Thursday, February 23, 2012

The spidergram for getting started with AND evaluating communities

"Technology has fundamentally changed how we can be together!" With this phrase Nancy White started the webinar 'Thinking about online communities using the Digital Habitats Orientation Spidergram', which was held on the 21st February 2012. Nancy: "Technology has enabled us to communicate by distance through skype, bigmarker, e-mail, blogs, discussion groups and other social media tools. Some of them work effective, others are less effective. It depends on the situation. The world of the 'paper and pen' has transformed into a new world of digital tools. That has created a new dynamic on how we communicate in communities. If technology is not working we use paper and pen, other times we use the computer, preferably applications that remind us of the 'paper and pen'." 

Change in technology, can change the interaction
Nancy: "Interactions between people are important. It contributes to the development of the team or network. An interesting thing is that people start with technology where they feel comfortable with. If that is the telephone, they will use that. Nobody likes cool tools except for people who like cool tools. Technology is moving faster than people. However, people cope and will try new technology if it meets their new needs so that they can overcome their fears and resistance. The change in technology, can change the interaction."

According to Nancy, a community is a group of people who share a common interest over a longer period of time. "One meeting is not building a community. This is a 'Transient experience'. A community is about building relationships and small interactions between people. 'Laughter is a good community indicator'. A community is a group of people building identity, creating meaning and getting a sense of belonging. Even if it is 'eating chocolate together' is it a community. When somebody is giving up part of his identity towards the group, it significates a change. It is a community indicator showing that people are willing to invest in each other."

The spidergram: 9 different orientations towards community activities
When Nancy White conducted research with Etienne Wenger and John Smith on the development of different communities and how technology is impacting them, they discovered that communities have different patterns of orientations towards community activities. All of them were impacted by the change of technology. Their findings were published in 'Digital Habitats - stewarding technology for communities'.  They distinguished 9 different orientations, together forming a spidergram.

1. Content, publishing - sharing information about a domain of practise, the availability from information changed from static into dynamic. For example wiki's and blogposts are updated all the time.
2. Open-ended conversations - conversations that continue to rise and fall over a period of time without a clear purpose. This gradually changed from f2f back door talks, to online conversations between invididuals. Chattalks are nowadays a substitute for informal talks at the coffee machine. 
3. Meetings - official gatherings with a specific goal and time frame. Virtual meetings have become more common due to cost reduction and more effective use of time.
4. Projects - interrelated tasks with specific outcomes or products. They are the heartbeats of communities. Projects have a transactional type of building trust with each other. Online tools for team co-operation in doing projects are gradually increasing and are impacting communities on how people co-operate.
5. Access to expertise - learning from experienced practitioners. Important aspect is that communities are only sustainable if the process of knowledge sharing is interactive. If it is one-way transfer of knowledge it will not be sustainable. Communities tend to have a balance between give and take.  Experts need to take the culture and way of working of the community in consideration, including working with social media. 
6. Relationships - getting to know each other. Virtual contacts are complementary to f2f contacts. They are interconnected.
7. Context - private / internally focused or is it externally focused? Social media plays a major role in communication.  Blogpost, youtube, twitter, facebook are social media are regulary used for sharing, awareness raising and public relations.
8. Community cultivation - recruitment, orienting and supporting members, is the community growing?  This is the part that something is shared in common. The change in technology has enabled communities to share their common experiences and joint results on virtual platforms. Examples that help to enable community cultivation are a newsletter, a community discussion platform, a joint website. 
9. Individual participation - enabling members to share their own experience. Today technology provides people with enormous possibilities. 

The top part of the spidergram, orientation 1 to 5, deals about content, publishing and projects; the hardware. The bottuom of the spidergram deals with the social part. Relationships and sense of belonging are important.  Please find more about >>>> Spidergramworksheets

Practical examples in using the spidergram
While comparing the different communities Nancy and her colleagues discovered that most communities scored high on 3 of the 9 orientations, and lower in the others.  All depending on the domain and the purpose of these communities. Some of these had more focus towards individual participation and internal discussion (for example a community with women abused through domestic violence), while others had a need for common sharing and external communication (for example the KM4DEV community who likes to share all their learnings with the outside world). A big community with around 2.500 members might have a low focus on relationships, and higher focus on content. While birdwatchers in Central Park in New York will have a more balanced approach. They want to know about the birds, but also want to get connected with the people who are using the park.

Some orientations in a community can strengthen each other. A project creates content and helps to build relationships. Nancy; "Do, reflect, capture and share. A community can create more momentum when stories between individuals members are captured and published through a website and the newspaper. This is how parents came to know through the Birdwatchers community that Central Park had safe places for children to play. This is what is meant with cultivating the community".  

The interesting thing is that communities change over time. And so do their orientations. The spidergram is a tool which helps to look at patterns, instead of measuring quantitative data. It is a great tool for starting a conversation with community members. Regular moments of evaluation are important. It provides a space for people to reflect and see how much they have accomplished and shared in common over a period of time. Nancy had a wonderful experience in Armenia: "When the donor pulled out of the project, the community members discovered that they had completed so much work with each other and had created value, that they wanted to continue."

Keep the heartbeat going
Three of the twelve participants at the webinar had the opportunity to share and present their spidergram. Case studies about a community around a day care centre (having a virtual discussion platform), a temporary community wrapped around a training (using a Yammer platform) and a starting partnership between NGO's, government and experts (also using a Yammer platform) were shared and analyzed. All of them had in common they were starting or young communities. Nancy: 'New and evolving communities need heartbeats!'  It is similar to a long distance runner. You have to invest a lot of time in the beginning in facilitation and coaching to get the ideal rythm of the heartbeat. New communities have starting projects and more meetings, since they are searching for their optimal heart beat. In more developed communities you find less meetings, but more open ended conversations. A Yammer group will be helpful for a starting community. If you have a small committed group of members, it is easy to follow discussions on the Yammer platform. However, when the group is evolving and growing towards a membership of more than 1,000 members Yammer wil not work anymore. The group needs a new configuration and new virtual tools for co-operation".  

The technology steward plays an important role in this. Nancy: "He/ she is somebody who knows enough about the community, their needs, aspiration, character and knows enough about technology. A community steward is not somebody working at the IT department. Not many IT departments have a technology steward mindset. Technology stewards are people with enough experience of the dynamics of a community to understand its technology needs, and  have enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewardship typically includes selecting and configuring technology as well as supporting its use in the practise of the community". More about the spidergram for analyzing online communities read  Digital Habitants stewarding technologies for communities'.

Webinar - Allison Michels from Yammer
The next webinar will take place on the 20th March, 2012 from 15.30 - 17.00 hrs (Amsterdam  - Europe time) about Best practices for internal knowledge sharing with Allison Michels from Yammer.  Subscribe at webinars international experts. 

Other literature recommended for reading:
Prezi presentation about how to start and maintaining online communities (in Dutch)
Spidergram worksheets - Nancy White

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hints for starting and maintaining online communities

What to do if a network organisation of medical doctors is approaching you with a request to start an online community? It was one of the case studies which participants had to deal with during the second round of online conversations in the course 'Social media for organisational learning and change'.  Some of the recommendations which were shared by the participants included:
1. Start with research:  Check if there is an interest and energy to start an experiment with social media.  Check assumptions if the members think the same, as the head office of the network organisation.
2. Initiate an experiment:  If there is interest, start with a small group of enthousiastic members with an experiment.
3. Expand the network gradually:  Build an identity, have clear topics for discussion,  create and maintain an attractive online discussion space and start to expand from there.

Types of online communities
According to Ed Mitchell there are three types of communities:
1. Centralized community:  The group has a closed platform, where they exchange experiences.
2. Decentralized community:  The group has both a closed and a open platform. An example is an online intervision group, who share professional experience and share tools, literature and publication in public. 
3. Distributed community:  This group has both a closed and an open platform where they exchange information. However, they also involve other interested parties in the exchange of knowledge. An example is a professional network with a closed and open platform, using twitterchats, webinars or other public online discussion events for interaction.

See a prezi presentation about online communities (in Dutch language)

How to start a community?
There are five basic steps which need to be undertaken by the leadership to start up an online community:
Step 1. Build the identity:  Find common interests and identify shared goals
Step 2. Build the group:  Identify potential members for the community and define their roles and responsibilities and work to achieve their goals
Step 3.  Define the working mode:  Select activities and define the common ground rules.
Step 4. Find resources for making your community work eg. budget, time and commitment from community members,  communication tools , adequate know how  and authorisation from the organisation(s) involved
Step 5. Launch the community:  organize official events, establish a schedule and allow members to know each other and reinforce the sense of belonging.

Key success factors for maintaining a community
A starting online community is composed of 90 % lurkers (people who just read and follow discussions), 9 % of active members and 1 % of leaders.   An optimal and active community is composed of 70 % lurkers, 25 % active members and 5 %  leaders. But how to get there? Based on experience,  Erwin Blom (author of Handbook Communities) distinguishes five factors for success:
1.  Have a clear domain and objectives;
2.  Define clear ground rules  and maintain them;
3.  Involve community members regularly by inviting them to introduce topics and regularly conduct opinion polls for collecting feedback;
4.  Have an attractive outlook of the online meeting space of the group
5.  Introduce regularly small new things each time, e.g.  new topics, new information, new outlooks  etc...

Community Manager - The gardener
The community manager is the main online facilitator behind the screens of the community. He/ she is playing various roles, which can be symbolized as a gardener:
He/ she is the one;
  • Welcoming participants and make them feel at ease in the community;
  • Updating the membership. Giving new participants access to the community and introduce them to the ground rules.  Loging out members who are terminating their membership;
  • Maintaining the groud rules and playing the role of police officer;
  • Collecting feedback from members on how the community can be improved;
  • Addressing expert leaders to initiate topics or new theory or respond to discussions and encouraging group leaders to initiate activities or events;
  • Summarizing discussions
  • Introducing new topics, events, webbased applications and new ideas.

Tips and hints for initiating an online community:
Summarized I would like to give you the following tips and hints for starting an online community:
  • Start with a vision and passion
  • Form a core group of leaders
  • Combine content with process expertise
  • Experiment
  • Building relationships is more important than fancy tools
  • Be persistant and determined on what you would like to accomplish.

If you are triggered and interested on how to gain skills and expertise on 'Online Facilitation'  and 'how to guide online communities'  consult    There you find opportunities in participating in  the course 'Social media for organisational learning and change' ,   'Webinars with international experts'   and 'Inspiration sessions on social media'.  These online courses are a joint initiative of Joitske Hulsebosch, Sibrenne Wagenaar and Simon Koolwijk

Monday, February 6, 2012

Facilitation as 2nd profession - a handbook with useful hints for facilitation!

'Did Colombus discover America? Or was America already there to be discovered?'  'And how is it about innovations? Did the innovator discover the invention?  Or was the innovation already there, before it was discovered?'
'Facilitationas a 2nd profession - author Jan Lelie' is a book with a number of remarkable quotes and practical examples on how to facilitate and guide groups.  Increasingly facilitation becomes a 2nd profession for professionals. It is the first profession, that determines people's capacities to deal with technical and content issues. Facilitation is a necessary skill to make the work with your colleagues more effective. Facilitation as a 2nd profession is a pré-condition to get the optimum out of the 1st profession.  
This book provides some useful hints and theories on how to guide and make groups work more effective.  Reference is made to theories such as Kolb, ORID, Theory U, Balanced Score Card, Appreciativeinquiry and Social-Technical Systems Design.  Most interesting for me were the chapters about 1. Leadership; 2. The path of change;  3. Rules of thumb for solving problems;  4. Useful tips for the facilitator.
Does the group need a leader? Or is the secret of an effective group, that people take leadership themselves including the leader?  According to Jan Lelie an effective group creates a leader and people take leadership in their own work. Ineffective groups ask for a leader. JanLelie distinguishes three types of ineffective groups:
Dependency - The group wants a leader who depends on them;
Flight or fight - Negative feelings  of the group are projected on another group.  Others are blamed for their mistakes;
Pairing -a small group or a commission is asked to come up with a leader.
A leader shows up when there is a change, or when change has to be initiated.

The path of change
An interesting method that caught my eye, is the 'Renaissance Path'.  It is the path of change, where people invent themselves on a new way.  For individuals this could mean a pilgrimage, writing a book, a retreat or finalizing a thesis.  Rebirth is the path of change, which can also be applied for groups or organisations.  Examples of a rebirth of an organisation are expressed by:
  • Adding new meaning or new value
  • Designing a new vision
  • Splitting the organisation
  • Initiating new activities
  • Have a new mode of working

Jan Lelie is stressing the importance of a 'shared vision'.  'Team co-operation is the main factor, that contributes to success',  according to Jan Lelie. It is not the result but a combination of communication, trust, co-operation and the feeling of being involved contributes to the success of an organisation. So it is not the quality of the vision that determines the success, but the 'shared vision'.   
Rules of thumb for solving problems
'Having the wrong solution for the right problem, is to be prefered  above the right solution for the wrong problem'  is a life essence which is repeated a number of times.  Some remarks about problem identification were useful for me:
  • The problem definition is 80 % of the solution;
  • People are never the problem, but their beliefs towards the problem are the problem;
  • Someone who is against something shows more commitment than somebody who does not want to be involved in the decision making;
  • Joint beliefs are necessary towards solving a problem;
  • Strive towards a consensus about the problem definition, but not about the solution;
  • Give people time to get clearity about their problem. Don't push! Patience brings some great results!

Some useful hints as facilitator
After reading this book I acquired and was re-affirmed on some techniques I  am using, while I am facilitating groups:
  • First evaluate before you start a visioning exercise. People will identify their mistakes and in-corporate their improvements in the session;
  • When getting started with an event check and ask about people's background. People talk and share their views and perspectives based on their historic background. Mathamaticians will refer to logical explications. Artists will talk from a creative and intuïtive perspective;
  • Let people first write their own ideas and insights.  After that they are more open to listen to perspectives of others.
  • People work most effective in small groups:  3-5 people;
  • Check how people relate to each other. If relations are well the group performance is likely to improve. If relations are bad, it is one of the facilitator's tasks to challenge the quality of the relationships;
  • Identify people's expectations in the beginning of the meeting. People feel more ownership if they have brought their own wishes and needs forward;
  • Facilitate in the 'here and now'.  It is the point of departure for an effective group session.

'Facilitationas a 2nd profession' is a practical and well elaborated book.   The practical examples and the anekdotes are helpful in understanding the complexity of facilitation.  Helping groups to become successfull sounds easy, but long-life experience is necessary to overcome challenges in change. Links are made with some major basic theories of facilitation methods. The author clearly explains the ad- and disavantages of each. I liked particularly the jokes and anekdotes. The book is supported with some beautiful paintings from Joyce Weber.  It is a pleasure to read.   Consult: 'Faciliteren als tweede beroep - Jan Lelie,   GellingPublishing'