In management theory and in political debate there is often explained what framing means. It is some kind of manipulation strategy to move a message forward. That means, the person who frames is not part of the normal debate, but uses a language which is able to change the discussion itself. But how exactly works framing? This is explained in the following post.
The possibility to manipulate groups has to do with the fact, that workgroups are everywhere. A company contains of groups, a hospital, a school class and the voter groups are a team too. The term group means, that all the individual in it are walking in the same directions. All voter of party A are voting for that party, and all employees of Enron have to do with Energy, but not with software development. The term group manipulation is a bit misleading, because it assumes that a group works different from the purpose that all have the same idea. No that is not the principle. If not all employees of Enron are thinking about how to earn money with energy, Enron is no longer a group. That means, a group can be there or not.
Let us explain who group communication works. It is a workflow which runs through a group. The workflow has to do with individual communication between people. The people are forming a hierarchical “chinese whisperer” decision chain and at the end, all of them have the same opinion. The question is: how to modify the communication workflow in a group? If this is possible it is called framing.
The workflow is not driven randomly. A hierarchical structure is visible in every group. That means any company has a CEO and any school has a principal. In a modern social media dialogue the leader of a group is called the influencer. He has the power fo interact with the group. Not in a sense, that the leader is delegating tasks, but in a sense that the leader has a role in the group. He has the obligation to moderate the decision making in the group and this includes also to moderate the choice for a new influence if the old one becomes obsolete. The process in doing so is chaotic and is often topic in the evening news, when scandals and internal conflicts are become visible.
The surprising information is, that it is not possible to frame a group into a certain direction. Even the leader can’t do this, because modern groups are too large, to complicated and to much connected with other groups. Even if the CEO of Enron is telling their employees what they need to know, they are watching the evening news too, and if they have another reality, they are warned. Humans have so kind of natural nonsense parser integrated, which prevents them to believe everything. No, the only way to frame a group is to raise the communication workflow as an amount.
Let us go into the details of how to do this. Suppose the enron company has per day in their intranet 10k e-mails who are sending back and forth. If we want to frame the group, it is necessary to double the numbers or more. That means, per day, 30k e-mails is the new standard. What the result of the increased traffic will be is unclear. Sure is only, that after the framing took place, the group will act differently.
In general the amount of traffic measured in packets and the efficiency of a group is the same. More communication is better then less communication. I’m in doubt if it is possible to frame a group and leaving the amount of communication the same.
Framing on the topic level
What is difference between a speech act within an existing structure and a speech act which is able to modify the group structure? The linguists are calling the phenomena a language code. The first one is called monolog and the second is a dialog. Let us go into the details.
Suppose someone has to write an essay about robotics. He will write down what the servo motor is doing, what a microcontroller is and that he has programmed in C a program which let the robot follow a line. This speech act is a legitimate commit in the domain of robotics. It will be recognized by the group as valid.
Somebody may think, that a paper in which the topics of robotics was described bad is the opposite to that, but even a bad paper is a valid contribution. It can be discussed on a topic level too. For example, the spelling can be wrong or the C program can have bugs. This contributions was also generated with the topic in mind.
Now I want to describe how a dialog works which will frame the discussion itself. This time, the speech is different. Not the language itself, it is also English, but it is switch from elaborated language code which is used to describe knowledge into a workflow oriented language which is used for process needs. If framing of a discussion is the main goal, then a workflow oriented language is stronger. But what exactly is “workflow language”?
Workflow language is a space in which the groups is coordinating. In contains of persons, people and dates. Workflow language is spoken on the mailing list of the robotics group. It is not about the difference between 8bit and 16 bit microcontroller but about if Timmy or Andrew is the better programmer.
Workflow oriented language has a small audience. An E-Mail written by the boss of a company is not for everyone but only for a small amount of people. Not because the E-mail is full of company internal secrets, but because the boss tries to moderate something. Let us make an example. In Wikipedia it is written that Enron is involved in a scandal. The language code in Wikipedia is formal, that means it is written for the public with the aim to write an abstract emotionless reality description. Somebody may think, that the boss of Enron is not able to frame the Wikipedia article. But he can. He can write the following e-mail to his employees.
“All of you have probably read the Wikipedia article in which Enron was presented as a company under fire. They have written that Enron is near a bankruptcy and will probably lost his property. End of E-Mail”.
Let us read the message again. It is a short e-mail, but where is the framing? Or let me ask differently, is this e-mail trying to frame something, which means to direct the Enron employees into a certain direction? Yes it is doing so. How exactly this takes place is hidden behind the lines. The difference is that such a e-mail is written in a different language. It is called a workflow language because it has to do with decision making in groups.
I want to describe the phenomena on a more abstract level. The language code in the public internet (which means what is indexed by Google) is topic oriented language. If someone want’s to know, if an 8bit or 16bit microcontroller is the better choice he can enter this keyword and browse through the result list. Such a language can not frame group discussion, it is language owned by nobody and which is forming the so called Gutenberg Galaxis. It is the shared knowledge of the world.
In contrast the language used in IntraNet of company is workflow language. Sometimes the public has fulltext access to it, sometimes not. The difference is, that in personal communication no meaning is visible. That means, it makes no sense to use a search engine for finding information in the internal e-mail communication of a company. Sure, the grep tool (or any other search engine) will find some e-mails, but they have not the same language like documents in the Gutenberg galaxis. The reason is, that the intranet of a company is used for workflow coordination. That means, the employees are forming not an online community, but a social network. And their main topic are feelings, persons they know, and tasks they have to organize.
To make the difference more explicit let us describe the inner working of a webcrawler. The original meaning of a webcrawler was introduced by Altavista. It is a perl script on a UNIX workstation which is retrieving the index.html file of a webserver and follows all the links. The content is stored in a fulltext database with the purpose to search in the content. The Google Search engine works with the same principle but it is more powerful than the Altavista tool.
Webcrawlers are a useful tool for indexing texts in an abstract language. It make sense to let robots search for PDF files, html files, plain text files and blogs. All the content is copied into the database and can be searched. Google makes a great job and provides access to the knowledge which is free for everybody. Let us now describe what will happen if we are using a webcrawler to index e-mails. On a technical level it works. The crawler created an e-mail archive which is simply a .zip file which is 100 GB in size. And now what? Sometimes the situation is discussed under the perspective of data protection, for example that it is not allowed to create e-mail archives. But let us assume a case in which the information is available, for example the Enron corpus or if the system administrator have access to e-mails. What is can we do with the e-mails? The surprising answer is: nothing.
Let us describe what exactly the problem is. On a technical level workflow communication contains English words, which can be searched in fulltext. The problem is, that the search will not find useful information. A search engine doesn’t help to understand the linguistic code. Even the enron corpus was published as Open Access, and even it was described in many papers, nobody has decrypts the information until now. Not because the e-mails are encrypted, no they not. The enron archive is compressed as a simple “.tar” file. The problem is that a fulltext search engine is the wrong tool to analyze workflow language. The reason why a group communicates has nothing to do with topics, but with something else. Unfortunately I must admit that i have no alternative to offer, which helps to understand workflow language more easily. I only can say, that a normal “grep like “ program will fail, the result list is useless. The hypothesis is, that the information has to be structured not by topics but by people. That means, if person A is often cites person B this is a meaning. And if Person C is often referencing to the meeting room this is also valuable knowledge.