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12/22/2005
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Your Friend and Mine, Business Rules (First in a Series)

Recent news reports have told us that Wikipedia would be tightening its editorial practices. This is a prime example of a collaborative mechanism whose business rules, while altruistic and well-intentioned, are too free-form for its own good.

Yes, I know I spoke fondly of Wikipedia right in my own blog here on Collaboration Loop, and can still speak favorably of it on the basis of many experiences. However, with its impending libel lawsuits and other struggles, now may be a good opportunity to look a the concept of business rules in collaborative environments.

This is the first in a series of blog entries centered on business rules.

Rule 1. Establish a leader

Taking a page from the book of Wikipedia, I’d like to point out that collaborative editing/working environments can and do function productively without a “leader.” However, in the professional setting, I strongly suggest electing or appointing a subject matter expert or a leader who will be responsible for ensuring the accuracy and the quality of the collaborative experience.

From practical experience, I can tell you that very few subject matter experts whom you would wish to have leading your collaborative environments actually have the time to do it. It takes dedication, time and effort to scroll through many pages of content (depending on how much material ends up in the collaborative space). Furthermore, the research and production of the meaty content that users look for in their collaborative experience eats up even more time.

So, what does a good leader do? Delegate. Most leaders in the academic space make judicious use of their graduate students to run their collaborative spaces and ensure quality content. Others will pass the responsibility on down the chain of command. However, in either scenario, I suggest that the leader spend the time mentoring the new person during their learning curve.

The mentoring process should include the review of a set of standards for acceptable content in the collaborative space. I’ll cover standards in a future blog entry, but if a group already has an established set of standards, they should be posted in the collaborative space and named appropriately.

Finally, the leader should be the technology evangelist of the collaborative space. Without his or her efforts to publicize it to the desired participants, the space will not be used effectively.

The impact of a good leader will be seen in the use of the collaborative environment by its participants. I’ve witnessed many successful collaborative efforts, and about twice as many failed ones. The life of the effort flows through the heart of its leader.

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