Toward a visual turn in collaboration analysis?
Building Research and Information
The significance of the visual perspective on collaboration is that it offers tremendous potential and variety. Collaboration is probably not limited to the area of design which is the context of the Building Research & Information special issue on 'Visual Practices: Images of Knowledge Work' (2007), but also for areas where collaborative drawings do not necessarily represent tangible objects. The rich and close descriptions of the use and appropriation of visual artefacts reveal that images help groups to focus attention, to surface areas of agreement and disagreement, to make implicit knowledge and past experiences explicit, to discover new perspectives, and to document or revise decisions. The empirical accounts documented in the special issue also show that there is still much to learn about how joint visual structures facilitate (or impede) group cognition and deliberation. Several future challenges are highlighted. First, to enable theory-building in the fragmented visual practices domain, research will need to be collected from diverse fields of knowledge. Second, an extended classification of visual boundary objects is need, for example, based on the examples gathered in the special issue papers. Third, research is needed to understand which set of attributes matches with which type of collaboration task. Fourth, broadening the scope of graphic formats that are used as boundary objects is another promising research area for the study of visual practices. Finally, the negative or dysfunctional side merits research: what are the disadvantages and risks of visual practices?