Sunday, May 30, 2010

Unity of purpose, communication, and representation

Further on the idea of integral representations and the role of practitioners in making representations matter...

As I was working through writing up the "how good/successful was the session" question, it struck me that one way to characterize this was by considering how closely three dimensions were unified in each session -- the purpose, or intended (as well as emergent) reasons or goals for each session; the communication, both verbal and non-verbal, the way the participants (as well as practitioners) interacted, and the representation, the visual artifact (Compendium maps in the cases I'm studying, but could be any kind of visual or written representation, or even just a verbal representation if there is some sense of a central focus for the session):

The best sessions see a fusion of the three dimensions. Purpose, communication, and representation become indistinguishable in practice; why we’re doing what we’re doing, how we interact with each other, and the visual artifact appear to be unified:

By contrast, in less optimal sessions, the dimensions are disconnected from each other. For example, people could be talking about something that is more or less removed from the ostensible purpose of the session, and the representation itself is ignored or irrelevant:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Integral representations

As I've been working through writing up the comparative analyses, one thing that's struck me is that a key differentiator of practice styles and expertise is how much (and in what ways) practitioners make the representations themselves matter to the participants and to the proceedings, as opposed to being (in varying ways) a sideshow, background, or decoration.

For example, one of the Shaping aspects in Category B (practitioner interaction with participants) is the "degree of intervention to get participants to look at the representation". It occurred to me that, while all of the studied practitioners used various physical and verbal means to do this, the style, purpose, and strength with which they did this varied greatly. Both of the 'expert' sessions (Hab Crew and Remote Science Team) did this frequently and in depth throughout the session, but also did it with a degree of naturalness. They did not have to use much special force or emphasis because, due in large part to their expertise, the representation was integral to the proceesings, embedded in how and why the group was working.

This isn't something that comes for free and takes a lot of factors to achieve, but the phrase integral representations (seemingly widely used in mathematics) seems to me to sum up a lot of what this research is aiming toward: how to make such representations integral to their participants and audience, how to make them matter, and in what ways.