OpenKollab: inherent conflicts arising within generative collaboration spaces


Hey Folks,

I just drafted this as a part of a conference submission that I made and I would welcome your thoughts. Specifically, we have all come to realize that, even though we all share a passion for open collaboration and its potential, actually identifying what to collaborate on is much more difficult than you would think it should be.

I am interested in understanding why this is so and what we can do about it. There are a few thoughts below, but I still continue to be mostly puzzled…

OpenKollab: inherent conflicts arising within generative collaboration spaces

This paper will explore examples of conflict that have arisen in the development of OpenKollab (, an generative open collaboration environment that is developing a community of practice as well as tools and processes to foster collaboration amongst organizations with aligned missions. As a result it will discuss specific problems that have arisen during the actual practice of creating an open collaboration space. Potential solutions to the identified problems will then be suggested.

A generative open collaborative environment is one where a group, sharing a high level abstract goal (in our case a commitment to the benefits of open collaboration and a conviction that it can play a role in bringing about positive social change), but no definable or measurable goals, works together to identify such specific goals. Hence different sub projects can be identified and teams can be formed that can pursue these projects within the umbrella of a larger open collaboration environment.

It is our experience that generative open collaboration environments give rise to specific sorts of conflicts that need to be resolved. The challenges are great for those working on OpenKollab, but the rewards will be worth the effort since it is generative open collaboration environments that hold the promise of mass mobilization and coordination of action on a global scale.

The group’s mission has been driven by idealism, but we have learned the hard way that there are many pragmatic challenges that one must contend with. These challenges can be understood as conflicts that arise at many levels, including:

  • The mission of OpenKollab versus participants personal agendas
  • The mission of OpenKollab versus participating organizations
  • Conflicts arising from differing agendas of participating members and organizations.
  • Individual conflicts arising from lack of consensus in the formation of the vision.

All of these conflicts arise out of an inherent tension between the larger group, treated as an abstract entity, and the individuals (or sub-groups) that have a more tangible reality. At first glance it might seem as though the solution to the problem is to engage in sufficient dialogue to generate consensus. Practically speaking, this has proven to be more difficult than it would seem since consensus around high level principles does not necessarily lead to agreement on specific sub-projects and associated tasks.

If the larger objective is to bridge boundaries and create bonds in the spirit of collaboration, practical strategies to overcome these inhibitors will need to be developed.

To mitigate these inhibitors, we are working towards specific task and workflow procedures such as:

Autonomous Information Spaces With Simultaneous Content Publishing: technology mechanisms that allow content to be simultaneously published in a distributed fashion across different platforms (wiki’s, websites etc.)

Hybrid Branding Strategies: strategies that create a brand both for OpenKollab as well as the participating entities.

Commons based Reusable content: what is required is that workflows be structured so that work that is done for the collaborative group is work that can be leveraged by others within the collaborative community.

  • One groups output becomes another groups input
  • Flexibility given for content modification and re-use
  • Subject to commons based content licensing

These, and other such strategies for mitigating conflict in the development of generative collaborative spaces, will be described.


2 thoughts on “OpenKollab: inherent conflicts arising within generative collaboration spaces

  1. Ian Bentley

    Having experienced somewhat similar outcomes with my own attempts at initiating open source innovation,I share many of the author’s observations.

    I have a background of practical conflict management and dispute resolution, having worked for the National Peace Secretariat during the transformation of South Africa from Apartheid pariah state to democracy.

    During this tempestuous period I came to realise the value of developing a common vision and Goal that the entire community could buy into. With that alignment of purpose in place, the scene was set and projects that contribute towards that common vision appeared to simply ‘flow’.

    However, in most places that solid foundation was missing, and similar success was very rare.

    Finding a cause that people are prepared to coalesce behind was always going to be a major challenge.

    then over the past couple of months a fascinating discussion developed in the LinkedIn group, ‘Africa – All Things Business’. The discussion thread was started by Paul Kibuuka and has focussed on ‘What are Africa’s Greatest Economic Strengths’ and to date has attracted 250+ contributions.

    The group is made up largely of professional and business people with close links to Africa, and as the thread has illustrated … a great deal of love and passion for the continent

    The highly perceptive posts in the thread have effectively begun to develop into a SWOT analysis of Africa. It has provided participants with a glimpse of the magnitude of the problems faced by the continent and her people. At the same time it has revealed massive opportunities for those with the foresight to recognise them … and the vision to realise them.

    During the course of the discussion a number of suggestions were made as to how the sad situation that prevails on much of the continent could be turned around.

    A critical issue to emerge was that the ordinary people of Africa need to reap the benefits of the initiatives flowing from this exercise … and not the ruling-class elite who have to date largely continued the colonial tradition of leeching the continent dry of wealth and resources.

    It was also agreed that for the continent to compete successfully on the global stage, it must not only explore new avenues of opportunity and new ways of doing things … Africa in fact needs to completely reinvent and reposition itself.

    Being a ‘business’ group, one issue that predictably surfaced was the difficulty that entrepreneurs (with bold, original ideas) experience when attempting to source funding for innovative new projects.

    I proposed a solution to this problem in the form of a DIASPORA BANK to fund innovation, and various other contributors has begun to expand on the concept … entrepreneurs, bankers, investors and innovators in a dynamic process designed to assemble the collective wisdom and creativity of a wide range of outstanding people from a range of different disciplines.

    If there is interest here I will post the concept draft on this thread and we can discuss this further within the group. Otherwise, please check out the new DIASPORA BANK sub-group in ‘Africa – All things Business’

    I sincerely hope you’ll feel intrigued enough by the concept to lend your expertise to the team that is developing to take this forward.

    If you need to contact me directly please use the following email address:

  2. Very interesting article Suresh. I think this is a very good starting point for a broader discussion I am trying to have with my groups at Watu Afrika and at Multitude Project. I will send you an invitation to participate if you are interested.

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