Monday, 28 September 2009

Screen debut

So a couple of weeks ago, I headed off to the big smoke. I wasn't particularly looking forward to the journey (the fact that my ears were popping on the Glasgow Airport bus before I'd even got near a plane was not a good sign). But things all went to plan and I was actually getting quite excited by the time the plane approached London City Airport. I'm very impressed with this airport btw. The views of London coming in to land are great - I could even make out my old tower block in Kennington (helps that it's near the Oval, so I could look out for that first!) And it took no more than about 5 minutes to get out of the airport and onto the DLR. Not sure it's much quicker getting into Central London than from Heathrow though.

After a night in the second smallest hotel room in London (I know it's the second smallest, cos I stayed in the smallest 18 months ago!), I visited ex-colleagues in the Web Team at UK Trade & Investment, who have been dabbling with social media for about 18 months now. My ex-line manager, Cass has just written a 'Social Media Marketing Strategy' which she very kindly gave me a copy of. Cass and I also had a chat with Alistair Reid who gave us a round up of what BIS are doing with social media. I was a bit disappointed not to meet Neil Williams, but I don't think I let it show and Alistair was a fine stand in. After that meeting I headed to DFID for a chat to Julia Chandler who is also doing interesting things with social media. I came away with lots of useful information which will be great help to me in writing my strategy. I'll be more specific in a future post.

Friday was the IDeA Community of Practice facilitators event at the Local Government Association in Smith Square. In my usual over eager stylee, I'd offered to do a 10 minute slot about my experiences as a facilitator. Thirty minutes and I'd have been fine, but I really struggled to come up with something useful I could tell people in 10 minutes. Luckily inspiration came by way of 2 articles in the BA in-flight magazine (Business Life). The first article is about the continuing importance of face to face meetings in business. The second article was about something called social proof. Social Scientist Robert Cialdini wanted to see if he could increase the percentage of people re-using their towels in hotels. By changing the wording on the little cards that usually say something like 'please reuse your towel, the planet will thank you' to 'the majority of guests who stay in our hotel reuse their towels’, the number of people reusing their towels increased by 26%. The theory goes that when people are told what others like them are doing there is a tendency to follow the crowd and do it too. If you have ever joined a queue and not really been sure if it’s the right one, or joined the crowd around the street performer, you are experiencing the persuasive power of social proof. So I need to find some way of applying this to our CoPs (perhaps by offering people free towels when they contribute!). So my presentation was really a plea to fellow facilitators to remember that CoPs are about people and relationships and not technology and that improving interaction is about changing behaviour not tinkering with the software.

I probably didn't really pay enough attention to the first speaker Chris Collison, who talked about communities as knowledge market places, as I was next up and was still working out what I was going to say. His new book (No More Consultants) sounds really interesting though and as I didn't win a copy (10 were given away at the event), I'll be chumming my library buddies for a loan copy. Chris did suggest that in some professions a lack of interaction in communities can be a bit of machismo thing. I hadn't really thought about this before - are some of our members afraid to ask questions in case they appear stupid?

After my 10 minutes, Charmaine Kwame and Andrew Cheetham talked about communities they've set up in the NHS. Their experiences resonated with everyone - we're by no means alone in not getting much interaction in our CoPs. But they are making progress. Don't think their presentation is available yet, but I'm sure it'll be on the wiki shortly.

Next up was a session run by Ingrid Koehler and Dan McCartney on 'CoPferences' which was very useful, as was a later session on Social Reporting (Tim Milner and Tawheed Alam). Not sure the communities that I'm involved with would be ready for an entirely online conference yet, but I think there's potential for us to try some new ways of capturing the learning at our events. I tried a wee bit of social reporting myself on the day - with a couple of tweets - but conditions weren't ideal as the wifi in the venue was a bit intermittent and I wasn't getting much of a signal on my mobile.

After lunch we got down to some 'placemaking'. This exercise, called 'the village' and facilitated by Erica Hurley, involved the whole group building a village using a large table, lots of paper, felt pens and little wooden pieces. We began by volunteering for various roles (mayor, banker, pub owner, etc), with anyone who didn't have a specific role getting a place on the town council reporting to the mayor. We were then asked to build the village in a way that reflected the Facilitators Community (eg, should the village have a strong central core, with some breakaway communities or be a bit all over the place). Erica has had a lot of success using this technique with a range of difference communities. I was a bit upset when someone bagged the farmer role before me but it was an interesting exercise and might be worth trying out with some of our communities. I wonder what our planners would make of it!

Stephen Dale and Michael Norton's anecdote circle had us exchanging stories were about how CoPs have changed our working lives. We then heard from Tim Ellis, who talked about the programme and project management communities he facilitates. Tim was very enthusiastic about the CoP platform, as was his colleague Matthew Wallbridge, who talked about how useful he'd found Tim's communities when he was learning the job.

Stephen Dale closed the day by talking about the Knowledge Hub - which sounds great, but I'm not sure if we'll be able to use that north of the border.

The chaps are doing a great job of putting all the presentations, video, audio, etc on the event wiki - which is in itself a good example of how you can capture the learning from an event. And it means I've made my debut on the YouTube....

*NB. you'll need to be a member to access the content on the CoPs

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