Multiple hats, multiple blogs, & multiple blurry lines

Those of you who’ve known me for a while (or at least those of you who have followed me online for several years) can probably remember that this site has contained several blogs off and on as I’ve reinvented myself since 1997 – wow, has Downey.net really been around that long?

Over the past several months, I’ve been reminded in several ways that I need to do a better job at long-form writing, both to support my professional work leading the community infrastructure of OpenMRS, as well as my academic work toward a PhD in human-computer interaction at Indiana University School of Informatics. Both roles require a lot of data collection, analysis, synthesis, and reflection. And, for better or for worse, both have quite a bit of overlap.

My work for OpenMRS has a few dimensions. On a practical level, I need to make sure that our large global community of volunteers has the right tools and resources to collaborate and work with each other. On a higher level, I need to critically view and understand how the people in our community collaborate – not only their presumptions and motivations, but also how we can support their own fulfillment of things like their personal and cultural values and enable them to feel recognized and appreciated for their work. Of course, this is only the “tip of the iceberg and in a large community of virtual collaborators, there are a lot of variables at play.

Fortunately, my academic research is situated in a domain to help me frame this thought and my work. At IU, my PhD research is beginning to focus in on what I’m calling “cross-cultural computer supported cooperative work”. At first, having come out of some time with the US Peace Corps, I was interested in how technology can support international development and as a result focused on the field called information and communication technology for development (ICT4D). However, it became clear to me that ICT4D was really means to an end, and the questions that were more interesting to me were about how people learn and collaborate to build technology that makes their communities better places.

A subtle difference, yes, but an important distinction. It’s not so much about how technology improves the world, but for me what’s more critical is how people use this technology to improve their world.

So, what should I do with this blog? It’s clear I have plenty of thoughts I could share, or at least write down for my own future reference. Some of those thoughts will be related to operational stuff for OpenMRS. Those writings will probably tend to stay on the OpenMRS blog and away from this one. However, I might still write more “meta” thoughts about OpenMRS and its community here, especially as it relates to collaboration and technology’s role in how people build their worlds. It’s pretty obvious that my academic research stuff will live here. Right now I’m working on a project related to something called cultural-historical activity theory, and will be writing more about that soon. And I might even write some unrelated social commentary from time to time, but I’m drawing a blurry line in the sand and stating here that I want to try to frame that commentary in terms of my research interests.

Time will tell. Your feedback is welcome.


Michael Downey

Director of Community, DIAL Open Source Center at United Nations Foundation. LibreHealth steering committee, OSUOSL advisory board, Open Source Initiative advocate circle. He/him.

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