Sunday, 6 July 2008

NHS eSpace - real adoption of social networking

Despite deciding to leave my job, I am very much enjoying seeing some really positive uses of eSpace, the social networking/media site (not to be confused with the car) I've been working on for the past year or so. It's been recently updated to a Drupal platform, and with improved navigation and what appears to be, a consistantly spreading network of advocates, I'm seeing a considerable increase in activity and buy in for it.

eSpace is based on Communities, some of these are communities of practice, some communities of interest, but all have been created based on a perceived need for an online space. It's potential is huge, as an awful lot of money and time is spent travelling around the country to meetings, which could more effectively and easily happen via web conferencing - hopefully that will be the next step. But currently, people are actually asking questions and getting answers, finding colleagues through the member directory, sharing concerns and generally sharing knowledge and experience, which is what it's there for.

Having done a lot of work with the Tipping Point theory of the adoption of ideas, and the nature of change, I can see that we're on the upward curve, heading happily toward the tipping point. This I feel has been in part for these reasons:
  • the communities are created by demand by the workforce, and not dictated centrally, allowing for people to engage with them and to really support their community as advocates who spread the word
  • there is strong leadership support in some areas, encouraging participation, explaining usefulness, and generally advocating the site and specific communities they see a need for
  • each community has a coordinator from within the community (or who is close to that community) which enables them to understand the needs, interests and barriers the community faces
There's still very much a "pull" tendency, with people expecting to be fed information, - we don't get many documents shared by users, but it's clear that knowledge is being shared in discussion forums.

To anyone trying to implement a social networking or social media site in their organisation, I would say the key elements to think about are:
  • Bottom up works best - it's incredibly difficult to get a network going, supporting the ones that want to be there is half the battle
  • You need the support of leaders. These don't have to be leaders in the sense of the organisational structure, and could be leaders of a particular network.
  • Skills in networking, influencing, and identifying potential advocates and coordinators are vital to get the right people on board - find your advocates, the rest will happen more easily
  • It takes time, lots and lots of time, and you can't force it (but you can push it gently) so just keep listening to your users and coordinators/facilitators and above all be supportive. Every user is important, without them you have an empty site
Hopefully eSpace will continue to demonstrate its usefulness and become a hub of knowledge and experience to which staff can turn to help them along the potholed path that is IT enabled change. Effective use of the site requires a huge culture change, lots of time, and considerable demonstration of benefits, but it really does seem, in the words of Bob Dylan, that the times they are a changing (terrible grammar that man had, and he sang down his nose, but a useful sentiment).

5 comments:

Schmoozii said...

eSpace looks good. I built a business networking site from php because I was worried about the scalability of Drupal. Have you experienced any problems with this on eSpace?

Helen Nicol said...

No schmoozii (good name by the way) it's been great, very flexible, and with thousands of users, is doing well. Would definately recommend it as a platform

Helen Nicol said...

It looks as though Schmoozi is actually a social networking site...and not a person...

RonDon said...

Do you not find it a bit weird when websites send you comments?

I havent yet read it but I think your recommended approach for your social network site fulfils the basic premise of the new book 'Nudge' (which I have just ordered) see http://www.nudges.org/reviews.cfm whereby the users still have free choice whether to use it but you are 'nudging' them in the right direction.

Cheers, Ron (not that good a name but a real person nonetheless)

Helen Nicol said...

Cheers Ron, will have a look...
H