Space, cognition and collaborative work

As an echo to Renzo Piano's quotes I blogged this morning, I read an insightful paper entitled "Understanding complex cognitive systems: the role of space in the organisation of collaborative work. " by Spinelli, G., Perry, M., O'Hara, K. in Cognition Technology and Work, Volume 7, Number 2, pp. 111 - 118. The paper aims to provide some insights about the role of space as computational resource in collaborative practices. In line with this objectiv, it focuses on collaborative design activity within a consulting firm in the UK using ethnographically inspired methods to investigate collaborative work. Here are some interesting parts I found relevant with regard to my work:

physical space, augmented through the use of external resources, embeds the constraints and the operators through which decision-making is performed. The progressive arrangements of the physical space and of the external artefacts at ID-Co embodied at least a part of the knowledge necessary for the team to perform their collaborative activity. The transitions between the group’s shared cognitive stages are externalised in artefacts that, augmented by the role of space as an ordering and interpretative structure, provide a shared cognitive support for collaborative design and also reflect the status of past and upcoming group decisions. (...) Physical space adds an informational dimension to the artefacts collected within it, since it frames their use in a larger context of use. The very feature that space has to structure artefacts also results in a configuration that is an artefact in itself that is able to cue behaviour by its inhabitants. Actors orient themselves in the space, point at resources, reduce or increase their proximity to the informational artefacts to support their cognitive tasks and move to prominent areas of the space to mark the importance of their actions. This lexicon of physical gestures, generated and supported by the use of external resources and enhanced by the physical space, can facilitate communication and coordination among participants.

Why do I blog this? This approach is important and leads to results close to what we found when doing research about collaborative behavior in virtual environment or in mobile settings. Some other references about it: in Nova, N. (2005). A Review of How Space Affords Socio-Cognitive Processes during Collaboration. Psychnology 3(2)