Tactical Philanthropy is currently covering the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference with the help of a blog team. This is a guest post by Diana Scearce of the Monitor Institute.
By Diana Scearce
How do you effectively steward technology for online communities? For the past year I’ve been facilitating a community of practice (CoP) for funders. While much of our work has been designed around in-person convenings, we have also been connecting using a group on WiserEarth. WiserEarth is an online social networking platform, similar to Ning, but it’s dedicated to social change.
Our space on Wiser has served us well. Many members of the CoP have been using it to connect and build a shared repository of resources. It’s a simple way to deepen and extend our reach, and from my perspective, as the person managing the CoP day-to-day, it has been critical for coordination. Yet, I’m plagued by doubts. Are people using it enough? What is enough? Is there another way we should be connecting and coordinating? No one needs yet another username and password, not to mention another membership to another online community that they can then feel guilty about not using.
At the GEO conference this week I attended a session on “Virtual Global Learning Networks.” The session gave some useful food for thought as I try to answer these questions. Two excellent case studies were shared – Claire Fallender on how Ashoka has networked its fellows and Shalini Nataraj on the Global Fund for Women’s network of advisors that connect GFW with the nearly 4,000 groups they’ve funded in 171 countries around the world. Both Ashoka and GFW are wrestling with tough questions of connectivity and engagement in a global context. They’re dealing with considerable language barriers and digital connectivity challenges that make my concerns of engagement among a highly wired group of funders seem luxurious. And, they surfaced a number of principles for stewarding online communities that have wide applicability:
- Focus on the principles, not the platform. Your community should be technology served, not technology driven.
- Prioritize trust and relationship building. As you do so, make sure you’re clear about boundaries. Is your network closed? Open? Porous?
- Frame a clear value proposition so the give / get is obvious to participants.
- Create a user-driven design. Ashoka is co-creating their platform with 25 fellows who asked for it.
- Design a space that enables many-to-many connections. Don’t act a gatekeeper. Facilitate direct connections in your network.
- Make it easy to belong. Invite participants to opt in and opt out as makes sense for them.
- Take a ‘combo-platter’ approach. Create different channels for your network to connect – in-person, through conference calls, webinars, Facebook, your group’s dedicated online space.
And one addition as I reflect on this: the role of the network weaver – the person or people taking responsibility for making and strengthening connections across the network – is critical. The tools won’t suddenly motivate full and regular participation, but individuals reaching out and inviting people to engage can make a real difference.
You can read more blog posts from Diana and her Monitor Institute colleagues at WorkinglyWikily.net.