The Mobile Collective enables and supports the collaborative development of innovative technology-based solutions by bringing the mobile developer & designer communities together with professional scientists and educators in ThinkCamp events.

ThinkCamps provide an open and creative environment for developing new products and services. They are designed to support a collaborative approach to generating cross-industry solutions. The events select one area of focus (such as Science Education) and are structured to address problems, rise to challenges, and take advantage of new opportunities. Participants are drawn from a diverse range of disciplines and skill-sets, which they apply in a creative way. The TMC team facilitates the generation of ideas during the ThinkCamp events and then provides support for the organically formed working groups to further develop and implement the solutions, both during and beyond the event.

The first area of focus has been in applying mobile technologies to healthcare challenges. The mHealth ThinkCamp that was held in June 2011 brought together 75 mobile industry and medical industry members, created 10 workshop groups during the event, and saw 7 pitched solutions at the end of the day. Of these, 2 proposals continue to be worked on by a highly engaged group of participants. Further ThinkCamps are currently being planned for the application of mobile technologies to Science, Cloud Computing & Music (from the view point of the artist).
In addition to the events, TMC is also designing and building an online collaboration platform for idea sharing and development that provides a supportive process from idea to implementation. (See below for an outline of our vision for the Mobile Collective Platform, and how it may relate favourably to this project)

The Mobile Collective is also a co-organiser of the ‘London Citizen Cyberscience Summit’ in February 2012, in partnership with UCL and eScience at Imperial College. The Summit structure consists of a classical academic series of seminars on the first day, the ‘ThinkCamp’ format for knowledge exchange and collaborative problem solving on the second day, and a more developer oriented Hack Day on the third day. The programme is deliberately flexible to allow more interaction between participants, but it will also have an academic element in which papers are reviewed.

The ThinkCamp Event format and Community Building

Much academic work has been done in exploring the factors of motivation with regards to Virtual Communities. The Mobile Collective platform for mass community participation will be developed and maintained in a manner that ensures that individuals have both the opportunity and the motivation to participate and contribute.

Koh, Kim, Butler & Bock have identified offline interaction as one of the key drivers behind building community and facilitating collaboration:  “Leaders of robust, sustainable virtual communities find ways to strengthen their members’ sense of social identity and motivate their participation in the community’s activities…Understanding virtual community development provides a foundation for facilitating collaboration and learning among individuals separated by physical distance and organisational boundaries.”[i]

Social presence in physically dispersed communities can be aided by communication tools (such as live text, chat and video interfaces), but it is most strongly achieved when the community are provided the opportunity to come together and form stronger social bonds in person. Kim (2000)[ii] suggests four factors to building sustainable communities: clear purpose or vision, clear definition of members’ roles, leadership by community moderators, and online/offline events.

According to social presence theory[iii], offline interaction can motivate individuals to participate by increasing awareness of others in the community, and according to social identity theory[iv], offline interaction promotes community members to perceive “who they are in their community”, which also triggers participation.

Offline events can furthermore be designed to explicitly support the learning goals of the Citizen Cyberlab. Patricia Wolf of Lucerne University agrees with Denzin (2003) that conference participation is an integral part of research and has the potential to support social change by enabling learning processes. “Learning is what happens when the knowledge of an individual is transformed or changes (which, of course, needs to be stimulated by some sort of social interaction). Thus, conferencing concepts should aim at supporting knowledge transformation.[v] Keeble D., Lawson C., Moore B. and Wilkinson F. (1999) describe this (in the context of networking amongst firms and universities in a specific geographical region) as the dynamic collective learning process.[vi]

Hackdays, Barcamps, and other ‘Un-conference’ event formats continue to grow in popularity as a creative outlet for developers and a way for organisations to engage with a wider community of participants than usually possible; and have long since expanded beyond their initial software developer orientation. The Mobile Collective ThinkCamp event format can be applied in order to further build the TAG Challenge Community, establish social identity amongst participants, support the cross-sector communication goals, and facilitate collaborative problem-solving.

The Hackday[vii] format was first created by Yahoo! in 2006 to engage with their developer community, enhance internal product development and support the creative application of their external developer tools; but is now being applied to a range of subjects from Education[viii] to Science[ix] with great success.

Hackdays are particularly effective in enabling participants to learn more about emerging technological tools & techniques, and explore applying them in creative ways, because they are highly optimized around engineering culture[x], with an emphasis on independence, learning-by-doing and the spirit of exploration. This can also be understood more deeply in the context of the body of behavioural science research cited by Dan Pink[xi], which suggests that optimal levels of motivation (and thus performance) come from Autonomy, Mastery and Progress.

Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media, created the Barcamps format at the beginning of the decade when he put together his Friends of O’Reilly conferences (FOO Camps[xii]), on which Barcamps[xiii] are based. The events helped the publisher pinpoint new software development trends.  By 2005, similar gatherings had sprung up throughout Silicon Valley and are now wide spread globally.

The common feature of ‘Un-conferences’ is that they are largely participant-driven, often having no set agenda beyond an opening statement, and are based on the Open Space technique developed by Harrison Owen in the mid 1980s.[xiv] When used to address defined challenges or problems, Open Space Technology has remarkable ‘order out of chaos’ properties that draw on the individual participants’ ability to self-organise.

However, each of these formats has its shortcomings as well. It is fairly rare for ‘hacks’ (ideas) that have their genesis at Hackdays to be further developed beyond the event itself, unless the event is internal and there is a corporate structure in place to make them part of the new product development process. Similarly, Barcamps are excellent for self-directed learning and knowledge sharing but rarely result in action being taken after the event. The Open Space methodology is most effectively applied within organisations or groups of people with a shared goal, as it relies on participants to take ownership of any actions arising from the sessions.

The Mobile Collective has progressed beyond the state-of-the-art of the varying  ‘Un-conference’ formats by developing the hybrid ‘ThinkCamp’ methodology, which combine the improvisational creativity of the Hackday, with the self-organising principles of Open Space Technology (allowing participants to fully pursue their passions and interests), and the more focused structure of traditional idea-generation techniques[xv]. The ThinkCamp methodology also incorporates the inter-disciplinary approaches to Open Innovation of the “Fuzzy Front End’ of R&D[xvi], which optimises creative problem-solving by taking the process outside the walls of a singular organisation.[xvii]

[i] Koh, J., Kim, A., Butler, B., & Bock, G. (2007).  Encouraging Participation in Virtual Communities. Communications of the ACM, Vol.50. No. 2
[ii] Kim, A. (2000) Community Building on the Web. Peachpit Press, Berkeley, CA
[iii] Fulk, J., Schmitz, J., and Steinfield, C. A social influence model of technology use. In Organisations and Communication Technology. Sage Publications, Newbury Park. Ct. 1990. 117-142
[iv] Hogg, M., and Terry, D. Social identity and self-categorisation processes in organizational contexts. Academy of Management Review 25.1 (Jan. 2000), 121-140
[v] Wolf, Patricia & Troxler, Peter (2008). The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating—but What was the Pudding in the First Place? A Proven Un-Conferencing Approach in Search of Its Theoretical Foundations. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 9(2), Art. 61,
[vi] http://hp.gredeg.cnrs.fr/Edward_Lorenz/Papers/Lawson-Lorenz.pdf
[vii] http://www.hackday.org/
[viii] http://educationhackday.org/
[ix]  http://sciencehackday.com/
[x] http://blog.adamnash.com/2011/05/05/why-linkedin-hackdays-work/
[xi] Pink, D. Drive: the Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us (2009)
[xii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foo_Camp
[xiii] http://lanyrd.com/2011/scibarcamb/
[xiv] Owen, H. Open Space Technology: a User’s Guide (1993)
[xv] Herring, S.; Jones, B., and Bailey, B. Idea Generation Techniques among Creative Professionals (2009). Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.
[xvi] Rubinstein, A. At the front end of the R&D / innovation process – idea development and entrepreneurship; International Journal of Technology Management Vol. 9 (1994) No. 5,6,7:p.652-677
[xvii] Rochford, L. Generating and screening new product ideas. Industrial Marketing Management Vol.20 (1991) No. 4: p. 2870296



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