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Week 2 (a) Enhancing participation and engagement


What were the causes of the good (or bad) participation?

I think we did not get broad uptake because, since members would respond directly to the requestor, rather than the broader community, people could not see what the uptake/effectiveness was and so did know whether it would yield results. Also, since it was quite formalized (going through a facilitator) people were perhaps intimidated to include smaller asks. Members were perhaps not motivated to respond to requests for collaboration because it was not clear who else was involved. (Yasmin Bin-Human)


Zoom with short presentations, revolving breakout groups, active expert facilitation, chat, and google slides worked well. In-between zooms, self-organized skypes and google documents helped the groups work well together. Ewen's mantra that virtual zoom time together should be about talking and not watching presentations guided the plenary elements. Some of our colleagues joined by phone and suffered both internet connectivity problems and challenges seeing presentations and shared documents.  We benefited from having a specific topic and focus and 'real' customers for the joint projects and a time-bound process. Though it is a pity that the project ended so longer followup was not possible.  (Peter Ballantyne)


We built on a mostly willing team wanting to learn and trailblaze; we ensured that all the senior team members also posted updates and feedback - no exceptions; we encouraged sharing behaviour in team member performance reviews. Over time, all team members contributed and interacted, though not equally. Some people worried they had nothing interesting to share; others used the process to gain confidence and make visible their work; people used the platform to reinforce and praise each other. The web and email interfaces offered diverse ways to contribute and follow. The intra-location and group divisions weakened. It took quite a long time to make the culture change and encourage the notion of 'working out loud'. We tried to spread this yammer approach more widely across the institute though, with a few project-based exceptions, less successfully as some people resisted such digital platforms, others did not feel they had anything to share, top management never really got it (though they read the updates) and it never became part of the 'core' collaboration toolkit of most staff. (Peter Ballantyne)


Generally, the participation was good and the following might have contributed to it:

  • The fact that I manage a mailing list (WEB2ICM) of over 1700 subscribed members, I utilized that space by requesting members to respond to the survey.
  • The fact that I always share content to the mailing list, members had confidence in me and genuinely volunteered to participate and share to their respective online spaces.
  • I also utilized other mailing lists where I share content like web2fordev, etc. So, active members on mailing lists can influence participation and engagement.
  • I also utilized other social media platforms (facebook, LinkedIn and WhatsApp) where I usually share content and people were able to effectively participate (Robert Kibaya)


We have found that sponsored thematic discussions are a good way to promote participation, go deeper into a particular project, and generate income for the CoP. 
For a sponsored thematic discussion, a group of HIFA volunteers comes together and plans the discussion around 5 or so questions, over about 4 weeks. The discussion takes place on the main forums, in parallel with other 'spontaneous' discussions.
The sponsor gets recognition and summaries are produced, often stimulating further discussion. (Neil Pakenham-Walsh)


What steps did you, or a colleague, take to ensure success or overcome failure?

We eventually created a more dynamic, open space for community members to engage one another directly and organically (first with slack, but when that failed, with dgroups). Requests are often shared on the list serve for submissions, resources, and so forth. Members now have the choice whether to respond to the entire list serve, or directly to the requestor. It is often a combination of both, depending on the confidence level of the contributor, the nature of what they are sharing, and their relationship with the requestor and others who have more publicly responded.  We try to amplify success in our newsletter’s “we asked you answered” section, so that community members can see that their peers engage and be motivated to contribute too. Since launching the collaboration corner, I also have to say that the number of our community members has grown immensely and, as pointed out by another contributor previously, often it is a numbers game. You are lucky to get 10% participation rates with the rest often being lurkers. (Yasmin Bin-Human))


I make sure to stay relevant online and always share content and appreciate others by liking their content and disseminating it. Also, I make sure I build a wider online community on different social media platforms. For your information, building a wider online community does not guarantee participation but rather, your relationship with your community. I remember my friends posted several requests to my mailing list requesting for members to participate in their webinar but they ended up getting fewer responses. When I reached out to them with the same request, the majority came on board. (Robert Kibaya)


What key lesson or advice can we draw from this?

Give visibility to the participation and engagement. Finally, some additional things that I think might work in general terms:

  • Simply knowing that there are others grappling with the same engagement issues in the community can spur people to engage, Giacomo has pointed it out and perhaps FinEquity can do a similar exercise to the one he conducted.
  • Featuring community members so that others are confident that their messages will be received by (and responded to) people like them. I know I personally engage best with people I can identify with, whom I feel I have a shared experience with. FinEquity is ramping up its member snapshot series where we post features of various members on our website.  
  • Having very clear structure and asks (as for example this series does) – can help with people’s perceptions of relevance.
  • Making things low stakes and conversational rather than formal and “on the record” so to speak. (Yasmin)


A common purpose/product really helps. A champion who walks the talk helps. Really active and engaging event facilitation helps. Mixing the tools/platforms helps by introducing diversity. Some platforms need work-arounds to enable wider participation. (Peter Ballantyne)


What I see emerging from all these processes as important to enhance participation and engagement are:

  • Shared purpose, clear, compelling and meaningful. In the planning phase we reached out to participants to understand their challenges and contributions. 
  • An inclusive invitation inviting people/ participants as actors and contributors.
  • A well designed process over time structured for interaction and well paced (slow or fast), and with an adapted rhythm. Small groups for conversation and plenary for  framing.  Liberating Structures are THE game changer in online interaction. Joint writing allows everyone to express thoughts and ideas. 
  • Deliver content before the workshop as the workshop is about people interacting... Preparation is key, for everyone. (Nadia von Holzen)


A further way to encourage engagement is to have the thematic discussion lead into a scheduled conference or webinar. This helps inclusion and diversity of participation, and also helps create momentum for the event. For example, we ran sponsored thematic discussions on Community Health Workers in the run-up to the 1st and 2nd CHW Symposia in Kampala Uganda and Dhaka Bangladesh, respectively. (Neil Pakenham-Walsh)


  • Always keep this in mind, do what you need others to do for you. Always, respond to requests from others and by doing so you are building a strong relationship with them. Do simple things liking people's content, sharing it, etc.
  • Also, try as much as possible to be objective online as people will always associate you with the content you share online.
  • Always, try as much as you can to keep in touch with your online community to help them not to forget you.
  • Always, try as much as possible to create opportunities for others as this helps to build stronger relationships with your community.
  • Always, try as much as possible to appreciate your community members as this will always encourage them to participate.(Robert Kibaya)



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