I'm very interested in learning how different types of networks or communities work in a networked way - this whole notion of working wikily. The NTEN project WeAreMedia project is an excellent personal learning laboratory for reflection and insights about this topic.
One of the most valuable experiences I've had in my professional work is having critical friends (You can see what that means here, here and here). "A critical friend is someone who is independent of a project who asks provocative questions, offers an alternative view, and helps facilitate fresh insights or alternative sources of information or expertise."
Dave Cormier signed up to be a critical friend soon after the project launched and posted a reflection here. He has a context for what may work and what may not for a community building process for a new media curriculum. I wrote a response and Michele Martin added her thoughts too.
My big question is when, as the facilitator, to get out of the way?
Levels of Participation
Dave wrote about levels of responsibility and in my mind I connected it to the activism ladders of engagement for activism. Based on looking at examples of participation for the past two weeks, here are the categories and some examples:
(1) Bystander: Reads only
These are people who may read about the project or be invited to participate, click through to the url, and browse a few pages, but do not add or contribute. Why don't they contribute? Some reasons why may be:
- Not enough time
- Don't have knowledge to contribute or not interested in the topic
- For some reason, don't feel they are allowed to edit
- Not sure where to jump in because of the way information is structured
- Not sure how to use the wiki software and may feel too difficult or time consuming to figure out
That's why I've been trying to use the top page to guide people to where the general activity and individually point people to place where they feel comfortable contributing.
(2) Gives Feedback:
These are users who add to existing knowledge.
One of the design decisions in setting up the wiki was registration. Should we require registration before people can jump in and edit? We decided to make it easy as possible. I'm noticing a lot of "edited by guest" changes coming through - so as long we don't get spam or mischief I think this good to encourage participation. The downside is that we don't always know who made what edit.
I also set it so anyone could post a comment on the wikispace discussion threads, although there doesn't seem to be a lot of spontaneous discussion on the wikispaces feature except for the name change which had 54 responses. The wikispaces discussion feature on each page is great for brainstorming ideas, problem solving, or pre-writing.
There are two ways to give feedback - onshore and off shore. Participants can give feedback on the wiki itself or respond away from the wiki - for example leaving a comment on a blog post, responding to a request on Twitter, or sending an email to the project organizer. This creates question in my mind about the balance between allowing easy access anywhere, anytime or focus participation on the wiki itself.
What does feedback look like?
- Correct typos - I'm really happy to see this happening. We have a lot of copy editors filling in dropped words, correcting bad grammar, etc.
- Edit existing copy for phrasing - We used to call this word smithing.
- Adding content - adding links, phrases, bullet points, or whole paragraphs. This has to be set up in the right way - for example.
Some people jump and give feedback on the wiki without being nudged - others have been nudged.
(3) Joins the community
This is defined as someone who has taken the extra step to opt into taking ownership or responsibility for contributing content and possibly be contacted by the project. There are multiple ways for people to opt into the community.
- Register for wikispaces - this means that if they are logged into their wikispace account we know what they edited. Right now we're up to 30 members in less than 30 days!
- Join Expertise Map - I set this up as a community directory - so people could see who was here and know their expertise. There is a question in the template that asks them to identify a module they might take the lead on. You have to register for wikispaces in order to add yourself. And, to avoid any technical barriers, I added a screencast on how to add yourself.
- Join Swarm List - This was envision as a way to get people opt-in for participation that was very light. We have 24 people signed up.
What are some others ways to encourage opt into the community and deeper level of engagement beyond feedback?
Levels of Collaboration
What does collaboration work by community members look like? Again, it is scaffolded ... runs from coordination to engaging in the writing, contributing, and editing, and finally creating from scratch. There are different ways that people are organizing to work together - facilitated and spontaneous.
An Individual Takes Leadership
- Elements of a Social Media Plan: The call to participate came as a "let's remix this idea for nonprofits" and Scarlett Swerdlow took leadership and suggested a refinement of categories. What made it easy for the facilitator was the swarm lists and expertise maps to match people to content to facilitate participation.
- Amy Sample Ward took leadership in this section and contributed a design for a small group exercise.
Small Group Collaboration
- The Don't Drink the Koolaid Worksheet: The inspiration for this questionnaire came from John Kenyon in a comment here and follow up comments from several others. A discussion was started and this group quickly put together a questionnaire. It grew organically. I pointed people at one another and then got out of the way.
- I've been experimenting with setting up pages with a question - and getting people to add their experience. I set up two slightly different experiments. For the first one, I set up a page with a question, blogged it, and added an example that someone had mentioned on another page. Other people added some others. The second experiment, I set up a page, added the question, but also put in some content - links to resources and slide show and blogged it. No one added anything.
Walking the Line Between Supporting and Getting out of the Way
Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop collective resources including stories, experiences and ways of addressing recurring problems – in short they develop a shared practice. Etienne has been particularly influential in promoting the concept that deliberately fostering people to learn in this way can be a useful management practice.
This quote stuck with me:
The social value added (by communities of practice) is not based on (prescribed) design - but is based on what emerges from co-operation and collaboration.
This gets us back to that wonderful question of the sweet spot between networks and communities of practice? Recently, I came across this post from the DoGoodWell Blog
In terms of what a nonprofit organization can draw from a community vs. a network, an over-simplified but still maybe useful way to think about the difference might be “depth” vs. “breadth.” Communities often have untapped depths of resources and assets that can be leveraged to create social change - everything from skills and talents to material possessions to relationships. Because members of communities have a deeper stake in one another, nonprofits often have the opportunity to draw more deeply from these assets. Networks, on the other hand, are often organized around a single common experience or goal. It seems to me there is an opportunity to draw from a greater breadth of individuals who organize themselves around the networks founding principle.
So, what is the fine art of facilitating this type of learning? When do you get out of the way?