I'm slowly inching back into a routine which includes blogging. I wanted to share with you some of what I learned today.
As part of my research at the Packard Foundation, I've had the opportunity to attend a lot of briefings and discussions related to social media and network effectiveness. This morning Peggy Duvette and Angus Parker from WiserEarth spent some time at the Foundation sharing their experiences in building successful online communities of action and networks of networks on the WiserEarth online platform.
I appreciated the introduction from Peggy and Angus because while I was aware of WiserEarth, I wasn't entirely clear what it offered and the benefits of using the platform. Now, I'm a fan!
Some history. WiserEarth's vision comes from NCI’s Executive Director, Paul Hawken, who recognized its need when researching his latest book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One Saw It Coming.
“I knew that if we could understand the connections and visualize the breadth of global efforts on behalf of social and environmental justice, we would recognize the largest movement the world has ever seen. WiserEarth is where this movement can begin to see itself.”
WiserEarth is more than a "green" online social network for individuals, although you join as an individual. The vision is to help the global movement of people and organizations working toward social justice, indigenous rights, and environmental stewardship to connect, collaborative, share knowledge, and build alliances. The WiserEarth platform does this through a variety of strategies.
First, there is the Directory - the largest international directory of non-profits and socially responsible organizations - approximately 110,000 from 243 countries. (There is also an Open API so this information can be repurposed on other areas of the web.) You'll also find a detailed taxonomy of issue areas related to social justice and environmental restoration.
But the most interesting part of WiseEarth platform is the groups feature. It allows groups of individuals or organizations or a mix to set up a space online to engage in discussion, share resources, or collaborative on projects. What's nice about this feature is that has a lot of flexibility - so you can set up private spaces, semi-private spaces, or public spaces. It's designed for networks of networks and communities of action, whether the network or community consists of people or organizations.
Some of the groups have been set up by organizations to convene workgroups of staff or collaborations across organizations and need a secure online space to do their work. For example, The Nature Conservancy is part of a group called the US Fire Learning Network group. The features inside of groups include discussion board, file archive, wiki, events, a map, and a number typical features to support online collaborations.
An example of "semi-private" group, is the Permaculture Alliance of California. This was initially set up by an individual passionate about permaculture and wanted to pull together all the various grassroots, ngos, and individuals working on the issue.
If you're like me, you're probably wondering what the heck is permaculture. Luckily, there are some subject matter experts here at the Foundation who answered:
Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in the natural ecologies. It was first developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications. The word permaculture is a portmanteau of permanent agriculture, as well as permanent culture.
The intent was that, by rapidly training individuals in a core set of design principles, those individuals could design their own environments and build increasingly self-sufficient human settlements — ones that reduce society's reliance on industrial systems of production and distribution that Mollison identified as fundamentally and systematically destroying Earth's ecosystems.
While originating as an agro-ecological design theory, permaculture has developed a large international following. This 'permaculture community' continues to expand on the original ideas, integrating a range of ideas of alternative culture, through a network of publications, permaculture gardens, intentional communities, training programs, and internet forums. In this way, permaculture has become both a design system and a loosely defined philosophy or lifestyle ethic.
So, what's very unique about this platform is that is flexible enough to support activists who want to weave together their personal networks around a particular sustainability issue. It can also support the work of organizations and networks of organizations. But, the value-added is that you find and connect with other people and organizations that you may not know about - just as you would on a social network like Facebook or Twitter. But the value here is that all members are interested in sustainability.
When you set up an account, it is much like setting up a profile on a social network. Except, that when you connect with others, you invite them to join your personal network. On your profile, similar to Facebook, you can see your friends photos and names, but you can also navigate through your social graph visually. Above is the visual representation of my social graph on WiserEarth - it shows me groups, interest areas, and friends. I click on a name and explore their network.
Peggy and Angus shared some tips for online community building. These include:
- What are your goals? Pick three things you want to do together.
- The importance of a technology steward or online moderator
- Think about what you want to accomplish and pick the tools/features to support that work
- You will probably be using a variety of tools
- The importance of piloting an online space before going to scale(here's an example)