Over the past half year I facilitated a social media capacity building trajectory for a group of 14 development organisations (and 2 networks) in countries like Vietnam, Mali, Bolivia etc., together with Josien Kapma and Sibrenne Wagenaar. I've already blogged about our online start. It was great to work in a group of three facilitators, because you create an enormous flexibility. Someone gets sick and the others take over. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to be engaged with a group of development organisations over a longer period of time and see the process beyond an introduction session during a rainy afternoon.
Some examples of how organisations have started working with social media:
- An organisation is recruiting a communications officer and will try to recruit one with knowledge about (and experiences with) social media. Or at least affinity.
- Another organisation started using Facebook and video for youth education instead of the traditional hard copy materials. Internally 10 persons are sharing their project progress through Facebook too.
- Two organisations are now using skype for calls and group meetings.
- An organisation has opened a twitter account and blog to inform African and International partner of what the organisation is doing. They further want to host a wiki on climate change, one of their areas of work.
- Another organisation is looking into open source and set up a group experimenting with a list of 17 preferential tools
- One organisation wants to get more attention from donors and introduced the idea of a corporate blog and use of RSS and google alert for 'online listening'.
I'd also like to look back at the whole trajectory. What can we learn from it as facilitators of such a trajectory? What would I do differently if I had to do it again? We started with an intake, trying to figure out where social media could make a contribution to the organisation or to a network. This was followed by 3 weeks online training with the core participants from the organisations, who invited quite a lot of colleagues. Then we had a week face-to-face in the Netherlands, and a few months of distance coaching.
- Start online to discover a few social media tools together, yet work towards a face-to-face event to consolidate understanding. It worked very well to start online, introducing a variety of social media, getting to know eachother. It gave participants the space to experiment with a few tools in their own time. It helped us to find some real pioneers. It made me realize once again that online interaction works well as a ramp up working towards an event, or publication. After the face-to-face it was much harder to keep the online exchanges going. The momentum seemed lost. If I could design it again, I would do the face-to-face later (or ideally even twice if travel budgets allow!) Yet, in the end, face-to-face was most appreciated by the participants. A lot of social media 'landed' when they were able to see examples, to ask questions and to work on things together. Though they appreciated the online exchange a lot at the beginning of the trajectory, at the end the face-to-face had made much more impression, it was appreciated with 4,3 out of 5 and the online part by a mere 3,4 out of 5.. Maybe because it is what we're most familiar with? Or because of the human energy flows?
- Use a mailing list in combination with learning platform. We could have paid a little more attention to the fact that some participant had bad internet connections, one person in Uganda bought internet by the hour. In the middle of a posting, access would be cut off. Must be quite frustrating! Some had good connections, others on and off. Not everyone could join skype calls by internet, so it's good to have a phone alternative (we hadn't). A mailing list would have been more basic than the Ning learning platform we used. Working with low bandwidth, there is a trade off to make between complexity of conversations and ease of use in low bandwidth settings. On a mailing list we couldn't have created the groups which worked very well. Probably a combination of a mailing list and a learning platform could have worked too.
- Allow participants to integrate social media in their own jobs before thinking of uses at an organizational level. We asked participants to come up with an organisational strategy at the end of our face-to-face training, that they had to design a draft of a full-fledged strategy. They had a whole day for it, and needed it too. Some of the strategies seemed over-optimistic or not linked to pressing organisational goals. If a social media strategy is not well thought-through, it easily becomes a list of twitter account and blogs to be created. The key question to answer is: who are you going to engage and what is the type of exchange? Despite our network mapping, this was still a hard question to answer at the end of an intense week. If I would do it again, I would focus first on the use of social media for their own jobs, and only in a later stage for the team or organisations.
In a graph, you could say that it starts with personal use, then moves on to professional use, and then move to collective uses. We demanded quite a lot of the participants, acting as a change agent back in their organisations, introducing a networked way of working. Next time, I would try to have a longer trajectory, let's say a year. I'd use this graph more explicitly and focus on the use of social media by individuals before moving to collective uses.
- Recognize when it's too early to invest heavily in social media. I noticed networking and working in a networked way comes quite naturally for a lot of the development organisations. And the use of Facebook and Skype is really booming. So those are good entry points to leverage social media for your own purposes as a development NGO. However, some of the topics (like gender and energy) were not found on social media monitors, probably an indicator that few people are talking about them. when a lot of the network members are not used to social media, you might be arriving early on the scene. You then have the choice to wait or to educate. While keeping an eye on developments and learning about social media- so that you are one of the first lateron! Deciding not to invest in social media is also a strategy.