Action Center 5) Technologies – the Platform for Success

We believe we are at one of the most fortuitous times in human history. The Internet presents unprecedented opportunities. Just think about how the telephone transformed the world - simple voice communication, primarily 1 to 1 communication.

Now think about the Internet. Potentially, innumerable channels of communication open simultaneously. And what can we exchange?: voice, music, video, knowledge, data, information, Money!, and even smells. - All at the touch of a button. But in our view we have barely tapped into a fraction of its potential. We have often used the analogy of our use of the Internet to be like “kids playing in a sandbox”, but we think that we have not even put any toys in the sandbox yet, we are just throwing sand at each other.

The potentials in our view are boundless. Many really great tools, software and technologies have already been developed, but much of these are contributing to further fragmentation. We see our opportunities as looking at the specific needs of certain groups of peoples´ and providing them the necessary information tools and resources to help them advance their lives. That is why we are focusing on what we call “collaborative networking”. The idea is to facilitate the creation of substantive relationships, that help people of like minds or interests come together. Then provide them the necessary access to information and services to facilitate their ability to collaborate with business or social or community development interests.

But “like minds” can be a continually evolving concept. One example in tourism is to have a biking company collaborate with a bed and breakfast. It seems to be a simple connection, but these two business operators are not usually viewed to have like minds or similar interests, but they do. There are as many possibilities as the imagination can create.

Challenge: time, ease of access, productivity and communication

There are challenges, but in the right mind-set those challenges transform into opportunities. Following are some preliminary ideas about creation of these “collaborative networks”. Some key elements include: a) efficient for users, b) support effective time management, c) support effective exchange of ideas and information, and d) collaboration. The technologies need to operate seamlessly and be easy to use for all audiences. Additionally, these collaboration networks need to create a productive working environment and one that promotes communication.

Basic principles that we recommend for effective online collaboration:

In order to achieve the highest quality experiences, the online tools should assist our users (user group(s)) to:
            - Find what they are looking for – easily!
            - Provide access to content 24/7/365
            - Communicate efficiently and effectively (e.g. live, or at collaborators
            - Ability to remotely work together
            - Not require a significant “learning curve” to utilize
            - Get access to the standard tools
            - Provide an engaging experience for network members

Our proposed approach will be to evolve and expand these existing collaboration networking capabilities. The emphasis of our approach will be to expand the utility of existing networks to provide ways for people to collaborate instead of just communicating (or social networking). We are aware that there are numerous tools that are available for effective coordination (online learning environments). However, our observation is that these tools tend to be disparate and not combined to provide a complete solution.

We intend to utilize these existing capabilities but also to improve on them, initially by using the techniques outlined below. At the outset, an important realization is that a significant proportion of one of our first audiences (youth and students), are already “fluent” and totally adapted to an online environment. Thus, a part of our ultimate audience is already well prepared to utilize the resources and platform (Internet) that we intend to use. They should also be instrumental in our efforts to extend our impacts and capabilities. Our primary aim is to improve collaboration, coordination and communication with an ultimate goal to expand on the content and effectiveness without affecting usability.

    - User feedback
- Network participants performance evaluation and testing
- Multi-mode distance collaboration capabilities
  - chat capabilities,
  - video,
  - document/presentation shared mark-up
- Virtual environments (adapting gaming environments for more immersed user  
- Document sharing with ease of use as a focus (e.g. Googledocs, etc).
- Team and project coordination tools (e.g. calendar, shared projects, etc.)

Preliminarily the collaborative network will need to provide the capabilities to
         - discussion boards, chat rooms, and other communication platforms
         - tools supporting distance collaboration and project management
         - potentially--virtual laboratories

As highlighted by the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (Great Plains IDEA), one of the most significant challenges that will be faced by a collaborative network will be to coordinate and meld the relationships between the various institutions. Moxely and Maes stated emphatically that in their alliance is “an agreement on principles preceded agreement of policies”. Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1994) identified three fundamental aspects of business alliances that apply to higher education:

      - Successful alliances yield benefits for the partners and evolve progressively in
   their possibilities.
- Successful alliances involve collaboration (creating new value together) rather
   than mere exchange (getting something back for what you put in).
- Successful alliances are supported by a dense web of interpersonal
   connections and internal infrastructures that enhance learning; they cannot
   be controlled by formal systems.

Electronic (Virtual) Meeting Places – An Interface for Commerce and Education

Real, substantive content needs to be generated from the grass-roots. Otherwise information is superficial and doesn’t get to the real story. Every place, business and person has a story to tell. In order to create this content we need to create a “grass-fire” of inspiration to provide a way for people to be able to tell their story – whatever it might be. This process of people catching onto a wave of new ideas or technologies is called “adoption-diffusion”. This term describes the process by which people start taking part of a new phenomenon.

Figure 15: Electronic (Virtual) Meeting Places – An Interface for Commerce and Education – supporting exchange between users and content provider

Figure 15 depicts what we call the “Virtual Meeting Place” (web portal) which shows the flow of information and services from a group of content providers (e.g. businesses, institutions, organizations, or as depicted “Audiences, Customers, Constituents, etc.) to their customers or constituents. We believe the quality of the exchange is based upon two primary components 1) the efficiency and effectiveness of the technologies to facilitate the exchange (technologies & tools), and 2) the usefulness and usability of the information and services being exchanged – connected to the idea of “stickiness” in ICT circles. (Also see “flow experience” or optimal experience theory, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi).

Much could be written on these two items. For brevity we suggest that there are challenges and tremendous opportunities to improve in both areas.

Secondly, we see that for our objectives, the most critical element is to decipher existing information into useful materials for those entities that we intend to serve. Our observation is that within the Internet as a whole (including well established institutions) that there is more than enough information available to satisfy almost all purposes. The challenge, and opportunity, is to convert and/or translate this information into a form that is understandable and usable for various constituencies. We refer to this process as “sifting through the haystack”, which for the Internet is becoming more challenging every day. This is because every day more content is being created and also the potential to get lost in the labyrinth increases. The next critical step is to develop the technology tools to facilitate these exchanges in a way that satisfies the users, and helps them to improve their lives.

“Meaningful” Content is King!

In order for new ideas to move “across the landscape”, metaphorically speaking, people need to see how these new services might benefit them. It seems entirely possible that with these technologies, and audience appropriate content, that the process of adoption-diffusion can be accelerated. A key to this will be using the tools at our disposal to carry the message of “benefits” and by making the adoption process painless.

In the domain of the services that we intend to offer, there may actually be more than one thing that is being adopted by our customers. For example, new environmental agricultural practices and the technology they are using. The need to consider and address our customer’s fears, concerns and other obstacles that might deter their using our technology is paramount. The best way to address these issues is to understand our customers and make sure the services are user friendly and to provide rapid rewards that will help them realize the overall and personal benefits in the shortest time possible.

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