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Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Spectrum of Online Community Interactions

A Spectrum of Online Community Interactions

by Rev. Alia Zara Aurami-Sou, Ph.D.

This is a sketchy but possibly useful model which is neither complete nor accurate, and maybe not even internally consistent. The best use you can make of it is to regard it as a draft which you rewrite for your own situation and purposes. In that spirit, I offer it.




There is a "spectrum" of interpersonal interaction in the current spate of online conferences aimed at changing the world. They involve both culture and systems defined by both software and information/communication systems. 

To describe my take on this spectrum, I will use my own definitions and interpretations of the Spiral Dynamics system of colors as it is the one I personally resonate with the most. As with SD, every real situation is a mosaic, not a monochrome!!!

I will say personally that my passion is to help groups/conferences/companies/
whatever develop the healthy foundations for at least a Collective Emergent Intelligence stage of functioning, and that or above is where I prefer myself to be operating in the groups I am intimately involved with.

You can see from this little model that just calling a group endeavor by a label, such as "Collective Intelligence," doesn't make it so.

This little essay was originally written as a definition of the evolution of the concept of "Member Support" through this spectrum, so that's the angle of viewing this elephant.... 


Member Support -- Orange

Member Support is from the Orange viewpoint, called Customer Service or Customer Support. The company or conference organizers try to make sure that the participant experience is hassle-free. The culture is fostered subliminally, by the way participants are treated by the company staff. There really isn't much culture, because the customers don't interact much if at all.

The experience of participants is that of consumers of a product or service they pay for, whether that is "spiritual" content or some other kind. The experience of being a "student" of "teachers" one pays for access to, is exactly the same.

In the "teacher-student" flavor, there are formal presentations like lectures from experts, and the participants are pretty much passive listeners, students, consumers who pay for access to the experts -- even if questions are allowed, there is no real dialogue with the experts, and there is no particular emphasis or valuing or promotion about or systems-design for member-to-member interaction. 

The communication and Member Support infrastructure is still pretty much designed to get more people paying to listen, and more people actually listening. Success of the endeavor is measured by "numbers involved."


Community Involvement -- Green

That healthy Member Support infrastructure forms the healthy base for stable emergence of more complex community culture and structures. If we switch to a Green lens we get more interactivity among the "members," which could be called community involvement

At more "Green" kinds of online conferences/communities, "members" are provided with systems for -- and encouraged and supported to interact via -- exchanging online comments, online-website-system messages, and seeing what others write. 

Chats, either written or audio, can be available. People are active to varying degrees within the containers set up by the conference or company which offers some "support/help" functionality for "users" usually a mixture of live chat, phone, and online reading or online groups. Think: Facebook, or Gmail users, or Pontiac Owners. 

However, they interact as individuals and merely for their own purposes. The 'culture' is set by explicit published Guidelines and supported from Blue by the power of the staff to delete comments and remove participants.

The infrastructure and staff-participant relationships are somewhat more complex than at Orange, but not a lot.


Community Engagement-- Yellow

If both of those previous stages are in place, and if the appropriate cyberspace "systems" allowing more engagement are used, then if we switch to a Yellow lens we get a different kind of interactivity, which could be called community engagement

The technological cyberspace "container" is more complex, allowing and encouraging both synchronous (such as conference calls and/or chats) and asynchronous interaction (such as websites with complex personalized interactivity such as blogs, photos, videos, groups, etc.,) and communication among participants often takes place outside of the container's infrastructure. 

(The conference call function itself is subject to a spectrum of uses, all the way from Orange listen-to-the-experts and ask-questions, to the possibility of break-out groups to discuss what the experts say (Green) to less structured kinds of small-group interactions like getting acquainted and sharing enthusiasms (Yellow) to actually deepening into the emergence of co-creation which can go into real-space real-time mode (Turquoise) to further deepening into the silence and "surrender" of normal modes of interaction, to permit the emergence of a collective consciousness and the willingness of the individuals involved to embody and act on its purposes (Coral.))

There is less differentiation between staff/teachers and participants. Culture is "enforced" by peer "pressure" as well as the previous methods.

There is deeper personal connection, broad-based (not just mutual-interest-based) friendships form, significant and ongoing collaborations that go into real-time real-space emerge, mutual support and networking emerge. 

Many Ning-based Networks or "spiritually-oriented" networks are in this category. Some online conferences reach this stage toward the end, as they provide various kinds of space for ongoing interaction (structured from "above" or self-structured) among those involved.


Conscious Co-Creative Community -- Turquoise

Only if all that is healthily in place and supported by a working and viable infrastructure of systems, can what we might call, with a Turquoise lens, co-creative conscious community emerge in any stabilized way among those involved. 

Here, the community/conference container provides an open space in which those involved can self-organize. People might or might not have to pay to be in the space, but they are not "buying" a product or service. The culture and systems of the space are not determined by owners, authorities, teachers. The space might include, but is not limited to formal presentations, or "listener" or "student" roles.

The culture and infrastructure are complex and are emergent from participant interactions, and are explicitly emergent, which means they are consciously co-created. There comes to be some purpose on which those involved are aligned, even if it is a very general one.

Participants go forth from this significant mental and emotional and practical-life interaction with one another, and make significant contributions to the world based on what they have learned and experienced. Complex networks of ongoing mutual support and collaboration and co-creation keep emerging.

"Member Support" takes on the meaning that members support one another in every important way, although various tasks around that might be voluntarily taken on by a few, at the request of the group. 

And all the characteristics of the previous kinds of community are operating.

Collective Emergent Intelligence Embodiment -- Coral

There is a stage or lens beyond the Conscious Co-creative Community: we could call it the Embodiment of Collective Emergent Intelligence. It happens to any stable degree only on a foundation involving the healthy operation of ALL the above stages of online community. 

This kind of group relating, communicating, interacting, is what is "natural" to human beings operating beyond "the illusion of separation" whether online or offline. Here at Coral, that naturalness is supported by specific practices; at Teal, no specific instructions, teachers, practices, exercises, are needed. No teachers have a corner on the market of what is natural for people, though they might provide wonderful specific experiences and facilitations of it. Those are, however, not required.

Thus, this kind of online or offline community is available just about anywhere, not just in the setting of particular online or offline conferences which might be focused on facilitating the emergence of "Collective Intelligence."

It requires group as well as individual shadow work. It requires the diligent and uncomfortable and challenging work of conscious transcendence of any autopoietic patterns of group communication which inhibit the emergence of a transcendent collective intelligence as a self-aware consciousness whose "cells" are the individual people. 

It also requires the conscious adoption of autopoetic patterns which are strange attractors for further maturation, rather than patterns which foster regression or stagnation.

It also requires a conscious surrender/merge by all involved to a Larger but not separate Consciousness, sometimes called "The Field," and the willingness to risk being completely authentic with one another. 

The "culture" is one of transparency, authenticity, spontaneity, benevolence, and "hair on fire" purposiveness within a peacefulness. People feel safe to be themselves not because of rules and not because of guidelines, but because of who the others are.

And it requires, at its more mature phases of this stage, the willingness of the participants to put all the lovely inspirations, into action in their lives. Boots on the ground.

Actions are coordinated by the Larger Intelligence operating, so there is flow, synchronicity, miracles. Agreements are kept, or not, in the flow, with no need for rules or recriminations. 

There is a flavor of optimism, creativity, and generous dedication to the whole group space. "Work" does not involve only visible physical work, nor only mental work. There is "subtle-energy/field" "work" which is consciously engaged in and with.

The ultimate primary focus or directionality of the group's purpose is, without a lot of fanfare, simply service to the well-being and evolution of all sentient Beings -- though the immediate focus of the groups purpose and activity is quite a bit more specific.

There is currently very little infrastructure, either in software or in online community systems, available to support this kind of online community. 


Spontaneous Creation as a One -- Teal

Only happens in a stable way when all the previous stages of group evolution are healthily operating. This stage is marked by the disappearance of all the specific practices and efforts made at the Coral Group stage. 

Everything simply happens automatically, spontaneously, as an expression of the embodiment of each individual involved and their embodiment of the Collective Emergent Intelligence of the group. There is no "self-consciousness." Everything and everyone flows as what it is, and as ALL that it is. 

The participants are "just us living our lives." They are in the second of the classic "chop wood, carry water" stages, the one after so-called "enlightenment."

The group emanates a sense of playfulness and humor. Things seem to happen apparently magically. There is not much differentiation between online and offline and "out of line" because communication happens in a variety of planes or dimensions. "Member Support" is nothing more or less than the spontaneous providing by someone of whatever anyone needs or wants, when needed or wanted.

One interesting thing which emerges clearly at this stage is that what was a 'single CEI' OF "a group" previously, is now clearly one of a holarchy of such CEI's, all of which are self-aware of being single expressions of an ultimate creative force, which is them and expresses itself AS them.


Summary

You can see from this sketchy model, that lip service to a particular stage does not manifest that stage. The "life conditions" for maturation have to take place, and the appropriate previous and current culture and systems have to all be healthily operational.

I SEEM TO HAVE FORGOTTEN HOW TO POST COMMENTS TO MY OWN BLOG,  So here is my first, pending figuring out how to do it correctly!!!


All I have time for right now is a response about Blue, and am longing to further delve into your long first comment, George.

BTW the purpose of this blog is fulfilled in the evocation of further input via conversation, not from whether anything I said was right or not. I'm after expanding our awareness around these things by sharing our views and winnowing them. 


Yes, I agree, re the general question, minimal critical structures to allow maturation in this new, emerging world, would be meme-specific, yet perhaps in general we can say that the healthier we can encourage and support a meme expression to be, the faster it will mature to the next one!! And with respect to online communities, there will be specific ways to encourage healthy expressions of each meme which are like ways in the f2f world and other specific ways unique to online interactions. 


It will be VERY interesting to see those ways emerge into our awareness; not sure who is thinking about that kind of thing, but I am sure some folks are!!


So let me think out loud about what a BLUE healthy structures would look like in online communities. Certainly the software provides "order' of a sort, and options and constraints for rules, systems, etc. 


A healthy Blue online community's culture would probably involve clear Guidelines for interacting, although the content would look different from Green, and the SOURCE of the Guidelines would be the ultimate higher authority, perhaps as interpreted by the owner of that particular portion of cyberspace.


I have a sense that the systems would be set up to provide a feeling of predictability, of civility perhaps, and of "us-ness" even if there is a "them" by contrast.


Software by its nature forces us into a certain kind of orderliness and predictability, e.g. we cannot post content just anywhere on a page, and images can go only in certain places, etc. People are constrained not necessarily in their wording, but in their behavior....


Just some ponderings off the top of my head about your most valuable thoughts, Beth. 


I would love to hear YOUR speculations about how much and in what ways Blue is calibrating or recalibrating to meet new needs in various stages of online communities!!!!!!! 


Most certainly my starting with Orange was not meant to imply any less need for healthy base of all the other stages. It just reflected what I had thought about so far. Thinking about the others, as you suggest, is crucial to actually evolving and developing, more mature online communities. 


The "purple" stuff is gonna be fun, too, LOL!!


3 comments:

George said...

Thank you Alia for this useful approximation of memetic evolution in online communities. Just a couple of observations:

Given that the "color" of social holons is defined by the memetic altitude of group that hold the dominant discourse, and interesting dynamics can take place, where within that group the intellectual development of organizers reached second tier but their social-emotional development (from which the actual decisions are made) is stuck in the first. I guess that's when the "lip service to a particular stage" occurs that we saw in so many online communities.

That becomes unhealthy when groups of participants want to self-organize according to shared (Green) interests and are held back by controlling (Orange) structures.

The shift from Green to Yellow is moving beyond fear and ego. It's more than what you wrote: "There is less differentiation between staff/teachers and participants. Culture is 'enforced' by peer 'pressure' as well as the previous methods. There is deeper personal connection, broad-based (not just mutual-interest-based) friendships form, significant and ongoing collaborations that go into real-time real-space emerge, mutual support and networking emerge."

I think those qualities are present already in healthy Green. The organizers upshift from enabling only that when they need for tangible results and functionality that supports evolutionary development, beyond the interest of their organization.

I found your description of Yellow communities lacking such functions as:

• Online facilities that support big-picture views of the whole system-in-focus of the community
• Multiple integrative structures, navigation paths and holoptically visible trust and value flows

I wouldn't try to correlate memetic stages with technological sophistication because online communities run internally by highly controlling organizations can more sophisticated tool-wise than most of the Green social networks.

Finally, I don't know any real-world example of Turquoise community facilitation/hosting/organizing and I'm unsure how anything beyond would look like. Yes, we can extrapolate from the general SDi development lines but then we risk to loose the specifics that is the strength of your essay: the evolution of the work of online community organizing. Even extending the scope to community development (vs the development of the organizing work) is questionable, from my perspective. I mean we may gain more actionable knowledge if we keep the focus on the evolution of the staff and causes upshift from one stage to another.

Having said all that, I just want to express one more time, how much I appreciate your pioneering effort. I hope that there are integrally-informed online event/community organizers, who will engage with your thoughts.

Beth Sanders said...

Further to your essay and George's reply, I am left with a question in support of creating the conditions for maturation:

What is the minimal critical structure needed to allow maturation in this new, emerging world?

I wonder how much BLUE is needed, how BLUE is recalibrating and needs to recalibrate, to meet the social holon's needs in emerging online communities. BLUE structure can take the form of process used in our communities, but also the very software and hardware we need for meeting well virtually. What structures do our on-line spaces need to take to support maturation?

Something new is coming to support us. Not sure what it is yet. :)

George said...

I see Blue in the solid walls of the container, provided by the immuable constraints of any particular software and hardware platforms. Without them no communication, collaboration, and community would be possible online.

Regarding social structures, they are more malleable and meme-specific. Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow, and Turquoise social structures would all look very different.