Collaborative information behaviour in organisations

I scan around 70 research journals each month to track the outcomes of academic and corporate research into the areas that are core to my consulting practice. Currently the amount of work into collaborative working is very significant with probably several hundred papers being published each month. Every now and then I come across a paper that provides a quantum leap in providing a better understanding of one of these areas.

One of the problems with ‘collaboration’ is that it means different concepts to different people. A fast emerging area is collaborative search, or to use the academic description, collaborative information seeking (CIS) and I am certain this will a major area of innovation in 2014. A recent paper from Arvind Karunakaran (MIT), and Madhu C. Reddy and Patricia Ruma Spence (both at Pennsylvania State University) takes a very innovative approach in describing Collaborative Information Behaviour (CIB) as an umbrella term to connotate the collaborative aspects of information seeking, retrieval and use, an area of collaboration that is usually ignored by social network approaches. The 15 page paper, with over 100 literature citations, was published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology , a journal that is a very good source of research papers on many aspects of collaboration, search and information management.

The final paragraph sets out a challenge to both the research and business management communities.

“Organisations with information-intensive environments are complex systems with many visible and invisible inter-dependencies. To effectively support collaborative work in such environments, we need to consider the complex ensemble of individuals, groups, artifacts, work practices, information technologies and its overall interaction patterns”

It is easy to dismiss all academic research as being remote from how business actually works. Certainly this can sometimes be the case but in the case of this paper the authors do discuss the implications for business of CIB in considerable detail and it is worthy of a slow and considered read. It has certainly provided me with some new perspectives on collaborative working and these will be included in the January 2014 report for The Search Circle on collaborative search.

Martin White