Education and Engagement Mechanisms
Central not only to the establishment but also the sustainability of any virtual organization are its education and engagement mechanisms associated with Objective 3. Both top-down and bottom-up mechanisms are needed in order to promote the concept of OSD-CI and attract engineers to it: bottom-up diffusion mechanisms that entail seeding the OSD-CI concept among visionaries are crucial in promoting the OSD-CI concept and attracting a critical mass of engineers. Another important bottom-up mechanism that also has training and educational outcomes is to incorporate civil engineering students into the crowd. The OSD-CI platform provides access to something classrooms often lack: real-life applications of engineering principles, it is incredibly attractive for educators as well. Thus one aspect of engagement will be educator outreach and training so that a large fraction of crowd-sourced efforts could be assigned through ABET-accredited Civil Engineering programs at universities. We anticipate that a substantial segment of the crowd at any time would be the civil engineering students across the country operating in parallel on identical homework assignments designing components or connections for a project in the design gallery with specified loads and constraints. The ability to see all submissions to the design gallery would allow students to assess their own efforts against the crowd and learn from their unique approaches to the problem at hand. Specific coordination mechanisms for engaging educational partners are discussed later in the Coordination Plan. This effort will ensure a pipeline of Citizen Engineers who embrace the concept early in their careers as part of their formal training. In addition, top down mechanisms for engagement will also be used, in particular working with professional organizations to actively promote this concept. As the success of technology adoption does not lie in the number of people who immediately adopt the paradigm, but in the number that are exposed and primed for momentum to draw them in, it is important that these mechanisms are not just a part of the deployment strategy, but a part of our ongoing effort to nurture the crowd.
Another important group whose engagement is essential to the OSD-CI is academic researchers who bring unique skills and resources to the community. They are the developers of much of the Tools Repository. While the mechanisms for engagement described later in the Coordination Plan will be equally effective for this group, researchers will most likely be some of the early innovators to embrace this concept, as the deployment strategy will begin with seeded contributions from universities. Through the scholarly literature and conference circuit they can be readily engaged and will find within OSD-CI access to communal hardware and software that for many will exceed their present research infrastructure – an attractive incentive. More importantly they will become part of a social network through which they can connect with practitioners and other researchers to foster new collaborations. Through our portal, researchers will be able to see firsthand the needs of the community, providing an important input that can guide and focus their research efforts. Further, some of the activities ultimately envisioned for OSD-CI, such as forensic investigations and deliberation on codes and standards, heavily engage researchers and practitioners in parallel and would appreciably benefit from our proposed cyberinfrastructure and the transparent, archival attributes of our multidimensional VO. In total, the engagement of all three sectors (research, education and practice) will enable new levels of interaction and collaboration within a profession that currently lacks any formal R&D commons.
Governance and Sustainability
The discussions of engagement obviously lead to the important issue of creating sustainability. We anticipate that the social computing framework introduced here would facilitate interactions whose own inertia would help to create social networks, social status, sharing, and other positive outcomes necessary to retain individuals in the virtual organization. In doing so, this research would achieve its third objective -- indirect outcomes in the areas of professional networking, for it is out of this type of momentum that Citizen Engineers would be contacted directly for collaboration or other services by fellow crowd members or end users. And while the focus throughout this proposal has been on mechanisms that engage the crowd in the practice of engineering for real world projects, through archiving and transparency surrounding Citizen Engineer contributions, profiles, ratings, and resources, a new social fabric will emerge that participants can use to develop their own research networks and spur collaborations that probably would not have otherwise flourished. Students could use this as an opportunity to perform unprecedented virtual research experiences or internships, indirectly securing positions with those they have interacted with as Citizen Engineers. Thus through this open source paradigm, not only is the very approach to engineering problems redefined, but new avenues are created for social networking, advancement and education that will serve as natural incentives and help to sustain the multidimensional VO.
Admittedly, the long-term governance and even financial support of the organization will need to develop organically and be driven by the crowd. It is foreseeable that a form of democracy or meritocracy may emerge, financed by low-level taxation of end users submitting jobs or leasing industry-targeted advertising space. The directions this will take cannot be foreseen and are beyond this proposal’s scope, though the policies and structures proposed are expected to provide this VO with a solid foundation and the best possible chances to flourish.