Monday, January 24, 2011

Some lessons about capacity building in social media for development organisations in the South

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.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Seven more online icebreakers

I've noticed my post about 10 online icebreakers is very popular. It gets often linked from online courses too. Therefore I thought it would be nice to add some more icebreakers. All those heavy reflections.. Let's get very practical. Here we go:

  • The A, B, C of the group Though A, B, Cs at weddings are extremely boring, this worked very well as an icebreaker in a large international group. You ask people to share something about themselves choosing the next letter from the alphabet. Example: the first person chooses A from Appetite since you are a person who needs to eat regularly, the second chooses B from Brasil, the wonderful country he lives in and adds something about his country. You may leave it open for people to think of a personal or more profession-related word.
  • Free Associations You may ask people to use free association and think of three words they associate with a core theme of the online workshop. You can then enter these words into the free tool Wordle to compose a nice visualisation. You may analyze that further as a bridge to the content of the session. What strikes you as important key words? What are positive and negative associations?
  • Households or flatmates This is an icebreaker I learned through CPsquare's foundation workshop and I've used it a couple of times since. It always leads to a lot of social, informal talk. You may create households and divide names of the participants over the households (or flats, compounds, farms or tents, whatever the context). Give them some assignment, for instance to think of a name for their household or a description of their favorite living room.
  • Image search Ask people to search through Google images or through a photo site like Flickr for an image that represents their expectations from the course. What will they gain through the workshop? It may lead to creative visualisation of the expectations. Ofcourse you may tweek this exercise to suit another question. For instance, you may ask people to share an image of their own specialism. It's more fun to use image search than to ask people to share their own pictures because it stimulates creativity.
  • Voice icebreakers You may use a service like Voicethread to create a short video to which participants may comment. For instance, use your webcam and share a questions and ask participants to respond by adding their voice. A disadvantage of this icebreaker may be that not everybody may be comfortable enough using voicethread.
  • Scavenger hunt I remember I did scavenger hunt in one of my first trainings in Mali. Small groups were asked to go out and come back with a certain number of items (eg. a cigarette of a certain brand, a tomato etc. People had to get very creative. The first group won. I've never done it online, but I'm sure you could do it as a synchronous activity. You could ask people to find internet resources on for instance, with tips for managing information overload through social media (either individually or in small groups). The persons with the fastest replies or the best resources could be rewarded. In this way you end up with a nice resource list too. A type of scavenger hunt I've tried is selecting an image (in this case from Flickr) and asking people to find that image. Interestingly, people start to search for the words in the image, whereas the tags are actually important. It was harder than I had thought.
  • Youtubing In a Dutch program on television they have a Youtube compilation on a certain key word. In similar way, you could ask people to share the funniest videos about social media culture for instance. Or videos which illustrate their point of view. We once asked people to blog about their impressions about the Netherlands. The group found a wonderful video of bicyles in Utrecht.
Do you have your favorite online icebreakers? Please share them in the comments!
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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

My take-aways from cognitive surplus and some questions

I was very impressed by Here come's everybody by Clay Shirky and happy to read his second book Cognitive Surplus during the Christmas holidays. I definitely enjoyed reading it, because Shirky is very good in understanding social change as a result of technological changes and explaining it with brilliant examples. On the other hand, I missed some answers that I had unconsciously hoped to find. Let me use my blog to summarize my take-aways and try and formulate what questions I have that are unanswered...

First some highlights from the book (some already hightlighted in his first book):
  • People enjoy making and sharing and social media makes that possible on a global scale- an enormous cognitive surplus we have collectively. Shirky gives an historical analysis of gin as lubrication for the industrializing society- chaotic and urbanized. It helped people in London to cope with life. Not laws, but a restructuring of society with mutual aid societies amongst others reduced gin consumption. The gin our time has been the television with people watching thousands of hours. This is our cognitive surplus imagine how many hours we watch collectively! Social media taps that surplus and uses that free time differently. We like making and sharing things, being creative. This can be lead to fun things (sharing a video of your cat) or serious things (like wikipedia- an online encyclopedia).
  • With the ease of publishing through social media average quality of writing drops, but experimentation and diversity increases and the best works becomes better than before. The other example is the introduction of movable type letters by Gutenberg in the fifteenth century. This lead to an abundance of book, which before then had to be carved out. The first thing that happened was that more Bibles were printed. It took some time before also new books were published, and later novels, newspapers, scientific journals. Edgar Allan Poe commented that the multiplication of books is an evil because it lead to a pile of books with lots of useless ones. True that the freedom to publish lowered the average quality. But it increases experimentation and dissemination. A striking similarity with social media which make it easy for anyone to publish online. With lower average quality too! Yet it can be disorienting for people who've grown up with the previous situation of scarcity.
  • People's intrinsic motivations gravitate towards experiences that reward them in feeling autonomous, competent or connected and publishing, Collaborating through social media gives them that experience. Every successful example of social media harnesses this intrinsic motivation. People working together on causes, examples like the open source software or wikipedia has been a surprise to many asking: "why are people doing this?" because our theories were based on the idea that people work for personal and financial motives, not for free.
  • The things people do with social media have different types of value; personal, communal, public or civic value can be created. Personal value drives the hobbyists, communal value is created by a group of collaborators working on some common interest or goal. Communal value becomes public when it is open to non-members (eg. the apache software is quoted as an example). Finally, civic value is created by groups trying to transform society. Pink chaddis is mentioned, or the two examples of my previous blogpost about digital natives with a cause come to mind.
Now let me think about my questions that are not answered by this book:
  1. How does this link to our evolution as human mankind? Are people developing higher IQs and EQs? Becoming more imaginative, more creative? Are we better able to think globally and to connect because we can empathize and link to a wider range of lives and emotions? How will the brains of future generations be wired differently?
  2. How are these developments linked to global issues like poverty, crises, climate change? Will it improve our collective ability to deal with them or will the people with access to social media be at an advantage to appropriate resources? In other words, how will it affect issues of equity?
  3. How does social media connectivity affect science and multi-disciplinarity?
  4. What is our intrinsic motivation, how is it shaped? So what direction will the value created by the cognitive surplus take? What is the role of leadership in this?
  5. What does civic sharing through social media mean as a power to transformation of society? And to the speed of transformation?
If you have the answer to these questions, please leave a comment :).