Review of second book sprint

Following our second Book Sprint in Malta, November 4-8, with five writers from FoCAS, their co-authored book ‘Adaptive Collective Systems: Herding Black Sheep‘ is the result, a foray into a diverse new field of research investigating ACSs. Download or read it online via the links below, plus a review of the facilitated process which produced the book here…

Second BS4ICTRSRCH Book Sprint, with FoCAS, 4-8 November, 2013
Marina Hotel, St Julian’s Bay, Valetta, Malta

Result: The co-authored book, Adaptive Collective Systems: Herding Black Sheep

Arriving at rock-studded Malta by plane one is immediately visually struck by the condensed settlement pattern on the island. As one of the most densely populated countries in the world, you can only assume the complex processes of community and planning necessary to keep things running in this so-called city-state. Just consider water alone: there’s a limited supply even just for the 450,000 locals who have warmly welcomed round 1.5 million visitors in 2013. How do their systems modify and adapt to accommodate increasing numbers of tourists? This necessarily adaptive location indeed seemed a fitting setting to host the contributing writers from the FoCAS (Fundamentals of Collective Adaptive Systems) project on this, the second BS4ICTRSRCH Book Sprint.

On Monday day one of the sprint kicked off with introductions: in the room, the BS4ICTRSRCH team and four writers from FoCAS, plus one remote participant collaborating from his office (in Edinburgh, Scotland) via Skype and a laptop in the onsite workroom. The FoCAS writing team are all academics working in the field of collective adaptive systems, with backgrounds spanning computational science, artificial intelligence, large systems design, evolutionary computing, biology, philosophy and robotics.

Launching into things with BS4ICTRSRCH facilitator Adam Hyde guiding the helm, the FoCAS writing crew made a decision to create an inspirational text aimed at graduate students and people who have an interest in the field. The concepting process began with writing phrases and words on post-it notes and the piece’s introduction fast took on some shape, writers’ thought courses increasingly charting the wall in a multi-coloured map. As part of her evaluative research of BookSprint methodology BS4ICTRSRCH researcher Rachel Baker began her week-long evolving exploration of the spectrum of thoughts on collaborative work in the academic ICT world, creating a spectogram from the FoCAS group’s impressions.

On the second day a storm blew in across the island. Maybe that was why the writers became roused  to incitement during content mapping, as they chose to spike readers’ attention with a provocative section heading (‘Why Bother’) encompassing an entire question-posing chapter. In consultation with BS4ICTRSRCH’s designer Henrik van Leeuwen they also decided to identify ‘challenges’ that would be built into the text as a whole, utilising/integrating the design of the book to give focus to these points visually as pull out texts highlighted in different colours. This section was finished by dinner, so along with the introduction, the FoCAS group’s speedy writing and reviewing meant editor Sandra Sarala already had plenty of material to work with, lightly grappling to assist smoother passage across their expanding ocean of words. Concepting started again after dinner with this next section finished by lunch on day three. Reviewing of completed chapters was undertaken, alongside the remote writer checking content. This entire process is a typical example of the work involved during the mid-section of a sprint. By the end of the fourth day the book was advancing steadily towards its final five chapters and a preface.

Day five saw the book Adaptive Collective Systems. Herding black sheep complete and the FoCAS team took a refreshing dip in the now calm sea of the bay while the BS4ICTRSRCH editor, researcher and designer worked on. In five days the small team of scientists had transmuted a deep, complex subject into a form accessible to an educated public. The book covers questions related to defining, designing, controlling, and governing adaptive collective systems. The researcher’s interviews with members of the writing team were finished in the evening, the final one conducted via Skype with the remote participant. From the research point of view in particular the remote aspect added an interesting element into how the collaborative process of the Book Sprint ran: definitely this meant new challenges for all to adapt to, and it was admittedly not all plain sailing.

At the end of this very intensive, demanding and stimulating week the writers decided to publish the book both online and as a print entity with an ISBN (which they expect to receive around Christmas 2013).

After a celebratory dinner on Friday evening our group took advantage of the balmy temperatures to wander back to the hotel through one of the main ‘watering-spot’ areas of the island where crowds spill onto the street from corner bars. A guessing game ensued to sort locals from tourists. Someone discussing with a friend how to find a good place to go… tourist. So what about that small group down the hill, chilling out with some beers in a quieter spot on a slope overlooking St Julian’s Bay to the north? Locals, they definitely know the really good place to go. It seems there are some things about adaptive collective systems that are eternal.


Book Sprint contributing team / FoCAS:
Stuart Anderson (The University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom)
Nicolas Bredeche (Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France)
A.E. Eiben (VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands)
George Kampis (DFKI, Germany)
Maarten van Steen (VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Book Sprint facilitation team:
Adam Hyde – Book Sprints facilitator
Tania Goryucheva – project coordinator
Donna Metzlar – project associate
Rachel Baker – associate researcher
Jo Paulger – software developer
Sandra Sarala – editor
Henrik van Leeuwen – designer, illustrator

Written by: Sandra Sarala

Read or download the book: