On the idea of trading ideas and the passive facilitation of discourse:

A conversation begins when interested parties make a decision to partake in it. As seemingly self-evident as this statement appears, a complex set of conditions governs that interaction, and depending upon the level of involvement that the relationship sustains (which can be stationary or dynamic), a variety of subconditions may also reside therein. Rather than deconstruct the socioeconomicpolitical/historical/psychological rationale that implicates "discourse," I'll stick to the empirical evidence: a positive outcome is obtained when both parties mutually benefit from the experience. In the tangible, person to person version of this scenario, the inclination to commence a burgeoning discussion is fostered by and in a securely created space, in other words, the passive facilitation of a conversation occurs when the stage on which to conduct it is securely set. Physical and emotional security govern one's response to his or her own vulnerability; security disabuses us of the notion that vulnerability is only negative, and thus, unfettered by negative connotations, questions to things unknown, to parties unknown, can arise authentically and organically.

In a room full of scientists from various fields and engineers of various disciplines, irrespective of whether or not every one of them is in that room for the same higher intended purpose, the priority of reaching that end is diminished, en masse, by each individual's preservation of ego. On the axes of negotiation lie competition, accommodation, cooperation, and collaboration. The inclination for negative competition to arise, i.e., an existent culture of exclusive parties whose successes are garnered at the detriment of all others, might stem from the idea that there is nothing to be gained from cooperation, or ideally, from collaboration.

In the university setting, for example, departments are physically segregated by discipline - a floor for the maths, a floor for the chemists, a different building for the economists and social scientists, etc., with laboratory spaces partitioned away from one another as well - there is not an often opportunity that arises for different groups to congregate together, at all, let alone is there an obvious advantage to self-directing a conversation with a seemingly unrelated party. Interestingly, the partitions exist in settings where the effect from non-collaborative interaction is potentially lifethreatening, like in the hospital. An intriguing anecdote: in 2005, the AMA recommended that therapeutic hypothermia become a regularly practiced protocol for all patients in cardiac arrest (hypercooling the body prevents brain cells from sustaining damage and/or apoptosis), but only a handful of hospitals in the US are equipped to perform the procedure. The discrepancy is not an effect from expense, but rather from the structure of the hospital and associated personnel — the hypothermia specialists and the cardiac specialists and the support staff for each inhabit different spaces of the hospital and they operate under different pretenses and conditions. Essentially, the most difficult task is realizing that spending a concerted amount of time collaborating on a procedural protocol is advantageous for all members of the hospital, as well for the patient.

A secure space foments discourse because it can change the perception of competitive efforts. If both engaged parties can reap benefits from ideas exchanged, then that competition turns toward collaboration. In response to the climate of competition, and to the outlandish expense of independently conducting research, is CCAM, a cooperative development space for manufacturing materials. The overhead, and the intellectual property created within it, is all shared. Similarly in the food world is the uprise of the incubator space, such as Union Kitchen in DC. At the University of San Francisco, the Center for Science and Innovation demonstrates that literally tearing down walls between people serves to facilitate collaborative efforts. In each of these examples, interaction is not forced or even directed; the very nature of the design of each of these structures provides the potential for conversation to ensue — equipment is in plain sight, people are physically present.

In the not-so-tangible, internet version of this scenario, the potential to traverse an insulated search path is greater than the potential to discover that possible answers to things unknown may reside in a foreign elsewhere. Recent advents that indirectly address this situation are the Comparative Toxicogenomic Database, ORCID, and to another degree, ResearchGate. The CTD arose when people researching environmental factors that could affect human health realized that the worlds of toxicology, environmental engineering, cancer research and functional genomics shall never meet; ORCID was developed to manage the growing problem of a single person generating multiple identifiers and thereby creating fragmented holes in search patterns; ResearchGate seeks to serve as sort of social platform for researchers. All of these have in common the concept that isolationism is not a fruitful method for productivity, but none of them go so far as to actually facilitate the relationships that could manifest productively. In the internet context, passive facilitation is more complex, and more subtle, too. In both the tangible and intangible realms, the human nature response to a nudge is typically a kick, and efforts to forcefully direct or "motivate" discourse will often fall apart, owing not to the intention, but to the action in directing; when the human aspect of human interaction is removed, the methodology of communicative interaction is already removed from the realm in which misunderstanding is tempered by empathy. Technologically, the passive facilitation of communicative interaction is a mystery. To work, a platform has to be set across which foreign parties can freely pass without a priori knowledge that passage is occurring. In essence, the idea is that the search trajectory is carried through pathways that are related to the search in a categorically different context than originally entered, such that results also contain in a meaningful and evident way these other such categories that would otherwise simply go amiss.

To be continued and further explored in future posts.

Clementina Russo