Work out loud
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”African proverb
As virtual communities for impact, we are working to solve issues that are part of larger systemic problems. Oftentimes, a single community cannot resolve these issues alone. Collaboration between communities with similar goals allows both groups to benefit by joining forces, sharing resources and information to reach common goals more efficiently. Synergies and collaboration between two or more communities can also prevent repetition of common mistakes and errors.
The practice known as working out loud helps to create and strengthen synergies between two communities. This approach values collaboration over competition and focuses on building a culture of information-sharing, exchanging values, and a commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. Through
openness and transparency,communities who practice working out loud can build trust, expand their expertise, and create a larger ecosystem capable of broader collective impact.
Strategies to help virtual communities to work out loud:
- When collaborating with other communities, openly discuss your projects and work.
- Identify common ground and learn how you can complement each others’ work.
- Make working out loud a part of your community’s culture and project planning.
- Build your communication strategy to foster sharing progress and learning, and take opportunities to collaborate wherever you can.
WWF has more than 50 virtual, global collective action communities, each with its own thematic focus (plastics, function focus, fundraising). These collective action communities aim to create synergies on a similar topic connecting everyone working in a local office. They also aim to facilitate knowledge sharing and co-creation. Some of the participating community builders completed training and as a result, chose to work out loud in their own community Workplace group so others from WWF could join the conversation.
To create trusting relationships with your collaborators, open-source your knowledge and tools. Open-source sharing can be achieved in many different ways. It can be a video learning summary, a downloadable manual, wikis or gitbooks, or published resources like knowledge maps. But making your virtual community’s knowledge and resources available does not mean it will be accessed purposefully by others. You must guide collaborators through the content and teach them how to apply it effectively. Depending on your community’s governance structure, ensure someone takes responsibility for stewarding, updating, and communicating your knowledge and resources. What’s more, openly sharing information with collaborators can help you as the community builder better understand your own community.
Create synergies by encouraging your members to be active in multiple virtual communities. Kate Beecroft of Greaterthan calls this poly-tribalism. A hybrid member might belong to a local parenting club, the local chapter of a blockchain group, a virtual community on healthy eating, and your community. Different communities will cater to different parts of a member’s identity.
Hybrid members are a great resource and provide you with many opportunities to explore synergies with other communities.
“There are some communities where we are mostly passive observers on the periphery. But many of us are still actively engaged with several communities at the same time. We genuinely love them. They all play a role in our lives, but often for different reasons.”Fabian Pfortmüller, Community Canva
According to social network research, originally developed by Ronald Stuart Burt, mediators (hybrid members) between two or more communities are uniquely positioned to transfer knowledge. Hybrid members can identify common goals and similar projects happening in separate communities. They can also provide knowledge that stops communities from duplicating their efforts.
Theresa Fend, a hybrid member of OuiShare and the Global Innovation Gathering (GIG), got to know the Loomio app used to help the OuiShare community make decisions. She introduced the tool to her other community, GIG. Now, GIG members from Egypt are supporting OuiShare’s AltShift Festival, too. “I experience it as an ongoing transfer of knowledge, skills, connections,” says Theresa.
Being active in multiple communities can also create challenges for hybrid members who have a responsibility to gate-keep and balance multiple interests while maintaining confidentiality. To be successful, synergies created through hybrid members must be transparent and rooted in trust and mutual growth. If a conflict of interest occurs, select a non-hybrid member representative for each community to negotiate a solution with the hybrid member.
Have open conversations and set clear rules concerning confidential information. Share supporting guidelines to avoid confusion and conflicts of interest.
Over the past ten years, many collaborative virtual communities with similar goals and values have emerged. As communities for impact, we focus on specific problems and issues.
At the same time, our community’s individual contributions are only a smaller piece of a much larger landscape of
wicked problems and Sustainable Development Goals.Strategic collaborations between communities for impact helps us address urgent problems more effectively, and to scale solutions more quickly.
There are three ways to create synergies between communities.
1) Bridging trust between communities
The proxy effect influences collaborations between communities. Even when members do not know each other well, they are open to being approached by others who share their goals. If a few people in a community know and trust a potential collaborator, the proxy effect occurs making it easier for the two groups to work together.
This toolkit itself is an example of the community proxy effect. Impact Hub initiated this project to fill a need for stronger virtual community-building skills. Most of the communities who contributed expertise and information were recommended by someone from the group of community partners leading this toolkit. The trust and connections among contributing partners was a catalysing element for creating this toolkit.
Tip: When you are ready to collaborate with other communities, begin by speaking to your hybrid members.
Hybrid members can draw from their own network and experience to help guide you in approaching an outside community. Conversely, when your hybrid members share the positive experiences they’ve had with your community, it cultivates potential partnerships.
2) Joint initiatives promote information exchange across communities
Neotribes: Forging bonds of trust between our communities and taking time to meaningfully reflect on who we are, where we are going, and why we feel the way we do.
Human Networks Convergence: A gathering of network connectors representing international networks each experimenting with alternative ways of organising to tackle systemic challenges.
Remember, understanding your community’s place within the larger ecosystem can be a source of inspiration and strength.
3) Partner with other virtual communities
Oftentimes, relationships between two or more communities are informal. The agreement is more fluid and ad hoc. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be perceived as a potential threat. Successful collaboration requires
open communication and trustamong partners.
When you are actively pursuing collaborations and partnerships, it’s important to follow a few key steps.
Identify common needs and goals
Clearly state your common goals to ensure you are building sustainable collaborations that meet the needs of each community.
Cultivate trust by meeting in-person (if possible) and getting to know each other. Creating personal relationships helps collaborators understand each other and fosters a strong and reliable working relationship.
Engage influencer members
Ensure that influencer members within each of the collaborating communities are aware of their biases and supportive of the partnership in their messaging to others.
Agree on how you will make decisions
How will you communicate about your collaboration? How will you make each others’ contributions visible? Give credit to each other and inspire others to follow your example. Be transparent about individual and joint objectives and the values that guide your collaboration.
Co-design a decision-making framework
Collaborators must design a framework to guide cooperative and participatory decision-making and activities. As partnerships between communities form, the members will behave in ways that reflect the culture of their individual community. Create new and supportive structures and decision-making pathways for all cross-community members.
Move from talking to action quickly by implementing small projects and initiatives. Connections become truly productive and impactful through unified action. Take the first step by supporting each others’ projects. Depending on the complexity of your collaboration you may need to draft a short agreement to guide your interactions.
To maximise synergies, discuss questions such as:
- What shared vision are we working towards?
- What are our joint objectives and how do they serve our vision?
- What KPIs will be positively impacted by this partnership?
- What are each partner’s strengths and weaknesses?
- What roles will each partner be responsible for/take on?
- What behaviours are expected by and for each partner?
- What does each partner bring to the collaboration (knowledge, contacts, people, physical resources, products, money)?
Next, create agreements that support communications between communities. Invite members from each community to provide input. Be sure to identify value-adds for both sides, address expectations openly, and ensure there is a clear overlap in the vision and impact you hope to achieve.