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More Than Just a Meeting Place: Leveraging online tools for action


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More than just a meeting place, the Internet is a tool for online collaboration. This presentation goes beyond using the web as a networking tool and looks at how to leverage online tools to get people to work together effectively. Presentation by ifPeople cofounders Christopher Johnson and Tirza Hollenhorst at the Pegasus Communications "Systems Thinking in Action" conference in Seattle, WA in November 2007.

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More Than Just a Meeting Place: Leveraging online tools for action

  1. 1. More Than a Meeting Place: Leveraging Online Tools for Impact Tirza Hollenhorst Christopher Johnson ifPeople – Innovation for People Pegasus Conference | Seattle, WA | November 6, 2007
  2. 2. Learning Goals Why should my organization bother with  online collaboration? What do I need to know about designing my online collaboration project? What are the most important things I need to do to support community and successful collaboration online?
  3. 3. Footnote Not delving in to the features of specific  technologies in this presentation
  4. 4. Boundaries We are addressing cases of actual interaction. Where there are relationships between users and their work (as opposed to people working on the same problem together via the internet with no relation)
  5. 5. Flow of Presentation Getting to Know the Landscape  Narrowing Our Focus:  How? Examples Participative activity  Lessons and concerns 
  6. 6. Getting to Know Us
  7. 7. Survey
  8. 8. Who am I? Believe in business as an engine for social  change Leverage for transformation to sustainability − ifPeople cofounder  FairSource − business model based on remote collaboration − solving today's problems requires collaboration − Inspiring Futures cofounder 
  9. 9. Why care about online collaboration? 5 major impacts of online collaboration:  Human knowledge and innovation − Business models − Humanitarian efforts − Coordinating change campaigns (political, − social) Learning −
  10. 10. Knowledge Generation 5.3 million encyclopedic  entries in 100+ languages Self-policing  75,000+ people edited 5  or more articles in Oct 2006 164+ million unique  visitors in 12/2006
  11. 11. Business Models
  12. 12. Humanitarian efforts
  13. 13. Life...Online
  14. 14. Online Identity Today FaceBook Youth increasingly  use online presence  Originally a college- for identity age target... Exposed to online  40+ million − community-building registered users from very young age 1% of all Internet − time on Facebook Used to coordinate  action during Jena 6
  15. 15. What can I do? Online collaboration for...  Project management ● Delivering services in distributed environment ● Collaboration around innovation (ideas, ● research) or production (documents and digital products) Collaborative problem solving ● Distance education and learning ● Coordinated action, campaigns ● Provide customer support ●
  16. 16. Why Collaborate Online? You have a distributed team  Save hassle in arranging meetings  Central meeting place without being in same physical place You need a flexible team  Easier to deal with team turnover  Add more people without more cost Your work and information exists in digital medium  Communication is cheaper Your product/service benefits from community (customer) relationships  Self-organizing system saves money in support, marketing, and product development Your project is spreading ideas and building a community  Becomes worth it to involve more people
  17. 17. When it's not appropriate... Users have problems with connectivity  Members of the group lack the necessary technical skills  and/or have no desire to learn them Aggressive project schedules allow no time for learning  curve of new processes Language barriers are too great for productive  communication There is a deep rooted distrust or animosity within the  group and no strong commitment to establishing trust When the work is not conducive to electronic  communication.
  18. 18. Weigh Costs and Benefits Business case unique to each organization  Common (possible) benefits  Operating cost savings ● Inter-departmental communication and learning ● Greater access to knowledge of a team ● Rapid prototyping and development ● Common (possible) costs  Investment in technology design, development ● Supporting the collaboration can be costly ●
  19. 19. Elements of Online Collaboration
  20. 20. Members Each group of individuals comes to the online community with a distinct role, vernacular, goals, or affiliation can be considered a different kind of member.
  21. 21. Shared Purpose What are the goals, meaning, values or affiliations that are common to all members? What are you trying to accomplish with online collaboration? Note: not all members may understand that they have a shared purpose.
  22. 22. Structure and Organization How will the members will be organized and interact with each other? The structure and organization of your team will help define the way technology tools are used. What are the formal rules that members are governed ● by? ● Will all members have contact with all others? ● Will all members be loosely associated?
  23. 23. Process What will you actually do together?  Distinct kinds of processes: strategic, tactical, ● administrative, and reflective. Consider if your timeframe for work is short and ● defined, ongoing, or long-term and undefined. Will people be participating regularly or will ● participation be erratic and punctuated?
  24. 24. Technology What do people use now to: communicate,  work, create new relationships? What kinds of tools are required, suggested,  or helpful for the members to use to collaborate? Is there a budget for technology? If not, who  will handle training, setup, and support?
  25. 25. Case Study: Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT)
  26. 26. Members Who uses the online collaboration area? Local Partners Intern Managers Interns Funders
  27. 27. Shared Purpose All members of the DOT community have a shared goal to make ICT technology accessible to marginalized and disadvantaged groups as a way of improving economic, educational, and employment opportunities.
  28. 28. Structure Highly structured community with closed  membership and well defined teams. Established hierarchy that defines roles and  responsibilities Inter-team networking and information  sharing is encouraged
  29. 29. Technology Plone Content Management System (  with add-on products Designed to support and structure the activities − and collaboration of the DOT community. Encourages learning across different teams − within countries and around the world. New content (resources, blog posts and events) − created primarily within the community folders that support local projects. New resources appear in side bars throughout − the site
  30. 30. Process Project Management and Community of  Practice All teams from management to intern field − workers utilize the same processes for collaboration. Performance reviews include an evaluation  of online participation Social Capital is built through personal  profiles that allow for self-expression and connection between individuals.
  31. 31. Case Study: Micro-finance Open Source  Grameen Foundation Project 
  32. 32. Members Microfinance Institutions (MFI): These  organizations may be using the Mifos software, seeking to use the software, or interested to learn about it. Software Developers: desire to contribute to  the software development to the project. Specialists: consultants and experts in the  field who help MFIs implement the software
  33. 33. Shared Purpose The Mifos community seeks to: Build a world-class microfinance software  using open source technology Increase the impact of microfinance  institutions world-wide Empower very poor people around the world  to pull themselves out of poverty
  34. 34. Structure Developers:  Open access − Rules for collaboration − Microfinance Institutions:  Easy to join the site − Community elements designed to support and − welcome MFIs
  35. 35. Structure Specialists and Developers: Barriers to entry into the network ensure bringing − the necessary skills and expertise to contribute. Once part of the community, Specialists and − Developers gain access to resources and benefits that reward their participation and make them more visible in the community.
  36. 36. Technology Plone Content Management System with add-on  features, such as a wiki, forum, forms, and other tools ( ifPeople product with integrated Google mapping in  order to allow microfinance institutions and specialists to find each other. Trac and SVN for code management  A mailing list and an instant messaging chat  channel (#mifos on irc).
  37. 37. Process Software development is governed by coding standards  and processes for collaboration common to open source projects Collaboration is restricted to specific tools in order to  maintain processes for seeking assistance and requesting new features. The process of incorporating of new members is core for  this nacent community. Users of the software can easily join the community while developers and specialist must go through an approval process before they are allowed to join.
  38. 38. Application Find worksheet in your handouts 
  39. 39. Technology Approaches Open community collaboration sites  Free online collaboration tools  Subscription-based tools  Custom web applications  Refer to session materials for examples
  40. 40. Open Community Collaboration Sites Allow individuals to find each other and  share information. Some sites have become powerful platforms  for coordinating actions. Generally proprietary and not customizable  Free but you have to see ads  Your information is managed on someone  else's servers
  41. 41. Free On-line Collaboration Tools Yahoo and Google both provide free space and hosted tools for on-line collaboration. Tools include calendars, blogs, photo and document storage.  Anyone can create a community and you can choose whether they  are open to the public or kept private to a select community. These tools can be good options for volunteer communities or teams  just sampling the power of on-line collaboration.
  42. 42. Subscription Based Tools May have a sliding cost scale based on the size or sector of  your community. Tend to be designed to meet the needs of a specific type of  community. Generally more customizable than Google or Yahoo 
  43. 43. Custom Web Applications This is any software that is designed to be run on a  server. Hosted web applications may be free, but there is a cost  for set up and hosting. Applications include content management systems and  collaboration tools that are set up on the server of your choice. These tools may be run on internal servers so that they  are not accessible to those outside your local network, or on an external server.
  44. 44. Plone Content Management System
  45. 45. Lessons and Concerns
  46. 46. Building Trust in Virtual Teams Competence of individual members: skills and  capacity to perform their responsibilities within the team Follow-through on commitments: Avoid  miscommunication due to cultural or departmental differences in expectations by clearly communicating and documenting what is expected Responsibilities and roles − Response times to communication − Timelines for deliverable −
  47. 47. Building Trust in Virtual Teams Transparency Communication about progress: Teams benefit from  regular, synchronous communication where everyone is updated on the current work in progress. Reflection: After each phase of work (especially early in  the process), set aside time for reflection on the work process. Allow time for open debate: Ensure that both sides of  an issue are heard even if someone must play devils advocate. Ask for input from quiet parties (do not assume that silence equals agreement!).
  48. 48. Building Trust in Virtual Teams Concern for the Well-Being of Others Concern for people's personal situation: Establishing  a culture where people greet each other and sincerely inquire about the others well-being will go a long way toward creating a culture of care. Transition team members: Establish a formal  procedure whereby new members are introduced to the group, the technology and the history of the team, as well as, as procedure for documenting the work of team members who are leaving the group.
  49. 49. Staying on Track: Accountability and Monitoring Establish the goals of the project from the  beginning. Define Roles and Responsibilities  Define “workflow”, hand-off and process  Identify performance measures  Establish a method and timeline for reviews 
  50. 50. Supporting and Sustaining How will you keep the momentum going?  Nourish and motivate the community − Provide support for technical questions − Maintain the rules for the online structure −
  51. 51. Thank You! Special thanks to Tirza for help on the presentation  Thanks to Pegasus for the amazing conference Thank you for participating! Christopher Johnson e: