Loomio looks like a neat tool for groups to discuss a topic and to come to decisions. Often online discussions just go nowhere and don’t result in specific actions. Maybe this is a solution to that problem?
Posts from the ‘Communities’ Category
One of the key skills (or roles) that I bang on about a lot when I am delivering training to customers is community management. I talk about it a fair bit on this blog too.
One of the first things I ever did online was start up and manage a community – a simple forum for people who like reading books. It’s still running, in a sort of half life, which isn’t bad given that it was started back in 2003.
It turns out that the community was managed – largely by accident – fairly well. Rules were kept to a bare minimum (something along the lines of “don’t be an idiot” was the main one) and a healthy culture of respect and friendliness emerged over time. Membership was always fairly small, certainly compared to some of the huge book related boards out there, but I suspect that the tightness of the group contributed to its success.
Anyhow, these days I’m more concerned about public services – with my own particular fetish of course being local government. How could good community management practice help in this context?
I’ve written before about bringing local panels up to date with an idea about a mobile solution combined with a bit of micro-participation (go read the post – it’s really good!). An organisation could however do something similar by developing a community – whether one of its own creation or perhaps by engaging with an existing one.
Many interactions between, say, a council and citizens tend to be one off affairs – a question is answered, a consultation response received, some feedback provided, and then that’s it.
For a lot of folk, of course, that’s just how they like it. An ongoing conversation with their local authority would probably fill them with boredom, if not dread.
But perhaps by facilitating a space in which local issues are discussed on an ongoing basis, solutions could be teased out. Often when digital engagement takes place on what feels like a one-off basis, it’s too easy for people to drop in, be negative, and then leave again. By taking a long term approach, results might be a lot more constructive.
Also, it ought to save time and therefore money. After all, why rebuild communities or groups or even just lists of people, every single time you have a new campaign to launch, or a new policy to consult on? Why not keep adding people to your community, who can dip in and out of issues as suits their interest?
The kingpin of online community development is Rich Millington, who I seem to namecheck every week on this blog. In a recent email newsletter (sign up for it here), Rich outlines some success factors for online communities:
- Start small
- Start interesting discussions
- Engage in micro-interactions
- Encourage off topic conversations
- Create a sense of identity for members
A lot of this is about letting go and allowing the community to manage themselves. The facilitation role is about seeding discussions, encouraging activity and recruiting members. This takes time and needs resource allocating to it – which is why Rich advocates that successful communities need full time managers.
That might be difficult to swing in these straightened times, but if you’re serious about your digital engagement, it’s a role that needs filling, and activity that needs doing.
At the weekend I got my copy of Rich Millington‘s new book, Buzzing Communities, through the post. It’s excellent and provides everything you need to know about building successful online communities.
Thinking seriously about community building is something that I think digital engagement efforts in government and beyond are lacking a lot of the time. In many ways, I think it is the secret sauce that will take online engagement to the next level.
One of the key parts of this is a platform-agnostic mindset. Whether your efforts at building a community work or not is unlikely going to be down to your decisions on technology (unless your decisions are really bad of course). Instead, community management is a set of skills with which you start a small community and build it up by encouraging activity, fostering conversations and meeting the needs of members.
No matter whether your chosen medium is a forum, a blog, a Facebook page or even just a Twitter feed, you can use community management techniques to foster engagement and encourage people to stay involved.
So, I thoroughly recommend Rich’s book. While you’re at it, here are some free bits he has made available too:
- A mega list of blog posts on building successful online communities
- A template community strategy
- An e-book on successful community launches (requires signup to an email list)
Or at least, about where people in public service can go to share ideas, ask questions and promote good practice.
Back in the summer of 2006, when I was working as a lowly Risk Management Officer (yes, you read that right) at a county council, I joined the nascent Communities of Practice platform, which was being developed by Steve Dale at the then Improvement and Development Agency.
I thought it was fantastic, and joined in with some gusto – so much so in fact that I did attract a little criticism from colleagues who thought – probably quite rightly – that I ought to have been concentrating on the day job.
One of the first things I did was to launch the Social Media and Online Collaboration community, which I ran until my circumstances changed and Ingrid took over. Under Ingrid’s watchful eye, the community grew into one of the biggest and most popular on the platform.
Over time though it became clear that the CoP platform wasn’t keeping up with the technological times: the interface was a little clunky and a few things didn’t really make sense in an age of hyper-sharing on Facebook and Twitter.
So the Knowledge Hub was born, to take things forward. Only, I’m not sure it has.
I’m not wanting to bash the hard work that people have put in. All I will do is describe my experience – that people aren’t using the Knowledge Hub, and activity appears to be way down compared to the CoPs.
On the rare occasions I log in, I find the site incredibly, almost unusably, slow – and the interface hard to find my way around. I mean, I spend my life on the internet, and I just don’t really know what I am meant to do on the Knowledge Hub.
I’ve been wanting to raise this topic for a while, but what made me do it was receiving a request for information on Twitter by a local government person.
I don’t mind it when this happens. In fact it’s rather nice, as it means people remember who I am, and I get a chance to be helpful. As the owner of a small business, I get that this sort of thing can be a useful marketing tool.
But I do think to myself that there really ought to be a place where good practice, case studies, stories, examples, discussions and helpful chat can take place.
Surely that should be the Knowledge Hub? But as I mention, it isn’t: hardly anyone is on there and people are using tools like Twitter to try and track down the information they need.
So what’s the answer? Given the investment so far, and the organisational backing of the Knowledge Hub, that platform ought to be the future of knowledge sharing and collaboration in the sector.
I’m sure there are a few tweaks on the technology, user interface and community engagement side that could push things forward massively on there, before the goodwill earned by the previous system is used up.
The other option is for something else to emerge to take its place. With a little time and energy, I’ve no doubt someone – maybe even me – could put the tech in place to make it happen. But the time and resources needed to engage an entire sector are huge – and if the LGA are struggling I dread to think what sort of a hash someone like me would make of it.
What are your views? Do you use the Knowledge Hub? How does it compare to the CoPs? Where do you go for your innovation knowledge, stories and chat?
Where do we go next?
From Rich Millington, in his post “The Tragic Story Of Hyperlocal Communities“:
If we want to build hyperlocal communities, we have to change the way we think about them. This isn’t a technology problem to solve (Facebook-style). Enabling everyone to start a hyperlocal community wont make it happen. This isn’t a content problem to solve (local news style). Pulling in RSS feeds and encouraging user generated content wont solve the problem.
What we need is a genuine community building approach. You identify your first members, initiate discussions, invite members to participate in those discussions, write content about what’s happening in the community, and repeat as you grow.