Have you participated in a collaborative online network? If so, what works well? What needs to be done differently to help partners meet common goals at the global, national, and/or local levels?
1. Robert Gilman has created three online networks. He's a city councilman in Langley, Washington.
2. Pam Kilborn-Miller is currently helping two networks apply lessons learned from the United Nations.
1. Langley Community Forum (http://www.langleycommunityforum.org) - Robert is webmaster
2. Whidbey e-Collaborative (http://www.whidbeyecollaborative.org) - Robert is webmaster
3. Private network for board members of Eco-Village Network (http://gen.ecovillage.org?) - Robert is webmaster
4. Solution Exchange sponsored by United Nations Country Team in India (http://www.solutionexchange-un.net.in/en/index.php) - Pam researched this network and other UN methods in graduate school.
5. Compassionate Action Network (http://my.compassionateactionnetwork.com) - Pam was not involved with the design of this network but she is helping develop a global information and communications strategy. Phase I will launch in October 2009.
6. Pam is also involved with a new environmental network that has partners in government (state, regional, local), education (K-12, higher, tribal), business, and other communities. (This work is not mentioned below)
WHAT WORKS WELL?
1. PHPBB is open source software that Robert recommends. It's used for networks 1-3 above and is easy to customize.
2. Clear scope and focus so that all content on network is aligned with the strategic goal. On CAN network (#4 above) allowing anyone to post on the home page resulted in videos about Sasquatch that undermine the credibility of the network. Purpose, ground rules, and tone are all important to define. It helps the moderator to point guidelines that reinforce network policies.
3. Send an email summary that is a digest of new content on the site with links. It's a "tickler" that reminds people to visit the site. If it's a small group and no one has posted in a week the email digest will help wake everyone up.
4. People should use their real names on the network. This reduces the flame posts.
5. Map out each communication channel with strengths and weaknesses, then define a complementary mix of face-to-face meetings, phone calls, radio/tv broadcasts, writing, email, video, online conferences, and web communication. Online meetings work best when people have met in person first.
6. For a global network, a "notes from our lives" section helped people from Senegal, Sri Lanka, Scotland, etc. feel closer to one another. The notes gave updates on family and personal situations.
7. Photos of network members are important. However, it's a challenge when not everyone adds a photo and when you see all members at a glance half the photos are missing. It doesn't reflect well on the network.
1. Network size. How many members? There should be at least 10 members. As more people join, new members need to be initiated into the culture.
2. In a network of 700 people, one person was responsible for 20% of the postings. This person had his own agenda and it began to drive other members out of the network.
3. Problems include people who don't engage, people who are poisonous, people are less restrained in online communciation, need gatekeeping for membership and need to set norms.
4. Many people have a poor experience in online communities.
5. If the organization comes apart, then the network follows. One organization fell apart because the visions weren't fully aligned.
6. Participation picks up and then it dies down.
7. People initiate conversations in email that could/should have been done on the network. Email becomes a parallel track for communication that leaves some people out. This can be good when a network implies that all people on a network should be able to participate in any discussion.
8. Networks require tending. For example, members may need to be reminded to add photos on the NING platform.
9. Always assume that electronic communication is not private. Sensitive topics or disputes should be handled on the phone.
10. Pam is frustrated with the NING social network platform, but we might be able to improve it to meet our needs.
FOR MORE INFO:
Contact Robert (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Pam at (email@example.com)