Experimenting with Remote Facilitation

This morning I got up at 4am to prepare for my second ever remote Workflow Sprint. This time I was facilitating 15 super people, mostly academics, who are part of the Open Education Network (formerly the Open Textbook Network).

We are working on a project to design workflows and software to assist faculty to write structured textbooks. The main problem is that many open textbooks written by faculty have been done ‘in the wild’. Consequently there might be a lot of good content but it is poorly structured, and one things that good textbooks should be is well structured.

Today we had the second of two remote events working together to define a workflow, and then design software to support this new workflow.

A Workflow Sprint is a process I designed many years ago to help organisations/groups understand and optimise their workflow. I have used it mainly with publishers but it is generally applicable. Sometimes the Workflow Sprint includes the design of a high level architecture of a platform to support the optimised workflow.

I designed this process to work in realspace and it has only recently that I have reformulated the method for remote environments..

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First, perhaps it is good to define workflow. Often workflow is defined by technical folks as technical process that can be run many times in an automated fashion to perform specific tasks. However, this is not what I mean by the term. Workflow for me is what people do to achieve a task together. It is the pathways that people make when working together to achieve a (repeatable) outcome.

If we focus on what people do when defining workflow we can understand and notate processes in a number of steps.

A Workflow Sprint facilitates an organisation to understand their current workflow in these terms, and co-design a more efficient, optimised workflow. Sometimes, as mentioned above, the Workflow Sprint also means designing a technical system (at a very high level) to support the workflow.

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All this in one day! This process is in itself highly optimised and it can save organizations many many months of expensive work.

I have worked with many publishers around the world with this process and it has been fascinating to see inside so many publishing workflows and orgs. It has also been very satisfying to see the results.

These events have been conducted in realspace in the past over a one day period. However with the pandemic realspace isn’t so possible.

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I have been watching the progress of Book Sprints and their new Virtual Book Sprints. Book Sprints is a company I started that facilitates organisations or groups to collaboratively write a book in 5 days or less (‘from zero to book in 5 days’).  Book Sprints also, until the pandemic, were all conducted in realspace.

The Book Sprints team started experimenting with remote facilitation out of necessity. They had a few clients already signed up for Book Sprints and rather than cancel, the organisations decided to go ahead with a remote process. The brave and talented Book Sprints team then effectively designed a new product – Virtual Book Sprints.

I was very encouraged to see this as I have always been skeptical of the effectiveness of remote facilitation. Facilitation in realspace is an art I know, remote facilitation is something else entirely. However while I had thought Book Sprints facilitation could not work when transferred to a remote environment, the Book Sprints team proved me wrong. My mistake is that I thought that remoteness made facilitation impossible. However effective facilitation is possible, but virtual events require a different shape to the event, and quite different techniques and tools.

After following the work of the Book Sprints team and learning form them I applied some of what I learned to remote Workflow Sprints. To my joy it is working quite effectively.

There is much that could be said about the difference between facilitating remote events and realspace events, but I’ll just quickly highlight a couple:

  1. Fatigue
    Folks get exhausted quicker in remote events – consequently the event has to be broken up into smaller chunks
  2. Text becomes more important
    Text and post it notes can work, drawing things doesn’t work – there are good softwares for collaborative online whiteboards, post its etc. If documenting things in text these work well. However in realspace people can draw eg interfaces very easily. This is not so easy with digital tools, so text needs to play a more central role.
  3. Remote is more intentional
    Everything is more intentional and direct in remote events. Realspace events can be more ‘loose’ (at least in the eyes of the participants). This produces a certain false sense of freedom which is very productive. Looseness in remote events doesn’t work. The events need to be more tightly scheduled and pay closer attention to keeping people engaged.
  4. Break outs means more facilitators
    It is easy in realspace to facilitate many many group breakouts at once. However, in virtual events the groups need close supervision as you can’t ‘glance across the room’ to spot a problem. My recommendation is to have one facilitator per group if you can. Otherwise there are some conf tools that support ‘popping in and out’ of group calls. This can also be effective I’ve heard although I haven’t tried it yet.

As a coda, I highly recommend Big Blue Button – the open source conferencing tool. It works extremely well for many participants and has a good feature for break out rooms.

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Photos taken by me are of a Ravenspace Publishing Workflow Sprint held in Vancover 2019.

Kotahi 1.0 release coming soon

At Coko we have been building a platform for the management of scholarly articles. It is called Kotahi – a Māori word for ‘unity’. There is a lot of thinking that has gone into this platform – specifically around the notion of a single platform encapsulating multiple publication types and workflows.

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The theory is this – publishing, when you take an ‘astronauts’ view of it follows this simple schema:

  • create
  • improve
  • share

All publishing fits into this schema when looking at it from a very high point of view. All of scholarly communications fits into this triplet nicely. What is interesting however, is that many things can fit fit snuggly into this description. OA books, for example, follow this course. As do micropublications, trade paperbacks, preprints etc. Also, interestingly, this is the process we undertake before sharing almost any work – anything written in Google Docs for sharing follows this course.

If we were to lower our altitude and look at scholarly publishing from a birds eye perspective then we start to see some differentiation. We can look, for example at preprints. A preprint workflow is generally as follows:

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If we take this same altitude perspective with micropublications it looks something like this:

2

Finally, journal workflows look something like this:

3

So, without (yet) going into too many details, Kotahi has been designed to allow flexibility at this altitude. Kotahi is designed to enable all three workflows, meaning that you could use Kotahi to host all three types of publications and workflows in the same system. It is also possible, to use Kotahi for more than this… reviewing books before publishing, conference proceedings, even the submission and review of funding proposals…the scope of application is very broad.

We will be publishing more about this on the Coko site very shortly as Kotahi is approaching a 1.0 beta release. The code is all open source and has been available from the beginning, so you can access it now if you want to set it up and have a look. We will also be announcing a process to sign up for demos – however if you want a sneak peak and would like to give me some feedback about the platform then please ping me at adam@coko.foundation

Also, just to whet your appetite – Kotahi also features some nice things the scholarly communications world has been waiting for including live chat, a interface for creating an editing submission questions, automated live notifications and much more…it really is a pretty wonderful looking approach that I hope will inspire people to pick it up and try and, if they have dev resources, use it as a platform on top of which they can build their own innovations.

 

Archived Webinar about Book Sprints

There is an archive available of a webinar last week about Book Sprints. The event featured Book Sprints participants and facilitators discussing a specific Book Sprint as a use-case. The link for the archive of the event is below followed by a link to the book.
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https://www.booksprints.net/2020/09/07/book-launch-webinar/

The academic text which was the output of the Book Sprint has been published here.

Coko Cafe

Coko is hosting an experimental ‘cafe’ event format during Peer Review Week 2020. We all know the most important event at any conference is the casual networking opportunities that arise over coffee, lunch, after event drinks. Space for these kinds of opportunities haven’t been explored in depth for online events, and so we present Coko Cafe @ PRW!

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The goal of the cafe is to provide casual meetings and networking opportunities like those found at in-person events which might lead to new collaboration possibilities. More information here:

https://coko.foundation/coko-cafe-prw/

Nikau Software Development and Consultancy (NZ)

Very happy to announce that I’m starting a software development company – Nikau Software Development and Consultancy. Incorporated in Northland, NZ the company will slowly build up a client base organically. The primary activity will be building publishing platforms based on PubSweet. This means over time Coko will become the maintainer of community products – PubSweet, Editoria, Kotahi as well as the Open Publishing brand which includes the Open Publishing Awards and Open Publishing Fest.

Nikau will build new publishing platforms. I hope also Nikau will help contribute to the long term sustainability of Coko.

To help me get this underway I have been working with Rabble (Evan Henshaw-Plath).

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Rabble is on the Coko advisory board also and his blurb reads:

Rabble is a technologist who explores the intersection of product, engineering, and the political systems in which they exist. His passion is in the space of new emerging start-ups and making the world a better place through civic technology projects. Evan is has helped found and grow a vast number of interesting organisations and technologies including indymedia, Crafted Code, Twitter, Neo, Affinity.works, and Planetary.)

In my own words I’d say Rabble is an enlightened serial entrepreneur that understands the social and commercial side of entrepreneurship very well. I feel there is no need to translate my thoughts and ideas when I bounce them past Rabble and the conversations and his insights are very valuable. Rabble has also, importantly, set up his own software dev shop some years ago (Neo) which he sold to Pivotal in San Francisco some years ago. That, plus being an activist and first employee of twitter makes him a very good person to work with as he has a lot of experience and very valuable networks.

Anyways… more to come on this. It will take some time to get it all moving but for now it doesn’t effect things too much….but stay tuned!…

Book Sprint – Hybrid Environments for Universities report

A report has just been posted about a recent Book Sprint. It is an interesting read – reporting on a Book Sprint about how to work in hybrid realspace-remote environments. As it happens it was written early March, just before the pandemic hit most of the world. Worth a read. The book is also available as an Open Access publication here.

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https://www.steelcase.com/eu-en/research/articles/topics/education/hybrid-environments-universities/

“When we first heard about this way of collaborative writing in a scientific community, we were very curious and happy to be able to take part in this project. It is a good chance for scholars to interact better with each other, share their research, and thus on the one hand improve the outcome and on the other hand spread it in an interdisciplinary manner – not least through an open access publication.” says Melanie Völker, editor at Waxmann.

Joining the EIFL Management Board

I am very honored to join the EIFL management board. This happily augments my desire to do more work outside of North America and Western Europe.

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https://www.eifl.net/management

“EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries) is a not-for-profit organization that works with libraries to enable access to knowledge in developing and transition economy countries in Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe and Latin America.”

https://www.eifl.net/page/about