Research to understand how to create employee-led online collaborative communities

This project was a little different from a typical Usability Resources Inc engagement as it was academically oriented.

The client's need was to gather "state of the art" intelligence on how organizations can use socially-enabled software to facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration among employees. To meet this objective we used a multi-pronged research design:

  1. Literature review of online mass collaboration, pulling together well-known authors who write about building collaboration within organizations, crowdsourcing, and socially-enabled technology. Here is a bibliography of the work we reviewed. The literature review gave us a lay of the land and helped us to identify the topics to explore and the experts to recruit for the next study phase

  2. In-depth interviews with internationally-renowned experts in online collaboration. Our participants included the leader of the world's largest open-source software community, best-selling authors of business books on crowdsourcing, and founders of large-scale and global employee communities. They described the benefits an organization accrues from leveraging online collaboration within their organization. The participants also described the process, benefits, and challenges of setting up these types of communities. We applied the insights gained from these conversations to the design of the next study phase.

  3. A multi-day online asynchronous bulletin board with 10 Community Managers. Our Community Managers were multi-national and from a variety of industries such as healthcare, consumer goods, technology, government, and education. We hand-picked our respondents, initially finding them through The Community Roundtable and Twitter. We interviewed each participant to make sure they met our criteria before admitting them into the study. Within the multi-day bulletin board the Community Managers had the opportunity to share their experiences and wisdom around best practices for creating and maintaining flourishing online communities.

  4. The Community Managers explored topics related to engagement, governance, technology, how to measure success, moderation, and how to bring global teams together so they can work productively on projects. Here is an outline of the questions we used to structure the discussion.

The result from this research is an IABC special report "How to create vibrant online collaborative communities", which is available for purchase on the IABC Web site. We are in the process of writing an article for Communication World that summarizes the study's key findings. Stay tuned!!