Meta-cognitive skills, Project management & Boundary Objects

When the writer and the printer discuss their shared product, which is the result of both their acts, they will need to have a certain understanding of each others practice to be able to judge each other's contribution to the end product. They also need a shared vocabulary to be able to work together. For example, they need a shared understanding of planning and performance. They both have to agree on the financial exchange between them and also the manner of executing the exchange. They have to be able to formulate 'milestones' or points of no return, or 'deadlines' as they are better known. In educational texts and designs this competence in collaborating with other actors is referred to as an actor needing a meta-cognitive competence in order to communicate with other actors: to be able to plan a schedule, to be reliable, to interact socially, to acquire information, to participate in a meeting, formulate an idea, present a product, identify differences and similarities, and be able to discuss quality.

This so called meta-cognitive competence structures numerous actors' collaborations in modern societies. It makes many processes proceed smoothly, yet it does not solve the problem of incommensurability between the actions that people need to carry out. Particularly when people are dependent upon each other's work any flaw may cause a miscommunication, which is usually perceived as a lack of quality from the other actor. Hierarchical relationships can often solve this in part. A certain actor contracts with other actors and has the final say. Even in this sort of situation there is always a deliberation about how and when and for what price the work has been done well. Or a certain actor will be high in the hierarchy and all the lower actors will have to please him, and adapt their perceptions and opinions to this higher actor. When there is no hierarchy and no contractual relationship, when we deal with a collaboration on equal grounds, there is still often a division of labour based on skill and expertise. Such a division of labour aims to overcome incommensurability by clearly formulating each actor's role and task, which will function for one planning, and/or production, scheme. As in a chain, the actors know about the end product to be expected from the other actor because it is their starting point. A printer needs a text from the writer delivered in a certain format so that he/she can prepare the text for printing.

Project management, which is a skill that has become a profession in its own right, aims to deal with complex interdisciplinary projects. It specializes in ensuring that all the expectations and the assumptions of all the participants are in tune, it coordinates the quality and the variety of contributions in a time based process, and it makes sure it documents and tries to clarify the lines of responsibility and accountability. A methodology like 'PRINCE2', for example, organizes a complex process into a number of milestones at which every contributor, including the client or the director, has to approve of the accumulated input before a subsequent step in the process is taken. Accumulated input consists of the formulated intentions and specifications of actions to be taken, which are placed in a time trajectory. A methodology like PRINCE2 is clearly designed to maintain control and make accountability clear in a project where the incommensurability between all actors involved is very likely to create flaws in communication.

If when people work together there is no clear division of labour, no hierarchal relationship and incommensurability between different practices, the actors have to develop their own means of communication. In such cases a shared perspective, the previously discussed 3D point in the 2D network (see Reflection on Orchestrating chaos, chapter 4), can make a great deal of difference. But even with such a shared perspective all of the actors involved need to have a basic curiosity and attentiveness for the other actors' work. Only through continually reformulating how one understands a certain word, a concept or a presentation, can a language between the actors evolve. In certain collaborations at least some of the actors have to be bi-lingual as regards the different taxonomies, as Kuhn formulates it. For example, in technology projects for Internet applications multilingual actors have to be part of a team, to be able to speak the language of the infrastructure builder, hardware designer, the programmer, the interaction designer, the marketer, the shareholder and the user. Such multilingualism is rare, so we have seen a great deal of elementary understanding of a variety of taxonomies come into existence as a basic skill. In professional education this is reflected by special modules that address the interaction with other taxonomies that one can expect to encounter, and by learning to present the requirements of one's own skill and processes adequately, other actors from different disciplines may be able to understand them. In professional practices many 'transitional' words and 'transitional' objects have evolved: the scale-model, the demo, the use-cases, the drawing, the mock-up, the pilot, the general rehearsal, the trailer, the production bible, the storyboard, the dossier, and others. In Science and Technology Studies, and in industrial design, the word 'boundary objects' is used for these transitional objects (Star& Griesemer 1989, Fujimura 1989). Using the right 'boundary object' is crucial for success in interdisciplinary collaborations.

Boundary-objects function at a specific moment in a production process in which a certain performance or presentation is made, which all the actors contribute to and from which all the different actors with all their different taxonomies can derive input relevant to their own work. They function as 'tuning forks' for the various practices. All of the actors have input at a moment like this. It presents itself as a product and it can be discussed, and it also reveals flaws and misunderstandings between the different perceptions in the variety of taxonomies and their contribution to the end product. In this sort of conversation the 'How to' and the 'What would be good to do' are at stake. In this sense such conversations are a practice of contextual reflexivity and proceed much better in natural presence than in mediated presence. However, when people have experience of working in an interdisciplinary manner, and when they are familiar with the taxonomies of the other actors involved, such deliberations may still be conducted very effectively via mediated presence. However, when an interdisciplinary team needs to invent or to innovate, the process of contextual reflexivity centred on boundary objects, which is geared towards future actions in this case, must take place in natural presence. The ethical implications of what supports well-being and what does not, are crucial in such cases. This was clear to me at the 0+Ball and the GHP, and it has been ever since. In online collaborations there can be prolonged periods of time when people collaborate online, because they have met and have built a strong 'rapport' with each other. But a moment will always come when people have to meet to be able to proceed.