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Solving the service provider problem

During the CDI Workshop at Rennselaer in September, one of the computer scientists complained that when he collaborates with social scientists, he feels like they view him as a service provider rather than a collaborator. It sounded like he had some experience with a social scientist who’s approach was to say, “Go build this thing so I can deploy it and study the deployment.” In my short talk, I mentioned that social scientists in interdisciplinary collaborations are not service providers either. I’ve worked with computer scientists before who approach our work with the attitude that I will “fix the social stuff”, whatever that means. So it seems that we have a problem. Computer scientists and social scientists recognize that if we worked together, we might find answers to interesting problems. Here I’m thinking about expertise finding, knowledge sharing, and distributed collaboration as problems that might benefit from such a collaboration. How can we work together without having either side feel like the other side is using them for a service rather than as a colleague?

Man, I wish I had an answer. Why is this bothering me today? Well, I’m trying to set up CoSign so that the new version of the KNOW SI wiki will allow UM users to login using their existing UM login credentials. This means I need to dig into the innards of the Apache server we’re running. That sounds almost CS-y to me. Probably not to a CS person though. Anyway, CoSign and the resulting permissions options represent one of the socio-technical problems that I think could benefit from both computer science and social science. What’s the best way to set up permissions on our school wiki? What technical infrastructure (e.g. .htaccess, CoSign, MediaWiki extensions) is necessary to supporting the kind of social behavior (e.g. TBD, which makes the technical questions that much harder) in which people want to engage on this wiki? Those are the questions I’ll be wrestling with this weekend and probably for a while.

So, what do you think ?

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