Follow-up from the Leadership Learning Community Webinar

Last Monday I was a guest of the Leadership Learning Community for an short online gathering. The description was pretty loose and they expected around 50 people to show up.

Communities, Networks and Engagement: Finding a Place for Action
We have so many online tools at our disposal to theoretically connect and activate engagement with others. But what happens when we say “we’re building an online community” but few engage? When is it worth the work and effort? What are our options? And if we build it, what are some starting points to help us work towards successful engagement?

We were using a GoToWebinar platform, which I’ll admit, I don’t like because it is really a broadcast tool, with no peer to peer interaction and all participant interaction funneled to one person (and there were four of us involved in producing the event, so lots of forwarding, etc.)  I decided to abandon a more formal presentation style to try and engage people from the start because after all, this was what the webinar was about! So we started with some polls, and then with my host, Grady McGonagill, we took questions during the presentation and Grady and I diverged into conversation as well. Consequently, I did not get through the material. So I promised to follow up with the slides, resources and answers to any outstanding questions we did not get to. Thus this blog post. Here we go…


  • Any tips or recommended resources for facilitating hybrid online/phone focus groups with smaller groups (5-15 max)? Also, any recommendations re: optimal group size for this sort of interaction? If the group is all online – you are lucky. The most challenging groups are mixed online and offline. For facilitating, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. 1) Think multi-modality. Audio alone doesn’t work well for a lot of us to stay engaged. Have a visual element – a shared Google doc or presentation, a wiki/chat room in or use the white board in a web meeting tool. Of course, this visual aspect needs to be relevant. I really like pairing chat rooms w/ audio (be it on phone, skype or whatever) where people can talk to each other without having to wait for audio “air time.” This does challenge some people who are less comfortable multitasking. You might consider methods like “the clock” both for phone and web meetings (see here and here). 2) Think 7 minute chunks. Break things up alternating content sharing with interacting, visual with audio. Remember, it is hard to pay attention when our bodies are not in the same place. 3) Group size issues are similar to those F2F. Once you get over 5 or 6 it is harder for everyone to have a chance to speak up. With some web tools, you can do break out rooms — just like F2F!
  • How do you balance “quality control” with network engagement/ participation/ responsibility? I was very intrigued by this question. It is probably helpful to figure out what we mean by quality control. I’ll take a guess and someone chime in if I get it wrong. I’m assuming this is about content — did a member give correct or useful advice. Was the data shared accurate, etc. My experience is that in communities where people care about what they are working with (the “domain”) they also care about quality and help weed out the “iffy” stuff. The key is to cultivate habits of critical thinking and useful practices to apply that thinking (which means civility!) If we are talking about “quality people” I’m assuming this means attracting people who know something about the domain. Again, if the learning matters, you will attract good people. It can feel, however, like a leap of faith. One word? LEAP!
  • We have persons in developing countries as well as in places where the internet is not an issue… this produces a big challenge to overcome to connect the majority of them. How do you engage them? How do you make them feel part of the community (normally they believe and put money, but not always participate). Again, I need to be careful in my interpretation of this question! When we work globally, we have both similarities and differences to account for. First, if there is clarity on shared domain (what the group is interested in an how it is concretely relevant to them today!) you are ahead of the game. Many global communities I’ve been involved with have very broad, generic domains. While no one could disagree with them, they were so broad everyone deprioritized their participation. A big tent may hold many people, but a big tent can also be empty. Consider focusing the domain in a way that carries relevance for people NOW. Then make the tent bigger later. Second, cultural diversity (linguistic, national, professional, gender, etc.) can be harder to detect online, but can trip us up faster. I find making these differences discuss-able little bit by little bit helps. Encourage people to share their ways of working and interacting. Compare and contrast a bit. This helps people find common ground and know when to “cut some slack” for others’ behaviors which they may not — ahem — love themselves! Finally, talk about participation — don’t assume it. Ask for small, doable things from people to build that sense of and experience of engagement. Don’t ask for TOO much — people are busy no matter where they live! Small bites are tasty! (See also the next two questions)
  • Do you have any recommendations for technology when your community is spread around the world? In my experience where bandwidth and electricity are limiting elements the most effective technology is email based technology. The use of text on mobile phones is the first technology that might unseat email. There are also community rhythm issues when you have people coming from diverse bandwidth contexts. For example, when you have a mix of folks who are “always online and reply quickly to messages AND people who are online once a week or every two weeks, you can get a lot of asymmetry in participation with those on less feeling left out and “late to the party.” If this happens to you, encourage the always-on folks to slow down. It’s good practice for us “fast fast fast” people!
  • What does diversity mean in this discussion?  How does class diversity and online access play a role?  How do multilingual networks connect and thrive?  What hosting platform handles multilingual groups best? Diversity means MANY things and some have different implications than others. Lets start with linguistic diversity. I have used platforms that have multilingual interfaces — and which one will work for you depends on what languages you need. But the user interface is just step one. That helps people get online. But the key is having a) critical mass within each linguistic group for ongoing interaction and b) “bridgers” who help summarize and translate. I’ve blogged a bit about this issue and you can read some of the articles here.
  • Can you repeat at some point how to access the wiki? I mentioned two wikis. One was my online facilitation resources wiki here. The other is the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit, a collaborative effort to capture a variety of online and offline methods.
  • CPsquare doesn’t give much on their initial website — any chance you all can give more guidance on how to connect to it? It is hard to get a sense of all the wonderful things that happen around CP2. First, it is important to know it is a membership community. You can see the blog for free, but ya gotta join, ok?  For example, there is the quarterly “Foundations of Communities of Practice” online workshop which is a deep dive into CoPs. John Smith, the community steward, told me to mention”help in real time” which is a discussion board for Q&A with fabulous people resources, the month telecon on “shadow the leader” where the community hears about the community leadership practices of one person over the arc of a year  (currently Marc Coenders on evolving his evolving business model), the R&D series on student projects where mostly PhD candidates support each other and then when drafts of work are ready, the community offers feedback. For more details, read CP2 blog for news and updates. My shorthand? CP2 is a place to engage with others who care about communities of practice!

Have other questions or thoughts? Chime in with a comment.

Message From Meetup/Community Thoughts

KM4Dev members

I thought this was worth sharing as I know many of you, dear readers, are as passionate about community as I am. Plus I’m preparing for a round of gatherings of communities that are very significant in my life in the coming weeks. In that spirit considers what triggers us to connect. What has catalyzed significant community engagement for you?

To: nancyw at fullcirc dot com
Subject: 9/11 & us

Fellow Meetuppers,

I don’t write to our whole community often, but this week is special because it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many people don’t know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.

Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought local community doesn’t matter much if we’ve got the internet
and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I hoped they wouldn’t bother me.

When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being neighborly.

A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet — and grow local communities?

We didn’t know if it would work. Most people thought it was a crazy idea — especially because terrorism is designed to make people distrust one another.

A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months after 9/11.

Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it’s working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups,Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups… a wild variety of 100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common — except one thing.

Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me. They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and motivate each other, they babysit each other’s kids and find other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace together. They make friends and form powerful community. It’s powerful stuff.

It’s a wonderful revolution in local community, and it’s thanks to everyone who shows up.

Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it weren’t for 9/11.

9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or talk to strangers. 9/11 didn’t rip us apart. No, we’re building new community together!!!!

The towers fell, but we rise up. And we’re just getting started with these Meetups.

Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ)Co-Founder & CEO, Meetup New York CitySeptember 2011

Do something, Learn something, Share something, Change something – Meetup.

Monday Videos: Mixing it Up

Two from YouTube which remind me that “mixing it up” is a powerful interaction strategy. It can get us out of our ruts and boxes, inspire us, help us see from fresh perspectives and generally get our blood flowing! Here are two wonderful examples.

via YouTube – The KO Hip-Hop Cello-Beatbox Experience: Julie-O and Opening Ceremony Blog – Spike Jonze Presents: Lil Buck and Yo-Yo Ma

What are you mixing up this week?

Monday Video: Art, Creative Messages and Attention

Via a Tweet from John Hagel comes the Enormous forest xylophone plays Bach’s Cantata 147 (Wired UK). A phone handset advert? Yup. But in it beauty, art and music. In our communities and networks, can we use art and music as a way to focus attention, learn and share knowledge? What ideas do you have? Post a comment!

Networks and Coalitions with Thrive By Five WA

I have been enjoying working with the Thrive by Five Washington coalition for the past 5 months. My little piece is to work on network weaving practices within the regional coalitions and across the state as they emerge and form. We had a fun session on network weaving a couple of weeks ago and I thought it might be interesting to share the story.

First a little history. This February session built on what we did last November where we mapped networks and started thinking about who “was in the room” and who we wished was with us.

We began with some postits that listed various demographic indicators – all mixed up and not separated by region. We asked people to pick the demographic indicators that they thought represented their region,  as some of our state’s make up has been shifting pretty impressively in recent years. It is easy to hold on to old perceptions…

Most of the regions were savvy and picked out their data. Then then posted their data on a big sheet of paper prepared for each coalition. We asked them to think of one of the demographics that they wanted to do more with in their area (i.e. teen moms, families where no English is spoken at home, etc.)

We asked each group to map their coalition They used post it notes – one per person or organization – and identified the main players in their network. As time allowed, they moved post its closer where there was more engagement and deeper relationships, moving those “less connected” to the periphery, all the while discussing the implications of what they were mapping.

Finally, we asked them to consider the demographic group they identified. How did this group show up (or not show up) on their map? Who were “connectors” out into these subcommunities? If there were none, who might they invite into the coalition to help serve this role. Again, new ideas were generated and people began to both see their coalition, AND the power of what they brought as individuals with their own social networks. The logical follow up request was to ask them to act on these ideas in their coalitions going forward.

In the meeting debrief, people reported that the mapping exercise was useful so we decided to do a follow up session at the February 2011 meeting.

While we knew we would not have exactly the same people as we did at the first meeting (coalitions can’t always send the same people!), we wanted to complement the visual mapping work from November with some very practical network weaving practices at this meeting. We did need to  some common ground, so I prepared a few introductory slides. My main content centered around June Holley’s work, and her current draft Network Weavers Handbook. Thrive by Five WA is part of a community of practice of non profits around the country working to build skills in network weaving (

One of the dynamics in this coalition is that it is reshuffling things. There are many strong local and county coalitions for those interested in readiness for learning for children birth to third grade. However, there are funding and advocacy drivers that suggest regions are a more powerful entity. Regions cross and blend all these old coalition lines, so there are both opportunities and challenges.

One thing I’ve been noticing in working with the coalitions is that there needs to be a way to discern what needs to be kept in the more formal, organizational hierarchy domain, and what merits “setting free” into a more emergent and informal network. There is need for both, but education and health care practices tend to be valued most when they are codified. So I also grabbed June’s table comparing when networks or organizations are the most useful strategic approach.

I made handouts of  three of June’s worksheets: one on assessing one’s network, one on closing triangles and one on matching assessed needs with practical follow up actions. I also created a “coalition health checklist.” We had heard feedback that some of the coalitions in the start up phase were struggling a bit, so the checklist was again a way to surface and prioritize issues. (Coalition Health Check Up)

I had people do the network assessment individually, then pair up with a partner to talk through it. I find the checklist needs that “lets bounce this around” sort of conversation to get past an easy “check the box” approach.  We joined back up to report out on the activity and this immediately led us into some of the network weaving strategies such as “closing triangles.” Then I asked people to think of two individuals they want to introduce and we talked about introduction strategies – from the easy, breezy email to actually inviting people to do something tangible in the coalition.

One thing that came up from a couple of folks was the fact they felt everyone assumed that all the connecting was their job. The challenge of being a hub in a hub and spoke network, which works well at the start, but wears out the poor hub and does not scale nor sustain. One strategy is to start closing triangles with others who can start taking on the connector role!

We worked through the opportunity checklist and closed by asking everyone to think of one network weaving activity they’d like to see happen in their coalition and report back – as the final session of the day brought everyone back from breakouts into their coalition groups. I also encouraged everyone to share how their weaving went at the next coalition meeting. I sent follow up emails with some additional resources and my fingers are crossed that action happens. I’ve already heard from one person that she is going to have an agenda item on network weaving at their next coalition meeting. Needless to say, that made me smile.