An Ontology Of Participation

by Brian Haven
@ 11:57 PM

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Members of adapting enterprises pursue engaging and meaningful interactions that embody a special kind of participation. As the behaviors of these communities continue to emerge and become more common, their impact on products, and on the design practice itself, will be significant. It’s critical for both the originating enterprises and the design discipline to be aware of the people who will engage in these activities. Both need to understand the underlying concepts that explain how this kind of participation exists in the world. To help open the discussion and facilitate further understanding of the behaviors of adapting enterprises, I’ve broken things down into a set of concepts that explain how participation happens — an ontology of participation. This ontology is based on my masters thesis at Carnegie Mellon completed back in 2004. So far, I feel this framework still applies, even though I created it back when blogs, social networks and other forms of social media were in their infancy.

[Ontology of Participation: Adoption, Participation, & The Propagation Of Design Discontinuities by Brian Haven]
It’s based on analysis of the examples outlined in previous posts (hard-hacking & soft-hacking, group assembly, self-declaration, and systematic engagement). They address issues beyond the mere creation of products by an originating enterprise. Instead, they address the creative activities exerted on products that extend them beyond the utility for which they were originally created. Additionally, this ontology also addresses the creation of entirely new products by non-commercial entities. (Note: Please remember that when I refer to a 'product' I mean that it can be an artifact, service, system, environment, etc., it's not limited to a physical object.)

The five ontological concepts of participation are:

  • Conversation: Individuals interact with things in a more meaningful way — they have a conversation with products — extending them beyond the utility for which they were created and into new design spaces.

  • Community: Common behaviors among these individuals motivate them to come together, emerging as adapting enterprises with the purpose of sharing knowledge and resources.

  • Accessibility: The collective activities and products of adapting enterprises extend beyond the communal borders and into the broader public, easily (and likely) accessible to anyone.

  • Symmetry: The originating enterprises take notice of the adapting enterprises' efforts and are forced to respond (sometimes positively, often not).

  • Phase Transition: New ways of thinking emerge to address the new behaviors and interactions between originating and adapting enterprises, blurring the lines between the two.


02 Jul 2009
The fourth example of participation, systematic engagement, is supported by...

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09 Jul 2009
The first concept of the Ontology Of Participation is Conversation:...

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