Hey Matthew Bietz, Toni Ferro, and Charlotte Lee, 2004 called–it wants its terrible buzzwords back. No really, people have been vocal about their hate for ‘synergy’ for over a decade now–find a less grating way to describe cooperative interaction. Here’s a brilliant suggestion: ‘cooperative interaction’.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’m just through with reading Sustaining the Development of Cyberinfrastructure: An Organization Adapting to Change by Bietz et al. (yes, at least they left it out of the title.) This was a 2012 study in how to create cyberinfrastructure sustainability through ‘synergizing’ (an unholy, Frankensteinian abomination of a made up word).
According to the authors, a ‘cyberinfrastructure’ (CI) is a virtual organization composed of people working with large-scale scientific computational and networking infrastructures. This seems to be an overly limiting definition of a CI, but a suitable one for the purposes of the paper. Within this definition, the authors consider how the people who work on and within CIs grapple with the issues of growing amounts of data, and sizes and complexities of computational problems. In particular, the authors are interested in the exploring the sustainability of CIs. They do so through a large case study of one particular CI, that at the Community Cyberinfrastructure for Advanced Microbial Ecology Research and Analysis (CAMERA) out of UCSD. The authors spent an extended period of time over two observation periods separated by two years interviewing participants on the projects, working amongst the participants, and observing general trends in the microbial research community.
Overall, the sustainability of a CI boils down to how well relationships are managed, and how open to change the developers of CIs are to change. The authors present several observations from their work with CAMERA that demonstrate how innate constant change is to the environments in which CIs are situations, and how CIs are, fundamentally, an intricate set of relationships between people, organizations, and technologies. Over the course of the study’s observation of the camera project, the authors observed a number of changes in the structure of the project. These changes, due to the multi-layered relationships comprising the CI, had far-reaching effects across many different pieces of the CI. The only successful way to navigate such changes is to understand their potential impact throughout the CI.
At the risk of sounding overly reductionistic, it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of what the authors present in this paper is basic common sense. Take any business, stir the pot, and watch how the business responds. I assume that most intelligent people would be able to surmise that any significant changes would have far reaching effects within the business, and that sensitivity to such changes and their effects on relationships would be important in determining how well the organization copes with such changes. Certainly, the situation becomes more complex given a more complex relationship structure, but the principal remains the same. Furthermore, this does not pair well with my general cynicism toward practice-based research. While the paper is well structured and written, I find it hard to identify any genuine contribution the paper makes beyond a decent articulation of what most people should already know.