Colloquium: Virtual Organizations

Posted on February 18, 2005  /  12 Comments

The Virtual Organisation: How do we get there?

How can we get researchers and participants to engage in LIRNEasia activitites? And sustain these relationships?

-this is tough, since we have limited funds

Professional development?

Look at Shared values.
LIRNEasia has a set of values, that can we abstract from these values that will get people to participate in our activities?

Open Source community is a good example
Highly capable ppl who work across the globe to develop code that is shared freely with anyone. It is very unstructured, but very successful. The participants don’t get paid fro it, but they get the advantage of its use, and its participatory development. How do we resonate from that?

Property right imposed on you in Open Source (according to the Success of Open Source) where you can make money from it, but you are obligated to share source code with everyone else: it cannot be restricted from anyone.
LIRNEasia should take from this, and not restrict its output from anyone else.

Question is why Open Source evolved? B/c MS had monopoly

No, it has evolved b./c of the Internet: it allows code developers to work together where ever they are

To fix problem, you had to go to MS; Opensource overcomes this, allowing users themselves to fiddle with the product to their liking.

Weber asks hwhy OS’rs collaborate:
1. Gallery modely – OS is like a gallery of work, people across the world can see it, and comment on it. It works b.c it is an OPEN system ofcommunication – automatically promotes excellence.. medeocraty is sqeezed out of the system – LIRNEasia should take from this.
We haven’t been around long wnough to get that confidence to ‘show the world’ our work.

Vicious attacking of bad work at software forums; do we have this in our system?
Our website seems to be going in that direction.

we haven’t been arounf long enough to reach that level of excellence yet

Not got the audience yet

‘Community of practice’ where you are bound by a similar set of keywords. We have to break out of our CoP

World Bank discussions generally only have about 40 (max) comments per week. Have we come to a stage where we can compete with them at this level yet? Even WB finds it hard to generate sufficient discussion.

We are different from WB in that the process is just as important as the end product.
Back to Weber:
2. Sharing: sharing has no costs, but great benefits. () Only thing with sharing per se is free-rider problem. BUT, Knowledge products don’t disappear. There is and ‘anti-rival’ problem – users who, even if they don’t contribute in the development (free-ride so to speak) give feed-back which betters the product at the end of the day.

Like public consultations

In SL, most people criticise

In academic work, most people free-ride anyway

But if you open it out before it is finalised, then that’s ok, b.c all these people actually did contribute

If someone takes our product, and polish it and then re-publish, credit doesn’t come back to us.

If we are working to a common goal; as long as the end goals are reached (values) then what does it matter

Our values need to be set out.

WB doesn’t have these underlying values, so maybe thast why they can’t generate discussion.

In the academic set-up, only the finished good is published – aftetr peer-review, etc. For fear of being criticised,, and being plegerised.
Our process is different b.c its opened out to review from the starting point.


In a university, you don’t open out your work out, only to a very small close community. You don’t give half-done work. Only once its complete and polished, you publish.

In SL, not a lot gets written altogether, generally speaking.

3. Joint enemy – MS—keeps community motivated

What if MS disappears? Will the community go away? Don’t think so

It’s a common goal, not enemy. Will keep it going.

Common enemy comes under ‘values’

OS developers usually have a day-job also. They say that working on OS gives them extra skills, connections and leverage.

Major differences between LIRNEasia and OS:
– is code similar to research?
o Good code works, it runs; good research is contentious. Can we create the kind of single-minded approach that will define ‘good research’

Can only figure out if something is good or not (Sayer??), the test is practical adequacy; does the trap catch mice?
There’s not really such a thing as ‘good code’ or whatever it is. One may have flaws, or many diff ones may do the same job

Linux says whats good and whats not. (before) Now, it’s a broader (but restricted) community that decides/approves code – processes and procedures to decide.

Cannot compare code with our kind of research.

cannot always expect to have agreement. But should that be a stumbling block to participation? No. need common values to work within as parameters – not just moral values, but procedural as well. Need a value system, this will

Need to work on our review process

But how? – get the values out? Money?

Money is secondary. We need to make this bigger in SL, and everywhere.

Project: (a) Look into Google scholar and look at everyone who has done work on Infrastructure reforms in Asia. Take those in that subset those who are living in Asia – potential customers. Then establish relations with them and put on mailing list. (c) go to the universities in Asia and support them to improve research, teaching curricula, etc. basically improve performance. ? new, better students. Give them incentives (via graduate fellowships) . Basically get them into our ‘community of practice’ Need common values to engage them into our CoP

There are always two opposing views on everything. Someone will always be against our work.

Measure of success shouldn’t be whether it changes govt policy immediately, but how well the process went.

HdeS: if thats our output, then that measure is ok, but if policy change is the ultimate output, then our measure of success is whether the policy change was made.

We can’t ensure that policy will be changed, but realistic objective should be that we get people to react.

Realistic objective should be influencing policy. Don’t expect that all your ideas (nor your enemy’s) ideas will be accepted, but the policy makers will do something with influence from both sides. Policy is the avoidance of the worst outcome.

Harsha’s Saradiel work prevented the worst from happening, not necessarily the best.



  1. Sorry, everybody! I missed the ‘kelle-kium’ (‘colloquium’) yesterday. Anyway it was an exceptionally hectic week for me; I worked till late for few days continuously; (not to mention the one month old small brat of mine who has now stolen the opportunity of peaceful nights); wanted to take some rest on Thursday and was dragged to a TV show at YATV by somebody at the last minute saying I should be more active at my present age, (The show was good; we discussed many aspects of the proposed All Hazard Disaster Warning System, but my biggest fear was that I would fall asleep in the middle of the show!) and finally I decided I badly need some rest on Friday evening. Happy to see that yesterday’s meeting had gone well.

    My only concern is that the discussion seems to have barely touched the core topic: ‘The Virtual Organisation: How do we get there?’ Though we had enough discussions on this since from the very beginning I am still not sure how exactly we reach there. I think we still have too many ‘face-to-face’ meetings. We need to work out a methodology where we can do most of our work through web, without physically meeting, and where we can capture ideas from the millions out there, using our web site as the channel. Not that we have not done that. We are already doing it, but we need to improve.

    By the way, what about our mission statement? Have we come to an agreement or is that still open?

  2. For those who want a summary of Steve Weber’s book:

    My reference to practical adequacy as a test of “truth” was from Andrew Sayer whose book Method in social science, I used as the main text in a methods class I taught at Ohio State. The best explanation I could find on the web is:

  3. The mission statement is still open. I think the tsunami justifies slippage on the announced schedule for that kind of activity.

  4. If you’re looking at Opensource, there are pretty strong legal structures built in. For code most people use the GPL (

    Creative Commons, on the other hand is designed for Artists and Authors, like LIRNEasia., for example, uses a CC license to allow use of its photos, with the condition that credit is given. Entire blogs and all content therein are often licenced under a Creative Commons license of the author’s choice.

    Creative Commons

    I’ve linked to the Comic Book description of CC, there’s more at

  5. Chanuka,

    you need to think of the virtual organization more than just the technology that binds people in different geographical regons together. It is relatively easy (resources permitting) to deploy one of many off-the-shelf collaborative platforms/tools that are available to make it possible to particpate in “virtual” meetings, work collaboratively on draft documents etc. But the question is that if such a platform were deployed would it get people collaborating? Would it expand our research network in the region and get voluntary particpation of like-minded collaborators to participate? The answer, I am afraid is “no”. You can build but they may not come.

    The technology is an enabler but more importantly it is the shared values that will get researchers in the region working on ICT reform to come together and work collaboratively. The shared values are what will make Lirneasia a successful, sustainable virtual organization, not technology.

    Friday’s colloquium was about identifying the values of Lirneasia that may resonate with the larger virtual community of ICT policy reform researchers in the region. I presented the example of the Open Source community and drawing on Steve Weber’s book extracted the key values that the open source community shares that make it such a successful, dynamic virtual organization. We were debating whether the shared values of the Open Source movement are similar to Lirneasia’s. So the exercise we were involed in at the colloquium is the necessary first steps towards mapping the road towards a virtual organization. I will separately post the values that I have extracted from watching Lirneasia in action for the last couple of months.

    Finally, it would have been possible for you to participate “virtually” in Friday’s colloquium. The discussion were being blogged in real time, so if you left a question or comment to the discussion it could have been picked up by the group and discussed.

  6. Divakar,

    We had several discussions on the ‘virtual organisation’ even before the inception of LIRNEasia, and yes, we were not just looking into technology – I too agree technology is not the key issue here – but thinking in a broader sense how we can change our mindsets and behaviours to form this virtual organisation.

    As for me, I am a person who looks forward to the day when only 10% of the world population had to travel out of their habitats. I do not use the word ‘home’ because by then a ‘habitat’ will be a combination of a ‘home’ and an ‘office’ or even ‘factory’. The remaining 90% should be able to work from their habitats virtually. In fact Arthur C. Clarke predicts that in another 25 years or so an average person will spend 8-10 hours of his on web DAILY!

    It’s a big change from our current working pattern. Most of the times, we are still comfortable with ‘face to face meetings’ than interacting in the cyberspace. Still we often ask the question “Can we meet sometime to discuss this?” – implying many of us still prefer face to face meetings over the on-line alternatives.

    Basically, the biggest issue will be to change our (When I say ‘our’ I mean the 1.5 billion South Asians!) own thinking and behaviour patterns. It’s difficult, but let’s give a try.

    The Open Source model is good for a beginning (I still have not read the summary), but please use the term FOSS (Stands for Free Open Source Software) instead of just OS. Not all the OS fit into the model we talk about. Some OS are more expensive than MS products and some of them operate in very complex models. So to avoid confusion let us use the term FOSS. This is assuming that we do not want to study the other models OS operates; or are we?

  7. “In fact Arthur C. Clarke predicts that in another 25 years or so an average person will spend 8-10 hours of his on web DAILY!”

    Are you serious? I spend 8-10 hours a day online now. So does most anybody who works in an office, and if you’re using a smart-phone you’d be online 24 hours a day.

  8. Indi,

    As I have mentioned clearly, Clarke used the term ‘average person’. You are NOT an average person, you are a power user. In other words, Clarke said in 25 years or so (I cannot remember the exact period, probably less) EVERYONE will be in the web for 8-10 hours daily.

    This means even the semi-skilled mechanic in the cycle repair shop at Kudaoya, the farmer is Horowpathana and the Public Health Inspector of Polgasovita will be using Internet for about 8-10 hours per day in another 25 years!

    And Clarke mentions about the actual Internet usage and not the Internet access. Although Internet access is available for many of us during the entire period we are at the office, many of us use it only for a limited period. (I have many friends who check e-mail only once daily – in the morning.)

    If you take the AVERAGE Internet usage today I do not think it is very high even in developed countries. There are still many who do not use the net and there are still many who use it for limited period for different reasons.

  9. Chanuka,

    The virtual orgnization that we intend to be will have most of our collaborators outside of Sri lanka. Face-to-face meetings will be out of the question on a regular basis! Much too expensive to fly people down to Colombo for attending colloquiums or meetings. One of LIRNEasia’s principles is that all projects will have someone in the team from the local country and someone else from outside. So all of our collective/team activities will necessarily have a “virtual” component. If anyone wants to work on projects with LIRNEasia–they will interact virtually with someone from a different country. Lirneasia community in Sri Lanka and in the region will have to adapt to that reality for work to get done.

    We are already making baby steps in that regard. As you may know, we have just recently concluded a very successful project that involved researchers in Vancouver and Colombo and reviewers in Bangkok, Hawaii and elsewhere. The proposal for a National All-Hazard Warning System for Sri Lanka involved face to face meeting initialy. Once Peter Anderson and Cathie Hickson returned to Vancouver, all the work was done by e-mail and using the web. We also had a very successful video news conference where Rohan presented the above proposal to Sri Lanka media personnel and the questions asked by journalists were handled by Rohan in Colombo, Peter & Cathie in Vancouver and George Curtis in Hawaii based on the their respective areas of expertise. Rohan said that he experienced virtual co-presence–for him it felt like Peter and Cathie were in the same room as he based on the interactions.

    The colloquium will be gradually transformed into a “virtual” one. This is how I describe it in my inception report:

    4. Colloquium
    Another tool for disseminating LIRNEasia’s values and building a sense of community is through the monthly colloquium. However, until the last colloquium, these get-togethers for presentation and discussion were accessible to only those who could physically attend the colloquium at LIRNEasia’s office in Colombo. This arrangement excluded a substantial part of LIRNEasia’s team located in different countries from this team-building exercise. The last colloquium (In dec 2004)featured a live blogging of the colloquium discussions on LIRNEasia’s website available in real-time to off-site LIRNEasia team members and others who logged on to the website at the specified time. Even without any prior announcement about the live blogging exercise, we were able to get live feedback from William Melody. My future efforts would be directed at increasing the degree of virtual participation by LIRNEasia members in stages—first by enabling them to ask questions by typing in and at later stages allowing audio/video streaming and finally making it feasible to support audio/video interactions by colloquium participants in Colombo and elsewhere.

    Rather than free (gratis) software my interest in the Open Source movement is to extract the value-system that get people to collaborate voluntarily on complex projects. So hence looking at the Open Source movement broadly.

  10. I have to agree with Indi-I am on the Internet about 10 hours a day at the least! More on weekends (I have a pathetic social life i agree, for the moment:) An always-on broadband connection changes the whole notion of Internet usage.

    We have WiFi at work and I have ADSL at home. I don’t know if you would consider it Internet “use” but while I clean dishes at home, I have my mail programming checking mail every 5mins,Gmail notifier is on, my Yahoo & MSN messenger are on and alerts me if my friends come online or want to chat with me; my launchcast radio plays whatever it feels like….

    As broadband picks up in this region, that’s the kind of pattern of use we will see. It will probably happen sooner than 25 years.

  11. This is a very interesting discussion. Here’s my two cents.

    I agree that for a developing country in Asia such as the Philippines, it might take a few more years before the “average” person uses the internet as often as 8 to 10 hours. For one, computers are not considered affordable for an average Filipino household that earns enough for basic needs, especially in the rural areas (where probably over 70% of the population lives). Teledensity is low in a huge part of the country. And since this is the main medium for internet here, access is necessarily very limited. What more for broadband? And even if many people have mobile phones (30 million subscribers by end-2004) with WAP/GPRS, accessing the web is not popular because the charges are high. This has a great influence on the kind of culture and comfort level developed by the people in using the internet.

    Although anecdotal evidence show that middle-income individuals, students, academics and professionals have access and use the internet regularly, establishing and nurturing a network of people with shared values on ICT entirely through the internet may prove very challenging for a country like the Philippines where the “culture” of communicating and sharing ideas virtually has yet to be “a comfortable practice.”

    Hope this contributes to the discussion in any way.

  12. Hi Prof.,

    If you are looking to generate more discussion, either you can write some articles on the subjects and post them on various websites, or get them published in the papers. local papers are usually starved for 600+ word copies, someone’s bound to write to you!! It wont cost you a penny. Or if you are lucky LB will let you use our mailing list to evoke some response to your topic of the week. I dont know ask him and see. Good luck!