Online communities do not spontaneously spring into existence without a reason for them to exist. This may a common interest or desire, or a necessity. Someone has to take the lead to set up the technology and initial structure and as the online community grows, others will take responsibility for different roles.
The following recommendations are based upon the finding of the trial projects:
- Identify in advance how you intend to collaborate – what does it mean for you as an organisation?
- Choose a product that is scalable to the size of your organisation or network and has a decent margin for growth; you don’t want your community having to suddenly change platform with all the resulting staff development or angst that can accompany this.
- Ensure buy-in by making use of existing communities or building upon previous projects.
- Start with the core (big players, senior/high profile), then add leaders/experts in the field. Get them engaged and then invite others.
- Need to get a buzz going initially (identify tipping point) and then may need to support community to keep the buzz.
- Don’t try and do everything – use the group expertise and bring in others as required.
- Deliver relevant material or engage in relevant topics.
- Use the power of three.
- Publicise outcomes as a result of this collaboration and funding opportunities.
- Remember it is a co-operative and collaborative space not competitive.
- If you have different groups or topics within the space, ask other members to be moderators.
- Choice of tool may be pragmatic rather than best fit – eg previous experience in different context but be aware that some people may be resistant to new use. Even if use sophisticated platform the end-user interface must be easy to use and navigate with some user generated features.
- When using online meeting tools it is a good idea to have one person lead the session and another as administrator (keep an eye on hands-raised, texts, additional resources).
- When working across different institutions, need to be aware of all strategies and attitudes otherwise there may be delays.
- Support all users in preparation on how the collaborative online tools might be used to support them during the collaborative project.
- In the initial stage, identify and engage with key stakeholders to enable internal support and resource. This also ensures that any problems that occur are dealt with swiftly otherwise the use of collaborative space will dwindle.
- Be flexible. If your chosen tool is not working for the community then consider changing or bring in new functionality. Pick up on ideas from the community as to what is working and what isn’t.
- Know your institution’s IT policies e.g. will they host open source software? Do they allow access to your chosen tool from within their network? Work with central resources (especially IT services, marketing, and external engagement/enterprise) rather than against them.
The University of the Arts developed their six Rs
- Rhythms: how often do you want to provide activities for the community? Too frequent and people will be overwhelmed and unable to commit time, too rare and people will lose interest and the initiative will be lost.
- Relationships: what kind of relationship are you trying to engender between the participants – colleagues, friends, contacts, collaborators?
- Roles: who will do what in the community, and who will be paid and who will work for free?
- Resources: how can you leverage existing investments, and what can you get for free and what needs to be paid for?
- Respect: treat members fairly and don’t make them feel like they are being exploited – how can you ensure they feel valued?
- Responsibility: who is responsible for what, but also what responsibility does the community have to itself