The CEDA Community model Pt.2: ‘Engagement’ & ‘Permission’ in Social Learning

I’ve been developing the CEDA model this week, looking at how we develop vibrant Social Learning communities. It has two purposes: firstly, to be used in strategy, to help shape our organisational approach and, secondly, to diagnose the health of a functioning community, to understand what’s working and what may need support.

The CEDA model v2

There are four parts to the model (you can read all about it here), ‘Curation‘, ‘Engagement‘, ‘Debate‘ and ‘Application‘. Four things we need to consider. What are people sharing and how comprehensive a perspective do they have? How do people engage with it? What is the quality of the debate and how is the learning applied? In a healthy community, functioning in an agile organisation, we see a broad level of curation from diverse sources, we see high engagement over time, with great ‘sense making‘ debate and stories of application.

But there are another four parts of the model to consider: either amplifying or confounding factors.

For ‘Curation‘, we look at ‘Technology‘. Whilst Social Learning is not guaranteed by technology, it is facilitated by it, and the organisation needs to have a broad view and diverse ecosystem to thrive. For ‘Engagement‘, today, we are going to look at ‘Permission‘: how are people engaging and what permission do they have to do so?

Over the next few days, we will explore the other factors: for ‘Debate‘, it’s about ‘Trust‘, do individuals believe that they will be treated fairly? Do we believe we will treat people fairly? Do we understand how trust fails? And finally, ‘Application‘, where the amplifying skill is ‘Narrative‘, do we see stories of success and learning being shared?

These are by far not the only factors at play, but i wanted to gather together (curate) a structured framework that organisations can work around. So here it is: Curation and Technology, Engagement and Permission, Debate and Trust and Application with Narrative. The CEDA model of community vitality!

The CEDA model - Engagement and Permission

In the second stage of the CEDA model we explore ‘engagement’ and ‘permission’.

What are we looking for with Social Learning? My view is, an engaged community, co-creating the meaning, carrying out ‘sense making‘ activities and achieving a greater level of productivity and success. To do that, we need engagement. Engagement is the elusive key. Engagement can’t be forced. It’s like a party with your extended family, including Aunty Marge, who nobody likes, and the young nephew who smells. You can force everyone into the same room, but you’ll never make it a great party.

But, whilst you’re suffering in the kitchen, a small group has assembled in the garden, laughing and joking and avoiding the smell. A true community finds it’s spaces and engages around common interest.

Engagement is not set in stone: it’s contextual and a function of time. At certain times, in certain situations, we are far more likely to engage with others. In fact, there are a wide range of factors impacting on engagement.

The CEDA model - Reasons to engage

The CEDA model explores ‘engagement’, but there are many different reason for us to engage

If something is of interest, we are more likely to engage, but it needs to be timely too: something may be highly relevant, but hit me at the wrong time, and i’m less likely to be engaged, simply because i’m swamped. People will engage out of curiosity, or voyeurism: this is the basis of much of the news we read in papers or online. Today i’ve read stories about things that have no relevance to me, no application, but they’ve simply drawn me in with headlines that appeal to my human interest.

Curiosity is a great path to engagement: it can draw us into areas with no immediate application, which can be part of longer term development. Indeed, it’s a risk for organisations if they focus too heavily on the immediate, on the fires.

Uninhibited curiosity

There’s nothing wrong with engagement through prizes or rewards, but we need to consider the type of behaviours that we are encouraging and the relevance of the activities that take place. The rush to ‘gamification‘ has it’s perils: if we just reward competitive behaviour, we are just rewarding the winners on one scale, but what about those who nurture and develop the community, what about those who marshal and organise resources or develop talent?

Another reason for engagement is simple companionship: wanting to be part of a community, especially when working remotely, is valuable. And generosity is a reason why people engage: the desire to help and support others can be very strong, especially in learning, developmental and mentoring communities.

So at a strategic level, we need to consider the purpose of our Social Learning communities: what are we trying to achieve and which behaviours or mechanisms of engagement are we looking to tie into? Are we trying to build greater cohesion in the community, greater capability in the population or greater knowledge in the organisation? Or all of these and more? Having a clear view of what we want our various communities to achieve helps ensure that we have the right technologies, the right rules and parameters, the right permissions and the right oversight.

We can then look at how to measure engagement within a Social Learning community: things like ‘frequency’ of interaction are easily quantified and, indeed, most often used. But simple questions of frequency, measures of activity, are neither a measure of purpose nor effectiveness. It’s like the word-count: my best blog posts are doubtless not the longest ones. Length and volume alone do not count for much: quantity is secondary to quality (and relevance, application etc). So if we want to measure the levels of engagement, we have to move beyond pure quantification.

The spread of messages is important: in a heavily engaged community, we will start to see shared language, shared ideas, the amplification of messaging. Whilst harder to quantify, it’s still worth exploring: ultimately the spread and magnetism of messaging is a measure of success.

Diversity of opinion (as well as of engagement) is vital, and we can both quantify and qualify this: for starters, by seeing if there is a correlation between the makeup of our population (across gender and geography) and engagement. It’s not unusual to see differences here: they may be technical (e.g. Asia has less bandwidth than the US), may be cultural, or may be down to differential permissions, which is a more pervasive and problematic issue. Do women have the same voice as the men in the community?


As you’ll see already, engagement is a matter of both strategy and activity, and needs to be measured through both qualitative and quantitative metrics. Having a highly ‘active‘ community is a different thing from a highly ‘engaged‘ one. Engagement is about ‘sense making‘, purpose and application. Activity is about being busy.

Let’s focus down on one aspect that can drive or inhibit engagement: permission.

Permission is either granted or taken, but either way, it’s required to be effective: what permission do you have to engage, with authenticity, within a space? This isn’t about our right to agree, it’s about our right to dissent. How are voices of difference heard, tolerated, welcomed or quashed. And where do the consequences lie?

Social Learning spaces are precisely that: social. Social Learning inhabits the grey space between the formal and the fully social. When i wrote my first book, ‘Exploring the World of Social Learning‘, that was virtually the first aspect that i explored: in the old world, we had two spaces, one formal, the world of work, the other social, the spaces that surrounded it. Today, we live in a grey space between the two, where we work from home and book our holidays at work.

The rules of engagement are not always clear or, worse, are fluid. What’s right for one part of the business is wrong for another, or what’s right this week in this context is wrong next week in another. Just look at the difficulty many organisations have in developing coherent social media approaches, let alone Social Learning ones.

Part of this is about how we deal with dissent: my approach is this, that Social Learning is inherently about co-created meaning, it’s precisely powered by that discussion and dissent. It’s not about the organisation telling a story that we listen to, unquestioning, but rather about the co-creation of the meaning within the story, together.

Facets of Co-Creation

Co-Creation is something we do in communities: it’s a core skill of the Social Age

There are typically two phases: when we introduce true Social communities, we often open a safety valve and get an outpouring of opinion. We need to let the pressure equalise. People will often take the conversation in all sorts of direction, offering ideas, criticisms, frustrations, annoyance, gratitude and a whole gamut of emotions. Simply because they lacked the space to do it before. In many ways, this is what we want.

Contrast that with the launch of a Social Learning space where you are received with a deafening silence… no engagement, no dissent at all, just the desperate prompting of an engaged learning or IT team trying to stimulate discussion.

Two extremes: no engagement or diverse over-engagement. Effectiveness lies somewhere in the middle, but we have to allow time for it to settle, and there are things we can do to help.

The CEDA model - Clarity

Clarity is important: is everyone sharing the same view?

First: clarity. Co-create the rules, rather than imposing them. Be clear who owns the space, who owns the conversation: can it be published, will it come back to haunt you in another space at another time? Can what you say here be quoted elsewhere? How permanent will the data be? How fluidly will it move: will you see it in your performance review, or is this a working space, a private one?

We need to be clear about identity: who is in the community, who has access to spectate? And is everyone who they say they are, or do some people have permission to lurk?

Clarity is a key part of permission, leading to higher engagement.

How do we measure permission? We, one clear measure is engagement itself: if permission is low, then meaningful engagement will be low too most likely. But we can measure it by asking and observing too: asking about clarity, quantifying where people think they stand and how comfortable they are in that space.

Engagement is about the level of activity and, critically, the quality of that activity, it’s ability to make us more effective. It’s not just about noise, it’s about purpose. Permission is what we need to engage. Technology? That facilitates the whole piece: we need to technology to have the space, but within the space, we need clarity and permission, to drive engagement.

Remember, the CEDA model explores four key areas: ‘curation‘, ‘engagement‘, ‘debate‘ and ‘application‘. When we are in strategic discussions, we can use it to plan: how will we set the rules, how will we moderate the space, how will we dal with privacy, how will we measure engagement? When we are in the ‘health check‘ space, looking at how well a community is doing, we can measure along these different lines and plan activities to foster greater engagement through this understanding.

CEDA us both a theoretical framework and a practical planning tool.

When we get it right, Social Learning unlocks the tribal knowledge and power of the community. Get it wrong and we have empty spaces and broken promises. The agile organisation of the Social Age can’t afford to get it wrong.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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