Yesterday i shared the first draft of a new model i’m working on: the CEDA model is intended to be a practical lens through which to view our Social Learning communities, to determine their health and productivity. Depending on what this view reveals, we can then look at how to intervene to generate higher productivity. So it’s something of a diagnostic and something of a tool for intervention. My intention is to use it both in helping organisations set strategy for Social Learning, and to help them drive engagement.
An aside: I am, as ever, #WorkingOutLoud and Paul gave me some great feedback last night: the first draft of the image used the words ‘Community Health‘, which have a very specific connotation in healthcare. So i’ve changed it: now it reads ‘Health Check‘ in the middle, and the subtitle is ‘Measuring Productivity‘. It may change again as i evolve it in this, my reflective community space. That’s how we co-create knowledge and find the meaning in the Social Age.
‘Curation‘ is the act of finding things and actively bringing them into a space, to interpret, to share. In Victorian times, the things we collected were usually stuffed rhinos and tribal spears, but today we are curating knowledge, bringing in information, articles, resources, ideas, thinking and people. Curation is the act of bringing things to the attention of our community.
Day by day, my experience of curation is this: i write the blog and share it, which includes links, all of which i curate. Sometimes people in the community pick up on the blog, or some aspect of it, and share it onwards; they too are curating it, often into new communities and new spaces. A few organisations maintain actively managed learning spaces, some of whom have community managers (new librarians?), who curate the odd article into those spaces.
People (like Paul) both share what i create (curation) and also contribute to what i create (co-creation). Curation, in the Social Age, is a baseline activity: it often acts as the foundation for other activities. Once we have curated (found) the content, we interpret it, share it, contextualise it, build upon it. All the things we do within our communities. If you look back at the Social Leadership model, it’s no coincidence that ‘curation‘ is the first step, and no coincidence that it sits at the start of our diagnosis of Social Learning communities.
We are interested in what people curate: do they draw upon a wide range of resources, or a limited pool. As a group, is the perspective broad enough. If every one is sharing TED videos, what are you all missing? If everyone shares Harvard Business Review articles, what are you missing? How broad is your community curation and, if it’s narrow, how can we change this?
You can apply the butterfly test: list out all the places that people curate from and put a tick by each one for each item curated. Do they cluster, or is it a broad spread? Clusters may indicate one of two things: groupthink or quality… do you know which? If everyone is curating from Wikipedia, that may be good in terms of activity, but does it give you a diversity of opinion?
If curation is too narrow, we may lack perspective. And we may be subject to greater bias: we are only as diverse as the pools of people and thinking we draw upon. A broader range of sources gives a divergence of opinion, which is only a good thing when it comes to sense making.
Next, relevance: is the community curating relevant material? Social Learning communities are not generalist spaces, they are purposeful, and activity should reflect that. Typically we see two ways that this drifts off track: either by having unrelated conversations, or irrelevant ones.
Unrelated conversations are ones that are important, but not in this space. For example, i’m engaged right now in a community space around a particular project, but i realise i’ve been sharing conversations about a different piece of research. So it’s important, but i’m sharing it in the wrong space. Irrelevant ones, however, are pictures of cats and photographs of your feet: probably neither relevant nor important… at least not in a Social Learning context.
Measures of the health of a community are that members curate content with a high validity: not just opinions, but facts, peer reviewed content, or at least respected and replicable. We are looking for originality but authenticity. Online debate is typified in many cases by rhetoric and opinion: a healthy community will surely have some of that, but will include facts and authority as well!
When we are looking at what is curated in the community, we are looking to tick all these boxes; we want relevant assets, timely and contextualised. We need a breadth of content from a range of sources to give us a broad perspective and avoid undue bias. We need good validity, at least in parts, and we need original thinking, not just recycled opinion. We can quantify some of this.
Technology is a core facilitating or confounding factor in Social Learning, and i’ve chosen that as the main one to focus on.
We are looking for integration: ease of use within our everyday ecosystem. A key failing of Social Learning is to assume we need a Social Learning LMS or other system. We don’t. We need spaces. Collaborative spaces, conversational spaces, co-creative spaces, narrative spaces, reflective spaces, but one space may not be one system. Sure, there are some great systems out there, but no one system will solve your needs, and none of them will guarantee engagement, whatever the salesperson says.
In reality, it’s about workflow: about how easily we can carry out the behaviours of Social Learning, not the tasks. Find something, share it fast. When i’m working on the iPad, i move seamlessly between Apps and environments: when Dan sent me a document to review this morning, i just screenshot it, pulled it into Adobe Ideas, annotated it by hand, emailed it direct from the App. I didn’t bother renaming the image, because it was so fast he would have understood the context. Total time taken: under a minute.
Equally easily i could have opened the document in Pages, or in Google Docs, and annotated it with a comment, after activating ‘change tracking‘ but i didn’t. It’s easier to just pull it out and sketch on it.
Crucially though, both approaches work, and at times i use both, and others. This morning, whilst collaborating with Emily, i just took out my phone, took a photo of my iPad screen and sent it to her in a Hangout on the phone: it was just the fastest approach.
Agile organisations understand this: the win is not in getting me to comply with a policy or to use the approved system: the win is letting me be effective. Whatever system i use. It’s the workflow that counts.
So how do we find out how healthy our community is with technology? How do we prove if we are facilitating or confounding Social Learning? It’s not as easy to tell as you might think.
I’d advocate two approaches: the first is an audit, the second a consultation.
Audit what systems are formally in place, and audit what systems people actually use. Do this in categories: which systems do you use to collaborate, which do you use to share, which do you use for conversations, which do you use for writing, how do you share? Mapping out the approved vs the actual will give us valuable insights. I’ve worked in a global bank where most people used WhatsApp for problem solving, mainly because there was a strong suspicion that the organisation was eavesdropping on email. Right or wrong, compliant or not, that was the reality on the ground. And it’s far from being the only one where this is the case. As the boundaries between formal and social spaces erode, more and more business is being done through social spaces, because they tend to be easier and nicer to use!
So audit what’s currently in place and what people currently use. Then consult: how can you create a space where IT ceases to be a blocker, but becomes facilitating? I’m working with one client right now where we have to put a business case in to use collaborative software. Why? Does the organisation not want us to collaborate? Or do they think the win is to get us to use their approved system?
It becomes a matter of power: who holds it and why?
Often IT teams hang onto the power because they think the power is invested in this control, but actually they can invest their power in facilitation. We need IT teams that help us test out and prototype new technology. An agile organisation will have an diverse ecosystem of technology.
So the first aspect of Social Learning communities that we explore are ‘curation‘ and ‘technology‘. Curation is the behaviour and technology is what facilitates it.
By using this framework, we can start understanding better both what spaces and behaviours we need to develop, and what technologies and mindsets we can use to facilitate productivity. Both of which are steps towards agility.