What makes a great community for learning & knowledge exchange: update

Here is the full slide deck from my session at #LT15Uk today and you can see Storify of the Twitter stream here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments and experiences of building communities of practice for learning. Thanks to: Niall Gavin, Con Sotodis, Martin Couzins and Helen Blunden for their input into my thinking:

What makes a great community for learning & knowledge exchange

I’m a big advocate of the potential for peer led networks and communities to help improve performance, build shared understanding and develop professional practice. I’ve written about this before and I’m looking forward to talking about my experiences of building networks and communities in and beyond the workplace at the Learning Technologies conference at the end of this month. I’ll maybe see some of you there, and if you’re coming along you can also pick my brains at an LT eXchanges session on the 28th Jan.

As Julian Stodd has expressed beautifully in his work on the Social Age, agile learning and community building are key to how we can continue to make sense of our rapidly changing world. We have moved on from (or at least we should have) assuming that the classroom or instruction are always the best route for helping our teams make sense of their work, learn new approaches and develop their practice. Communities, and conversations, whether face to face or online, formal or informal, are critical.

image

Image by Julian Stodd

But where do you start and how can we support communities so that they flourish and grow?

I’ve found networks & communities can be invaluable for empowering staff and appreciating & recognising the expertise already in your organisation. They can also help to expose great work which sometimes get buried within team or departmental silos. I’ve had some really positive experiences watching communities grow and visibly fizz with energy but equally have seen well-intentioned networks and communities start loudly and then fade away.

A sense of shared purpose is important, as is having the right organisational foundations and support, but it’s not always easy especially when everyone is busy and hard pressed for time. Even with the best intentions sometimes communities of practice don’t take off or have the hoped for effect.

I’ll be (attempting!) to tweet the key messages from my slot on the day but I’m really keen to gather other perspectives and experiences for sharing with the audience, I know many of you out there have your own insights and experiences to share so I’m asking for your help, I’d love to know your thoughts on these questions:

  • what makes for a great community of practice?
  • what experiences have you had, good and bad?
  • what advice would you give to someone just starting out with a new community?

image

Image from jarche.com

Do let me know your thoughts in the comments below, I’ll share them on the day (with attribution) and here…

Innovations in knowledge sharing, creating a book of blogs

imageIn October 2014 the NSMNSS network published its first ebook, a collection of over fifty blogs penned by researchers from around the world who are using social media in their social research. To the best of our knowledge this is the first book of blogs in the social sciences. It draws on the insights of experienced and well-known commentators on social media research through to the thoughts of researchers new to the field. In this post I reflect on the process of creating that book. A version of this post was also published on the NSMNSS blog.

imageWhy did we choose to publish a book of blogs rather than a textbook or peer-reviewed article?  In my view there is space in the academic publishing world for peer reviewed works and self-published books. We chose to publish a book of blogs rather than a traditional academic tome because we wanted to create something quickly which reflected the concerns and voices of our members. Creating a digital text, built on people’s experiences and use of social media seemed an obvious choice. Many of our network members were already blogging about their use of social media for research, for those who weren’t this was an opportunity to write something short and have their voices heard.

Unlike other fields of social research, social media research is not yet populated with established authors and leading writers, the constant state of flux of the field means it is unlikely to ever settle in quite the same way as ethnography say or survey research. The tools, platforms and approaches to studying them are constantly changing. In this context works which are published quickly to continue to feed the plentiful discussions about the methods, ethics and practicalities of social media research seem an important counterpoint to more scholarly articles and texts.

How did we do it?

Step 1Create a call for action: We used social media channels to publicise the call for authors, posting tweets with links to the network blog which gave authors a clear brief on what we were looking for. Within less than a fortnight we had over 40 authors signed up.

Step 2 Decide on the editorial control you want to have: We let authors know that we were not peer reviewing content, if someone was prepared to contribute we would accept that contribution unless it was off theme. In the end we used every submitted blog with one exception. This was an important principle for us, the network is member-led and we wanted this book to reflect the concerns of our members not those of an editor or peer-review panel. The core team at NatCen undertook light touch editing to formatting and spelling but otherwise the contributions are unadulterated. We also organised the contributions into themes to make it easier for readers to navigate.

Step 3Manage your contributions: We used Google Drive to host an author’s sign-up spreadsheet asking for contact information and also an indication of the blog title and content. We also invited people to act as informal peer reviewers. Some of our less experienced authors wanted feedback and this was provided by other authors. This saved time because we did not have to create a database ourselves and was invaluable when it came to contacting authors along the way.

Step 4 – Keep a buzz going and keep in touch with authors: We found it important to kp the book of blogs uppermost in contributors minds, we did this through a combination of social media (using the #bookofblogs) and regular blogs and email updates to authors.

Step 5 – Set milestones: we set not just an end date for contributions but several milestones along the way tgo achieve 40% and 60% of contributions, this helped keep the momentum going.

Step 6 – Choose your publishing platform: there are a number of self-publishing platforms. We chose to use Press Books which has a very smooth and simple user interface similar to many blogging tools like WordPress. We did this because we wanted authors to upload their own contributions, saving administrative time. By and large this worked fine although inevitably we ended up uploading some for authors and dealing with formatting issues!

Step 7 – Decide on format and distribution channels – You will need to consider whether to have just an e-book, an e-book and a traditional book and where to sell your book. We chose Amazon and Kindle (Mobi) format for coverage and global reach but you can publish into various formats and there are a range of channels for selling your book.

Step 8 – Stick with it… when you’re creating a co-authored text like this with multiple authors you need to stick with it, have a clear vision of what you are trying to create and belief that you will reach your launch ready to go. And we did, we hope you enjoy it.

Watch a short video featuring a few of the authors from the Book of Blogs discussing what their pieces are about.
Join the conversation today use #NSMNSS or follow us on Twitter @NSMNSS and you can buy the e-book here all proceeds go towards network events.

PS – special thanks are due to David De Souza (@dds180) who started this ball rolling with his innovative curation of the HR book of blogs vol. I & II. Humane Resourced & This Time it’s Personnel.

It started with a tweet…

This blog was originally published on the NatCen blog here.

image It started with a tweet, a blog post and a nervous laugh. Three months later I found myself looking at a book of blogs. How did that happen?! Being involved in the NSMNSS network since its beginning has been an ongoing delight for me. It’s full of researchers who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries, question established thinking and break down a few silos.

When I began my social research career, mobile phones were suitcase-sized and collecting your data meant lugging a tape recorder and tapes around with you. That world is gone, the smartphone most of us carry in our pockets now replaces most of the researcher’s kitbag, and one single device is our street atlas, translator, digital recorder, video camera and so much more. Our research world today is a different place from 20 years ago, social media are common and we don’t bat an eyelid at running a virtual focus group or online survey. We navigate and manage our social relationships using a plethora of tools, apps and platforms and the worlds we inhabit physically no longer limit our ability to make connections

Social research as a craft, a profession, is all about making sense of the worlds and networks we and others live in, how strange would it be then if the methods and tools we use to navigate these new social worlds were not also changing and flexing. Our network set out to give researchers a space to reflect on how social media and new forms of data were challenging conventional research practice and how we engage with research participants and audiences. If we had found little to discuss and little change it would have been worrying, I am relieved to report the opposite, researchers have been eager to share their experiences, dissect their success at using new methods and explore knotty questions about robustness, ethics and methods.

image Our book of blogs, available as an ebook here, is our members take on what that changing methodological world feels like to them, it’s about where the boundaries are blurring between disciplines and methods, roles and realities. It is not a peer reviewed collection and it’s not meant to be used as a text book, what we hope it offers is a series of challenging, interesting, topical perspectives on how social research is adapting, or not, in the face of huge technological and social change.  I want to thank every single author from the established bloggers to the new writers who have shared their thoughts with us in this volume. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I have enjoyed curating it. All proceeds from book sales will go towards network events which are otherwise unfunded.

We we will be running more online & offline events this year so do follow the network and join in the discussion @NSMNSS, #NSMNSS or at our blog http://nsmnss.blogspot.co.uk/