Brainstorming on a special event about online collaboration for international organizations

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In preparation of the after-summer-break meet-up (end of October 2009), we met to brainstorm on the purpose, objectives and scope of a special event about online collaboration for international organizations. The discussion session, with focus on 'How do we collaborate online and do we really need it?', will showcase a number of case studies of real-life examples of the challenges of bringing online collaboration for improved sharing to our organizations.

The meet-up was aimed to gauge interest, refine the topic and identify interesting stories to include in this future discussion. For the occasion, a special guest was invited: Emanuele Quintarelli, partner at Open Knowledge, author of, and organizer of the recent International Forum on Enterprise 2.0. Emanuele is an expert in social enterprise and knowledge management, and shared his perspective and experience in both the private and public sector.


The session objective for participants could be defined starting from this statement: to get ideas on how to approach collaboration needs/issues with online tools.

The case studies should focus on objectives and how to measure success, and adoption strategies. In particular, it seems that we agree that the case studies should highlight: what were the needs, the strategy, the tools, and how you can tell it's working/not working.

About the scope, the participants seemed to agree that it is not necessary to define what we mean by online collaboration before the discussion: there are too many definitions and flavors (and terminology). The angle should be on : what you can do with the tools and with what purpose. Context is more important than the tools or the definitions. Therefore, any conclusion about how we collaborate online should be drawn at the end of the discussion.

The idea is to adopt a bottom-up approach: you come and tell us what you mean by online collaboration based on your case studies. The diversity of experiences can help the final summary of the session. Perhaps, to orient either the identification of the case studies, the selection or ultimately to help frame the discussion, it could be useful to distinguish among tools in support of strong ties and weak ties and on local/global purpose (Emanuele's diagram can help in this, maybe:

More interesting points that could help orient the selection of cases:

  • innovation and how we try to foster it in our organizations.
  • exploration of barriers, fears, culture

In case you have an experience you would like to present as a case study for the bigger event in October, please don't hesitate to get back to the group and submit your idea. The cases may start from a clear goal or a problem to be solved. The results are important, but we should consider also emerging results, or unexpected outcomes that still reveal that change is in progress. We should accept that monitoring (whether quantitative or qualitative) is in progress and that results are being collected. The quality of what is happening is as important as sheer figures.

Eventual study cases

Some possible case studies for October:

  • FAO Knowledge Café intranet initiative
  • CGIAR CGXchange
  • IDLO creation of Strategic Knowledge Networks

... and eventually other UN agencies'

The date was discussed as well. We agreed that the event could be part of a regional Rome-based event to be organized at the end of October together with the Regional Groups in Vienna and Geneva. The event would be hosted at IDLO. A follow-up meeting to discuss the preparations was agreed upon for July 7.


Many interesting points were made during the discussion with Emanuele (see Sources below) Sources (notes contributed by the participants)
Twitter inputs:

  • not why online collaboration, but what for & merge a One Knowledge Cafe in Rome with an online collaboration event
  • possible participation from FAO in the online collaboration event - K Cafe and comm with decentralized offices
  • start small, think big & move fast are key to online collaboration success
  • possible online collaboration (OL) event could focus on 1. lessons learnt (good practices) and 2. fostering innovation
  • innovation could be two types: disruptive (big bang, revolution) and incremental (continuous improvement)


  • we want a session in Sept about "how do we collaborate online? do we need it?" - we need examples, case studies
  • innovation comes through experimentation. sometimes we learn by doing
  • does real innovation come from taking a big leap? do we need to think out of the box? is incremental innovation true innovation


  • special focus on strategy --> the online collaboration initiative has to be (ideally) included within a broader project with objective, results and indicators ==> this does not mean simply providing tools to answer some punctual needs (depending on the situation)
  • very difficult to assess the CoP's activities based on figures --> requires (subjective) interpretation
  • it is also important to consider "what we want to achieve" and not only how (offering room for innovation)
  • Innovation: ethic dimension while spending private or public money
  • providing tools is not enough --> see other doing is a good way of learning/changing someone's habits (champions)
  • is there any goal behind our KM initiatives?
  • not always we can assess/define the goals before implementing/proposing online collaboration tools --> innovation comes from experimentation

@Emanuele Quitarelli

  • what we can do is using tools but overall changing the way of doing. The tools only are too restrictive due to various (web) situations, constraints ... ==> it is fundamental to find out how to make/cultivate changes
  • the socialentreprise's approach is a studied co-design plan with the customers in order to achieve specific objectives with them showing how they can do differently because often, they don't want to change but they don't even know why they are working that way
  • there is a social networking analysis through patterns
  • advise for a success story: start small, think big and move fast
  • being connected is not necessarily good, we might duplicate things already existing or respond to a need in a wrong way ==> what about the impact expected?
  • explanation of weak and strong ties in the collaboration community (
  • explanation on disruptive and incremental innovation --> once again, it is difficult to assess
  • concept of Innocentive that is the platform for innovation needs
  • to measure the impact, socielentreprise uses a matrix based on business approach
  • a success story has usually a business plan and precise objectives but still, the process is moving, evolving and the pre-project factors can radically change all along the project implementation so that we have a final result sometimes really different from what initially expected --> the key is to start small and evolve with our initial objectives, indicators, ...
  • it would be interesting to discuss the barriers, fears, ... (already done by Romana) rather as parameters for our case studies with the lessons learnt brought back home at the end of the session

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