Blogtalk Downunder
   May 19-22, Sydney

20/5/2005

Implications of culture

Filed under: General — Ash @ 6:19 pm

I was fascinated by Thomas Burg’s talk (and the fortuitously timed comments that matched the projectors tantrums).

Something I thought was pertinent but not mentioned was the cultural dimension. Assuming that this project was launched in Germany, a supposedly monochronic society of low context, that excels in linear, heirarchical and compartmentalised work practices - perhaps the technology wasn’t the main flaw? What if the culture just didn’t suit the concept?

As part of his theories on monochronic and low context peoples, Edward T. Hall purported that German society encourages workers to do their work and in general, “keep their head down”. They apparently favour adhering to time, and budgets over deep relationships to achieve goals in work. On the other hand, high context, polychronic societies such as the French, or certain Asian and Mediterranean areas, lean more toward relationships. The more people you know - and know well - the more you can achieve. Why wait in a line when you can call a friend?

Perhaps these polychronic societies would be a better test bed for technologyLog?

3 Comments

  1. Actually, the project was launched in Austria, but Austrian culture is probably more similar to the German than to the Mediterranean.. :)
    Being one of Thomas’ project partners on developing/researching the platform, I agree that taking cultural variables into account is very important to explain sucessfull/failed adoption of social software. However, rather than taking the macroscopic perspective and comparing national cultures, I’d lean to a more “meso-” or “micro-approach”, that is looking at the shared values and practices in the participating organizations (some of them are in the middle of a restructuring process), the project teams or even the individual knowledge workers. Thomas has probably mentioned it; we did quite a number of in-depth interviews prior to launching the platform to learn about existing attitudes to knowledge sharing and the corresponding practices. It will definitely be necessary to get back to the people later this year and talk about their experiences - I guess we will be able to delineate the importance of technological, social, and cultural factors, respectively.

    Comment by JanSchmidt — 20/5/2005 @ 7:38 pm

  2. Jan,

    I apologise. I actually knew it was Austria, but was writing that post whilst pausing to listen for salient points from another presenter.

    It sounds like a fascinating project. Inter-organisational, intra-organisational, and professional cultures would of course also bring great bearing to this. I was merely suggesting that it would be interesting to test the same system with a macro culture pre-disposed to being more public than one which tends toward greater privacy.

    Good luck with future iterations!

    Comment by Ash — 21/5/2005 @ 9:27 am

  3. I tend to agree that culture is a big issue in attempting to change the way people operate — but agree that it’s not only regional cultures, and suspect that is less of an issue than individual expectations of ‘how stuff works’.

    …can you tell I’m the non-acedemic here!? ; )

    I worked on a *broadly* similar project about 6-7 years ago (if memory serves), for NGO’s, attempting to draw together approx. 40-50 odd, very small and dispersed workers in the health and human services areas.

    The project attempted to apply all of the buzzwords, doc-management/sharing, bottom-up self-organisation, aggregation, customisation, syndication (all the ‘-ations’) etc., but ultimately didn’t strike enough of a chord across the user base, to sustain the level of interaction needed… it didn’t quite hit ‘critical mass’.

    IMHO the technology was not a particularly limiting factor, I would put the eventual under use to insufficient ‘training’, or perhaps more appropriately ‘cultural change’, in getting users for whom the computer was not their primary tool, or interest, to appreciate the potential in moving their point-to-point collaboration to an open platform (within their sector.)

    As a UI/interaction (whatever) designer, the other major factor would have been the ‘interface’ — the extent to which the UI facilitated, and *encouraged* this sort of work, and got out of people’s way, was sadly also an issue.

    Comment by marc — 21/5/2005 @ 10:08 am

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