Imagine a discourse community where all communication is open to everyone, and nobody can communicate anonymously. Everyone in the community is identified by an "alias," but everyone else in the community has the means of looking up anyone's real name (and even their home or mailing address) based on their alias.
Now imagine your knowledge worker team operating with this level of open, attributable discourse. How would that work out for you?
Lately I have been studying just such a community. It's the "Ham" radio crowd--the licensed amateurs who operate transceiver stations and communicate with each other literally around the world. Here are some rules of amateur radio:
- You must be licensed to transmit.
- Your transmission cannot take the form of a secret code. Morse code (or "CW" for Continuous Wave, as the Hams call it) is fine but Morse code is of course an open code.
- You must include your call sign in your transmissions, and the holders of all call signs are listed in a publically accessible FCC database. Consequently nobody can legally transmit anonymously.
- Volunteer members of the Ham community can and do enforce the rules and norms.
When I learned all this about amateur radio, I thought about teams of knowledge workers and how they communicate. Some observations:
- One-to-one e-mail is for all practical purposes private communication.
- Posting comments to a team bulletin board or similar online collaborative tool, however, is an example of one-to-all open communication.
- Anonymous communication is not normally allowed in most knowledge worker teams I know of, but it might happen.
I wonder if too much openness and honesty within a team of knowledge workers could ever be a bad thing? Do the hierarchies and specialized roles one typically finds within knowledge worker teams make a truly open discourse community possible, or even desirable?
The Ham radio community and knowledge worker teams have rather different goals in mind, of course. Nonetheless I find it compelling that the Ham community is able to follow such practices for open communication and accountability. What do you think? Let us know in a comment (and preferably not anonymously).