This afternoon I had the pleasure and honor of spending a few hours with members of the Charity Technology Trust/Charity Technology Exchange team, part of the TechSoup Global network, exploring their options for creating programs or services to build and foster community throughout their network. Below you can find notes and ideas from today’s session – would love to hear your thoughts and feedback!
CTX services over 8,000 charity and community organizations in the UK and wants to nurture that network of organizations by providing more than just software and services, but also opportunities to build community.
The session was designed to be a conversation – with an avid note taker (me). For many organizations with a small number of staff, it’s a luxury to have time to sit, talk, and think aloud together. I wanted this session to be a chance to relax, think big and critically, and pull out ideas from everyone. I came with a list of questions that I used to steer the conversation to ensure not only were we focused, but also that each question pushed us closer to our goal of identifying opportunities for community-focused programs or services.
- Who is the community? This conversation should naturally define segments or groups, as well as the attributes that define those members.
- What services already exist? This is both locally and globally. Ideally, the conversation with map the various services to the segments or groups who already/could benefit.
- What’s the sweet spot? The sweet spot is the middle or cross section between what you (the organization) want to do and what the community (or member organizations) want to do. The overlap is the area where you should focus your capacity.
- What capacity/resources are in place? This means everything from physical resources to knowledge and staff to the entire network. Reinventing the wheel is usually not a very successful option.
- What roles or resources are needed? Now that we have talked about who the community is and what it wants, as well as our goals and current resources, we have probably also identified opportunities for engagement – it may be ideas for specific groups or the whole network and it may be supporting an effort another group is already spearheading or starting something new. Whatever it is, we need to identify the people/roles and resources needed to make it successful.
- Next steps. Phew – after a long conversation and work session like this, it was exiting to talk next steps!
So how did it really go? Here’s a brief recap:
Who is the community?
We had a very valuable conversation about members of the different parts of the CTX community, and the segments that emerged included readers/consumers, activists, donor partners, participants/contributors, and others. One important note was that all groups include organizational staff and “free agents” which means there are various motivations and perspectives in every group.
Part of our conversation about who the community was and how it was broken down into groups also included some dedicated brain time about some of the words we were using. We created a separate area of the white board where we could collect words we used in conversation that were actually indicitative of much more – words that were clues to what CTX wanted in a community space, attributes of a “terms of service” type agreement for a community, and words that even would later become keys to identifying the next steps and appropriate technology options. These words included things like: open, mutuality, learning, not “techie,” not about CTX, knowledge sharing and storytelling (and more).
What already exists?
When it comes to the kind of community engagement and knowledge sharing that CTX wants to catalyze, looking at the field of what exists covers some dynamic ground. For example, there are others creating or sharing content specifically about tech, like ComputerWorld, UKRiders and CharityWebForum. There are organizations creating content like NAVCA, NCVO, LASA with the Knowledgebase, and KnowHow NonProfit. There’s also non-branded content (non-nonprofit or non-tech) as well as non-UK specific groups and resources. As CTX operates through partnerships with donor partners, all those donors have their own resources and content about tools and services. Lastly, there are lots of 1-time or regular events that surface ideas and case studies and generate content that could be really useful to pull in or capture.
But what is missing from everything that exists? In CTX’s eyes it is the engagement, aggregation, or the weaving of people and ideas, questions and answers. That’s the key.
What’s the sweet spot?
The sweet spot is the place where what your community wants and what you want overlap. In the case of CTX, the sweet spot had key words like:
- connecting people in a way that recognizes/respects many hats and real context
- aggregating conversations in a way that lets CTX and users analyze the data (know you’re not the only one asking a question, measure interest in ideas, etc.)
- peer to peer
- positively incorporates promotion and visibility
- questions answered
- storytelling, not tech forum q/a but explanation of why and how
- rich content that’s unique
- inspirational and empowering both in knowledge and engagement
What’s in place now?
There’s a drupal/civicrm system in place and a community space that was a beta trial (that is closing down), plus knowledge/experience on the team of using tools like facebook, twitter and wiki platforms. Relationships with most all of the groups listed in “what already exists” which is huge. Essential to success is the fact that there is about .5 FTE in place already with the potential to have interns or other contractors already in place dedicate time.
An important realization that emerged from the conversation, though, was that something in place now is a work flow and organizational culture that doesn’t match where they want to be. This lead directly to the last question:
The CTX team members in the meeting asked some great questions about the way others have created community spaces before and what helped them be successful. The cultural shift that they see necessary for their situation is one that puts the community space (whatever form it takes) into the work flow of staff – for example when staff field questions from organizations who received a particular donation, they could post the question and the answer or resource in a public place.
Experience and knowledge about best practices and how to successfully build community was something the CTX team felt was obvious but not something they had. This lead into a conversation about choosing tools and guiding creation of a space – is that something they decide or do they find a community builder and leave them to the decisions? A similar chicken-or-the-egg conundrum was the conflict of creating one central space vs creating a presence across the social web, where a community builder would concentrate on pulling people in vs pulling together content across the network respectively. Is aggregation the goal and thus the desire to pull content together into one place or is action the key and getting people talking wherever they are?
Everyone loves next steps – it’s my favorite part of any meeting! Part of the next steps are writing up these thoughts and notes to we can continue to think and talk about it. We are also going to explore a few options including The Groupery, Wagn (in use like connectipedia), and others.
I’ll be sure to keep you posted as things develop!
I really hope that sharing these notes is helpful for anyone else looking to explore options and strategic planning for community-focused programs or products. Let me know if it is, and what you’re working on – or why it isn’t and what you’ve found that works better!