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Bayesian Belief Network Approach for Analysis of

Intercultural Collaboration in Virtual Communities using

Social Capital Theory

Ben K. Daniel1, 2, Gordon I. McCalla1, and Richard A. Schwier2

ARIES Research Group
Department of Computer Science
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
Virtual Learning Community Research Laboratory
Educational Communications and Technology
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Abstract. We present a Bayesian belief network approach to address issues

critical to intercultural collaboration, knowledge sharing and learning in virtual
communities using social capital theory. Our work has two contributions; first,
we present a computational approach that can be used to study and understand
collaboration and intercultural factors critical to the design of virtual
communities. Second, using evidence-based scenarios, we show how different
variables can affect the overall level of social capital in two kinds of virtual
communities; virtual learning community and distributed community of
Keywords: virtual communities, social capital, Bayesian belief network,
intercultural collaboration, awareness, trust, social protocols, knowledge

1. Introduction
There is an increasing body of research suggesting that collaborative learning is one
of the most fundamental aspects of virtual communities [41, 42]. This body of
research builds on the grounds that much of the knowledge sharing activities, in all
forms of virtual communities’ take place through collaboration [18, 37, and 5].
However, collaborative learning under distributed circumstances is often difficult to
achieve due to many unknown factors, including intercultural factors [4].
Intercultural factors especially, in the context of communication in virtual
communities are connected to the exchange, and co-creation, of information and
meaning of objects and interpretation by individuals or groups. [14]. Typical
intercultural factors critical to collaboration include; diversity in members’
demographic cultures, organizational cultures and professional cultures and the like.
Drawing from our research into social capital and virtual communities over the
years [6, 5, 3], we present a Bayesian computational model of social capital as a
framework for addressing issues critical to intercultural collaboration and knowledge
sharing in virtual communities. Illustrating with evidence-based scenarios, we show
how changes in different variables in the Bayesian model can affect an overall level
of social capital and trust and their implications to intercultural collaboration online.
The paper is outlined as follows: first the nature of knowledge sharing is reviewed.
Second, building on related research, we describe work on social capital and virtual
learning communities. Third, we outline the fundamental variables of social capital in
virtual communities and present a computational framework for building model of
social capital. Fourth, we present different scenarios to update the model. We then
elaborate on the results of the model predictions and discuss ways to address
intercultural issues and collaboration in virtual communities. And finally, we
summarize and conclude the paper, outlining our current and future research

2. Related Research
The term "culture" has multiple meanings in different contexts. In this study culture
refers to the commonly shared system of general beliefs, values, and underlying
assumptions held by a group of people. Culture is always believed to be a collective
phenomenon. It is a collective programming of the mind, which distinguishes the
members of one group or category of people from another. Culture can be learned not
inherited [16]. Hall [15] described "culture as a total communication framework"
comprised of words, actions, nonverbal behaviors, the handling of time, space, and
materials, world view, beliefs, and attitudes passed over time from generation to
generation. Culture also serves as a perceptual filter with which people determine
what is and is not important to them [14]. How does culture affect knowledge sharing
and learning in virtual environments?
We think that knowledge sharing and learning are social phenomena embedded in
human interactions within a specific cultural context. In virtual communities learning
involves sharing knowledge, exchanging information and these require participation
and contributing to the community, through sharing, exploring, and deploying a
collective knowledge base. In communities or groups, people learn as they navigate to
solve problems together [44] or design representations of their understanding [13].
Much learning between and within communities then occurs when there are rich
interactions leading to sharing of knowledge and exchange of personal experiences.
Quite often people who are willing to share their knowledge seek to attain a balance
between donating and collecting knowledge. This implies that in order to effectively
share knowledge there has to exist certain norms of reciprocity—people share their
own knowledge because they expect others to contribute as well [21, 38].
But to fully understand what can be shared and the challenges associated with
sharing knowledge, we explore the notion of knowledge, differentiating it from
information and data. As Andriessen [25] pointed that information is basically a
collection of facts and figures, while knowledge consists of insights and
interpretations. Different kinds of knowledge can also be identified, interpersonal
knowledge normally consisting of personal insights, intuitions, experiences and
competence and community knowledge which can be in the form of documents,
databases, books, memos and the like. Though the distinction between interpersonal
and community knowledge can help us to understand what can easily be shared and
what cannot, there is no agreed upon standard definition of knowledge. However,
Polanyi [28] distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge has gained widespread
acceptance. We suggest that this distinction has implications for knowledge sharing
within virtual communities. In Table 1, we present key characteristics of tacit
knowledge and explicit knowledge.

Table 1. Comparative characteristics of tacit and explicit knowledge [3].

We suggest that tacit and explicit knowledge are common to all kinds of virtual
communities but the protocol for sharing each one of them differs from one
community to another. For instance, in virtual communities, the knowledge sharing
process can involve continuous reciprocal engagement in discourse with others in the
community within particular social context. In other words, the distinction between
knowledge, information and data is context dependent [see Fig. 1]. For instance, when
people exchange data, the data is processed into information. In turn, information can
be situated in a particular context and turned into knowledge for a particular
individual. Both information and knowledge then are grounded on data. The two can
be differentiated if we consider interpretation and meaning. Information by definition
is informative and, therefore, informs us about something. It can also be treated as
data from which we can derive meaning. Knowledge is directly related to
understanding and is gained through the interpretation of information. Knowledge
enables us to interpret information i.e. derive meaning from data. The interpretation of
meaning is framed by the perceiver’s knowledge. So what one person perceives as
information can equate to meaningless data to another [5]. So information already
interpreted generates meaning and new knowledge. Thus, it can be added to one’s
knowledge to increase what is known.
Knowledge can be derived from both information and data since the context of
data needs to be known before it can be interpreted as information [5]. How specific
knowledge is generated from data and information depends on how the data are stored,
and how information is presented, organized, communicated and received by
particular individuals within a particular community. In many cases, the process of
knowledge sharing in virtual communities is mostly achieved through tacit to tacit
communication, though clearly knowledge sharing can also be achieved through the
tacit to explicit to tacit conversion loop [3]. Further, an individual's cognitive
processes can also determine how information is processed into knowledge.
Moreover, the way data are shared or information is presented and communicated
depends on specific or general sets of social protocols available in a particular
community. The cyclical process in Figure 1 shows that knowledge is both an input
and product in itself. In other words, what constitutes knowledge for one individual
might be information for another individual, and what counts as information for
another individual in a specific time might become data later. Beyond contextual
issues of knowledge sharing, there are also interpersonal issues relating to individuals
backgrounds, interests, organizational affiliations and competence. These issues have
greater impact on intercultural collaboration and can influence the process of
knowledge sharing. How do we understand intercultural issues critical to
collaboration in virtual communities? We propose a model of social capital to
simulate the relationship of different variables and use the model’s predictions to
speculate on issues critical to intercultural collaboration.

Figure 1. A process model for knowledge construction in virtual communities [3].

2.2 Social Capital

What is social capital? Although the notion of SC originated from studies of
conventional or temporal communities, from a historical perspective, SC is often used
to federate disparate but interrelated research interests in the social sciences and the
humanities and to facilitate cross-fertilization of ideas across disciplinary boundaries.
Our search for understanding SC in general and in the context of technology-mediated
communities in particular begins with exploration and selection of a number of
definitions that appear in current literature. Table 2 presents a selected summary of
some of the definitions.
From table 2, it seems there is no single definition of SC, but it is possible to
categorize current definitions into two major categories. Among these there is a
structural dimension [26, 21, 30, 34, 45] and content dimension in which SC resides
[11, 38, 40]. The structural dimension refers to the fundamental elements of a social
network such as types of ties and connections and the social organization of a
community. More over the content dimension includes the types of norms, trusts,
shared understanding and those variables that hold people together. We simplify the
two dimensions, types and examples in Fig. 2.
In general SC is a measure of the ability of people to work together for common
purposes in groups and organizations. SC can be used to describe the patterns and
intensity of networking relationships among people and the shared values that arise
from working together. While definitions of SC can vary based on the discipline and
the researcher, the main aspects of SC are trust and shared values, community
involvement, volunteering, social networks and civic participation. Further, from the
synthesis of the definitions presented in table 2, three main underlying ideas can be

Table 2. Definitions of social capital and key variables.

Researcher (s) Definition Key variables

Putnam [2000] The connections among Connections,
individuals – social networks and networks,
the norms of reciprocity and norms/social
trustworthiness that arise from protocols,
them. In that sense SC is closely reciprocity, trust
related to what some have called
“civic virtue.

World Bank [1999] The institutions, relationships, Relationships,

and norms that shape the quality norms/social
and quantity of a society's social protocols, social
interactions. interactions

Cohen & Prusak [2001] The stock of active connections Connections, trust,
among people: the trust, mutual mutual
understanding, and shared values understanding/shared
and behaviors that bind the understanding,
members of human networks and shared value/goals,
communities and make networks
cooperative action possible

Bourdieu [1996] The aggregate of the actual or Relationships,

potential resources which are resources, networks
linked to possession of a durable
network of more or less
institutionalized relationships of
mutual acquaintance and
OECD [2001] The network, together with shared Network, shared
norms, values and understandings norms, shared
that facilitates cooperation within understanding,
and among groups. cooperation

Nahapiet & Ghosal The sum of actual and potential Resources, network,
[1998] and resources embedded within, relationships
available through and derived
from a network of relationships
possessed by an individual or
social unit.

Loury [1977] Natural occurring social Values, social

relationships among persons relationships, skills,
which promote or assist the traits
acquisition of skills and traits
valued in the market place.

Woolcock [1998] Information, trust and norms of Information, trust,

reciprocity inhering in one’s norms/social
social networks. protocols, social

Inglehart [1997] The culture of trust and tolerance, Culture, trust,

in which extensive networks of tolerance/shared
voluntary associations emerge understanding,
networks, voluntary

Resnick [2004] Productive resources that inhere Resources, social

in social relations relations

Rafaeli, Ravid & Soroka A collection of features of the Social network,

[2004] social network created as a result common social
of virtual community activities norms/social
that lead to development of protocols, co-
common social norms and rules operation, mutual
that assist cooperation for mutual benefit
Figure 2. Dimensions and types of social capital.

! SC generates positive externalities for members of a community. These

externalities are achieved through trusting relationships, shared
understanding and norms or social protocols of reciprocal relationships, and
values or goals and members’ expectations and behaviors.
! The instances of social capital such as trust, social protocols and common
goals can arise from informal forms of organizations based on social
networks and associations.
! Further, drawing from the discussion of the various definitions of SC, it can
be concluded that there is no one single definition of the notion of SC, but
rather, SC can be understood as a composite of many variables, each of
which can be interpreted independently and in relation to others.
Further benefits of social appear in the literature. Putnam [40] suggested that SC
allows people to resolve collective problems more easily; that is, people are normally
better off if they collaborate on a task with each other. Mechanisms such as social
sanctions are used for coping with breaches in social protocols (e.g., a case in which
individuals benefit by shirking their responsibilities, hoping others will do their work
for them). He also observed that SC greases the wheel that allows communities to
advance smoothly. For instance, when people are trusting and trustworthy, and
maintain continuous interaction, everyday business becomes easier and more
He added that networks can serve as conduits for the dissemination of helpful
information dissemination and can contribute to the achievement of personal and
community goals. In other words, people who are well connected usually receive
good news first. Further, SC can help preserve social norms in the community and
reduce delinquent or selfish behaviour. For instance, people who are well connected
in a community and have active trusting connections with others are likely to behave
in the accepted social manner. For example, medical doctors will normally be
constrained to behave in specific ways, have specific eating habits, even dress in
specific ways, especially in public. This is not necessarily because they want to do so,
but because of the expectation the community puts on them.
The community benefits of SC appear to extend to formal educational institutions.
The World Bank [45] found that schools were more effective when parents and local
communities were actively involved. Teachers were more committed and students had
high tests scores. The mentoring, networking and mutual support associated with high
levels of SC contributes to success in education [26].
Firms benefit from SC because it facilitates cooperation and coordination, which
minimizes transaction costs, such as negotiation and enforcement, imperfect
information and layers of unnecessary bureaucracy. Reciprocal, interdependent
relationships reinforce compliance, which helps firms minimize financial risks. For
instance, in a production system such as automobile company, where there is a lack of
cooperative agreement, a parts manufacturer might be able to take advantage of others
by strategically altering prices. In the corporate sector, SC can provide a competitive
edge because efficiency gains in time and information allow more resources to be
devoted to producing and marketing a better product at a higher volume.
SC can bridge cultural differences by building a common identity and shared
understanding. SC requires continuous interaction and enables people to identify
common interests and build trust. This raises their level of shared commitment, and
encourages a sense of solidarity within a community. Furthermore, from the
perspective of organizational management, Prusak and Cohen [11] pointed out that
SC can promote better knowledge sharing due to established trust relationships,
common frames of reference and shared goals.
Narayan and Pritchett [21] further suggested that communities with high SC have
frequent interaction, which in turn cultivates norms of reciprocity through which
learners become more willing to help one another, and which improve coordination
and dissemination of information and knowledge sharing. SC has been used as a
framework for understanding a wide range of social issues in temporal communities.
It has been used for the investigation of issues such as trust, participation, and

3. Modelling Social Capital in Virtual Communities

Daniel, Schwier and McCalla [3] refer to social capital in virtual learning
communities as a common social resource that facilitates information exchange,
knowledge sharing, and knowledge construction through continuous interaction, built
on trust and maintained through shared understanding. A growing body of research
shows that building social capital requires continuous and positive interaction [6, 11,
40, 43]. Positive interaction as a function of social capital provides value to its
participants especially when it is built upon positive attitudes among individuals in a
community [3]. Further, positive interaction and attitudes enable people to identify
common goals, achieve shared understanding and social protocols, build trust, and
commit themselves to each other’s well being [43]. The value derived especially from
positive interactions and attitudes can include sharing personal experiences with
others, endorsing behavior, surfacing tacit knowledge, sharing information,
recommending options, and providing companionship and hospitality [1].
In essence, the nature of members’ attitudes toward each other and the kinds of
relationships that form from their interactions can be used as starting point for
analyzing social capital in virtual communities. Resnick [35] noted SC can be
understood through the kinds of relationships among individuals, and that the lack of
SC in a community reveals the absences of productive relationships. Further,
productive relationships occur when participants have a common set of expectations,
mediated by a set of shared social protocols [23]. In addition, when members of a
virtual community establish a certain level of shared understanding, they can attain a
certain level of social capital. The process of establishing shared understanding often
draws upon a set of shared beliefs, shared goals and values, experiences and
knowledge [4, 41].
Further, maintaining different forms of awareness in a virtual community can
lubricate the value of interaction. For instance, in order to effectively collaborate and
function as a community, people need to be aware of others, where they are located
(demographic awareness), what they do (professional awareness), what others know
(knowledge awareness) and what they are able to do (capability awareness) [3, 10].
Different forms of awareness in a virtual community can encourage positive
interaction and productive collaboration [7]. Awareness can also foster trust. It has
also been suggested that trust develops as people become sufficiently aware of others
in the community (who is who, who knows who, who knows what, who is located
where) and learn what to expect from each other [9, 1]. Trust is a critical ingredient
and a lubricant to almost many forms of social interactions [6]. Trust enables people
to work together, collaborate, and smoothly exchange information and share
knowledge without time worsted on negotiation and conflict [11].

3.1 Bayesian Belief Network

A Bayesian network is a particular type of graphical model, frequently used in
applications of artificial intelligence for building probabilistic expert systems.
Bayesian networks can be used to model probabilistic relationships among variables.
In some cases, their graphical structure can be loosely interpreted as the result of
direct causal dependencies between variables. In domains with many causal relations,
such as in medical diagnosis (symptoms cause diseases), human experts are usually
able to express their domain knowledge in the graphical structure of the network. For
example, in a model for medical diagnosis, the parameters of the network are the
conditional probabilities of effects given the state of their direct causes.
Bayesian Belief Network (BBN) techniques are increasingly being used for
understanding and simulating computational models [31]. BBN models enable
reasoning when there is uncertainty [22]. They combine the advantages of an intuitive
visual representation with a sound mathematical basis in Bayesian probability.
Though BBN techniques are elegant ways for capturing uncertainties, considerable
effort is required to create conditional probability values for the given variables in a
network. We have propose a computational framework drawing from both qualitative
and quantitative descriptions of conditional probability values [3], and we illustrated
in previous studies [5] how the framework has been used to build models of trust and
social capital that can be used as decision tools for the design of social software
Constructing a BBN generally involves several steps. The first step in constructing
BBN models is to define the problem or opportunity that needs to be modelled. This
is followed by the identification of possible critical variables in a particular domain,
along with their possible states [5]. From our synthesis, social capital is not only a
function of single variables. The various instances of social capital in table 1 were
identified within two kinds of virtual communities; distributed communities of
practice and virtual learning communities. In many studies, trust is used as proxy for
measuring SC in communities [45, 40]. In our work we have identified variables
constituting social capital drawn mainly from the literature (see table1) and added
others that we believe may be relevant in the context of virtual communities [3]. The
variables identified are then assigned potential states (see table 3).

Table 3. Variables of social capital and their definitions in virtual communities [8].
Name Definition States

Interaction Exchanging of information between two or Present/Absent

more individuals via text, video, or any
other digital media
Attitudes Individuals' general perception about each Positive/Negative
other and others' actions
Community The type of environment, tools, goals, and Virtual learning community
Type tasks that define the group (VLC) or Distributed community
of practice (DCoP)

Shared A mutual agreement/consensus between High/Low

Understanding two or more agents about the meaning of
an object
Awareness Knowledge of people, tasks, or Present/Absent
environment and or all of the above
Demographic Knowledge of an individual: country of Present/Absent
Awareness origin, language and location
Professional Knowledge of an individual’s background Present/Absent
Awareness training, affiliation etc.
Competence Knowledge about an individual’s Present/Absent
Awareness capabilities, competencies, and skills
Capability Knowledge of an individual’s competences Present/Absent
Awareness and skills in regards to performing a
particular task
Social Protocols The mutually agreed upon, acceptable and Present/Absent
unacceptable patterns of behaviour in a
Trust A particular level of certainty or High/Low
confidence with which an agent uses to
assess the action of another agent

Figure 3. A BBN model of trust and social capital in virtual communities [3].

The second step involved mapping the variables into a network structure based on
logical, and coherent qualitative reasoning [3]. The resulting network shows
dependencies among variables (see Fig. 3).
The graph presented above relates only to two forms of virtual communities (VLCs
and DCoP), the graph topology enables different forms of model updating to be
conducted. Once a BBN graph is developed, the third stage is to obtain initial
probability values to populate the network. In our case, initial prior and conditional
probabilities are generated by qualitative descriptions of the strength of the
relationship among variables in a network. This approach takes into account the
number of states of a variable, the number of parents, the relative strength of a
variable (e.g., strong -S, medium -M, weak -W) and the kind of relationship/influence
of the variable (e.g., positive or negative influence - +/-) to produce initial prior and
conditional probabilities. Once an initial model is elicited, particular scenarios are
used to refine and document the network [3].
The conditional probability values were obtained by adding weights to the values
of the variables depending on the number of parents and the strength of the
relationship between particular parents and children. For example, say Attitudes and
Interactions have positive and strong (S+) relationships with Knowledge Awareness;
the evidence of positive interactions and positive attitudes will produce a conditional
probability value for Knowledge Awareness to be 0.98 (threshold value for strong =
0.98). The weights were obtained by subtracting a base value (1 / number of states,
0.5 in this case) from the threshold value associated to the degree of influence and
dividing the result by the number of parents (i.e. (0.98 - 0.5) / 2 = 0.48 / 2 = 0.24), this
follows the fact that in the graph Knowledge awareness is a child of both interactions
and attitudes. Table 3 shows the threshold values and weights used in this example.
Since it is more likely that a certain degree of uncertainty can exist, value " = 0.02
leaves some room for uncertainty when considering evidence coming from positive
and strong relationships. These threshold values can be adjusted based on expert

Table 4. Threshold values and weights with two parents [3].

Degree of influence Thresholds Weights

Strong 1-" = 1 - 0.02 = 0.98 (0.98-0.5) / 2 = 0.48 / 2 = 0.24
Medium 0.8 (0.8-0.5) / 2 =0.3 / 2 = 0.15
Weak 0.6 (0.6-0.5) / 2 =0.1 / 2 = 0.05

Using this approach it is possible to generate conditional probability tables (CPTs)

for each node (variable) regardless of the number of parents. Depending on how the
initial knowledge is elicited and what decisions are made to process the knowledge
into initial probabilities. For instance, assuming some subject matter experts are
consulted to obtain initial probabilities, this knowledge is translated into the threshold
weighted values as described in table 2 above depending on the degree of influence
among the variables (i.e. evidence coming from one of the parent’s states), decision
which can also be obtained from the subject mater expert in a particular domain.
However, when experts define degrees of influence for more than one of the parents’
states, adding weights could result in ties, which could generate inconsistent CPT. In
such cases, one could ask the expert which parent should be used, or has the most
probable high degree of influence depending on the case under investigation.
3.2 Querying the Network
The fourth step in the modeling process is to observe changes in the network when
new evidence affecting one or more of the nodes is added to the network. Querying a
BBN refers to the process of updating conditional probability tables and making
inferences based on new evidence. One way of analyzing and refining a BBN is to
develop a detailed number of scenarios or cases grounded on data, intuition, and
experts’ opinions describing a set of phenomena in a virtual community. A
scenario/case refers to a written synopsis of inferences drawn from observed
phenomena, intuition or empirical data. For illustration, we describe a scenario in a
distributed community of practice, whose members have a high level of shared
understanding, professional awareness and positive interactions. Using evidence
based scenarios; we query the model and observe changes in different kinds of
variables that are likely to affect intercultural issues critical to collaborations in two

3.3 Scenario One

Governance Knowledge Network (GKN) [] is a
distributed community of practice (DCoP) that reflects diversity in membership in
terms of background in training, organizational affiliation and geographical location.
The Governance Knowledge Network (GKN) research was launched to address a
perceived need to span geography and cross-organizational boundaries to enhance the
scholarship on, and the practice of, governance and its role in advancing international
development. GKN is meant to extend the notion of communities of practice to online
environments. The project began in 2001 with the aim of assessing the interest of
academics and practitioners in Canada to develop a virtual community for
systematizing the exchange of information in the fields of governance and
international development.
A large-scale distributed community of practice such as GKN usually draws their
members from hundreds and sometimes thousands of people, who are geographically
distributed and professionally diverse. Distance and geography can make knowing
each other difficult. Even in the presence of robust technologies building awareness
among individuals in such communities can be a great challenge. Awareness can be
easily established when individuals are co-located and when there are explicit visible
set of social cues, which often help facilitate effective social interactions. How do
different forms of awareness affect the social capital of such a community?
We use this scenario to query the network to answer this question. In the process,
we assume there is a positive interaction in the group, the type of community is DCoP
and since this group draws individuals from different domains, it is more likely that
the cultural diversity in the group can have influence on the level of shared
understanding, so we set shared understanding to “no exist” and equally assume no
any other kind of awareness is known in the community. We then update the
conditional probabilities and observe changes in the posterior probabilities of two
target variables: trust and social capital. After updating the network, the posterior
probability of social capital high = 0.207 and low = 0.792; likewise, the posterior
probability of trust high = 0.02 high and low = 0.98. Fig.4 shows the graphical
representation of the network after the query was performed.
Figure 4. Posterior probability values in scenario one.

The low levels of posterior probabilities in trust and social capital can be attributed
to the absences of different forms of awareness and shared understanding. At this
point however, no evidence regarding which kind of awareness has what impact on
the levels of social capital and trust. But one can generally infer that there is a
possible correlation between trust, social capital and different forms of awareness. At
this point more studies or scenarios are needed to perform further analysis.
The scenario presented above was developed with the assumptions that a
distributed community of practice is typically a group of geographically dispersed
professionals in different fields who share common practices and interests in a
particular area of concern, and whose activities can be enriched and mediated by
information and communication technologies. Such a group usually maintains high
level of shared understanding and professional awareness, and so variation in the level
of shared understanding and awareness of each other within such a group can affect
the level of trust and social capital as demonstrated by changes in the probability
distributions in the network.

3.4 Scenario two

The second scenario involved analysis of a formal virtual learning community of
graduate students learning fundamental concepts and philosophies of E-Learning. The
members of this community were drawn from diverse cultural backgrounds and
different professional training. In particular, participants were practising teachers
teaching in different domains at secondary and primary schools levels. Some
individuals in the community had extensive experiences with educational
technologies, while others were novices but had some experience in classroom
technology and pedagogy. Members in this community were not exposed to each
other before and thus were not aware of each other's talents and experiences.
However, individuals knew about each other i.e. to say they were aware of others
demographic information and professional affiliations.
Since the community was a formal one, there was a formalized discourse structure
and the social protocols for interactions were explained to participants in advance.
The special protocols required different forms of interactions including posting
messages, critiquing others, providing feedback to others postings, asking for
clarifications etc. As the interactions progressed in this community, intense
disagreements were observed in the community. Individuals began to disagree more
on the issues under discussion and there was a little shared understanding among the
participants in most of the discourse. Given the conditions in this scenario, we
updated the network and observed low values in the posterior probabilities of social
capital = high is 0.637 and low =0.362, trust high is 0.656 and low is 0.344

Figure 5. Posterior probability values in scenario two.

The lack of shared understanding, task knowledge awareness and capability

awareness and presence of social protocols in scenario two has a moderate influence
on the level of social capital and trust. Similarly it is hard to come up with final
conclusions without any kind of sensitivity analysis in explaining which variables are
the most influential in the model.
4. Conclusion and Model Implications
Virtual communities take various forms, most of which are organized around
temporal community models. We fundamentally consider two kinds of virtual
communities—virtual learning communities and distributed communities of practice.
These two kinds of virtual communities share certain elements in common, such as
common goals, shared understanding, trust, and adherence to a common set of social
protocols etc. In virtual communities where face-to-face interactions is lacking,
intercultural collaboration becomes a delicate process, where different individuals
have a variety of means and standards to express themselves and interact with each
other in diverse settings. Further, in virtual environments, features obvious in face-to-
face interaction—such as age, gender, or physical appearance—are only be inferred
from the interactions in the community. Information that reveals an individuals
identity is increasingly reduced to nicknames, avatars and written texts.
Furthermore, the general roles of interaction and communication are, to some
extent, different and though seemingly innovative than in a face-to-face community,
they can be challenging as well. At the same time, both in virtual communities and
terrestrial communities, there are common features, for instances in both communities,
people tend to establish meaningful relationships; they share a common purpose,
shared understanding, trust each other, operate within certain social protocols [23][24].
All these shared features can have impact on collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Understanding these features helps us to develop robust tools and processes that
effectively encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing. As Raybourn [14]
suggested that designers of collaborative virtual communities have both the
responsibility and the opportunity to consider the impact of underlying dynamics of
culture and intercultural interactions such as identity, negotiation, conflict, power,
equity, and trust on virtual spaces and collaborative communities.
We suggest that using social capital as a framework can enhance our understanding
of a culture sensitive design for intercultural communication in virtual communities.
Within the social capital concept, variables such as awareness and trust can be used as
proxies to further address intercultural issues that are critical to collaboration. For
example, for individuals to effectively participate in virtual communities they need to
make themselves known to others in the community and in the process, they can
individually develop self-awareness that is congruent with the identity of the
community. Further, individuals need to be aware of the social protocols of the
community in order to effectively communicate with others. And finally they need to
develop supportive relationships with others as individuals and as group members;
and develop trusting relationships with others.
Bayesian networks techniques presented in the paper are well suited to
understanding intercultural issues and they provide a natural way to encode
dependencies among variables in a domain. Using scenarios/cases is an effective way
of reasoning and the technique can be used to revise our knowledge and belief
systems. Predictions based on the two scenarios show that trust in virtual communities
can be influenced by variables such as awareness, social protocols and shared
understanding. The predictions also suggest that trust is context dependent on the
nature of the community and individuals in that community. It is more likely that
evidence that suggest otherwise can be easily fed into the model and the model update
to observe the results.
Though we have not conducted specific experiments correlating the impact of trust
and different kinds of awareness on intercultural issues and collaboration in virtual
communities, we believe this work sets the first stage for such studies. Follow up
work will explain how to construct the network structure with concrete evidence and
compare the simulation results and observation in the real world in order to further
validate the BBN model. We further believe it is possible to extend this framework to
model similar problems in other relevant domains. And finally, the combination of
qualitative and quantitative reasoning in our Bayesian approach can support both hard
and soft data structures needed for analyzing complex social systems.

Acknowledgement. We would like to acknowledge the Natural Sciences and

Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) as well as the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for financial support for this
research. Further acknowledgement goes to the IWIC2007 workshop organisation and
its Japanese sponsors (The Telecommunications Advancement Foundation,
International Information Science Foundation, Tateisi Science and Technology
Foundation, Inoue Foundation for Science and University of Kyoto) for providing
travel grant to Ben to present and participate in the workshop.

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