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Beyond Smokestacks and Silos: Open-Source, Web-Enabled Coordination in Organizations and Networks


Nancy C. Roberts is a professor of defense analysis in the Graduate School of Operational and Information Sciences at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. She holds a doctorate from Stanford University, master's and bachelor's degrees from the University of Illinois, and a Diplome Annuel from the Cours de Civilization Française at the Sorbonne. The focus of her current research is public engagement, the design of complex networks, visual analytics, and strategies to counter insurgency and terror networks.


What accounts for coordination problems? Many mechanisms of coordination exist in both organizations and networks, yet despite their widespread use, coordination challenges persist. Some believe the challenges are growing even more serious. One answer lies in understanding that coordination is not a free good; it is expensive in terms of time, effort, and attention, or what economists call transaction and administrative costs. An alternative to improving coordination is to reduce its costs, yet there is little guidance in the literature to help managers and researchers calculate coordination costs or make design decisions based on cost reductions. This article explores two cases—the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Peer-to-Patent pilot program and the online relief effort in Haiti following the devastating earthquake there in 2010—to illustrate the advantages and constraints of using Web 2.0 technology as a mechanism of coordination and a tool for cost reduction. The lessons learned from these cases may offer practitioners and researchers a way out of our “silos” and “smokestacks.”