The value of friction, tension, and disparity in global collaboration

Mark A. Parsons

Friction is inevit...
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The Value of Friction, Tension, and Disparity in Global Collaboration


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Invited poster by Mark Parsons presented at the 2013 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in the session "Collaborative Frameworks and Experiences in Earth and Space Science"

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The Value of Friction, Tension, and Disparity in Global Collaboration

  1. 1. The value of friction, tension, and disparity in global collaboration Mark A. Parsons Friction is inevitable and necessary in collaboration. Misunderstandings; conflicting goals; competition for limited funds; differing world-views, agendas, ideals… These types of “friction” are inevitable in national and global collaboration. And while friction can create tension and conflict, it is not inherently bad. It is at these points of interaction and tension where we sometimes gain the most insight. There is no reason to think that collaborators have common goals. Student of Politics: “And what be reely this yere Coalition they do be talking about?” Oldest Living Local Authority: “Well it’s like this. Some parties says this an’ some say that an’ t’other. But what I says, there’s no knowins nor no tellins, an’—mark my words! I bain’t fur wrong.” from Punch, 1910 Collaboration across difference can produce surprising results. It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. Charles Darwin The Research Data Alliance provides a neutral place to take advantage of friction. Research Data Alliance ! Vision Researchers and innovators openly share data across technologies, disciplines, and countries to address the grand challenges of society. ! Mission RDA builds the social and technical bridges that enable open sharing of data. Foster “weak ties” as critical to connecting communities. ! Guiding Principles: Shared principles can unite a community, but that is insufficient. Collaborators do not necessarily have common goals. Alliances are created through dynamic, coalitionstyle politics. We move forward through both compromise and competition. Like a jury assessing a trial, community understanding comes through multiple lines of evidence that wind through disparate views and describe a greater story. Marcel DuChamp’s Bicycle Wheel photo © nuzz— “A wheel turns because of its encounter with the surface of the road; spinning in the air it goes nowhere.” cover notes for 
 Friction—An Ethnography of Global Connection 
 by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing3 William Ashby teaches us that “only variety absorbs variety,” and network theory shows the value of increased interconnection. “Weak” ties that connect different communities become critically important1. Similarly, relationships, interfaces, and “bridges” of all types are the key to developing common infrastructure.2 Achieving the understanding that comes through both unity and disparity is an implicit goal of the Research Data Alliance. RDA provides a “neutral place” or “social gateway” where frictions can be identified, addressed, and understood in order to improve data sharing.. RDA brings disparate groups together under core principles and a broad mission yet requires local implementation through focussed tiger-team-style Working Groups. RDA provides mechanisms for collaboration and guides technical harmonization, but it mandates no one approach. The work of RDA and its Working and Interest Groups is driven by community needs and goals. 10 December 2013 Map of the internet by the Opte Project [CC-BY] via Wikimedia Commons Slugs Need Hugs Mica Angela Hendricks & 4-year-old daughter It’s about taking that thing you love and placing it in someone else’s hands, and trusting that everything will be okay. Mica Angela Hendricks Chance favors the connected mind. Steven Johnson from 
 Where Good Ideas Come From4 It only takes only a few links per node to create a highly interconnected network (“six degrees of separation”). “Weak ties” are important. Robust networks include multiple hubs and less connected nodes. Connectors are very important – “people who know people.” ! • Openness – Membership is open. RDA community meetings and processes are open, and the deliverables of RDA Working Groups will be publicly disseminated. • Consensus – The RDA advances by achieving consensus among its membership. RDA processes and procedures include appropriate mechanisms to resolve conflicts. • Balance – The RDA seeks to promote balanced representation of its membership and stakeholder communities. • Harmonization – The RDA works to achieve harmonization across data standards, policies, technologies, infrastructure, and communities. • Community-driven – The RDA is a public, communitydriven body comprised of volunteer members and organizations. • Non-profit - RDA does not promote, endorse, or sell commercial products, technologies, or services. Who is RDA? • 1,057 individual members from 55 countries. Most members are from the US and Europe. • 32 organizational partners from large and small companies, non-profits, and affiliate organizations. • Six active Working Groups, six more in development. • 21 Interest Groups, four more in development. We must act “glocally” to succeed Glocalization “means the simultaneity—the co-presence—of both universalizing and and particularizing tendencies.” Roland Robertson5 References: 1Barabási A-L and R Albert. 1999. “Emergence of scaling in random networks”. Science 286 (5439): 509-512. 2Edwards, Paul N., Steven J. Jackson, Geoffrey C. Bowker, and Cory P. Knobel. 2007. Understanding Infrastructure: Dynamics, Tensions, and Design. 3Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2005. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton University Press. 4Johnson, Steven. 2010. Where Good Ideas Come From. New York: Riverhead Books. 5Habibul Haque Khondker, 2004. “Glocalization as globalization: Evolution of a sociological concept.” Bangladesh e-Journal of Sociology. 1(2). Join today at Support from National Science Foundation under Grant Number NSF/OCI 12491. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions, are those of the author alone.