Balancing Contributions During Face-to-Face Collaboration

Three researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have been studying how to encourage more equal participation during face-to-face collaboration sessions. They have shared their approach and findings in an academic paper:

In this paper we describe a novel interactive table designed for supporting group collaboration. The table, Reflect, ad- dresses the issue of unbalanced participation during group discussions. By displaying on its surface a shared visual- ization of member participation, Reflect is meant to encour- age participants to avoid the extremes of over- and under- participation. We report on a user study that validates some of our hypotheses on the effect the table would have on its users. Namely we show that Reflect leads to more balanced collaboration, but only under certain conditions. We also show different effects the table has on over- and under-participators.

My Comments
1. One of the skills a meeting facilitator requires is the ability to draw the quiet people in a meeting out, and get the talkative ones to speak less – if that’s required. When a meeting facilitator isn’t present, this kind of technology could help by making patterns of interaction quantity more evident.

2. The work the researchers did is pretty cool. Kudos for exploring how to even out participation through embedded technology.

3. In my view (and the authors say the same thing on page 3 of the PDF), unequal participation is sometimes necessary – when the purpose of the meeting is to hear from an expert on a topic for example. But at other times, when the purpose of the meeting is to discuss, to brainstorm, to explore … unequal participation may signal a deeper problem. In such situations, this table could be useful.

2 thoughts on “Balancing Contributions During Face-to-Face Collaboration

  1. Thanks for mentioning this, really interesting work. Even if it has some flaws, we should be thinking about this issue and I’m going to enjoy exploring your blog.
    I can see the logic behind wanting to employ a system like this but also the fallacy of trying to apply this level of computer logic to human communication and relationships.
    What if the ‘boss’ is or isn’t in the meeting, what if two individuals don’t like each other, or there isn’t already a culture of sharing ideas equally etc. What if a person is put off sharing a very important comment because they fulfilled their ‘quota’ of discussion early on and to say something more would make them appear socially inept.
    Some people need to talk out loud in order to fully process their thoughts and others don’t – but not because they feel drowned out but because they prefer to reflect internally, make notes or they are better at putting what they need to say in a shorter more succinct way.
    It might be interesting to use as an assessment for an oral component of a language course.
    Thanks again for posting!

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