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Communicating Science

Thanks to my feed reader, I scan many things every morning that I might otherwise miss. I caught this gem this morning that speaks directly to the position Mains Associates takes on communicating science. From the post,

"If the writer doesn't do a good job of explaining what the results mean and why they are important, they are likely to be missed. If you are giving a talk about your research, hopefully the audience can figure out for themselves why your information is relevant to their work, but you're doing everybody a favor if you help them."

I think if you're hoping for your audience (whether at a presentation or reading something you wrote) to figure out for themselves why you're relevant, you're playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette. As information becomes easier and easier to find, the odds that something will pop right out at your audience are slim. It's our view that by focusing on the benefits of your research, you make it easy for people to understand how you're relevant to them while avoiding "spin". This is not an easy line to walk (trust us, we've been walking that line for 25 years!), but it is crucial that you do walk it. In addition to the Goglanglab's post commenting on the article, the original is here at Seed, which, if you have yet to check out, is well worth your time.

Mains Associates is moving!

Today is the big day; the movers are on their way and we are off to our new digs. We'll try to post a picture soon, as the view across the bay is fantastic. We think we've planned for everything, and all of our hosted sites should still be up an running during the move. Even if we did forget something, at worst everything will be up again by about Noon on Friday. Our phones will be off all day on Thursday, however our email will be functioning normally. We might not check either that frequently Thursday and Friday, so please be patient while we reconnect and we will get back to you. Thanks!


This week, we brought "live" the Success Stories portion of the California Innovation Corridor Web site. The system that powers the database is all open-source - built on MySQL and PHP (using the Zend framework) - so we can take advantage of updates, patches, and upgrades without having to hire a huge development team. Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration... All of the Projects and Participants are profiled, and the Accomplishments section is growing day-by-day. Mains Associates and the system's beta users feel as though the system's real value is in understanding how these three elements relate to each other and in providing easy access to that related information. You can visit the system at InnovateCalifornia.net. Before you leave though, I would like to point out that this would not have been possible without the contributions of our friends at Wheeler Street Design. They toiled long and hard to customize a system to provide maximum transparency of WIRED information to site visitors - Thanks!

Web 2.0

I recently visited the expo area at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco to get some idea of what new collaboration tools are out there, play with them a bit, and also make some personal judgments on their likelihood of still being around for the next conference. Collaboration in all its forms was evident at this event, but a few stuck out. I won't review them extensively (Webware.com has done so already), but here are my thoughts.

Coghead: Just out of limited beta, this application allows users to author their own custom applications through a drag-and-drop web-based interface. The product is fairly intuitive and easy-to-use, and most importantly, does not require you to know any programming languages! For a small business that needs a custom app but doesn't have the money to pay a traditional developer, this may be the ticket. The main drawbacks are slow speed (it runs through Flash in your browser, and requires a good chunk of RAM) and limited ability to publish data to the Web right now. I am attempting to build a version of our HighLights Gateway™ using Coghead, and I'll let you know how that goes.

Octopz: I haven't played with this much yet, but it looks promising. It allows multiple people to review a document or screencap of a Web site online, draw or write notes or edits on the document, save and print it. Oh, and you can discuss the edits with other users in real time using either text, voice, or video chat options. This also requires a good chunk of RAM. Most of the other companies were focused on individual collaboration tools (think MySpace, de.lic.ious, etc.), but I could foresee business uses for these applications as functionality expands and individuals become used to using them.

Communities of Communities

Much of what is written about Communities of Practice (CoP) concerns the initiation, facilitation, and support for communities of individuals. Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger first used the term in their book, Situated Learning in 1991. The concept describes people who have a common interest in learning about a topic through collaboration. Since then, the CoP concept has become common in corporate boardrooms and training rooms around the globe. There are abundant resource materials available on how to create them, nurture them, make them more effective, and how to use them to promote an organization's competitive advantage. But how do you create and support a community of communities? Mains Associates is confronting this issue on a project we are supporting with the California Space Authority, program lead for the California Innovation Corridor's WIRED grant. The Corridor, as it is known, encompasses about 50 initial participants working on 25 projects across a 13 county area in California. Through the life of the grant, more participants are expected to join - in fact, this is a necessity for the various projects to continue effective work beyond the life of the grant. Though the original $15M grant sounds large, when spread out over this many projects and participants, it is a modest sum to accomplish their grand objectives. Doing more with less will certainly be a common refrain. In order to do more with less, projects must quickly learn from each other, attract new participants, and assimilate them and their knowledge quickly. How can this be done if the "participants" working on these projects are often multiple staff from one organization, or various organizational representatives who change over the life of the project? In short, it's a challenge. We have what we think is a good system, tested inside NASA, and now about to be rolled out into the wider world. I'll go into our approach in more detail in future posts, but the summary is: 1. Create a searchable repository of resources -- in the form of project, participant, and accomplishment profiles -- that is easily accessible via the Web to anyone who is interested in those projects, their objectives, or their outcomes, whether or not they are part of the project. This enables people who are part of a participating organization or project to share and contribute to the same knowledge base. 2. Maintain that repository by drawing upon existing information to create new content that is updated in as near-to-realtime, as possible. The key is to reuse existing information rather than require projects to create new information suitable for this system only - who has time for that? 3. Focus on providing projects with proactive support in leveraging their resources and helping to implement processes and systems that are sustainable beyond the WIRED grant itself. Discussions with WIRED project staff inside and outside of California leads us to believe that this approach would be useful across many of the WIRED grants, and taking the next step, useful to many endeavors that involve bringing together communities of communities. I plan on going more in-depth on the various elements of our approach soon and sharing what we are learning about bringing together such a diverse group, but please contribute your experiences in this area through the comments section.

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