The culture of collaboration

Steve Dale writes about the need for organisations to consider the cultural as well as the technological issues around collaboration and communication using the web”

An excellent posting from Shawn over at Anecdote about fostering a collaboration culture. A good corollary to my recent postings about what I see as growing and misplaced belief that Web 2.0 is the solution to more effective knowledge sharing. They key point I was trying to make is that technical solutions (blogs, wikis, RSS) by themselves do not create, nurture or develop learning and sharing communities, or improve engagement between government and citizens. I emphasised the importance of people in the equation, both in terms of skilled facilitators (those who support and encourage conversations and collaboration) and the willingness of the users themselves to actively engage (e.g. a shared domain of interest). Shawn refers to fostering a culture of collaboration, which I think is quite often overlooked by those who are rushing headlong into implementing Web 2.0 facilities in order to achieve better knowledge management.  To put this into perspective, the investment (time, cost and support) for the ‘people and process’ side of the communities of practice being developed across local government exceeds the cost of the technology by a factor of ten or more. Furthermore, this is recurrent cost and not a one-off capital expense.

I’m delighted that Steve is already signed up with the etoolkit project wiki, as getting this balance right is key to the success of the project. The toolkit we are developing will make clear the complete costs of implementing a social media solution to a problem, including people’s time and training, as well as the financials. Social media and web 2.0 are quick and easy to do, but not so quick, and not so easy to do well.



I wondered last week about the ways we can use online tools to collaborate on projects – I had on my mind the etoolkit that David Wilcox (and now Beth Kanter, Emma Mulqueeny, Alex Stobart, Nancy White and Steve Dale…) and I are developing in the open.

My issue was that while wikis are perfect for putting stuff together and bringing together thoughts and resources, they aren’t that great for conversations or throwing out ideas, which is where group blogging can have a great impact. The trouble is that a standard WordPress (say) blog is rather an unwieldy beast for this task, making you sign up for the blog, log in, go to the admin panel, then click write post etc etc…

There’s an obvious solution here, and that’s the Prologue theme for WordPress. Makes it dead easy for people to contribute ideas, with the possibility of threaded conversations using the comments. Perfect. I have started one for the etoolkit here. It’s hosted at which means that while allowing others in to contribute is a little clunky, there’s little harm done or money lost if nobody uses it.

Developing an open toolkit

David Wilcox and I had a meetup earlier this week, where we talked about the different ways that organisations need to be approached in terms of how they might make use of social media and web 2.0 stuff – or not, as the case may be.

We touched on David’s work at the RSA and the subsequent collaboration for membership organisations; as well as some of the outputs of events like the Social Media Big Day Out and the barcampukgovweb.

Wouldn’t it be nice, we thought, if there was a toolkit out there which provided the materials needed for an organisation to work through the options, decide what their issues are and figure out how they can meet those issues with a mixture of on and offline responses.

So we did the only thing a pair of self-respecting social hackers do, and set about creating such a thing – and all in the open, of course. You can find it all at the etoolkit wiki. Don’t worry, that’s just a working title.

It is envisaged that the toolkit will be made up of 3 elements:

  1. The toolkit itself, a prepared pack of information
  2. A facilitated workshop
  3. A dedicated network space for post event support and discussion

The toolkit itself will be made freely available, probably under creative commons. It will be open enough to be easily bespoked for a sector, whether charities, local gov, membership organisations or whoever. People can pick the toolkit up and facilitate the workshop within organisations; or consultants could specialise in delivering it themselves and charge for it.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated, and please do sign up with the wiki and start to contribute your ideas if you would like to.