The Collaborative Commons II Properties of the Collaborative Commons

Most digital online tools tend to offer a single functionality such as data visualization, collective mapping or video call for group debates, while in a collaborative process, these individual functions tend to happen interconnected, sequentially or sometimes even simultaneously. Participants interact for various purposes, for example, participants develop and share arguments as they gather around a three-dimensional [physical, vr or ar] city model, or as engaged parties test various proposals, they conclude collectively about the consequences of particular set of data or policies, meanwhile decisions are being formed for the follow-up phases of a process. In other words, collaborative processes are far more multifaceted and impossible to be replaced by a single functionality of a given digital tool.

1. Diverse Communities

Collaborative processes tend to concern and bring together typically multiple social groups, while digital tools tends to become more often adopted by a certain homogenous group. Think of the generation Z which chooses to use TikTok or Snapchat over Facebook. Homogeneity of users becomes even higher for online digital city tools. Not only according to demographics, but also according to their expertises. So are digital polls often used by social scientists and communication experts, while digital twins are adopted by smart city technologists, collaborative mapping by design professionals and students etc. In reality, a collaborative development and transition process relies on the collective actions of these distinct groups. Effectively, we need to be looking at an ecology of interconnected digital tools working on a multi-user platform, as we conclude that digitizing a collaborative process will not be dependent on a single digital tool.

2. Integrated Digital Tools

Community platforms [the seventh category] in the former section seemingly come close to our conclusion with multiple tools they offer. Their biggest handicap is that individual tools on the platform function independently from each other and are not integrated with each other. With integration, we mean that output of a given tool can be used as an input of another. For example, digital poll outcomes are processed in data visualization tool and can be combined with collaborative design and the video conferencing tools, and so on. Furthermore when we look closer we find out that they are either offered as commercial service platforms developed by market parties, or function as closed community platforms developed by public parties for internal use of the organization. In the second type, we found versions, such OpenStad, with open source code for programmers but that does not support designers or other external parties to easily understand and implement these platforms for their own communities.

3. Process Approach

Last but not least, we miss the design process approach in all collaborative digital tools or platforms we tested and used so far. The fundamental reason behind this is that these platforms are largely designed by technologists not necessarily by urban designers, planners or social scientists who hold the experience of imagining and designing multi user collaborative processes. After all, collaborative tools are meant to function as a puzzle piece of a longer term multi-stakeholder process. Using them in the right moment for the right purpose and social groups requires a process-based approach, that is imagined and designed in advance. Definitely adaptations and changes will be necessary on the way, but that is only possible only if a collaboration track is designed beforehand.

It is self-evident that a digital collaborative platform comes with a strong process approach where partners, timeline, goals and engagement of involved parties can be situated, and the right digital tools are utilized in place when the right time in a given process comes. In our third final article, we elaborate further on the components for building the Collaborative Commons.



architect, urbanist, game designer, writer, founder of Play the City and Games for Cities

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Ekim Tan

architect, urbanist, game designer, writer, founder of Play the City and Games for Cities