Is this an effective development community?

The information environment, and repositories in particular, were highlighted by Sir Ron Cooke (JISC chair), in his opening keynote at the JISC conference. (See the online conference proceedings.)

He described the vision of a national e-infrastructure supporting the “body of knowledge” at the centre. He told delegates that “[his] nightmare is the challenge of the super-abundance of digital data” and stressed the importance of positioning our repositories very carefully in this landscape of abundant information. From a seemingly different perspective, the closing keynote by Angela Beesley described the work of the Wikimedia foundation, which includes Wikipedia but also other interesting projects I had not heard of before. Their vision is of open access, of making as much knowledge as possible available to the world. Their solution is less about infrastructure and more about mass, scaleable workflows. Her answer to “can you trust user-generated content?” was a refreshingly firm “no. but you can trust the process”.

So how do we develop a layer of scholarly information (for research, learning and teaching) where individuals can find, use and share trusted information, supported by an agile infrastructure provided by institutions, publicly funded shared services, commercial services and wikipedia? It’s a heady mix. I took heed from Ron’s warning that “it’s often easier to have the vision than to have the stamina to battle against institutional inertia or even resistance”.

I think that’s the key challenge for us now, in the world of digital libraries and e-infrastructure. How do we ensure that we’re building firm foundations instead of castles in the sky? How do we avoid going down routes that are technically interesting but offer no tangible benefits to staff and students in institutions?

An important part of the answer is in how we, as a development community, work together to make sure we’re doing the right sorts of things in the right way in the right order. This was the focus of the Rapid Community Building session I went to in the afternoon . The Users and Innovation Development Model marries up the requirements analysis process with the development process to encourage constant sense-checking and quality assurance. We need this on a grand scale if we’re to continue developing in the right direction. The Emerge project is about sharing ideas to support this virtuous cycle and the overall impression I had was of creative chaos! Not everyone wants to work in the web2.0 way. But perhaps if every cluster of developers has an enthusiastic communicator then the community will get more of the benefits sooner.

I’ll finish with a quote and a question.

Quote, with thanks to George Roberts in the community building session:
“Much of what works is already there” Cooperrider and Srivastva (1987)

Question … Is it true? How do we review what works? How do we address the gaps? The IE team really wants to hear from projects how we can improve the development cycle, from identifying useful projects through to embedding outputs. What sorts of things can we all do to make this process work better?

1 thought on “Is this an effective development community?

  1. Jim Downing

    If I remember it right, the U&I model places emphasis on user input when working out what will work, which covers “do right things”, but not “do things right” (paraphrasing your last question). It’s hard to phrase an answer to this in terms of a development methodology. A good team, with the right motivation can pretty much pick a development model and come up with good software. You can wave methodology books at poor (or poorly motivated – the effect is pretty much the same) software teams all day, and they still won’t deliver the goods.

    At the moment it’s hard to build and keep a great development team because the funding works the way it does. It’s hard to motivate developers as well as we might, partially because contract lengths tend to be short and particularly because there seems to be more emphasis on project reports than software.

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