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Behavioral Facilitation

collaborative collaborators behaviors issues

Definition: Behavioral facilitation deals with a multi-disciplinary effort to help people work together.

By its very nature, collaboration is fundamentally behavioral in focus: people interact with other people using technologies and tools to achieve some (set of) goal(s) 1 . How well a tool is used and the caliber of interaction between collaborators, both affect the success of a collaborative effort. As such, these aspects are naturally influenced by the underlying technological environment. That is, the behavior of the collaborators and the collaborative artifacts are affected by the ability of the infrastructure to facilitate desired and appropriate behaviors.

The significance of behavioral issues can be seen in relation to coordination theory, a multi-disciplinary effort which aimed at developing “coordination technology” to help people work together more effectively and efficiently, via an integrated theory based on how coordination occurs in a variety of systems.

When working together, the ability to “behave naturally” is the key to encouraging participation and getting value from the effort. Therefore, support for “natural behaviors” is the key to any collaboration “making sense”. Consider how a technical issue, such as the frame rate in a video conferencing system, can impact usage. An infrastructure that more accurately meets users’ common expectations (30 fps) rather than one which induces artificial and stilted behavior (5 fps) will be more easily adopted and ultimately be more effective. Also consider two routine collaborative activities (co-editing a document and participating in a multi-stage workflow), both of which require that individual actions (be it changing the same text segment or updating entries in a database) be facilitated and managed with respect to others participating in the same activity. That is, the ability to coordinate and synchronize behaviors at a variety of levels, often simultaneously, is important. In a complex collaborative session in which participants are engaged in multiple activities (an audio/video conference in support of document co-editing combined with a related workflow), should the workflow be appropriately managed but the document be corrupted because of improper editing controls, or the conference audio/video be “out of sync” (at a “lip sync” level), collaborators will ultimately not be able to work together in an effective manner and the collaborative effort will not be successful.

To more appropriately facilitate potential diversity within a collaborative effort, the ability to adapt to the broad range of collaborator and collaborative artifact needs is fundamental. In fact, behavioral norms (e.g., who is participating, how applications/tools are used, and whether activities done in an “ad hoc” or “directed” manner) often change over time and relate to many different organizational, personal/societal and technical considerations. This lack of uniformity therefore suggests the need to address variable and dynamic behavioral patterns while considering the resultant effects on traditional system issues (e.g., application/tool functionality, resource availability, network issues, the user interface and so forth).

Unfortunately, conventional collaborative computing efforts (including many multimedia systems) have focused on the above issues with little attention to facilitating “successful” collaborative behavior. Conversely, most studies which address usage and/or behavioral issues have been in the social sciences domain. However, as collaborative technology becomes more widespread, complex in its constituent technologies, and cohesively integrated with other day-to-day systems, increased emphasis on behavioral issues is needed within the architectural, technical and engineering aspects of collaborative computing.

In this light, Robbins proposes an approach to realize behaviors as “first class” instantiable entities within collaborative systems. Based on the notion of a reflective meta-level architecture, system entities (including behaviors) are constructed using the concept of “open-implementation,” allowing the system to monitor (examine) and adapt (modify) its elements in real-time.

As an example, consider two different situations: (1) provision of low-level media synchronization (such as lip synchronization); and (2) facilitation of a large-grain, multi-purpose, multi-participant scenario (such as an on-line meeting or distributed multimedia classroom). In each case, the various collaborators and collaborative artifacts would need to have their behaviors coordinated appropriately. In the proposed approach, the various behaviors would be realized as a tangible, and therefore manageable, entity within the collaborative environment. Consequently, actions such provisioning the appropriate network QoS resources and regulating synchronization parameters, based on dynamic monitoring and adjustment of system resources, could be done to meet the current functional and behavioral needs of the collaboration.

Analogously, such an approach could dynamically guide and delimit group behaviors via the potential to recognize (typical) collaborative behavioral patterns and make appropriate changes in the behavioral and functional relationships between collaborators and collaborative artifacts. Such a topic area has the potential for significant growth in future collaborative multimedia systems, resulting in the provision of intelligent support for agile, real-time, self-adaptive collaborative environments. An important benefit to such an approach would be to support collaborators through the lessening of the cognitive load associated with how to use collaborative systems and the corresponding difficulty of interacting with other participants. That is, by providing behavioral facilitation and management in an orthogonal manner to addressing collaborative functionality, collaborators will be able to focus on the intent of their interactions and not all the idiosyncrasies of the technologies being applied.


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