom I recently worked with, told another story. While I was documenting on
video how eighteen medical professionals experienced their first year of using electronic medical records,
this physician spoke of his compelling experience with two long-time adult patients who could not read.
For the first time he said, the graph-like images from the electronic records offered these people a way to
see how their health issues were working out and where compliance and treatment were needed. He
spends 40% of his time now with patients and 60% with technology issues.
This recounting of this story and putting these eighteen professionals into a cross boundary conversation
had significant results. Information sharing was quickly increased and actual bottom line improvement
was achieved for patient care and hospital costs. The unspoken realization was also addressed, that people
within the organization were actually being conditioned not to share information with one another.
Imagine that in a hospital?
Today, we use rapid technologies to convey what once took time for consideration --and time to build
trust. We are working in ways we never did before. Fast information does not necessarily create more
credibility or deepen trust. Those qualities are, as always, fundamentally connected to our intentions.
Technology exists to carry out our intentions. Speed of information can reduce unnecessary conjecture
and task. It cannot supersede intention. Questioning online has become for us a kind of business
transformation that large companies went through over the last two decades. CRM (customer relationship
management), Knowledge Management, ERP etc. etc. Now, we are realizing that concepts such as
Knowledge Management are more dynamic than prescriptive. That we move from event to event and not
from repositories only. Questioning assumptions becomes more and more part of the conversation and
not just a response. We are learning this.
What do we convey and why? Who do we want to reach? And, the realization that we may not know the
people we reach nor do we always care about the recipient. The questioning of assumptions within the
realm of social knowledge is an opportunity for us to learn how to learn. It is also part of our being.
There is something in the expression of social knowledge that may seem the business of a solipsist, but
that does not necessarily mean suspect in nature or sinister in our intent to communicate. We choose to be
expressive because that is human.
The cave wall has become virtual. Often, on places like Twitter, you will see someone complaining about
a person who only posts things to point out how intelligent they are. The intention becomes questioned
and the content is overlooked. That is also very human.
Lawyers and Judges Don’t Think So Highly of Eye Witness Testimony
Visual and audio data affects us. Different people see and hear the same message differently. Here is an
interesting reference which illustrates this. It’s not the scientific positioning or accuracy that I am
testifying to. The reference, however, provides an interesting perspective on questioning something as
basic as our eyesight.
"Unconscious inference. Hermann von Helmholtz is often credited with the first study of visual
perception in modern times. Helmholtz examined the human eye and concluded that it was,
optically, rather poor. The poor quality information gathered via the eye seemed to him to make
vision impossible. He therefore concluded that vision could only be the result of some form of
unconscious inferences: a matter of making assumptions and conclusions from incomplete data,
based on previous experiences.
Inference requires prior experience of the world: examples of well-known assumptions - based on
visual experience - are:
light comes from above
objects are normally not viewed from below
faces are seen (and recognized) upright
The study of visual illusions (cases when the inference process goes wrong) has yielded much
insight into what sort of assumptions the visual system makes.
Another type of the unconscious inference hypothesis (based on probabilities) has recently been
revived in so-called Bayesian studies of visual perception.
Proponents of this approach consider that the visual system performs some form of Bayesian
inference to derive a perception from sensory data. Models based on this idea have been used to
describe various visual subsystems, such as the perception of motion or the perception of depth."
(Eyesight, 2009)
I was taught in school that a human being looking at a perfectly flat white plane becomes blinded. If that
is true, then it supports the idea that we need disruption and obstruction to be able to see clearly. A
critical question of this book chapter is to ask: In today's world of constantly changing technology and
mass data potential, how do we ask the questions that we are not even aware of?
Does the very nature of social knowledge exchange provide a contemporary and continuous set of
disruptive signals so that our perception becomes sharper? Or, are we sharing and co-developing an
ability to learn in a time we really have not seen before? Is that drive to learn as significant as the
knowledge we share?
Another take on assumptions is offered by Loretta. Her interest in knowledge co-creation honors the
person as a reliable and competent source.
In the domain of digital collaboration and social media, assumptions of who the contributors are become
less useful to the process of knowledge creation than transparency and authenticity about individual and
group competencies. We might take for granted that everyone in the social space is knowledgeable -
suggesting “knowledge” is a generic construct. So, if they “know” something, they possess a
homogenized understanding and use of some concept or skills. There are shades of understanding,
however, as demonstrated in many facets of life.
To clarify the competencies of a Web 2.0 world, Joan Torrent (Peña-López, 2009), however, enumerates
four varieties of knowledge:
Know what: observable knowledge, non-rival, ability of exclusion, high increasing returns,
decreasing marginal utility, lock-in
Know why: observable knowledge, non-rival, medium ability of exclusion, high increasing
returns, decreasing marginal utility, lock-in, network spillovers
Know how: tacit knowledge, low exclusion, medium increasing returns, decreasing marginal
utility, low barriers of exit, network spillovers
Know who: tacit knowledge, low exclusion, medium increasing returns, decreasing marginal
utility, low barriers of exit, network spillovers
In similar terms, psychologist Howard Gardner offers "multiple intelligences," the aptitudes for learning
and using certain types of knowledge, as a way to value and differentiate talent. In 1983, he published
Frames of Mind, the book in which he introduced MI theory.
My research in cognitive development and cognitive breakdown convinced me that this
traditional view of intellect is not tenable. Individuals have different human faculties and their
strength (or weakness) in one intellectual sphere simply does not predict whether a particular
individual will be strong or weak in some other intellectual component. I developed a definition
of intelligence—a biopsychological information-processing capacity to solve problems or fashion
products that are valued in at least one community and culture. I think of the intelligences as a set
of relatively independent computers. One computer deals with language, a second with spatial
information, a third with information about other people. (Gardner, 2005, p. 6)
Because Gardner wrote his book as a psychologist, addressing principally his colleagues in psychology,
he had no expectations for the application of his ideas to the mainstream. As we come together to co-
create new knowledge, the variation of ways in which each person can contribute to building new
concepts and applying them as intellectual capital becomes an assumed asset of the community. We have
the expectation that differences exist, and that those are ways in which our virtual social relationships,
communications mediated by various forms of technology, and complexity of thought and solutions
benefit from them.
Suzanne enlightens the conversation by confronting resistance to social media and the preconceived
notions that surround the sharing and social creation of knowledge.
Assumptions come in all shapes and colors. We assume the sun will rise tomorrow and we are correct.
We assume that there is something to learn from social media. We assume we will learn something
relevant by using search engines and that may be or may not be so. I assume many people resist change
for a variety of reasons. I have been surprised how many psychology colleagues avoid learning about
social media. What I don’t understand is how someone engaged in the understanding of human behavior
would be so resistant to considering new technologies to further clinical or non-clinical goals. A friend
sent me a blog posting that reviewed copyright holders’ claims demanding restrictions on their inventions,
essentially attempting to thwart innovation:
The anxious rhetoric around new technology is really quite shocking in its vehemence, from
claims that the player piano will destroy musical taste and the "national throat" to concerns that
the VCR is like the "Boston strangler" to claims that only Hollywood's premier content could
make the DTV transition a success. Most of it turned out to be absurd hyperbole… (Anderson,
There is so much fear around how social media is impacting personal relationships, cognitive and
language skills. Then there are others who assume that it is the source of collective knowledge that can
be useful even to solve sticky problems. So many assumptions. Show me the research or show me the
facts which, by the way, we know may one day be disproven!
Researchers are developing algorithms and other methods to make sense of our social knowledge from
natural occurring language in objective texts such as newspapers to more subjective content found in
blogs and other postings. In the newness of the quest for making sense of social knowledge through social
media, new methods have emerged but many are not commonly accepted making it more problematic to
dialog across boundaries about the art and science of knowledge.
Emotions are an integral part of many text types and form a central role in the emerging social
media, which are focused largely on sharing experiences and ideas. The automatic analysis of
texts for their emotion content is desirable for many purposes, but the exploratory research to date
has not settled on standard notions. (Hakki, C., Cankaya, H. C., Moldovan, D., 2009)
As Web users continue to participate in social media, contributing new content, rating it, expressing
opinions and commenting on digital content found in articles and video as well as real world product,
. . .they organize online content by tagging it and they participate in online communities. As a
result of this massive user participation in Web applications, large amounts of user-generated data
are collected. Combining the behavior, preferences and ideas of masses of users that are
imprinted in this data can result into novel insights and knowledge; this process is frequently
denoted to as the emergence of Collective Intelligence. (Papadopoulos, S., Kompatsiaris, Y.,
Vakali, A., 2009)
Recently I communicated with my cousin Tristan, an Internet entrepreneur. Our online chat reflectively
focused on the language we were using to communicate.
T: tyvm
S: translation please
T: Thank You Very Much. You’re interested in social behaviors right?
S: Yes very much
T: I have been saying for years now that Internet vernacular will become part of real world
speech, and I see that happening already -- things like "lol" and "brb" tyvm. I first noticed it
with emoticons ( :) & :P ) those would appear in emails and letters and then abbreviations showed
up online and those quickly caught on with BFF being one of the first
S: BFF? I need to become more literate. BTW
T: BFF = Best Friends Forever, but it’s lost that exact meaning these days. Now it’s used to
describe a best friend. Turn on E! for 20 mins and I am sure you will hear it and many other
Internet sourced terms.
I noticed you know BTW also part of the same phonon
S: Yes that was my first
T: :) [read turning around smiley face}
S: That I haven't seen a emoticon that moves. There is clearly a psychology to all of this.
T: I just emailed you our chat btw
S: btw tyvm
T: Nice (not short for anything) oh oh to finish up on my point. I believe this trend is going to
continue until you see these terms in the English dictionary and used as frequently and easily as
the word 'The.' One example of that is google -- to google is an acceptable verb.
S: That makes sense because it seems that society is providing the content for so much.
T: Here’s a funny example of this phonon <3 [read heart shape] is an Internet term
S: It used to take so long for a word to be JUDGED worthy of a dictionary but those rules have
loosened quite a bit with wikis, etc.
T: It means "i love "
S: Did not know that
T: Last year was rejected from being included as part of the English language and cannot be
considered a word officially but here is the funny part there are no letters in this "word" so how
could it even end up on the considered list?
S: I am thinking about hieroglyphics
T: I think we might be headed back in that direction the pendulum is swinging back.
S: What a cool insight
T: Well most things in this world are cyclical right? Almost makes sense :)
S: Yes they seem to be -- maybe in our lifetime we'll be reading signifiers that are not letter
words but convey as much or more meaning and culture
T: What do you mean maybe? Teens communicate with <3
S: Ok definitely
T: It’s in our lap. My child will not be talking English, but tech-english…
[His son was born three days later]
Given that this section is about assumptions, let me share mine. I assume that much of the social
knowledge on the Internet is based on masses of information and self-expression from masses of people
coalescing. I had hardly considered how masses of people are creating, not just content but new
dictionary worthy language – nouns, verbs, and perhaps one day, symbols. This led me to wonder about
what my 5 year old niece understands about learning. Borrowing Sal’s interview questions at the
beginning of this chapter, I did my own investigation.
Q. What’s an example of what your teachers teach you?
A. They teach the pink tower. They teach us the listening lesson. They teach us all kinds of
lessons and some times and plusses.
Q. Do you learn things from other people than your teachers?
A. Like my mom or my dad? They teach me how to read. How to take turns. They teach me how
to rollerblade.
Q. Do you teach other kids?
A. Yeah. Um -- I teach other kids how to cook. I teach other kids how to read. I teach other kids
how to take turns. I teach other kids how to do monkey bars.
Q. Do you know about the Internet? What do you like about it?
A. Yes. It has pictures about Halloween and all that and it teaches you how to carve online. It
teaches you how to make cupcakes and pasta.
Q. Do you know about Facebook?
A. Facebook is where you actually have these words on the computer on the Internet and friends
can be mean on the Internet sometimes because the ones you really like may be really mad and
put the ones you love on the computer. Like somebody really likes John…
[Relates to something she observed with her older sister Camden]
Q. Do you like to learn things from the other kids?
A. Yes. Like doing um like how to yo-yo.
Q. How can I learn things, because I don’t go to school anymore?
A. If you read you can learn the things all around the world.
Suffice it to say that I learned much from this 5 year old about knowing what we know. She is learning
interpersonal skills (listening and taking turns) and physical skills (monkey bars, rollerblading, and yo-yo)
from her interaction with people. But she is also discovering how-to knowledge (how to cook, how to
carve) from Internet demonstrations. She believes that she is teaching other kids what she knows. And
suggested to me I can learn through reading “the things all around the world.”
It was striking that a 5 year old understood the social networking site Facebook to be a place where strong
feelings such anger and love could be expressed. I became curious about her sister's experience and
asked Camden directly:
Q. Do you know about the Internet? What do you like about it?
A. Yah. It’s easy to use. I like it because you to go Facebook and Google and stuff. It’s kind of
like the iPhone. It’s easy to use. You know what’s really funny -- I am on Facebook now and
people are texting me and I am trying to talk to you. [We were on the telephone.]
Q. What do you like about Facebook?
A. You can post what you’re thinking and see what other people are thinking through their posts.
And you chat with other people.
Turning from what two children know about knowing to what researchers explain about knowing, we
move into the territory of collective intelligence. Knowledge, once in the domain of philosophers, was
found at a premium in the hands of experts in the 20th century. But this hierarchical structure of creating
knowledge toppled with social media. David Snowden (2002) reminds us that knowledge cannot be
constricted; it can only be volunteered. But can knowledge be captured? The assumption exists that there
is social knowledge somewhere within interaction of social media. How does this become collective
Knowledge capture is the focus of numerous global professionals. Some explore Weblogs as a source for
extracting general world knowledge (Gordon, J., Van Durme, B.; Schubert, L., 2009). Others design
methods for extracting commonsense knowledge (Hakki, C., Cankaya, H. C., Moldovan, D., 2009);
methods for mining emotional content of dream diaries (Frantova, E; Bergler, S., 2009), or for community
detection techniques leveraging collective intelligence (Papadopoulos, S., Kompatsiaris. Y., Vakali, A.,
In an area of particular interest, the question is: How can we capture "social knowledge" created through
medical research, clinical trials, doctors, and patients impacts people with serious or life-threatening
illness? Is there some collective repository of emergent wisdom that may save a life? We see self-
organizing support groups coming together to dialog about side effects, medical conditions, resources,
and of course to provide hope and support. Medical specialists share knowledge across global teams and
within specialized social networking sites. How do we locate truth, assumptions, and reality in these
Medical and mental health care information is the number one search on the internet. While there are
opportunities to share information leading to greater benefit to people, pharmaceutical businesses tend to
resist the use of social media. There are many forces at work.
The order of complexity that arises out of the tasks involved in creating and cultivating safe and
engaging environments for patients, doctors, pharmacists, employees and all other publics grows
with every added layer of interaction. (Baumann, 2010)
One of those critical layers includes economic impact. Phil Baumann (2010) suggests that life science
businesses reconsider the nature of profit in a fresh way where “where social currencies emerge as
substantive elements in the Capital System at large.” It strikes me that social knowledge through
interaction is one aspect of 21st century wealth which can no longer be defined in 20th century financial
terms. If life sciences businesses continue to avoid social media, albeit a complex endeavor, we may be
suffocating social knowledge where it counts the most, saving life.
Most psychologists do not become exposed to the field of knowledge management. Without a conscious
effort, it’s possible to miss the field all together. Several years ago, I became uneasy about the silos
across many disciplines that I decided to see what was going on outside of my field. I had some inspired
training by David Snowden who exposed me to complexity, narrative, and pattern recognition. Soon I
met new colleagues (David L. Hawthorne, Patti Anklam, Mary Lee Kennedy, and JC Spender) all quite
verbal about knowledge management. But it was David Gurteen in particular who gave me the
opportunity to become the Regional Director of the Gurteen Knowledge Community in New York City. It
has been in that capacity that I have seen the true power of face-to-face open conversations about trust,
transparency, assumptions, reality, social media, organizations and more.
In my work as a psychologist, I am often struck by how assumptions shape the way we see our self and
the world. To be confronted by assumptions that alleviate our discomfort is perhaps the work of a best
friend, psychotherapist, or organizational consultant. After all, “your pain is the breaking of the shell that
encloses your understanding” (Gibran, 1923, p. 52).
The issue of real and true knowledge is addressed by Loretta as she considers creators and consumers of
social intelligence.
The headline was alluring, "Statisticians reject global cooling": it all depends on the meaning of
"decrease," "trend," and "virtually assure." Among the topics that overwhelm, confound, and irritate me,
global warming is close to the top of the list – so I browsed to see what the author had to offer. The article
was a posting by Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics and political science and director of the
Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University. His thoughts on the apparent shift in opinions of two
major scientists may make you wonder, “What is the truth about global warming? Who can I believe? Is
any of the information in online articles, blogs, wikis, and social sites factual?”
The answer to this question lies in several domains: cognitive science, behavioral science, and the
emerging technologies for pushing and pulling information. The dialogue of these three authors traces
these domains as certainty is a complex issue and the limitations of prior frames of reference are being
By 2005, the explosion of user-created media content on the Web unleashed a new media universe (social
media). This phenomenon was not just a scaled up version of 20th century media culture. We had moved
from media production by the few in a Web 1.0 paradigm to social media in a Web 2.0 world. In this new
world, we extend beyond the boundaries where content was once published by a small number of
professional writers and producers. It now placed an increasing number of users in a larger space in which
communicating involved accessing, co-authoring, and distributing content produced by other
nonprofessional users (Manovich, 2009). Although we consider this shift paradigmatic, statistics show
that only a few still produce for the many.
These trends do not mean that every user has become a producer or that every user consumes mostly
amateur material. According to 2007 data, only between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent of users of the most
popular social media sites (Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia) contributed their own content. Others remained
consumers of the content produced by this 0.5–1.5 percent (Manovich, 2009, p. 319-320).
How do we make sense of this shift in content production and dissemination, particularly in terms of
social knowledge and knowing what we know? How do we locate social knowledge among all this
communication? What is knowledge and what is simply social noise? It seems to us that originality of
thought is blurred and social construction honored in this new world.
The quest for real knowledge is at the heart of social media and computing. Defining what is “real” in an
environment of socially constructed knowledge is a primary challenge. Let’s start with the limitations of
schema and mental models that constrain individuals and their online and in-person collaborations.
Cognitive psychologists, psycholinguists, and knowledge management professional speak of “schema”
(or schemata) to explain comprehension and classification of information. Basically, schema theory
states that all knowledge is organized into units. Within these units of knowledge, or schemata, is stored
information.A schema, then, is a generalized description or a conceptual system for understanding how
knowledge is represented and how it is used. According to this theory, schemata represent knowledge
about concepts: objects and the relationships they have with other objects, situations, events, sequences of
events, actions, and sequences of actions.
To see how it works, think about your computer as an example. Within that schema you most likely have
knowledge about computers in general (screen, keyboard, hard drive, software) and probably have
information about specific computers, such as types (desktops, laptops, mainframe) or brands (Dell, HP,
Apple). You may also think of computers within the greater context of information storage and sharing
equipment. That means computers can be an archive of information stored in various formats, and they
can make information available to other computers and people by way of networks. Depending upon your
personal experience, the knowledge of a computer as a form of personal technology (used for homework
or as a means to interact with friends) or as work technology (that supports projects, file sharing and
business communication) is part of your schema. And so it goes with the development of a schema. Each
new experience incorporates more information into one's schema. This process affects both the givers and
receivers of information.
Mental models are shared notions. The idea of the mental model as a "small-scale model" of reality can be
traced to the work of Kenneth Craik (1943) who stated that mental models can be constructed from
perception, imagination, or from the comprehension of the discourse. In the world of social media,
discrete pieces of information are coalesced and reshaped by the players. The ways in which concepts are
mutually understood is foundational to their being categorized as truth, fiction, desire, malice, etc. Social
constructionism comes from a belief that there is no absolute, objective reality. From that follows the
notion that when people and groups interact in a social system, they will develop concepts or mental
models of each other's actions. After a while these concepts become built into their roles, and how they
relate to each other. The culture of their mental models and relationships sets the stage for how they
become accustomed to seeing and believing what is real.
With those frameworks in mind (schema, mental models, and social constructionism), we can tackle the
question of reality.
Realism is the doctrine that an external world exists independently of our representations of it.
Representations include perceptions, thoughts, language, beliefs and desires, as well as artefacts
such as pictures and maps, and so include all the ways in which we could or do know and
experience the world and ourselves. Relativism repudiates this doctrine, arguing that since any
such external world is inaccessible to us in both principle and practice, it need not be postulated
or considered. (Cromby & Nightingale, 1999, p. 6)
The inherent desire to share information on behalf of creating collective knowledge is mediated by
behaviors such as truth-telling, deception, and politicizing. Beyond those social behaviors, new mediators
of reality have emerged from strictly technological properties of social media. The technical prowess and
presence of opinion creators makes their information more readily available as search engines move
contributions to more prominent positions based on accessibility, rather than their reliability. This
phenomenon causes information to be noticed, disseminated via links, and replicated in whole or part in
other sites or formats. The result is an increasing quantity of information which lacks quality control for
its value or capacity to broaden and build the knowledge base.
Suzanne adds another layer of thinking to the question of reality.
There’s not much to say about reality. Okay maybe there is. If I want to make sense of what this chapter
is about, I might ask: what does interacting with social media mean to people? Even though it is a shared
experience, it holds radically different meanings (reality?) for each person. Phenomenological research
(Willis, 2001) might surface some of those meanings. It might go beyond interpretations of the reality to
a description or bracketing of "the things themselves." We would have the essence -- although fleeting --
of what we call social media and how we use it to know what we know.
A group of educators decided to study learning within a virtual community of practice (CoPs) using
collective intelligence tools. They examined their own reality -- a spiraling process "to achieve a shared
understanding of learning theories that influence learning in social networking environments"
(Gunawardena, C. N., Hermans, M. B., Sanchez, D., Richmond, C., Bohley, M., Tuttle, R., 2009, p.15).
They report:
Our wiki’s history function facilitated socially mediated metacognition by enabling us to reflect
on our development process as a group, as we critiqued each version of the paper edited by group
members. We were able to generate reflective feedback through blogs and the comments function
of the wiki. The wiki and the blogs captured the interactive nature of our group’s metacognitive
monitoring and regulation. Our mutual reflection on our group learning and development
process, Web 2.0 tool use, and the worthiness of our approaches to achieving the group goal
facilitated socially mediated metacognition. (Gunawardena, C. N., Hermans, M. B., Sanchez, D.,
Richmond, C., Bohley, M., Tuttle, R., 2009, p. 15)
Knowledge creation and reflection share a symbiotic relationship. We view the account of their learning
experience as a strong example of how social media tools can contribute to understanding how we know
what we know. It is reminiscent of Nonaka and Takeuchi's "dynamic model of knowledge management,
view[ing] knowledge as activity rather than object and focus on knowledge creation, collaboration and
practice" (Chatti, M. A., Klamma, R., Jarke, M. & Naeve, A., 2007). It also brings to mind David
Gurteen's (1998) paradigm busting question: "what is the relationship of our knowledge to reality?"
I implied earlier that trust, assumption, and reality were part of my socialization as a scientist-practitioner
(that is, psychologist). Trust being requisite to change and assumptions being cognitive biases that shape
our sense of reality. How does one speak of reality? I am partial to a socially constructed view of it -- a
la Jerome Bruner (1990) & Kenneth Gergen (1991). We tend to privilege our sense of what is real and
omit what does not fit our mental schema. How does one speak of reality in a way that is not abstract but
instead phenomenological? I guess we speak our experience of “reality” -- writing this chapter with two
trusted and respected colleagues has been real. Particularly rewarding is the idea that this is not an ending
but a beginning. My colleagues came up with the idea of a living chapter perhaps paying homage to post
modernism. In other words, our conversations continue and you can become part of it. Reality. Really.
For Sal reality is a beginning and not a conclusion.
When the philosopher Martin Heidegger (1926) said: "reality, not the real is dependent upon care," he
was in part referencing the German words, sorg or, besorgen, which can mean taking care with the affairs
of our lives. What is real we do not change. Reality is something we share and can affect.
We do not want to arrive at a conclusion for our contribution to this book. Rather, it is our intention to
provide a beginning and offer readers the ability to carry this conversation forward. Looking into the
future depends on what we talk about now.
A long time ago, when I was working on a series of videos to look into the future of communication, I
was mentored about the democratization of technology. In fact, I was taken to task to make certain that I
did not engage anyone in the creation of these videos who did not understand "the reality" and importance
of such probing into where we were going. It was pointed out to me, that legislators in our world needed
to view serious perspectives on where technology and social knowledge were headed. That, in fact, they
may have little insight when creating regulatory laws. They needed to question their own assumptions to
truly understand how technology affects the most fundamental needs of our lives.
It was 1990 when I worked on these films. At that time, it was very difficult for such technical references
to appear plausible on screen. Problems occurred such as showing a future computer screen on film,
which was almost impossible without waving lines and looking like an old science fiction movie. There
was one guy who had developed a technology to overcome this. He was jurisdictional, a control type, and
really annoying. We were focusing on future problem solving (in 1990 and projecting beyond 2010) on
issues such as surgeons confronting sudden and new problems while operating. It is fascinating to look
back and see these films, forecasting doctors using video casting or IM to find expertise during a critical
moment in a surgery. Medical professionals, speeding up diagnosis based on accurate history through
electronic medical records, as opposed to taking time to ask the same questions of patients over and over
Getting this cinematic challenge accomplished required the expertise of this one very difficult person who
could actually make the picture look plausible. The irony about describing the future of collaboration and
needing the skill of someone who had no interest in collaborating was a working reality that was very
Social Knowledge Sharing Is a Way of Constantly Preparing
Now, we have many ways to collaborate and alternatives to move beyond such single control from one
person or entity as I experienced in making the future view films. Yet, are we truly ready for the help that
technology represents? Terms such as “continuous improvement” sound businesslike but they can also
sound exhausting unless we understand that technology alone does not accomplish very much.
One major hospital in London just removed all their investment in an electronic medical system.
"I have personally apologized for the decision to implement the system before we were really clear about
what we were going to receive…I had been led to believe it would all work." - Andrew Way, the chief
executive of the Royal Free Hospital, London, U.K.
What they did not prepare for was the social interaction and cultural change needed to actually make it
work. Unfortunately, the guy who controlled the technology to make the future films look credible also
controlled the schedule, budget, and the overall impression of the work. That's reality not unlike the
jurisdictional behaviors and realities we experience in business, art, education, and science.
We Invite You to Join Our Conversation. Here are Three Simple Questions to Begin.
We commit to this conversation and trust that many of you will as well. Reality is dependent on what we
care about.
1. How do you define the term social knowledge?
2. Do you have a story or know of one where you had to question the assumptions of what you were
hearing or reading?
3. What is it you see developing for us through social knowledge sharing that’s really part of our
everyday lives?
Visit to engage in our conversation.
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Available from
Asynchronous Communication: Text messages delivered via the Web that are independent of time or
place, allowing them to be received, read and replied to at the convenience of the reader. Some typical
asynchronous communication tools are email lists, chat boards, blogs/micro-blogs, wikis and forums.
Blogs: Websites, generally designed in journal format, with most recent items at the top of a page, and
written in a conversational, personal style, giving the author an authentic voice online. The items of
content , such as text, photos, video, audio, have URLs plus other ways of identifying them by keywords -
known as tags. Blogs can offer readers the opportunity to comment on, and link to items.
Collective Intelligence: The capacity of a community of people to evolve toward higher order complex
thinking, problem-solving and integration as the result of collaboration and innovation. Tom Atlee and
George Pór have emphasized significance of human interaction as core to this process.
Community of Practice (CoP): A group of people who have an interest in, and vocational or avocational
involvement in, a field, and who share experiences and insights within the group, learn from one another,
and grow personally and professionally from the relationship.
Creative Commons: Options which authors use to publish their work, allowing various permissions to
users to copy, distribute, display and/or perform their copyrighted work by designating the level of license
associated with their intellectual or creative property (available at
Gangs 2.0: KTLA News. 12:44 PM PST, November 19, 2009, “The Emerging Threat of Cyberthugs”
Integrated Supply Chain of Trust: Undertanding accountability as a shared responsibility.
Open Source Technology: This approach to the development and sharing of technology provides access
to the source code of software allowing developers outside the originating organization to alter and share
the original application. In many instances, Open Source Technology is available as Freeware that is
available at no cost to download from the Internet.
Social Media: The Web-based and mobile technologies that are designed for the real-time and
asynchronous social interaction and creation of user-creations of content, such as sharing of digital
content, communication and collaboration, by identified users as members of communities.
Web 2.0: A term (attributed to Tim O’Reilly, 2004) that refers to online applications that allow interactive
design of the graphical interface, information sharing, and collaboration on the World Wide Web.
Examples of these technologies include Web-based communities, hosted services, Web applications,
social-networking sites, podcast and video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, mashups and folksonomies.
Working Paper
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This paper proposes a theoretical framework as a foundation for building online communities of practice when a suite of social networking applications referred to as collective intelligence tools are utilized to develop a product or solutions to a problem. Drawing on recent developments in Web 2.0 tools, research on communities of practice and relevant theories of learning, and the authors' own action research experience in collaborative knowledge creation utilizing Web 2.0 tools, this paper discusses a learning community's spiraling process as it moves from a given sociocultural context through discourse, action, reflection, and reorganization toward socially mediated metacognition. Un cadre théorique pour construire des communautés de pratique en ligne en utilisant des outils de maillage social Cet article propose un cadre théorique sur lequel édifier des communautés de pratique en ligne lorsqu'on utilise, pour mettre au point un produit ou des solutions à un problème, une série d'applications destinées à la construction de réseaux humains et connues sous le nom d'outils d'intelligence collective. En s'appuyant sur les évolutions récentes des outils Web 2.0, sur les recherches sur les communautés d'usage et les théories de l'apprentissage pertinentes ainsi que sur l'expérience propre aux auteurs en matière de recherche action sur la création collaborative de savoir en utilisant le Web 2.0, le présent article examine le processus en spirale d'une communauté d'apprentissage qui part d'un contexte socio culturel donné et qui passe par le discours, l'action la réflexion et la réorganisation pour atteindre la métacognition reposant sur la médiation humaine. Ein Theorierahmen für den Aufbau von “Online‐Communitives of Practice” mit Hilfe von Anwendungen für Social Networking In diesem Beitrag wird ein theoretischer Rahmen als Grundlage für den Aufbau von Online‐Praxis‐Gemeinschaften vorgestellt, wenn eine Reihe von Social Networking Anwendungen, auf die man sich als kollektive Intelligenz‐Tools beziehen kann, benutzt wird, um ein Ergebnis oder eine Problemlösung zu entwickeln. Wenn man den neuesten Entwicklungsstand bei den Web 2.0 tools mit einbezieht, die Forschung im Kommunikationsbereich, die relevanten Lerntheorien und die eigenen Forschungen und praktischen Erfahrungen des Autors in der Benutzung von Web 2.0‐Anwendungen auf dem Gebiet der gemeinschaftlichen Wissensermittlung, belegt dieses Papier den spiralförmigen Prozess beim Bewegen von einem bestimmten soziokulturellem Kontext aus durch Diskurs, Aktion, Reflektion und Reorganisation hin zu sozial vermittelter Metaerkenntnis. Un marco teórico para la construcción de comunidades de práctica en línea con herramientas de creación de redes sociales Este artículo propone un marco teórico como base para la construcción de comunidades de práctica cuando se utiliza una serie de aplicaciones sociales en redes (conocidas como herramientas de inteligencia colectiva) para desarrollar un producto o solucionar tal o tal problema. Basandose en las evoluciones recientes de las herramientas Web 2.0, en las investigaciones sobre las Comunidades de Uso y las teorías del aprendizaje más pertinentes así como en la experiencia propia de la investigación/acción por parte de los autores sobre la creación colaborativa de conocimiento a través del uso de herramientas Web 2.0, este artículo examina la evolución « en espiral » de una comunidad de aprendizaje que sale de un contexto socio cultural determinado y pasando por el discurso, acción, reflexión, alcanza la metacognición basada en la mediación humana.
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We are reaching the end of the second generation of knowledge management, with its focus on tacit-explicit knowledge conversion. Triggered by the SECI model of Nonaka, it replaced a first generation focus on timely information provision for decision support and in support of BPR initiatives. Like BPR it has substantially failed to deliver on its promised benefits. The third generation requires the clear separation of context, narrative and content management and challenges the orthodoxy of scientific management. Complex adaptive systems theory is used to create a sense-making model that utilises self-organising capabilities of the informal communities and identifies a natural flow model of knowledge creation, disruption and utilisation. However, the argument from nature of many complexity thinkers is rejected given the human capability to create order and predictability through collective and individual acts of freewill. Knowledge is seen paradoxically, as both a thing and a flow requiring diverse management approaches.
International Perspectives on Education draws on the knowledge and experience of a distinguished team of international educationists, including Howard Gardner and Kristján Kristjánsson. Each chapter can be accessed as a resource on a specific topic, but the chapters are also grouped into three sections to provide an invaluable source of thinking and knowledge from leading thinkers and practitioners in their fields: Perspectives on Education; Supporting the Learning Process; and Teachers and Professional Development.
New technology tools are offering insights into the power of ancient forms of human communication that Pentland calls honest signals. In this excerpt from his new book Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World (MIT Press, October 2008), Pentland describes how he and other researchers have been using a device called a sociometer to gain a new perspective on human behavior. (The sociometer is a wearable badgelike device equipped with sensors; it measures factors such as body movement and the amount of time people spend talking face-to-face.) Studies using data from sociometers show that certain types of subtle social signals affect outcomes significantly in a variety of settings, from business plan presentations to salary negotiations. Pentland focuses on four types of honest signals: influence, mimicry, activity and consistency. Influence, in this context, refers to the degree to which one person's speech patterns in a conversation influence the other party's. Mimicry is the extent to which one person copies another's gestures and movements - such as head nodding or smiles - during an interaction. The activity variable reflects humans' tendency to show increased activity levels when interested, and consistency in speech or movement may be a sign of focus, as well as of less openness to others' influence. Such social signals are surprisingly powerful. For example, Pentland describes a study conducted by researchers Jeremy Bailenson and Nick Yee at Stanford University, in which students were shown a three-minute video encouraging them to carry their student identification card. Some students were shown a standard animated video, whereas others saw a video in which the animated figure mimicked their gestures four seconds later. Simply adding the mimicry feature caused the sales pitch for the ID card to be 20% more effective. Understanding the power of these nonverbal forms of communication can enable us to better design organizations, Pentland concludes. However, it is an open question whether we will use the new insights this type of research provides for good or for ill.
Any plausible treatment of human knowledge must acknowledge two shapers of opinion: the psychological and the social. The formation of almost any belief, even the mere perception of familiar objects or recollection of recent events, involves the execution of a complex array of mental operations or computations. So the psychological component in belief-formation is ubiquitous. The social component, while not quite ubiquitous, is almost as crucial. A large proportion of the mature cognizer's beliefs are acquired from others; and typically the vehicles of acquisition — public language, and internal techniques for assessing the claims of others — are themselves socially or culturally acquired. Scientists, of course, are no different in these fundamental respects. They too are cognizers with human brains, and they work in professional communities. Their beliefs result from use of their psychological equipment, and from the scientific lore and methodology that is largely indebted to interpersonal training and communication.
The following paper explores the foundations of phenomenology, and seeks to provide those new to the discipline with ways of understanding its claims to assist knowers to attend to ‘the things themselves’. Practical applications of this mode of inquiry are linked to adult education practice which is the author’s field of practice but most of the ideas are readily applicable to social events and practices such as nursing, social work, recreation, history and the like.