In spite of its recognition as a field of research and practice with a lineage of several decades of prolific development (Kock & Nosek, 2005), virtual collaboration is still a domain where mixed results occur and failure crops up without warning (DeSanctis, Poole, Dickson, & Jackson, 1993; Blythin, Hughes, Kristoffersen, Rodden, & Rouncefield, 1997; Kock, 2004; Kock & Nosek, 2005). Even as its theoretical, technical, operational, and conceptual boundaries expand (Kock & Nosek, 2005), we still feel powerless when a promising experience of e-collaboration, which we could swear would last for a long time, suddenly collapses. In this article we discuss some fundamental conditions for sustainable e-collaboration. We start by introducing the concept of value proposal, the common ground of compatible interests required to make collaboration last, and we distill from it what we call the principle of sustainable e-collaboration. We then move to a discussion of the variable levels of collaboration and their relationship to group development, leadership and purpose. Finally, we briefly expound five groups of theories that we view as promising candidates for the future establishment of the theoretical foundations of sustainable e-collaboration. Figure 1 summarizes the key concepts of the article.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Community Of Practice: Informal network of people who share common interests, exchange ideas, find solutions, and collectively build knowledge.
Value Proposal: A common agreement that matches the interests between all the parts so that they are willing to keep collaborating.
Actor-Network Theory (ANT): Social theory used to help understand the behavior of networks where humans and non-humans interact and support each other.
Pattern Language Theory: Theoretical framework maintaining that everything we build should grow naturally and that patterns, or common features and relationships abstracted from previous successful solutions, should be used to support that growth.
Cooperation: Act of working together where each part recognizes the benefit of shared action and is willing to support collective efforts, provided its individual aims and autonomy are not sacrificed.
Principle of Sustainable E-Collaboration: E-collaboration is only sustainable as long as each part feels it is gaining from it and acts so as to grant that all the other parts feel likewise.
Coordination: Act of working together where each part does not necessarily recognize the benefit of working together but knows (or is told) what, when, and how to do what needs to be done and accepts the alienation of some of its autonomy to accomplish it.
Activity Theory: A theoretical framework, inspired by the Russian socio-historical psychology school, which focuses on the cultural and technical mediation of human activity.
Collaboration: Act of working together with a collective commitment to a common mission and a shared effort to get results that would never be achieved by any of the parts in isolation.