Published by Angus on 21 Sep 2009 at 10:46 am
The folks over at The Monitor Institute have been working with The Packard Foundation to explore this question. Their conclusion? Don’t worry so much about the social media tools and realize that you are building a social network. You need a ‘networked mindset’ characterized by ‘openness, transparency, decentralized decision-making, and distributed action’. We encourage you to read the full paper ‘Working Wikily 2.0′ but here is a summary of the more important points for people working in the social sector.
The paper starts by saying the new tools and the networked mindset are fundamentally changing the way we work. We can now:
- Self-organize without centralized planning and infrastructure
- Spread ideas and form groups more quickly than ever before as the new tools allow them to connect with others instantaneously and virally
- Overcome barriers to collaboration to find others who share specific passions, and to take on larger projects that would have previously been unthinkable
- Access knowledge, leadership, and expertise in places that were once beyond reach
- Share information quickly and with little effort, making more resources available and enabling people to easily build on the work of others
- Come together and disassemble as needed to achieve goals
This will allow us to “re-imagine our social activities— like organizing people, learning, generating ideas, and sharing information and knowledge—but with the potential to do them bigger, better, faster, and cheaper than ever before.” Nonprofit organizations, consultants, and members will continue to exist, but increasingly they will function and be seen as parts of broader networks collaborating towards common goals. This is great news for the social sector where most nonprofits are small and the challenges they address are overwhelming for one organization alone. It also echoes a similar point made by Paul Hawken in Blessed Unrest: “Individuals are associating, hooking up, and identifying with one another. From that meeting and experience they are forming units, inventing again and again pieces of a larger organism, … assembling these into a mosaic of activity as if they were solving a jigsaw puzzle without ever having seen the picture on its box.”
To take advantage of this opportunity for social change we need to view our communities as social networks and learn new skills to manage them. Fortunately there are “user-friendly tools for data capture and social network analysis [that] now allow us to visualize the previously invisible web of relationships between people and organizations” and there are numerous case studies like Boston Green and Healthy Building Network that will show us how to use them.
Networks are not always the answer. Use a more traditional approach when your effort calls for specialized expertise or verifiable accuracy, efficiency and speed of execution, a command-and-control leadership style, and when it involves private and proprietary information. But realize that the term ‘network’ refers to a wide variety of structures and situations. The Monitor Institute has a nice typology to explain this:
Finally, the Institute shares their “Eight Lessons to Help You Start Working Wikily”:
- Design your experiments around a problem to solve, not the tools.
- Experiment a lot, invest in understanding what works and what doesn’t, and make only new mistakes.
- Set appropriate expectations for the time and effort required.
- Prioritize human elements like trust and fun.
- Understand your position within networks and act on this knowledge.
- Push power to the edges.
- Balance bottom-up and top-down strategies for organizing people and effort.
- Be open and transparent; share what you’re doing and learning as a matter of course.
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