Here at Forum One, we love helping organizations make real progress on some of the world’s most pressing issues — education, poverty, the environment, global health, and international development (to name just a few). More often than not, a key to making that progress is connecting the thinkers, doers, influencers, and decision makers that have a stake in the world, and the initiative to change it.
That’s why we love Commons. It’s a collaboration toolkit that’s ready-made and based on proven online community best practices. Commons enables us spend our brain-cycles creating and sustaining the right conversations, cultivating participation, and moving the real work of NGOs forward, rather than simply writing the code to support them.
Here are three key reasons we are using Acquia Commons to support problem solving communities in the public sector and some examples of Commons at work.
- Beyond Member Directories: Commons Enables Serendipitous Connections
- Commons is a CMS AND a Community Platform
- Incentives for Participation Built Right In
Member directories are great. They facilitate what I like to call the “last mile” of the connection process— the part that involves looking up a phone number, email address, or a fact needed to support the connection. But used in isolation, member directories alone will not promote connections among participants. To do that, you need something that sparks the need or motivation to reach out and connect.
In the real world, this happens at the water cooler, during hall conversations, and at seminars or symposiums where conversation leads you to new insights. It’s when, during the course of a conversation, a colleague shares, “Hey, John at the University of Minnesota has been wrestling with that same problem” or “That reminds me of another related problem that so-and-so solved with an interesting use of such-and-such.” You make new connections when you bump into new ideas serendipitously. They provide that spark or new reason to reach out and form a connection that wouldn’t exist otherwise. And the more you expose the people in your issue area to things that can set off the 'connection spark' , the faster folks find innovative answers to tough questions. But how do you create those serrendiptious moments of discovery online?
Commons provides several means, right out of the box, to accelerate serendipitous connections as well as immediate ways to close the loop on the connection. The Activity Stream feature, included in Acquia Commons 2.0, puts all of the network’s activities front and center, clearly showing anything that has been asked, shared, or cited by the network’s participants. Members can now easily see across the entire community, the articles shared, multi-media posts, new questions, and respond inline (right within the stream itself).
Activities within the network are exposed in multiple places throughout Acquia Commons communities, like in the “Recent Group Content” area seen, above from Assess4Ed, a community for education innovation funded by the Department of Education.
It’s not enough to just provide a space for user generated discussion, your network needs leadership and context about the issue - things that a traditional web site provides. Commons provides us with Drupal’s proven tools for managing non-community content just as well as supporting community activity. With Acquia Commons we routinely create Resource Libraries, Topic Areas, editorially featured documents, and events for our client’s networks.
It’s easy to combine community content with more traditional organizational website content using Drupal’s class content publishing features that are built into Acquia Commons.
Building engagement and participation online needs to be driven first and foremost by clearly showing members the personal benefit they get from participating. Showing them this benefit must happen two key ways:
- Through promotional content - static content that touts participant benefits and is given high visual prominence;
- Through integrated community content - posts that highlight member contributions, highlighted member profiles, leaderboards, and MVP programs that use a “point” system.
It is in this second area that Acquia Commons really shines, with ready-made features for tracking participation, points, profiles, rating, and ranking. Having these tools at your disposal from day one allows you to support a community participation strategy that is integrated with how the site works. And this can go a long way towards putting your problem-sovling network on the track to making a real impact.
That's 3 reasons we're turning to Commons as the foundation for much or work in building problem-solving communities - what are yours?