#change11 Open Space Binary Participants?

Do open space participants either consent or vote with their feet/ walk away? If the open space is a group, this is probably true.

In a group, the shared goal of collaboration generates the pressure that everybody has to participate and decide. With shudder I remember my schooltime class discussions where the teacher wanted us to practice to utter an opinion — no matter how weak our background of the topic was. (This is probably where the deep aversion of many of my generation against “broad” shallow knowledge comes from.) More aggravating, in synchronous, face-to-face, physical spaces it is painful to sit and keep silent. So when the space has an open door, escape.

In an online network such as this MOOC, by contrast, it is acceptable to keep silent whenever I want, for whatever reason. Maybe I cannot yet argue because my differentiated view is not yet settled. Or I cannot yet decide. Or I embrace the autonomy to pick topics to deep dive and the current one does not interest me sufficiently to develop an opinion. Or I am (temporarily) a lurker, or I just choose to ignore a topic. All this does not yet cause me to signoff (walk away). In fact, there is a great dark figure of subscribers who have not yet walked away, and nobody knows what they do with their Daily newsletter.

If the open space is perceived as a network, not a group, then there is no such thing as the binary (black or white) status of collaborator or non-collaborator, and no pressure for the binary status of nodding or walking away. Instead, the three options of agreement, non-reaction, and dissent, may now be handled differently:

Under face-to-face pressure, dissent is often politely disguised as non-reaction. Online, however, this does not make sense since nobody can react to each agreeable statement, anyway. By contrast, we are free to pick the salient points that resonate in a particular degree. If we react only to salient points, both we and the originator of these points will benefit. And the human mind has a great ability of detecting salient differences, which needs to be practiced, as part of the digital literacy to skim over ever more information.

If non-reaction is not to be equated with dissent, it should be easier to be accepted by those who are avid with decisions and opinions and participation. Even though they are certainly right that participation and having an opinion is desirable, they need to accept their bias and need the open mind that participants may be different.

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6 Responses to #change11 Open Space Binary Participants?

  1. x28 says:

    Hi John, I am pleased about your encouragement, even more so since you are knowledgeable also about cultures with different attitudes, and since I learned that you can also disagree.


  2. Hi Matthias – I often wonder about this too “In fact, there is a great dark figure of subscribers who have not yet walked away, and nobody knows what they do with their Daily newsletter.”

    In all of our open courses, we’ve had far more sign up than we have actively participate. I don’t know if we should worry about that or, as you have done, accept it as an attribute of open spaces and individual autonomy.


  3. Good sensible post Matthias – for various reasons I’ve been much of a Lurker in change11 but still look at the newsletter every day (why I’m here!), listen to recordings etc and I’d guess that a large number of subscribers have not walked away – unlike a conventional ‘course’ a MOOC can be an attractive spectator sport! Maybe there should be some quick way of getting Lurkers to re-affirm their interest every so often so they can be distinguished from the real drop-outs.


  4. x28 says:

    @George, thanks for your comment. Maybe such innovative courses also require a different kind of surveys and respondent recruitment other than self-selection, given the general fatigue that equates surveys with spam. Maybe a honestly random microcensus of, say, 2 percent of the constituency of subscribers could be “officially” approached and asked whether they delete the newsletter unread?

    The self-selected subset of respondents is highly suspicious to skew the results of research about participation because more active people are more likely to respond.

    (Similarly, a study seems skewed or biased in this context if it asks for ORAL interviews (skype or telephone), and therefore excludes the participants who embrace the novel affordance of asynchronous participation and who are uncomfortable with synchronous exchanges (like myself). Jenny Mackness, by contrast, conducted her interviews also by email.)


  5. x28 says:

    @Gordon, a special thanks for calling in from the lurker’s sphere. I like your idea of re-affirming. It appeals even more than the random sample solution I mentioned above which is probably only a solution of last resort.


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