Build a Better Mousetrap? Social Media Cultivating Emergency Management Communities of Practice
Build a Better Mousetrap? Social Media Cultivating Emergency Management Communities of PracticeCommunities of Practice (CoP) are popping up all over the Internet both explicitlyin name and implicitly by what they do. The emergency domain is no different.On one hand, some groups are CoPs and don’t know it or don’t identify themselvesas such. On the other hand, goal oriented CoPs are being created where the sitemay or may not consist of a CoP altogether!Taming the BeastThe problem is, there is so much information on the Internet - how do youbest leverage this information for emergency management? Social media andapps are creating many ways for people and groups to communicate but thechallenge is, what can be done to make this information useful? How do you getthe right information to the right people at the right time so that all individuals(both practitioners and public) can make the best decision(s)? How can teams/agencies/groups who work together utilize this information such that it’saggregated and focused on their particular needs? How do you aggregate, but notisolate information? How can these groups or individuals share ‘best practices’and ‘lessons learned’ and benefit as units working together from the social mediaand Web 2.0 technology?Communities of Practice can be a good way to cultivate and support groupsof emergency management teams using real time web based solutions (White,Plotnick, Aadams-Moring, Hiltz and Turoff, 2008; White, Hiltz and Turoff,2009). Creating or cultivating a CoP is no trivial task! For example, some existingattempts are having difficulty in sustaining active participation between groupmembers. How are CoPs identified or created, who’s creating them (governmentor individual) and are these methods working -- if not, what is the best way toharness the information to satisfy the various needs of practitioner types to reap thebenefits of a true CoP?The Perfect Storm
Etienne Wenger defines CoPs as, “groups of people who share a concern, a set ofproblems, or a passion about a topic, and who can deepen their knowledge andexpertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.” Hence, CoPs are socialnetworks of people. Social networks consist of people linked together by choiceand sometimes, by default. Social networks exist both online and offline. Socialnetworks exist between family members and coworkers. Clubs and volunteerorganizations consist of people who are networked together. These are examplesof social networks that are offline. People can also be linked together by usingtechnology. Groups of people can be networked together using a variety ofsocial networking sites that provide an array of applications to support a varietyof communication needs. CoPs can exist totally online or totally offline orsomewhere in-between the two extremes.But what is social media and how does it support social networks? Social media isdefined as “forms of electronic communication (as Web Sites for social networkingand microblogging) through which users create online communities to shareinformation, ideas, personal messages, and other content” (as videos) (Merriam-Webster, 2010). These forms of electronic communication provide many avenueswhere professionals can discover each other and others with common interests.These ‘domain’ driven ways of creating groups help seed CoPs. Existingrelationships are strengthened and new relationships are created. This makes itsuch that you are linked not by geographic proximity, but by the unique interestsand tasks shared between group members.CoPs, social networks of emergency management groups and Social Media, whenjoined together, create the perfect storm for success.CoPs are not comprised of people who simply share a common interest. This isnot some random group of people who like the same things or know the samepeople or are in a discussion forum together. CoPs are for serious working groupsof people who are driven to better themselves or their interest by interacting withone another. The description of what defines a CoPs matches the benefits/needsthat could come from the practitioner community or any other specialty group inthe field. Wenger further describes CoPs as communities who:
● “ share information, insight and advice. ● They help each other solve problems, ● they discuss their situations, their aspiration and their needs. ● they ponder common issues ● explore ideas and act as sounding boards ● they may create tools, standards, generic designs, manuals and other documents ● they may be bound by the value that they find in learning together ● Over time, they develop a unique perspective on their topic as well as a body of common knowledge, practices and approaches ● they develop personal relationships and establish ways of ? ● some remain invisible (implicit) ● They exist of core members or occasional participants” (Wenger, 2002).As mentioned previously, CoPs can be online or offline, they may or may not usetechnology to support the needs of the group. However, this list of characteristicsdemonstrates the complexity in designing systems to create a single group supportsystem to match and fulfill all of the needs of the group.Emergency management related CoPs do exist and use online platforms forsupport. Emergency management online social networks are defined as “linksfrom people to other people, groups or information objects. Such objects may bemessages, photos, videos, wall postings, notifications, current activities, events,widgets, etc.”(White, Plotnick, Kushma, Turoff and Hiltz, 2009).CoPs presently use Blogs, Facebook, fourquare, Twitter and Mapping applicationsas Knowledge Exchange Centers (KEC) (Hiltz and Turoff, 2009 white paper).Smaller networks of practitioners who practice together as teams link to othersmaller groups of practitioners creating a larger ‘informally linked’ (i.e. by choice)network of experts. The strength of social media is that these smaller groupsof specialist can easily ‘connect’ with other unique groups. Together, thesegroups can learn from one another and better fulfil the needs of the individualgroups. These groups that exist right now, are for the most part, not ‘formally’recognized as CoPs but are considered invisible and implicit. The challenge lies
in determining how to best identify the existing CoPs and then for those that don’texist but need to, how to ‘cultivate a community of practice’ (Wenger, 200x).A Bit of TheoryThe ‘Technology Acceptance Model’ is a a theory known to most who studyInformation Systems. TAM is used to formally study why systems are acceptedor rejected by the user which indicates if they’ll be used or not (Venkatesh et. al.,2003). It is no simple task to build a system that people will want to use - so, it’sno little feat and should not be taken for granted that popular social media siteslike Facebook and Twitter have such an enormous user population base. Trying tomatch something of this magnitude would be like - well, you have a much betterchance to win a lottery or fly to the moon! So, it may be best to use these popularsites for the needs of the group versus try to create a new site that encompasses allof the functionalities and capabilities provided by the social sites. For example,while conducting research on how social media can be best utilized by emergencymanagement, human resources became a reoccurring theme (White, 2010).Practitioners wanted many of the features needed under this category such as a listwhere employers can post positions and people can post resumes. Also, a list ofqualified people who could be deployed at a moments notice was greatly desired.Many people are qualified in a number of ways. A closed site may eliminate agreat number of valuable people where LinkedIn, the most popular career drivensocial site, would allow for the flexibility and agility required to meet the demandsof dynamic events (Harrald, 2010). LinkedIn is used by over 90 million registeredusers!Teach an Old Dog a New TrickSocial media is easy to use. This is another component of the TAM theory andagain, this is no trivial matter. The time it would take to teach the masses whatthey already know by using existing social sites, would normally take an enormousamount of time and money.
That there is a huge user population that already knows how to utilize these sitesis even more ‘sugar for a dime.’ This is especially useful when the public andother community members are part of the response and recovery efforts. If we areto make the community members responsible to support a greater resilience, thenthe community must be integrated into the ongoing efforts as the valuable resourcethey are. For example, CoPs of emergency information specialist use socialmedia as Knowledge Exchange Centers and are vital to the ‘online informationtransitions’ occurring for crisis communications. By utilizing what is alreadyused by most, more information can be sent to the right people at the right timeso that ‘everyone’ can make the best decision possible. If we create these closedisolated sites, then the information could be compromised.I do understand that not everyone knows how to use social media sites, but booksare coming out, workshops are being conducted, conferences are having speakersprofess the word and if all else fails, you can ask your children or grandchildren tohelp you!Motivating ParticipationSites being created to support a CoP need to be perceived as useful or valuableenough for someone to engage in and go through such effort. Most of these areclosed, restricting both membership and the information that is generated andtranspired. If a CoP site simply duplicates existing applications and the useralready is using a site that satisfies that need, then there is no incentive to spendmore time elsewhere. This is especially true when activity is high in the successfulsites and low in the newer sites.CoP sites are having problems maintaining interest from the members.Participation and an active level of engagement is desired. For example, on someCoP sites, facilitators are having to prompt discussions and keep the group active,there is a lack of interest by the members to go to the site to participate. Designingsites to support the information needs of emergency management is no trivial task.In Figure 1.0 are lists of design issues from formal studies that outlined the designrequirements desired of emergency management information systems (EMIS):
General Design Principles and Specifications1. System Directory2. Information Source and Timeliness3. Open Multi - Directional Communication4. Content as Address5. Up-to-date Information and Data6. Link Relevant Information and Data7. Authority, Responsibility, and Accountability8. Psychological and Social NeedsSupporting Design Considerations and Specifications1. Resource Database and Community Collaboration2. Collective Memory3. Online Communities of Experts(Turoff, Van de Walle, Chumar, and Xiang, 2003)Figure 1.0 Design Principles and Considerations of EMISHence, from this list one can see where a multi-application approach may be amore viable solution.Successful sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and uStream, have additionalappealing characteristics which contribute to its success. For example, Facebookhas a ‘gaming’ component that adds a fun recreational incentive that helps a userenjoy a system more and interact on it more. People can create Farms as a sideform of entertainment, interacting with others in a less stressful interaction. It’sthrough these ‘gaming’ interactions that stronger relationships can be built andoddly enough, more work related information can be transpired (Tapscott andWilliams, 2006). This is a component, when added to an emergency managementinformation system, adds to its successful use. These existing popular social siteshave many of the characteristics that are required for emergency response systemsneeds (Turoff,et. al, 2003).Cutting Off the Nose to Spite the Face
Some major considerations for creating an environment to support a CoPs is, ● Who do you allow to be members of the group? ● Should the groups be open or closed or secret? ● What information is public and shared or private and not open to the public?A very large group creating a closed site would actually be counterproductiveto the organization as a whole - why shouldn’t valuable information that is nosecurity threat, not be open to all? For example, if a fire department is evaluatinga situation, it would be best for the information to be shared with others in amore open environment, fire is a global risk common everywhere. Why isolateinformation?Another counterproductive aspect of a very large closed site is that it automaticallycuts off experts from participating in a situation. The membership list will beless dynamic given the initial restrictiveness. A less restricted environment opensthe door to more valid information. Just because someone is not ‘officially’ apractitioner or EM related official doesn’t mean that they can’t provide usefulinformation that, once passed to their ‘official’ Friend or Follower for example,can now be used inside the practitioner community.Studies show that disaster theories such as ‘social convergence’ occur on webbased systems (Hughes, Paylen, Sutton, Liu, 2008). People and the community useexisting systems to support emergency efforts (Palen and Hiltz, 2007).The Community (civilians) should open to being part of EM related CoPs.It is well recognized and even sought after, to have civilian input to creategreater situation awareness faster. uReport, iReport, iWitness and other ways ofencouraging citizen involvement create a richer picture from which decisionscan be made. For example, if there were an EMyouTube, people could uploademergency related videos they made since they may be the people or first peopleon the scene. Social media is created so that some people can do more than othersdepending on the role they are given. So, in this case, perhaps citizens may be giveGuests privileges where they can only upload and tag files, but where practitionerscan search, retrieve and view any video.
Size MattersIn the United States, the emergency management domain is enormous representingnumerous (1) types of groups, (2) groups on different levels (state, federal, etc),(3) groups who have specialized skills, problem sets and task types and (4) groupswho work together permanently and temporarily. To create a single CoP tosupport such complexity is futile at best, a dynamic network of networks willprovide the flexibility required from such complexity.Smaller groups who don’t want to share or integrate information (i.e. a closedgroup), will be more successfully supported by a single site. This may be a goodchoice for the group’s needs. However, as the number of members increases, sotoo does the complexity. More structure must be provided by the system in orderto keep information organized. Extreme events, that require large numbers ofpeople for response and recovery efforts, require a host of applications (Turoff,White, and Plotnick, 2010). The more complex a system becomes, the moredifficult it becomes to use and users will be less likely to accept.Scalability is something that social media supports too which would be mostuseful for larger catastrophic events that lay in wait, such as the impending NewMadrid earthquake. ‘Collective Intelligence’ and the ‘Wisdom of the Crowds’are two known concepts that can benefit from the larger populations. CoPs needthe flexibility to grow and contract and be modified as an event unfolds. The realtime ad hoc collaborative applications will help support the ‘practice’ in CoP. Thecollaborative efforts will mature as partially distributed emergency managementteams move communications over to a web based platform transforming the waygroups interact and work together (Plotnick, White and Turoff, 2010).Building a Better MousetrapA CoP cannot be forced, people need to see the value in interacting at a site withothers or for some gain/benefit. Large populations of users already exist on socialmedia. People are familiar with the more popular sites making them more apt to
be used. Nobody wants to learn ‘one more system’ if at all possible. It makessense to use the systems that the greater population already use. This messageechoed from a recent Tweet provided by the Director of FEMA provided in Figure3.0Figure 3.0 Craig Fugate’s TweetOngoing efforts trying to duplicate the functions of social media by creating theirown systems are like people who like to brew their own beer from a kit. Althoughits fun and one gets to wear the ‘make your own brew’ crown, there’s little chancethe home brew will ever match the skill of the experts and can compete withthose who have been brewing beer for many years. You cannot compete withthe Monks, Belgians and those in Milwaukee who have been handed down secretrecipes and methods for generations. Home brew will never *really* taste as goodas Budweiser, Stella or Heineken and a ‘one stop shop’ created to support CoPscannot compete with popular social media.Tweak Existing SystemsPopular sites have modified versions for specific user populations. For example,YouTube has special sites: YouTube EDU caters to those in education. AnEMyouTube would be beneficial for the emergency management sector. Someitems, like YouTube videos can be marked public while others can be markedprivate where the viewers are designated. Therefore, a dynamic structure could beused to meet the needs of the group. This would build a reservoirs of emergencymanagement related videos that could help support the needs of a variety of CoPs.REWRITE NEW SECTION - http://www.govtech.com/pcio/CIOs-Social-Media-Security-Risks-021111.html “NASCIO and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) strucka deal with Facebook that required the social networking giant to revise its service terms
for state government use. After months of negotiations, Facebook agreed to modifythe provisions of its terms and conditions regarding dispute resolution and indemnityclauses.”Read My Lips, No New TaxesIt cost the government a lot of money to create and launch their own group supportsystems -CoPs included. Social media is free. Given the current financial crisis,free web based solutions may not only provide an answer, but a better answer. ACoP can only be so large until the interests among group members grows so largethat multiple CoPs are needed to stay true to the definition! However, smallernetworks can be identified and modified to harness the information within thegroup.While writing this article, I went to view the CoP site created by the government,First Responders Community of Practice (https://communities.firstresponder.gov/ ).Figure 2.0 provides a screenshot with the message informing the members that thesite was down for the weekend.Figure 2.0 Screenshot of Message from Government CoP SiteThis brings up maintenance issues and downtime. Every time there is an upgradeor problems with the system, it cost more money = more tax dollars required.During the upgrade, the chance of problems occurring during the software updatesand after are high and a norm so there is uncertainty in the system running asexpected and as scheduled. More importantly - the CoP is compromised. First,what if an emergency/disaster/catastrophic event occurs during the scheduleddowntime? Or what if a group needs to use the system? Given the USA is large,this may not be an unrealistic expectation. Too many eggs are in one basket.
What if an event occurs directly after the upgrade? Users will not have anyexperience with the new features, layout or ways of doing things. Emergencymanagement information systems should have little to no downtime. No terroristhas to have a PhD to figure out when best to attack or at least have another piece touse in their favor to ensure a successful mission.Social media sites are changing and upgrading on a continuous basis. However,there is normally little to no downtime. Social media upgrades are free. Sincethere are so many sites used for specific needs like LinkedIn, Twitter, andYouTube - while one part may upgrade, the remaining sites have not changed.CYA ConclusionEvery article like this needs a CYA section and here is mine. Social Media isnot the end all solution to support all of the needs of all Communities of Practice.Social Media has demonstrated that it cultivates CoPs and also supports crisiscommunications and decision making - before, during and after an event hasoccurred. Social Media does not have solutions for all of the needs encompassedwithin the emergency domain. However, it is worth looking into for thegovernment to consider as a serious tool to add support identifying, building, andcultivating Communities of Practice within the emergency domain. Challengesremain in aggregating information to serve the people in a beneficial manner giventhe massive amount of information crossing the Information Highway, but usingthe existing Social Media sites that have a grip on their respective parts may be agood place to start. Given the user population, popularity, cost, ease of use andapplicability - Social Media just may prove to be the best Mouse Trap!ReferencesHarrald, J. Agility Paper - IJISCRAMHiltz and Turoff, Knowledge Exchange Center white paper, 2009.
Hughes, Palen, Sutton and Liu. “Site-Seeing” in Disaster: An Examination ofOn-Line Social Convergence, Information Systems for Crisis Response andManagement, Washington D.C. 2008.Palen and Hiltz. Online Forums Supporting Grassroots Participation in EmergencyPreparedness and Response. Communications of the ACM, 2007.Plotnick, White and Turoff, 2010 - book chapter on PDET.Tapscott, D. and Williams, A.D. Wikinomics. 2006Turoff, M., Van de Walle, B., Chumar, M. and Xiang, Y. DERMISTuroff, White and Plotnick - book chapter on extreme events.Wenger, E., McDermontt and Snyder. Cultivating Communities of PracticeWhite, Plotnick, Aadams-Moring, Turoff and Hiltz - emergenciWikiWhite, Hiltz and Turoff. United We Respond: