The future of online sharing is mobile, appified and people-centred

Earlier today I went to an excellent seminar on the Business of Collaboration, about online systems and support for knowledge sharing and collaboration. I wanted to find whether experience in the private and public sector could be useful in development of People Powered Change as a knowledge-sharing space.

I had high hopes, because one of those speaking was Steve Dale, who designed communities of practice for local government, and then worked on the successor knowledge hub as I reported here. The hub is built using Intelligus, an open source software platform from PFIKS, who hosted the seminar at the Dorchester Hotel. More here about Knowledge Hub development. This year Steve is again chairing the Online Information Conference.

There was a lot of expertise in the room, and substantial presentations, which I’ll come back to later if they are posted online. Intelligus is clearly a very sophisticated technical product, that goes far beyond the sort of systems that focus on project management, document storage and sharing, with added discussion. It has features like those in Facebook and LinkedIn, emphasising relationships as well as content.

However, our hosts and speakers were at pains to emphasise that tech on its own does not lead to sharing. In organisations that’s highly dependent on leadership from the chief executive in creating a sharing culture, and also on people to support network development and nurturing of the online community. That’s a theme I explored in a workshop a couple of years ago, when – thanks to Steve – I was asked to run a session on The Next Big Thing in Knowledge Management. Scary – but I found a way around the challenge. I tested the idea that we can best learn through good conversations – by giving people in the workshop some conversation starters, and asking them what they thought about the next big thing. It worked pretty well -  reports here and here.

The lessons for People Powered Change are that we’ll need some leadership from Big Lottery Fund and partners in developing a social space, and people who will help with the connecting and storytelling … whether called community reporters, hyperlocal bloggers or social reporters. Watch this blog for more on that from BIG and the partners, who will start blogging shortly. I’m excited by the way their ideas are developing.

In good reporter fashion, I was listening out at the seminar for a couple of unusual stories, and picked those up from Steve, and also from Richard Millwood of Bolton University.

Richard is seeking to develop a degree qualification based around people’s learning in the job they are doing – not from the formal offerings of an educational establishment. I thought that since community groups often learn on the job, in developing their projects, rather than consulting toolkits and knowledge portals, there might be value in exploring the approaches Richard is developing for people-centred learning. More here about inter-disciplinary inquiry-based learning.

The other story I focussed on was in Steve’s presentation, when he mentioned the idea of a store of enterprise apps. An increasing problem in knowledge sharing is that people want a kind of one-stop-shop, but find content spread around lots of different places. One solution might be rather like the way that we increasingly get content through purpose-built apps for our phones and tablets, rather than web sites. Companies and public bodies will develop apps that aggregate and package data and other content for specific services and solutions. An enterprise app store would be the framework within which those apps were developed so they worked together.

Steve’s ideas gave a boost to my thinking about a social app store – which I’ve written about here as approach for People Powered Change, and which co-reporter John Popham has also developed. Put simply, people involved in local action will want useful stuff bundled up and accessible on their phones … not spread around lots of different sites run by various organisations. It’s up to the organisations involved in People Powered Change, and other programmes, to think about the user experience, and how they can make access to knowledge as easy as possible. Linda Quinn, who heads up ppchange, mentioned apps in the interview we did recently, so I think there’s scope for further thinking there.

Steve also suggested that technology development for knowledge sharing should be mobile-first. It used to be that you designed for a desktop PC, and then thought about the mobile experience. That should now be reversed. The use of phones and tablets is developing rapidly in business because it frees people from the constraints that may be applied to their desktop machines. In the community, practically everyone will have a phone – increasingly a smartphone – but not necessarily be good at using a computer.

Steve and I also talked about the importance of online facilitation, community management and social reporting (which I describe here). Maybe there’s scope for a network of networker builders, and some knowledge sharing among ourselves.

As you’ll see above, I used the excellent Audioboo app on my iPhone as a change from shooting some video. It is much easier to use in a noisy environment. Also available for Android and Nokia. I also found it is a bit more conversational: the technology isn’t getting in the way … and that’s what we should aim for.

Update: I posted this over on my personal blog, where Steve Dale has commented:

A great example of ‘social reporting” – thanks for being there and for your excellent summary of the event. I hope we can follow-up on the ‘App Store” discussion – so far an untapped resource on Knowledge Hub. The technology is in place – we just need the apps. Hope to talk soon.

I’ll be following up on that



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