Engaging the BID Community

© Don Hammond/Design Pics/CorbisWe are a community of active or aspiring practitioners with a shared goal of making bio-inspired design a valuable and valued design strategy.  We benefit from the expertise of organizations such as the Center for Biologically Inspired Design at Georgia Tech as well as the experience of members on what works and what still needs to be done.  In addition to delivering information to the community, we need to actively encourage interaction and collaboration within the community.

A number of members identified specific services that would make the community valuable to them.  The ideas fall into three main categories:

  • information: resources, case studies, methods, a patent and products watch, notification of meetings and workshops
  • networking: making contacts, discussing tough questions, identifying tools, getting feedback, awareness of what others are doing
  • opportunities: funding sources, research and discoveries that could be commercialized

Some members have pointed out that the Internet already delivers a tremendous amount of material about biomimicry and bio-inspiration.  Yet “Information these days is a commodity; understanding is scarce.” (TIME, 2010, 176(23), p4) How reliable and useful is the data?  Can principles be easily extracted?  What are the potential constraints that restrict where these principles can be applied?  A colleague pointed out that while acquisition costs are dropping dramatically, the processing and analysis effort may actually be increasing.

Distilling data into information, positioning it in the larger context and demonstrating relevance can significantly increase value.  As an example, the first article in this issue provides insights into the HOK/Biomimicry Guild partnership and explores the practice of applying biomimicry to the built environment. 

Kathleen Murphy looked for help from the community to design a biomimetic carry-on bag: her journey to find biological principles that would help achieve her product vision is described in the second article.  This is followed by Kathryn Nagel’s research on the role of evolution in the bombardier beetle’s unique defense mechanism.  Marc Weissburg’s commentary explores the differences between unintentional (evolution) and intentional (human) design, leading to more effective strategies for searching biological literature.  In the next article, Ashok Goel continues his exploration of the cognitive aspects of bio-inspired design, including how to think and communicate across disciplines.  The final article summarizes the community’s first networking event: the October 21st ‘Forest Fractal’ Skype conference call hosted by Faye Yoshihara on the potential for developing better business and organizational models through biomimicry.

Anyone registered on the website will have full member access until the membership process is in place.  The current plan is to implement an automatic quarterly payment system through PayPal in January 2011 to help fund community services and future projects. Watch for an announcement through the website. 

Enjoy the rest of the newsletter and check out the Call to Action on the back page for ways to get involved.   Please let us know what you think, either through comments on the website or using the Contact Us link at the bottom of each website page. 

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nhoeller's picture

Experiences of the SUSDESIGNTEACH Mailing List

The background and evolution of the SUSDESIGNTECH mailing list is very germane to what we are trying to accomplish.  Participating in any discussion takes time and effort.  What can we do to lower the barriers? How can we increase the personal value of getting involved? 

Ann Thorpe (author of The Designer's Atlas of Sustainability: Charting the Conceptual Landscape through Economy, Ecology, and Culture) created the SUSDESIGNTEACH mailing list on http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk in January 2009 "to start a conversation, ... to hear other people's voices and learn about initiatives going on around the world and in different disciplines, possibly start up collaborative projects, get feedback."

By January 2011, the list had attracted 150 members.  Although Ann mentioned a number of interested exchanges over the last two years, she felt that the list was not as active as she had hoped and decided to close down the list.  Many members responded with comments about the value of the mailing list, although there was little discussion on what it would take to turn it from a 'broadcast channel' to the two-way exchange that Ann was looking for. 

Ann had suggested a number of possibilities for the low degree of engagement:

  • too broad a topic (sustainable design)
  • too narrow a topic (teaching)
  • lack of personal connection between members (did not grow out of a face-to-face event like a conference or workshop)
  • not enough members to sustain discussions (Ann pointed out that 10% of members contribute the bulk of content and suggested the list needed to have 500 members)
  • members are simply too busy
  • lack of key themes that would start and sustain discussion

Given the popularity of social networking and sites like Wikipedia, it is clearly possible to get people engaged.  Some (although probably a very small proportion) will even invest significant resources.  That said, I am not convinced that social networking and Wikipedia are good models for what we are trying to accomplish, although they may have attributes that we can emulate. 

Please post any comments or suggestions!

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salustri's picture

I've never understood what

I've never understood what makes for a successful mailing list.  Wish I did.

"phd-design" is one of the most popular lists ever (in my experience).  It's hugely broad: anything is fair game there.  So it ain't necessarily that the subject is too broad.

Similarly, I subscribe to a list about one of dozens of different "modes" for the emacs editor; it's also very popular.  So being too narrow ain't it either.

If I had to suggest something, it's that there's one or two people on the list who post often and about specific things that matter.  Though the list itself may be broad, individual threads ought to be specific.

It might also be the medium.  Mailing lists just don't get on everyone's radar.  Maybe something like a "group" on linkedin or some such network might attract more potential subscribers?

2 cents.



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nhoeller's picture

Increasing Level of Engagement

Fil, I think your comment about individual threads being specific is key - they have to be about things that a critical mass of people care about and feel that they have something to contribute. 

I think lowering the barriers to interaction are also important.  I am not impressed by LinkedIn groups, although I may not be set up properly.  I keep get updates that contain very little real content, forcing me to click on multiple links to see which ones are relevant.  The BID Community website at least includes the full content (usually) in the digest.  I need to spend the time to figure out how members can post responses via e-mail, similar to what BaseCamp provides.

I like the updates LinkedIn provides in terms of who is connected to whom and what they are up to.  I have no idea if it is possible to integrate the 'connection' capability of LinkedIn into other applications.


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salustri's picture

Re: linkedin. There's 2 modes

Re: linkedin.

There's 2 modes of updates: one, the mode you describe, gives you a summary of recent activity - a digest format.  The other sends you an email each time a comment is submitted to a particular thread.  You get the full comment in that case.  But you don't choose which mode is used in the usual way (somewhere in your settings).

When you join a group, you get summaries of the discussions.  To get each comment in its entirety in a separate msg, you have to go to the discussion page and "follow" the discussion (99% sure of that). That's what triggers the one-msg-per-comment thing.  If you don't follow a given discussion, you only get the digest.  Kind of makes sense to me.

Maybe look at this link which suggests some connectivity between linkedin & drupal is possible.

There's the drupal advanced forum module or you can try connecting drupal to phpBB.



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