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Abstract

The grand challenge for the 21st century is to harness the rapidly accumulating knowledge of Earth’s biodiversity and the ecosystems that support it. Meeting this challenge involves managing two kinds of complexity: the biological complexity of the organisms and the sociological complexity of biological information mobilization. The Flora of North America (FNA) is an authoritative resource to help manage the former source of complexity, while Collaborative Publishing Services (CPServices) is a tool to help manage the latter. The FNA project is an example of a large-scale and complexly distributed scientific database publishing activity that has been tightly coupled with traditional, paperbound publishing practices, which have been able to scale to accommodate and manage the complexities involved in articulating its work. The network-based coordination environment, CPServices, instantiates a role-based view coordinative protocol which inscribes and circumscribes the dependency relations among actors, activities, and resources, thereby both reducing the cognitive load of individual FNA project participants and managing the Project’s collaborative load. This paper construes CPServices’ role-based view to be a species of a larger class of constructs, normative boundary constructs, which are invented and adopted to manage interdependent work in large, distributed projects of long duration. Finally, normative boundary constructs, in turn, are placed within an activity theoretic framework to better explicate their value and use in such collaborative work arrangements.

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