Collective Impact

I’ve been reading and thinking a bit about “collective impact” lately.  (Here’s the seminal article introducing the buzzword.)  It’s a solid, mostly-common-sense framework for thinking about collaborative/coalition efforts.  There are five elements that define a “collective impact” approach:

  • Common agenda.  If you don’t have a shared vision for change, you can’t really expect to collaborate effectively.
  • Mutually reinforcing activities.  Successful collaborators need to coordinate their activities, play to their strengths, and know their role in the larger effort.
  • Continuous communication.  If you don’t communicate regularly you can’t hope to build enough trust and shared language to collaborate effectively.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Jon, why are you wasting my time with such obvious folderol?”  Most coalition efforts I’ve seen fulfill these first three conditions pretty well.  Hang in there, it’s the next two that are the most interesting:

  • Shared measurement systems. Hmm, now we’re getting somewhere.  Collective impact suggests that collaborative efforts need agree on a shared set of indicators of success and the systems for monitoring and reporting on those indicators.  Without shared indicators, collaborators have no way to really know if they are succeeding or failing, and no feedback systems that allow them to “course correct” as needed. 
  • A backbone support organization.  Proponents of collective impact assert that successful collaboration efforts need to have a strong, staffed organization at their center, in order to run the collaborative process with sufficient intensity and focus to drive it forward in the face of distractions.  It’s not clear to me whether they think a strong “lead coalition partner” fulfills this condition or not.  (I suspect not.)

It’s these last two points where most collaborations falter, and probably not concidental that they require sustained, long-term resource commitments.  How do collaborations you’re involved with stack up?

Even more sprint wisdom

Joel Burton, Chris Calloway, Chris Ewing and Chris Rossi (with some remote assistance from Alex Clark and Matthew Wilkes) just wrapped up an insanely productive sprint focused on improving ZopeSkel, the code generator for Plone integrators and developers.   At the end of their in-depth write-up, they share some golden “lessons learned” about effective small-group sprinting.

The No-Fun ZopeSkel BBQ Sprint accomplished 23 major tasks in four days primarily by four sprinters.

We are very excited by the productivity and usefulness of the sprint and feel there are some lessons to impart:

  • Smaller sprints are by far more productive.
  • Ruthlessly focused sprints are more productive. Having super-clear goals and not wavering from them is key.
  • Excluding topics which don’t exactly fit goals is not a bad idea.
  • Design discussion and documentation ahead of the sprint make for a more productive sprint.
  • Inviting capable sprinters with strong motivations and undivided attention is abolutely necessary.
  • Bounties are not all they are cracked up to be. They take a lot of work. There may be easier ways to raise travel expenses.
  • A work environment geared towards serious concentration with no interruptions or distractions is extremenly helpful.
  • Starting as early as feasible each day and working for about ten hours is most productive.
  • A lunch break which involves walking to a location away from the work environment refreshes the afternoon’s work.
  • IRC, Twitter, UStream and other open communication channels are distractions while sprinting. Help yourselves before helping others outside the sprint while it is sprint-time. There will be time to help others after the sprint and a sprint which doesn’t produce helps nobody.
  • Sprint now, report out later. Blogging is another distraction while sprinting. Help the sprint first.
  • Photographing whiteboards is a nice security blanket which doesn’t take much time.
  • Have the network set up the day before. Don’t go wireless. Have a high speed switch on a fat pipe.
  • Have a couple of nice dinners in the middle of the sprint. Make lunch fun. Eat BBQ every day. Have BBQ on your pizza. People who have fun together work together better.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Don’t stay out all night.
  • Get the nicest possible accommodations. Private accommodations entirely taken over by the sprinters are best.
  • Do not fit three people in the front seat of a pick-up truck.

There’s a lot of clean-up work left over from this sprint. We could have used an extra day. It would have been wrong to cut short the work being completed on the final day in order to make a second ZopeSkel release in four days. Plus, some clean-up work depends on the outcome of discussions regarding the previously mentioned splitting proposal. Suffice to say, there will be at least a couple of people merging branches into trunk at the Plone Conference 2009 Sprint.

Previous posts about sprinting:

Sprint Wisdom

More Sprint Wisdom

On social change advocacy and its targets

Supporters of long-term social change should not just be providing resources to organizing campaigns. They should also be focusing on helping decisionmakers become more able to hear the messages that social change campaigns are sending.

What good is funding campaigns to send faxes, emails, tweets, phone calls and letters to legislators who are already overwhelmed by unstructured incoming messages?  Why not also work on tools to help the legislators track and manage inbound communications more effectively, so that they can actually hear the voice of organized people over the din of organized money?

Why not invest in providing government with the tools to run proper community engagement processes that bridge traditional in-person public meetings with online technologies?  This probably requires some interesting innovation in online discussion tools.

Most social change advocates believe fundamentally that government works.  Why don’t we systematically invest in helping it transform itself so that it can be more open and responsive to our advocacy?

Woah. Google SearchWiki

Google says:

Today we’re launching SearchWiki, a way for you to customize search by
re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results. With
just a single click you can move the results you like to the top or add
a new site. You can also write notes attached to a particular site and
remove results that you don’t feel belong. These modifications will be
shown to you every time you do the same search in the future.
SearchWiki is available to signed-in Google users. We store your
changes in your Google Account. If you are wondering if you are signed
in, you can always check by noting if your username appears in the
upper right-hand side of the page.

The changes you make only affect your own
searches. But SearchWiki also is a great way to share your insights
with other searchers. You can see how the community has collectively
edited the search results by clicking on the “See all notes for this
SearchWiki” link.

This could be pretty big.  Or a pretty big headache, once people start spamming it.  It will be interesting to see how this rolls.

Well put, David Brin!

David Brin, answering Edge’s big question: What have you changed your mind about?, says, somewhat off-topic:

Let me close with a final surprise, that’s more of a disappointment.

I certainly expected that, by now, online tools for conversation, work, collaboration and discourse would have become far more useful, sophisticated and effective than they currently are. I know I’m pretty well alone here, but all the glossy avatars and video and social network sites conceal a trivialization of interaction, dragging it down to the level of single-sentence grunts, flirtation and ROTFL [rolling on the floor laughing], at a time when we need discussion and argument to be more effective than ever.

Indeed, most adults won’t have anything to do with all the wondrous gloss that fills the synchronous online world, preferring by far the older, asynchronous modes, like web sites, email, downloads etc.

This isn’t grouchy old-fart testiness toward the new. In fact, there are dozens of discourse-elevating tools just waiting out there to be born. Everybody is still banging rocks together, while bragging about the colors. Meanwhile, half of the tricks that human beings normally use, in real world conversation, have never even been tried online.

Nonprofits, Open Source and Leadership: ONE/Northwest and the Plone Community

My colleagues and I at ONE/Northwest have been spending a lot of time engaging with an Open Source software development community (the folks who make Plone) over the past two years. It’s been an amazing learning experience.

The following essay summarizes our experiences and attempts to tease out someulearnings both for nonprofits and for Open Source communities

This is a really rough first draft. I invite your thoughts, feedback, questions and criticisms. Tell me what parts (if any) ring true with you. Tell me what to cut. Tell me what I missed, or what I just plain got wrong.

Continue reading Nonprofits, Open Source and Leadership: ONE/Northwest and the Plone Community

Why a perpetual state of anxiety?

Alison Fine just wrote a report on the use of social media tools among Overbrook Foundation human rights grantees, for, um, the Overbrook Foundation.  Her top-line finding: “a perpetual state of anxiety” among nonprofits about “Web 2.0” tools:

  • Overall, the grantees are firmly entrenched in the Web 1.0 world,
    meaning that grantees use the web largely as a source of information
    rather than interactivity. 
  • A small handful of grantees, for instance Witness, the ACLU,
    Breakthrough, WYNC Public Radio, are using social media in spectacular
    ways to engage their constituents in conversations.
  • Most grantees are not taking advantage of easy-to-use social media
    tools effectively. The first is the fact that only half have blogs, and
    that only half of these groups allow comments on their blogs.
  • Survey respondents and group discussion participants often felt a
    “common struggle” in understanding which tools are critically important
    to their work and were at a loss as to where and how to get help for
    selecting and using new social media tools.

Alison asks for comments.  Here’s mine, which is admittedly not based on having read the report yet:

I wonder how much of this anxiety is the product of nonprofit sector consultants and pundits hyping Web 2.0 tool after Web 2.0 tool.  

How short was the hype cycle of MySpace?  Of Flickr?  Of YouTube?  Of Facebook?  Of Second Life?  Are all of these important?  Equally?  Should all nonprofits be doing all of these things, plus blogging, social bookmarking, IM, screencasting, user-generated content, etc. etc. etc.?

I think the message that nonprofits are getting from us “yes, and wait until you see what we’re excited about next!”  I’ve seen a lot more enthusiasm for these tools than reflective analysis of their real-world value in organizations with scarce resources.  And I think that’s what’s creating a lot of anxiety.

Or maybe I’m just having a curmudgeonly day. 😉

I’m looking forward to digging into Alison’s report in depth.

(Hat tip to Beth.)

“The Chandler Knowledge Worker”

Remember Chandler?  Mitch Kapor’s open-source “Outlook killer” that was supposed to change how we manage information forever? 

Well, that was a few years back, and while they still haven’t gotten to a 1.0 release, they’ve finally put out an interesting “0.7 Preview” version.  And along the way, they’ve really done some amazing thinking about how knowledge workers need to manage information.

I’ve not checked out the software yet, but I was struck by their vision document, titled “The Chandler Knowledge Worker.”

Often called a project manager or product manager or program manager,
our Preview Target User however is a special breed of PM. They work
closely with every member of their team, acting as a communication hub.
They know how to ask the right questions to gather input and feedback.
They identify problem areas, figure out when meetings need to happen,
who needs to be there, what needs to be discussed, and then they
facilitate the discussion to define concrete next actions and
ultimately drive their team towards informed decisions.

They go on to offer an intriguing diagnosis of what’s wrong with the current state of the art in personal information management, which underpins Chandler’s different approach.

As the prototypical “Chandler Knowledge Worker” it will be interesting to see how Chandler works.

Kudos to Mitch and the OSAF team for having the wherewithal to stick with a project that has become far more interesting and complex than they ever imagined, I’m sure.

Why Facebook/Twitter/IM/Blogging etc. Might Actually Be Significant for Relationship Building

Marty shows yet again why he is one of the keenest observers in the nonprofit technology space:

Direct online interaction robs the very important inattentive trust building components to relationships. Twitter, facebook, etc. provide a unique window into watching someone without paying direct attention to them. How many of you log on to do work late at night and “see” in AIM list and Skype list folks that are still online working. Does that over time build your relationship with that person in any way? Does a facebook update on someone going hiking at a place you have hiked before influence your interaction with that person next time you meet even thought you never discuss the hike? Yes.

What if they were taking jazz lessons? What if they twittered they picked up a new Hummer? or bagged a black bear on the first day of the season? You might never bring it up in a work context or direct interaction but you know it is there and your brain files it in the mix. It is inattentive. They were not telling you. They were not looking for a reaction. They were just letting you see if you cared.

One of the key components of network health is social ties. There may be passive network building strategies that should be tested and deployed within a campaign context that help foster building inattentive trust. Such activities might include micro blogging activities and work, shared calendars, regular questions asked about non-campaign related activities and republishing the information back across the network.

The tools are catching up very slowly to all the complex needs we have to understand one another. We need to be aware of the opportunity they present to enable us to build more powerful network capacity even in inattentive and passive ways.

This feels really right to me.

Interesting paper on platforms

Managing Proprietary and Shared Platforms: A Life-Cycle View by Thomas R. Eisenmann looks like a really interesting examination of the challenges of both shared and proprietary platforms as they grow and evolve.

The research shows that challenges confronting platform managers vary systematically, depending on whether the platform is proprietary or shared and on the stage of platform development. As in most industries, platform-mediated networks exhibit predictable patterns as they pass through life-cycle stages of birth, maturity, and decline. Exceptions do occur, but the patterns hold often enough that life-cycle patterns provide a useful guide for planning.

How Plone Keywords Should Work

We’re finishing up a big intranet project here at ONE/Northwest, and that led to an interesting conversation between me, Dave Averill and Gideon Rosenblatt about tagging and keywording content in a website. Here are a few notes from it.


1) “Tags” – keywords that are stored per-item and per-user, ala Plone doesn’t provide out of the box support for tagging. That’s probably OK, because tagging doesn’t really work well unless you have a LOT of users.

2) “Keywords” – keywords that are stored per-item, but not per-user. Plone provides this out of the box.

How Things Work Now, And What’s Wrong

Plone’s current Keywords user interface is really clunky. So clunky as to be nearly useless, in fact. (Sorry.)

keyword widget

The main problem is that as the list of keywords in the site grows (which it does, very quickly, because keywords are not per-user, they’re global across the site), it quickly becomes very difficult to find and choose the keywords in the scrolling window.

Worse, you can’t easily see at a glance which keywords have already been selected.

How to fix it

Fortunately, I think this should be fairly easy to fix.

I would do the following things

  1. Move the Keywords widget from the “Properties” tab to the “Edit” tab. (Plone 3.0 fixes this quite a bit, by making the schemata refresh without page reloads, so this may ultimately be a moot point.)
  2. Show the list of keywords assigned to a content object above the keyword widget. (Bonus points for making them clickable to a search!)
  3. Change the widget to an Autocomplete widget. (Note: I need to check whether the Autocomplete widget will let you add new items to the vocabulary.) uses an autocomplete widget like this for tag entry, and it’s really efficient.

    autocomplete widget
  4. Make keywords part of the default content view templates (again, with clickable links to other items with the keyword). It’s easier to remove them (especially in Plone 3.0 with the viewlet manager) than to add them, and having them there by default will signal that we value keywording.  UPDATE: Shane Graber below points out some instructions he wrote for doing just this, in Plone 2.0-2.5.   Zope 3 fans might prefer this as a viewlet, but that’s a pretty trivial implementaton detail.
  5. We should build a screen that allows one to very quickly assign keywords to many objects in a single operation. I think I’d want to execute a search (or build a smart folder), then see a list of all found objects, their descriptions, the keywords they currently have, and an autocomplete widget for each object. Rip through the screen, assign keywords to a bunch of objects, then hit save once. That would be really fast and efficient.
  6. Finally, we should make sure that permission to assign keywords to content is separated from permission to edit the object itself. (I’m not sure if this is already the case, please leave a comment if you know!) This would make it possible to create a “tagger” role which could be used to let site members keyword content items.

OK, that’s it. All of this stuff seems like it would be pretty easy to do without any major changes to the underlying plumbing.

What do you think? Would this be more sensible, more “humane” behavior for Plone? Is there more low-hanging fruit that I’m missing?

Update: It also might be interesting to look at auto-generating keywords by using Yahoo’s Term Extraction API.

“Make Tools Simple and Ubiquitous Or They Won’t Be Used”

More wisdom from Dave Pollard:

studying the use (and non-use, and mis-use) of various tools, I’ve come
to the realization that some pretty simple rules govern whether, and how,
communication tools are used:

  1. A tool has to be both simple (intuitive to learn, comfortable and versatile to use) and ubiquitous (everyone needs to have access to it) before it will be extensively used.
  2. Most people are looking for just enough tools to manage both 1-to-1 and
    group communications, and both synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous
    communications. The fewer the better as long as they cover those bases.
  3. Most people will tolerate more than one tool in a category if and
    only if each offers unique and important functionality that is absent
    in the others.
  4. Comfort with and access to various communication tools varies
    between generations, and with it their propensity to use certain tools.

More Thoughts on Commenting

Seems like I’m not the only person thinking about website comments these days. Our friends at The Tyee have been doing some heavy duty musing on this lately, too:

The Tyee just
launched its new commenting system yesterday, and it’s been a very interesting
ride so far.  Overwhelmingly positive feedback, but of course some disgruntled
commenters who don’t like the changes.  Lots of good constructive feedback from
readers so far, both on the experiment in general, and on technical details that
we could improve on.
Check out our
editor’s two pieces about the changes:
1) “Can We Still
Talk Online?  Push is on to improve reader forums on the Net.  First in a
Tyee’s New Approach to Comments: A system designed to promote thoughtful
We see the
changes we’re making as part of a wider trend in online forums, not just with
online publications, but with blogs and other open forums as

ZyprexaKills: bleeding edge online direct action

My friend Jonah Bossewitch has been involved with a fascinating ‘online direct action’ campaign targeting Eli Lilly, who had been conducting an illegal “off-label” marketing campaign around their drug Zyprexa, despite knowing about the drug’s lethal side-effects.

Jonah’s case study of the campaign weaves together simple, freely available technologies such as bittorrent file sharing, anonymous web proxies, tagging, and wikis with issues of free speech, media rights, whisteblowing, and network neturality, and

spotlights… cyberactivism… on the bleeding edge of technology and the frontier of civil liberties. The story suggests how participatory culture might give to way to participatory democracy, and especially how these kinds of technologies can play a leading role in radical actions. It also demonstrates the strong symbiotic relationship between new and traditional media, and presents new models for their future collaboration.

Good stuff, well worth a read for anyone who is working on corporate or government accountability in this digital age.

NewsCloud’s guide to social news aggregation for organizations

NewsCloud creator Jeff Reifman offers a nice guide for social news aggregation for organizations.  It describes five increasingly-sophisticated techniques for groups to integrate NewsCloud-powered social news aggregation into their online activities.

  1. Add NewsCloud headlines to your Web site or blog
  2. Create a Journal to clip headlines from around the Web for your Web site or blog
  3. Create a Group for multiple staff or member stakeholders to
    track and clip headlines on related topics for your blog or Web site
  4. Invite your stakeholders to participate in news gathering for your organization
  5. Host your own installation of the NewsCloud software at your own Web site