Talk:Community Building: how to make people use KS tools

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See the original thread of this E-Discussion on D-Groups

George Muammar, 2010/01/12

Dear list, I am seeking advice on creating a tool for community building.

We belong to a branch, VAM, within our organisation, WFP. VAM consists of some 120 staff distributed in about 50+ offices worldwide. VAM staff all do very similar work, although challenges differ from country to country. The methodology and standardisation takes place through guidelines that are written mainly at HQ. Lessons learned and experience sharing takes place through annual meetings, which is clearly very limited.

Together with a colleague, Wael Attia in cc, we set out to install a knowledge sharing tool. The aim is to enable any of VAM staff to write a blog, participate in a forum, share files of any sort, create a wiki. Based on a prior FAO experience, we used Moodle, an opensource learning tool. We are struggling with it because it is not as user friendly as we had hoped, however it is a fairly elaborate product, which requires some tweaking for our use. We are seeing that once it is understood, it is quite effective.

We initially rolled-out with one discussion groups on PDAs, hoping to attract the techies who would then lead the way to other users. However there was not much response at all. We realised that we needed an email alert system, a bit like Dgroups, so that users would be reminded of activity in their email. Having implemented that we are about to remind all users of it's existence and soon will proceed to create another discussion group within the system.

I would like to ask you for any ideas, lessons from similar experiences and tips in order to anticipate further problems, and attract more users.

Nadejda Loumbeva, 2010/01/12

Hi George,

I just wondered to what extent the previous lack of (PDA) activity and response may have been due to factors outside of the technology and tools? What if the people are not motivated to share? What if they do not know each other well enough? What if they do not trust each other? What if, according to their perception, sharing is extra work and there's no time for it? What if, ...  ?

My experience with networks and communities tells me sometimes even seemingly the most appropriate tools won't be effective provided there is no community sharing an interest, goals and therefore incentives to learn together about a topic and/or an issue. This does not mean the tools are not important, they are actually crucial, just not the only crucial aspect of making a community such as yours work well for its people and organisation. Hope this makes sense.

Just an idea: You could do a social network analysis, if you have not, already. This would be a shortcut into better understanding your community. Once you have that in place, you would identify the people with leadership, sharing and trust-building potential. This would create opportunities for better supporting these people as part of the community and therefore enabling the community as most, or just more, effective to the people who are part of it. In parallel to that, or after, you would blend in the most appropriate tools. This is how I would go about it based on what I can see from here. Hope this helps.

Carl Jackson, 2010/01/12

Some time ago on KM4Dev I heard someone say that it is really questions that drive discussion lists. This really struck a chord with me and maybe it has relevance for VAM? Perhaps you could use a version of the marketing approach that Google SMS used in Uganda when they simply broadcast the message "If you could get an answer to any question, what would you ask?". So rather than announcing an new discussion group and reminding about the existing one on PDAs perhaps focus on raising awareness that the community is a place to ask questions.

Adrian Gnagi, 2010/01/12

Dear George

Our experience here in SDC is similar to yours: when people just established dgroups and hoped groups would start exchanging, they got disappointed. We concluded that community building has to come first. We now recommend not to start with IT-tools, but with a face-to-face event.

Eva Schiffer, 2010/01/12

Dear George,

I agree with Nadejda, sharing is first about culture/process and then about tools and technical platforms. Social Network Analysis or Social Network Mapping are very strong tools to get a better understanding of this. However, there are different ways of approaching it, some people do all the analysis and present the participants with highly aggregate results (e.g. identifying the bottlenecks and leaders). I think in a case like this it is crucial to do the analysis in a participatory way and allow your participants to explain the networks to you instead of looking for the meaning yourself. Also, the process of drawing networks and trying to understand them together can, in itself, be a way of bringing people together and facilitating discussion about the real issues.

Robert Bell, 2010/01/12

I agree that just establishing the tools is not enough. If you build it, they will not come! In UNICEF Supply Division, we are working with a global 'Supply Community' of 800. We are trying to build and develop that community. So we have a kind of Facebook called SupplyFaces, a platform for news, blogs, discussions, CoPs, and another (integrated) platform around innovation for children.

But we reinforce these with a regular newsletter, with promotion on our Intranet, with proactively seeking and disseminating lessons learned, pushing professional development opportunities, regional supply conferences, all-staff meetings on webX, etc. Reinforcement, reinforcement, reinforcement! And all these tools need stewarding, tlc, nursing, conscious coordination...

Even then it is not something which is going to change overnight...

UNICEF Supply Division

Brad Hinton, 2010/01/12


I certainly agree about marketing and promotions to reinforce the message - very important to KM as it is to the advertising industry.

Your description of the functions of SupplyFaces sounds interesting. Could you elaborate some more, perhaps telling us what it looks like, how is it structured, how is it used, and what the software is?

Ben Ramalingam, 2010/01/13

Dear George,

It may be useful to take a look at the 'Strengthening humanitarian networks' think piece, which lays out a way of thinking about the key goals and priorities of a community or network, and then think about the kind of tools and processes that would best help you achieve these goals.

Robert Bell, 2010/01/13

Hi Brad,

SupplyFaces is a social profile site where you can upload the professional basics about yourself, a photo, what's on your mind? etc. There is a 'wall' of members (currently 260), you can choose your contacts, etc. Built on this is the Supply Community platform which includes CoPs, blogs, job and professional info, etc. Any UNICEF staff member has access. Anyone can start a CoP and anyone can join at any time. You can comment to posts without joining and registering on Supply Faces.

We have also built an Innovate for Children platform seeking to identify problems or issues in the field which might be fixed by innovation. We then have a team of our technical experts vetting these and farming them out to academia and industry to crack.

Supply Faces and these two platforms are fully integrated as to design and functionality. The software is Lotus Notes. And the model is the basis for our Supply Intranet 2.0, which we are currently working on. It is very clean and open - easy to use and navigate. We have tag clouds, opportunity to invite new members and to sign up for what kind of email alerts you want from which parts of which platforms. You can of course reply directly to the email without having to go to the site.

Hope that clarifies thing a bit...