This is not a post about social computing deploying/piloting/adoption in general. All these are applicable on many levels eg. a person implementing across the whole organisation, within a department, across a couple of departments, within a group, etc…
Of late we have seen posts by folks at ThoughtFarmer and Socialtext on pilot/implementation methods. These are great posts and show the difference between focused phased piloting and no pilot at all. I may cover these posts at a later date, as my post today is more on adoption or participation at the group level.
My focus is not on the social computing practitioner, but rather on a regular person wanting to run an online Community of Practice (CoP). It’s more about the social computing practitioner helping a CoP Facilitator help themselves.
ie what are the conditions that a facilitator can create to get their CoP off the ground.
I can’t help myself, just quickly…the Socialtext post above refers to the interactive nature of social software (compared to transactional) where scale and network effects are essential to actually see the potential and emergence. And this is so true for enterprise wide tools such as social networks, microblogging, blogosphere, etc..
But this is not always the case with social computing islands such as CoPs. You don’t need network effects for a group space to work, you just need willing and interested members…and in regards to a team, you need a task or issue to tackle where social tools will replace current tools. I went in depth into this in my post, Do group tools get more traction due to not requiring network effects.
Just to mix it up, group spaces aren’t just about the talent of the group, the task/agenda, and how they work with social tools, which a pilot helps with…they are also about others roaming from CoP to CoP, and as a visitor being able to ask a CoP a question or perhaps answer something…this is serendipity and emergence that will only present itself with scale (it is less likely to happen in a pilot).
The two takeaways here are
1. social tools to help you do what you already do better
2. connecting the enterprise to increase cross-team awareness, cooperation, collaboration, ideas, sourcing information (who knows what), serendipity, opportunities, diversity of emergence…
Basically the more connected an organisation is, the more productive and effective they are. As I alluded to in my social PKM post, that a whole bunch of personally productive people does not make the organisation necessarily productive.
Oops, I wasn’t meant to get into this in this post!
What are the reasons for a pilot again?
• Helps to discover and squash tech issues before release
• Helps to discover and assist in user issues
- that’s why a cross-section of people is important in the pilot
• Deployment team can get an idea of early good practices, codes of conduct, showcase examples
- and will be prepared with the knowledge to help a greater number of people and issues when comes release time
- the more tech and usability issues found and documented in pilot stage the more room this makes to devote time to championing and facilitating
• Stewart Mader has similar thoughts…a good one is use cases in how you can use wikis, he says:
“The teams involved in the pilot would help define and model wiki uses that can then be shown as examples during the wiki rollout to the rest of the organization. This embeds the right kind of uses throughout the organization, and ensures sustained use of the tool.”
Many points in this post have been enrichened by a podcast with Stewart Mader, here’s some notes.
WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS THAT A FACILITATOR CAN CREATE TO GET THEIR COP OFF THE GROUND?
Following on from my post on workshopping and piloting a new community are the adoption factors a facilitator can massage to get participation off the ground.
After creating a community that everyone wants (or if it’s a task space; finding an issue to solve/fix a process), and piloting it to test it’s use, you will have done all the right things to get started on the right foot, you will have hopefully circumvented any fundamental obstacles.
Next is to create conditions for people to use the community; you need interactions and conversation to grow the community. This requires facilitation, guidance and some tactics or notions to be aware of when dealing with getting a group of people to channel their time into a certain direction.
We all agree the community was a great idea, and here it is, but some people have cold feet, or find it’s unfamiliar. There is an unintentional resistance, and this can be facilitated or nurtured with some points about adoption.
“…people don’t resist change, they resist being changed”
- Peter Bregman
“…resistance is not so much about the change; it’s all about being changed”
- Peter Vajda
“Resistance to change is situation specific, not an attribute of an individual or group”
- Nancy Dixon
Design and Structure
• People need to be a click or two away from what they need to do
• If it’s too complex people won’t have the time to learn, they need to orient themselves with ease
• Create a guide on how, and when to use each tool (better still incorporate it into the design)
• Blank slates don’t help (people are used to structured tools that are designed for a specific purpose, and are not used to the idea of flexing unstructured tools to fit their needs)
- I like ThoughtFarmers idea of usage scenarios
• Create a stickiness factor so people return (frequent blog posts, a communal wikipedia)
- are you appealing to all members
• Core group of bloggers to do weekly columns
• Whenever something happens, blog about it
eg. I uploaded a presentation into our library, go check it out…
• If it’s not in your inbox it doesn’t exist
- people are more likely to react if it comes to them
• Also being able to publish via email is handy
Peer to Peer influence
• Sometimes people will only adopt if their close colleagues are participating
• Prior to this they have not dedicated the time to investigate, but if a close colleague finds it of value, then this will influence them to give it a try
• Again, we are influenced by people we trust, more than a training programme or by others we don’t know well. We take recommendations from people we value.
Eg. If someone recommends a movie I may not go, but if a friend does there is more chance I will go.
The same applies to participating in CoPs (if my trusted colleague or someone I respect is doing it, I may give it a go).
Peter and Joe are both Project Managers who attended a training session on communities. The online tool offers all the solutions to their needs about communication, awareness, sharing and learning.
When they got back to their desks Joe had a look at the communities and just didn’t have time to learn them…if the design was more appealing and intuitive, perhaps Joe would have delved further. A couple of months later Joe and Peter are chatting and Peter tells Joe of the brilliant transition his team has made to using online communities over emails and attachments. Peter told Joe it took a lot of getting used to, discipline and facilitating, but eventually it became part of their routines (it’s the way stuff is done around here now).
Joe really values Peter’s work ethic and they are mates and trust each other, help each other out…they have a history together. Due to this close relationship Joe has decided that if Peter thinks it’s good, then it must be, as past history shows that Joe trusts, respects and admires Peter and his endeavors. Indirectly Peter has influenced Joe to give it a try.
This example shows us that a training session is just one aspect to gaining adoption. We are more prone to take the time to try things out, based on recommendations by someone you trust over someone else that does not have as much influence on your decision-making.
What does this say…if you want to influence someone, influence their peers or people they respect and admire, and this will in turn make it more attractive or motivated for them to take up your offer.
I guess case studies are also influential as they can make known (to some degree) the worthiness, risk and return on trying something out…time or attention is also a factor.
People are like that; take up tends to increase when people can see others didn’t get hurt or they had a success, so it’s now safe to join…let others do the work first. I guess those who test the waters first, get to learn from their mistakes first hand (which is the best type of learning), and they are also perhaps the innovators or cutting edge people who reap the benefits or become known for their endeavors as the pioneers.
At my wife’s work there is a campaign to build a unique service centre for children who have been taken away from their families. A lot of high level people have been approached and have shown interest, but have not committed. But they noticed that when one person chose to commit, then this had a chain effect where those previous people that were approached also decided to commit.
This has an amazing snowball effect when people are visibly connected in online networks. Since we have more ambient awareness of each others actions, it doesn’t take long for people to see what their peers are doing and choose to follow…visibility and participation is the fundamental key.
There is more chance for peer to peer adoption for any old thing when people are connected in online networks; the irony of this post is we are trying to get them to be participants of online networks in the first place (actually this post is about communities, but you know what I mean).
Peter Bregman points to a study which illustrates our nature of peer influence:
“You could tell the children you expect them to eat their vegetables. And reward them with ice cream if they did. You could explain all the reasons why eating their vegetables is good for them. And you could eat your own vegetables as a good role model. Those things might help.
But Birch found one thing that worked predictably. She put a child who didn’t like peas at a table with several other children who did. Within a meal or two, the pea-hater was eating peas like the pea-lovers.
We tend to conform to the behavior of the people around us. Which is what makes culture change particularly challenging because everyone is conforming to the current culture. Sometimes though, the problem contains the solution.”
Champions and role-models
• In team-based communities especially (as opposed to shared interest groups), if the leads are not role-models in active participation, then this sends a signal that the community is not important
• Facilitators must lead by example, and encourage senior/respected people to be role-models
- People will follow or respond to their lead and encouragement
• Concentrate on training a core group
- they will set the good examples and be an influence on others
Push sharing in a pull system
• I had a scenario of a CoP facilitator emailing a link to a few people
- I suggested using the blog otherwise it sends the wrong signal (kind of like a parent telling their kids off for something they do themselves)
- if their intended audience aren’t subscribers of the blog, they can create the blog post, then send them the link
It’s about conversation
• It’s not all about the blog post itself
- it’s about the the conversations that the blog post triggers (this will build community spirit…like a thriving dinner party…you will go to the next one as you enjoyed the company and stimulation of the previous one)
- people are more prone to comment, rather than blog or write a forum topic
- don’t have to be provocative, but even when posting about a journal article, rather than just share the link, write an opinion based review…this will get people to react
• Similar to handholding and more popular with wikis is spending a session on using a wiki for a specific and real purpose
- this gives people real experience at using them, and using new tools for current needs
- the idea is that they will go back to their seats and continue using it, as they have overcome the technology barrier and the “what can I use this tool for” barrier
- it also builds working collaboratively
- as the ThoughFarmer post points out, it also gives people examples to learn from
- I have a Wiki CoP at work where we blog about wikis and ask questions in forums, it’s also where I list examples of wikis that people are creating (it gives others ideas of how they can use wikis)
Re-purposing email (It’s more about new behaviours)
• CoP tools replace the email distribution list
• If people continue using email out of habit, the facilitator must thank them for participating. And then mention that if you are going to email an announcement, news or sharing information, please use a blog. And if you are going to email a question or topic for discussion use a forum.
- then demonstrate by re-posting their email into the forum with your reply, then send them the link
- ask them to subscribe in case the conversation keeps going
• Answer questions promptly so people feel heard and benefit from participating
- this will influence return visits
• This is about breaking old habits with new technologies, plus people are expected to publish in an open place, rather than the more confident private email channels
- plus they won’t spare the time for themselves to learn a new tool, but they perhaps will if you instigate it
• This may involve sitting down with a member once a week for a couple of months and guide them along in publishing a blog post, until they get used to it and build the confidence.
• Once people get comments and ratings on their blog posts, it gives them confidence and encouragement to continue posting.
- see Nancy Dixon’s post on a company commander who became an active participant after he found out that other people were getting valuable use from his AAR document
- being appreciated and feeling you have made a difference are good conditions for further participation
• After a while this system becomes self-rewarding as people may draw a reputation
For more on this, read the next section on “Feedback”
NOTE: I will state here that I lean more on the natural and sustainable method of the conversational element in self generating peer reputation to propel the community, rather than incentives.
• I’m finding that when people use CoPs well I am impressed and give them feedback
- this encourages more participation (see the end of the previous section on “Hand-holding”)
eg. good use of blogging
- one facilitator blogged to her members that she has email subscribed all members to the main blog, and took the courtesy to explain how to unsubscribe.
- Just today I emailed a picture of a gold star to a CoP facilitator for really using their blogs and forums well, they have a really active community…and he emailed me back saying “ha ha - I would rather have had a picture of a beer”
- and of course we hope a comments discussion self generates the motivation for more blog posts (HP’s study hold this as one of two highest factors to participation)
Nancy Dixon relates this to recognition:
“Recognition means the most to us when it comes from those who really know the subject – who know what they’re talking about. It’s great to have your boss think you’re a top performer, but chances are your boss doesn’t know enough about the technical part of your work to know how good you really are – but your peers do. For a peer to say, “The person that really understands that problem is Pete,” that comment Pete would regard as a sign of respect and one he would highly value.”
• Face-to-face interaction and connection, or online ways for members to connect in real-time
• These can be social gatherings, meetings, or workshops
The next section on “Confidence” extends on the impact that building rapport has for knowledge sharing/participation
• Are people confident and comfortable enough to participate? ie. do they have a relationship with other members
eg. at a house party we are always more comfortable in sharing our lives after a lot of small talk where we build a rapport (a certain level of trust)…or after a few drinks
- Karen Stephenson’s article for more.
Relationships (Give and Take)
• Is there an equilibrium of give and take (both with members and non-members)
- do some members just ask questions and never help out with answers
- are members willing to research answers for questions from non-members
(this is an important point, and the reason why most CoPs are membership based, you are willing to take the time to help out others within the membership circle, as they will in turn help you out next time (like the reciprocal altruism of vampire bats)
- People you trust will give you confidence they will not misuse your knowledge sharing
- Are some members being burdened
(again membership is important, as you take the time to help out a handful of people)
Gia Lyons has a great post on this
“Because you are the one individual who knows this stuff, you are reluctant to advertise that fact, for fear of the avalanche of requests to collaborate. You need more emails, IMs, and phone calls like you need another orifice in your cranium. Plus, these people who would swarm you like flies on poo will not perhaps care too much if you are over-extended. But, you are more than happy to share what you know with one or two others, after you’ve discerned that they won’t abuse you, won’t stab you in the back, won’t take credit for your intellectual capital, and will perhaps return the favor. The people who invest in creating a relationship with you are rewarded with your experienced point of view.”
More from Nancy Dixon:
“We do not give that knowledge away lightly. Before we take the time and trouble to share that knowledge, we need some assurance that our knowledge will be treated with the respect it deserves, given thoughtful consideration, and that the recipient actually knows enough to make use of it.”
In order to share knowledge, we need to build relationships, and we do this by informal conversations on sites such as online communities:
“The way a professional can know how someone will treat the precious commodity of her knowledge is to know that person well enough to make that judgment call.”
“…sharing knowledge is risky, the other person may make a cutting remark about it or indicate that it’s not worth listening to. And sharing knowledge is time consuming, because to really respond to another’s question or problem takes the time to understand the issue and to explain in sufficient depth. So we rightly place conditions around sharing our in-depth knowledge. The relationships we build with others provide a needed level of confidence that our knowledge will be treated with respect. Knowledge sharing and relationship are coupled.”
• Is the community personally relevant, or fulfilling needs at an individual level?
Dawn Foster lists some motivation factors
• In addition to being a conversational place, dress the homepage with common links so it becomes a pivot point for peripheral needs
• Choose an activity or type of communication that is conducted in an email list and now do it in the CoP
eg. broadcast announcements are now done in the CoP blog, people have no choice but it visit the CoP
- while they are there they may look around and participate elsewhere
For more see the Transparent Office blog
- choose something you do offline eg. a question time pre or post a conference/meeting…and complement this with using a forum for pre and post questions
• Member intros
- one of our CoPs makes it mandatory that new members fill in a forum topic where they can tell the group a little about themselves, experience, why they joined, aspirations
• Lounge forum
- some of our younger generation (graduate) CoPs have non-work forums as a way to build commonality, fun and relationships
- the more rapport we build the more we build opportunities to collaborate and help each other out
- Dawn Foster has more on the lounge concept
• Blog carnivals (thematic topic weeks)
• Coffee corner/Fill in the gap
- fun quiz, riddle, story…
• Member of the month
- this showcases a member
- one of our graduate CoPs also asks questions to the community about a member
(this gets people talking to each other, and finding things out about each other)
• Showcase hot discussions (weekly roundup posts)
• Share personal stories
• Keep track of people traveling
• Guest posts from other CoPs
• Use engaging media (videos)
• Link to your CoP in your email signature
• Create your own newsletter to reach others
• Promote the CoP in other newsletters
• Write about stuff happening in other communities
• Build a relationship with sister CoPs (drive traffic to each other)
• Guest bloggers from other CoPs
• Rehash old content in other ways
• Events / guest speakers
• Blog columns (frequent posts)
General facilitator duties
The focus of this blog kind of bleeds into some of the duties of a Facilitator, so I’ve included a few below
• Gardening/Weeding (move topics, distill great posts on wikipages)
• Help and welcome new members
• Assist people in using CoP
• Answer questions promptly
• Make sure content is correct (re-edit old posts, leave a comment to correct/update)
• Help guides
• Remind people which tools to use
• Re-purpose email
• Off topic reminders
• Welcome suggestions and Feedback (via a forum)
• Monitor/Listen in and always offer pointers or feedback or congratulate
• Understand member motivation
• Encourage members to specialise