External and shareable artifacts as opportunities for social creativity in communities of interest

Fischer, G. (2001). External and shareable artifacts as opportunities for social creativity in communities of interest.  Working Paper, Center for Life Long Learning & Design.


Historical creativity
Ideas and discoveries that are fundamentally novel with respect to the whole of human history.

Psychological creativity
Ideas and discoveries in everyday work practice that are fundamentally novel with respect to the individual human mind or social community.

Design and design communities

Design activities often evolve over long periods of time.

Complexity arises from the need to:

  • Synthesize different perspectives of stakeholders on a problem
  • Manage large amounts of relevant information
  • Understand the decisions that have determined the long-term evolution of a designed artifact

Knowledge is distributed among the various stakeholders, requiring collaboration.

Symmetry of ignorance
No individual stakeholder, or group, knows all the relevant knowledge, yet the knowledge of all stakeholders is equally important in the process of  framing and resolving the problem.

Homogenous: Communities of practice

Communities of practice
Practitioners who work as a community in a certain domain undertaking similar work.

Boundaries that are empowering to insiders are often barriers for outsiders and newcomers.

Heterogenous: Communities of interest

Communities of communities

Communities of interest
“Defined” by their shared interest in the framing and resolution of a design problem. Generally more temporary than a CoP. They have a great potential to be more innovative and transforming that a single CoP.

Fundamental challenges found in building a shared understanding of the task-at-hand.

CoIs must simultaneously support a healthy autonomy of the contributing CoPs and at the same time provide possibilities to build on interconnectedness and a shared understanding.

This type of learning requires externalization in the form of boundary objects.



Externalizations are needed to capture and articulate the task at hand.

Information is relevant if it:

  • Helps all participating stakeholders to understand a problem
  • Is made available when the need for it arises

Boundary objects

Boundary objects
Objects that serve to communicate and coordinate the perspectives of various constituencies.

Two major purposes:

  1. Serve as objects to support the interaction and collaboration among different CoP
  2. Serve the interaction between users and (computational) environments

Living organizational memories

Offer the following promises and opportunities:

  • Information spaces owned by the people and communities
  • Support the collaborative and evolutionary design of complex systems
  • Are open and evolvable systems
  • Can be evolved through many small contributions by many people

Unself-conscious cultures of design

Unself-conscious cultures of design
When users of an artifact are able to recognize and repair breakdowns in use, they are empowered to maintain the fit of their artifact to its changing environment.

There is no formal set of rules.

Self-organizing evolution

Is a myth.

The open source development projects are the source of some lessons. Namely, having a set of “project leaders” to assure a central vision.

The evolution of living organizational memories must have elements of both:

  • Decentralized evolution
  • Centralized integration

Social creativity

The power of the unaided individual mind is highly overrated (John-Steiner, 2000; Salomon, 1993).

Much of our intelligence and creativity results from interaction and collaboration with other individuals (Csikszentmihalyi and Sawyer, 1995).

Creativity does not happen inside people’s heads, but in the interaction between a person’s thoughts and a sociocultural context (Engeström, 2001).

Tacit knowledge:

  • With individuals: intuition, judgment, and common sense
  • With groups: knowledge exists in the distinct practices and relationships that emerge from working together over time.

Externalization supports social creativity:

  • Cause us to move from vague mental conceptualization of an idea to a more concrete representation of it
  • Provide a means for others to interact with, react to, negotiate around, and build upon an idea
  • Create a common language of understanding

Examples of socio-technical environments that support social creativity

Domain-oriented design environment

Domain-oriented design environment
A class of integrated systems that conserve and pass on the “oeuvres” of previous groups.

DODEs are supported by critiquing mechanisms.

Copresence dimension

Envisionment and Discovery Collaboratory
A meta-design effort that supports social creativity by empowering stakeholders to act as designers, thus allowing them to create shared understanding, to contextualize information to the task at hand, and to create boundary objects in collaborative design activities.

EDC leverages the face-to-face setting with boundary objects.


Prototype of EDC with several limitations:

  • Lack of simultaneous interactions
  • Inability to create interaction behavior more closely tailored to the objects

Dynasites: collaboratively constructed, living information repositories

DynaSites serve as the substrate for the EDC’s reflections space and as a stand-alone knowledge system.

Courses as seeds

We reconceptualize courses as seeds rather than as finished products.

The traditional paradigm of education is not appropriate for understanding and learning to resolve the types of open-ended and multidisciplinary design problems that are most pressing to our society.

Course should be envisioned as communities of learning in which participants shift among the roles of learner, designer, and active contributor (Rogoff et al., 1998).

Course information environments (CIEs)

CIEs support the following activities:

  • Learning discourse and social capital
  • Building, referring, extending
  • Formalizing, restructuring, reusing

CIEs are persistent, they can serve as a source of assessment and reflection of course activities.

CIEs should have the following characteristics:

  • Growing and evolving information space, driven by course activities
  • Student-initiated contributions
  • Rich interaction among all participants
  • Knowledge building
  • Discussions and artifacts that can be incorporated into the seed

The lack of participating may be grounded in the beliefs that:

  • Learning is a one-way process in which students are strictly recipients
  • Problems have an answer and the teacher has to know the answer
  • Students were at best not interested, and at worst unwilling, to engage in peer-to-peer learning
  • Unwillingness to share
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