OPEN COMMUNITY KNOWLEDGE GENERATION
At Lilly COI, we are helping to create knowledge-generating communities around clinical research. The internet was always intended to be a participative system, and the open clinical intelligence network we forsee is about open contribution making drug development better. Our White Paper states clearly that one of the fundamental effects of open networks is the generation of new knowledge, and that the internet’s real power lies in its ability to allow people to quickly self-organize and engage in a number of ways. Open Q & A forums provide one simple and powerful way to generate valuable knowledge.
If you read about a solution to a problem in a large textbook or a user manual, it may help you make your problem go away. But if a large number of people look at the same problem and share their ideas in the open (along with their successes, failures and data), knowledge grows exponentially. Online question and answer forums have evolved over time, and typify the kind of knowledge-generating communities we envision.
BULLETIN BOARDS – COMMUNITY?
Most people are familiar with the old online community forum. Long before GUIs, GIFs and avatars, people were using their internet connection to lob questions and comments to the online crowd, hoping for feedback. In the 90s, folks were dialing into Prodigy, CompuServe and AOL ISPs to access their favorite “bulletin boards.”
In 2012, community forums are ubiquitous. A browser search on almost any topic will yield links to many. You could still consult a textbooks or a manual, but well-designed, modern forums (specifically, the dynamic open Q & A format) possess a few qualities that just can’t be replaced: simplicity and accessibility, inherent interactivity, and convenience. The Community Q & A forum is essentially a focused, online conversation where your input matters.
Both the volume of and accessibility to information available on the internet have multiplied exponentially in recent years. As a result, the value of open community Q & A forums has risen dramatically. More people are exposed to more data, and are posing pointed questions, sharing specific ideas, and receiving solid answers. That is the power of knowledge-generation.
Nowadays, there are a lot of different Q & A forums addressing all kinds of topics. From health to gaming to car clubs to technology (and myriad sub-topics within each), millions of people around the world are sharing ideas online. Here are a few good examples.
COMMUNITY HELP SITES THAT WORK
Discussions.apple.com has a very tidy question-and-answer forum resource. As a consumer product-maker, they understandably provide on-site tutorials and manuals. But the “Communities” section complements these with thoughtful features (like active search, statistics, and a handy overview pane) in a well-organized interface. We’ve also found that, although there are controls, the moderators allow for some fairly “candid” complaints and comments.
WordPress.com’s Support Forums also provide an elegant layout and feature-set for their blog publishing offerings. The conversational format of the support forums is easy to read and follow. And WordPress includes a useful widget on each page that shows relevant information on the status of each topic.
PaleoHacks.com is a “collaboratively edited question and answer site” (as their FAQ page states) that serves a community of people who ascribe to the Paleolithic diet. It is a great example of the growing number of forum sites using Open Source Question and Answer (OSQA) technology, which includes what they call “wiki-like features,” as well as a voting system, and a powerful search tool.
The set-up of the PaleoHacks forum is simple to look at, but rife with useful features. Its first page is dominated by users’ questions, which can be sorted via tabs. A site visitor can also look for information based on Tags (like fat, sugar, recipe), Users (ranked by reputation), Badges (with terms like great answer, epic, or fanatic), and questions that still need answers.
Sites like this harness the participative nature of the internet and help people connect around a common concern. And the nature of the open Q & A forum keeps it current, adapting to questions and references to new information or technology. The open exchange of questions, answers and ideas is generating knowledge constantly.
At LillyCOI, it is our goal to create environments like this around clinical research. Imagine open Q & A forums around protocol design, recruitment, site identification and more to gain insight and improve clinical drug development. Nothing exemplifies participative knowledge generation like the Community Q & A forum.