When situativity meets objectivity in peer production of knowledge: the case of the WikiRate platform

Publication Date05 February 2018
Date05 February 2018
AuthorRichard Allister Mills,Stefano De Paoli
SubjectLibrary & information science,Librarianship/library management,Library technology,Information behaviour & retrieval,Metadata,Information & knowledge management,Information & communications technology,Internet
When situativity meets objectivity
in peer production of knowledge:
the case of the WikiRate platform
Richard Allister Mills
Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, and
Stefano De Paoli
Department of Sociology, University of Abertay Dundee, Dundee, UK
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to further the debate on Knowledge Artefacts (KAs), bypresenting
the design of WikiRate, a Collective Awareness platform whose goal is to support a wider public contributing
to the generation of knowledge on environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of companies.
Design/methodology/approach The material presented in the paper comes from the first-hand
experience of the authors as part of the WikiRate design team. This material is reflexively discussed using
concepts from the field of science and technology studies.
Findings Using the concept of the funnel of interest, the authors discuss how the design of a KA like
WikiRate relies on the designerscapacity to translate general statements into particular design solutions.
The authors also show how this funnelling helps understanding the interplay between situativity and
objectivityin a KA. The authors show how WikiRate is a peer-productionplatform based on situativity,which
requiresa robust level of objectivityfor producing reliableknowledge about the ESG performanceof companies.
Originality/value This paper furthers the debate on KAs. It presents a relevant design example and offers
in the discussion a set of design and community building recommendations to practitioners.
Keywords Crowdsourcing, Corporate social responsibility, Objectivity, Funnel of interest,
Peer production, Situativity
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
The goal of this paper is to present a first-hand account and a direct experience of designing
an Information Technology Knowledge Artefact (ITKA) the WikiRate platform. Starting
from the WikiRate design experience, our main contribution is to conceptualise elements
of novelty for the debate about Knowledge Artefacts (KAs), artefacts purposely built to
support knowledge-related processes. These elements of novelty are also crystallised, in the
discussion, in a number of practical recommendations based on our direct design
experience, which can support design and community building in application areas similar
to that of the WikiRate project.
The WikiRate projects tagline is crowdsource better companiesand this bakes in two
fundamental constraints the subject and means of production of the KA further
solidified by the fact that the project is funded under the European Commission Framework
Programme 7 area Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social
Innovation. The platforms purpose is to make companies better, via crowdsourcing
knowledge about their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance. WikiRate
is also Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) and offered to the public without
restriction. The project proposal and the related Description of Work (DOW) document
contain information about the projects approach, including specifying functional elements
of the platform and roles of each partner institution. However, the design has often
Data Technologies and
Vol. 52 No. 1, 2018
pp. 16-33
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/DTA-02-2017-0006
Received 9 February 2017
Revised 14 June 2017
Accepted 18 July 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
This work is supported by the WikiRate FP7 project, partially funded by the EC under contract
number 609897.
proceeded in a nonlinear fashion, occasionally re-interpreting the DOW in pursuit of
crowdsourcing better companies. This paper tells part of the story of this process.
An interesting aspect is that the purpose of WikiRate is specified not in terms of the ESG
knowledge itself, but in terms of how this knowledge should be used. The first question for
the design team was therefore what kind of knowledge can be used to improve the ESG
performance of companies?The answer to this question formed the basis of WikiRates
design (Mills et al., 2016).
A conceptual starting point to discuss WikiRate is the articulation between objectivity
and situativity in KAs postulated by Cabitza and Locoro (2014) which allows one to map
(IT)KAs depending on the more or less situated or objective degrees to which knowledge is
represented, stored and managed within an information technology (IT) for the subsequent
use of, i.e., an organisation. We believe that WikiRate presents novel elements for
conceptualising the relation between design and user knowledge creation in ITKAs.
In WikiRate, knowledge creation is articulated starting from broad statements about the
current state of ESG performance knowledge and how the platform should be positioned to
make an intervention, down to particular design choices through which this positioning is
concretised as software. To conceptualise this movement from general statements to
particular design solutions, we reconsider a concept from science and technology studies
(STS): the funnel of interest(Law, 1986). This was proposed for studying how scientific
papers funnel the interest of readers, starting with general hypotheses and then funnelling
readers towards particular research elements (e.g. experiments) thus forcing readers to
accept the papers conclusions. With the funnel of interest, we show how the general
WikiRate mission statement is translated into design solutions by which new knowledge
about ESG performance is then created by users. This concept as applied to WikiRate also
illuminates an interplay between situativity and objectivity. WikiRate is a wiki-like platform
(based on the framework Wagn[1]), driven by user peer production and thus it could be
considered moreso on the situativity side of Cabitza and Locoros conceptualisation.
However, WikiRate is based also on objective/representational goals. A key aim in
designing WikiRate is to enable a situated peer-production community to build robust and
objective representations of ESG performance knowledge. The main contribution of the
paper is a discussion of how we approached this problem and what has been learned from
this experience, which could benefit other similar projects. What we have learned is
presented in a set of recommendations for design and community building in the discussion
section of the paper.
This paper is organised as follows: in Section 2, we review relevant literature on
organisational knowledge and IT; in Section 3, we introduce the funnel of interest as our
interpretative framework; in Sections 4 and 5, we present our design experience of WikiRate
as a KA; and Section 6 presents a discussion of the findings, concluding by offering practical
2. Knowledge, organisations and IT artefacts
To better frame the KAs debate, we start by considering some classical positions in the
debate on organisational knowledge and the use of ITs. We consider organisational
knowledge as an accumulation of past experience based on routine practices which can in
turn be mobilised for future behaviour within organisations (Levitt and March, 1988). It is
thus the knowledge which an organisation has learned with experience and which uses for
organisational action. This debate on organisational knowledge at a simplified level sees
two polar opposites. On one side, we have the idea that routinised knowledge can be
objectified, made manageable, measurable and controllable within organisations, especially
via ITs. On the other side, we have the idea that knowledge is produced largely by doing
things and it remains mostly subjective, fuzzy and context dependent. It is, in other words,

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