Holding a consultation on an online community

2 November 2009

Before the launch of the Online Community, ISEAL used a number of standalone tools for online consultations.

These included a wiki, a WordPress.com blog and the isealalliance.org website, used to advertise the consultation.

However, there are a number of issues with using standalone tools:

1. They can only be customised to a limited degree. The Online Community was built from scratch for ISEAL, with a technical specification sent to our developers Rechord.

2.  Users often end up only visiting one of the tools. Even though we clearly linked all of the tools from each website we used, some people only visited the blog or the wiki.

3. It took time to customise the tools to the way we wanted them.

4. It cost money to purchase upgrades enabling us to obtain the required functionality

5. Instead of having to explain one tool to our members, we had to explain several tools.

Using the Online Community:

The new Online Community makes things much simpler.

We are able to create a group for each online consultation, ensuring that all the information is contained in one area.

This group allows us to upload posts,resources, documents in progress and events.

Members are then able to view these items and leave comments.

Tips for holding a consultation on an Online Community:

1. The consultation should be as accessible as possible. Try and have links to important documents on the front page of the group as well as in the resources section. Some people may only have time to glance at the front page.

People should not have to login to read documents, although they will need to login to comment on documents and edit documents in progress.

2.  Those that you want to take part in the consultation need to be aware of the existance of the Online Community. They also need to know how it is accessed (for example, the login procedure) and how they can take part in it.

Therefore, it is important that the help section of the Online Community is clearly visible on the front page, and if possible linked on the front page of the group as well. We actually decided to make our help section a group so people could ask questions.

3.  It is important to have regular updates, just as with a blog. Posting on the comments recieved so for makes those who have left comments feel valued and those that have not yet left comments are spurred to do so.

ISEAL’s Online Community concept presented at ISEAL AGM

13 July 2009

At the end of June, ISEAL held its Annual General Meeting, where our members were able to participate in a variety of exciting workshops and provide input into ISEAL’s activities.

During the Open Plenary session, ISEAL’s Technical Director Patrick Mallet presented ISEAL’s forthcoming Online Community to those present, including delegates from such member organisations as Rugmark, the Forest Stewardship Council and the Alliance for Water Stewardship.

ISEAL’s Online Community is intended to provide a hub for member-member communication, and will be a place where ISEAL staff can provide training, capacity building and where members can easily access a volume of resources in various formats, including video and audio.

On Wednesday, myself and Communications Manager Wiebke Herding and Alison Kriscenski of the Forest Stewardship Council presented two workshops on Building Online Communities to our members.

These workshops, which ran for three hours total, also discussed how to run online consultations and use online tools for good.

This week, ISEAL staff will be testing the Online Community, which is currently at the beta stage.

Rules for your Online Community

19 March 2009

This week I have been drafting a privacy policy, terms and conditions and terms of use for the Online Community, a task I have enjoyed.

There are big differences between the three documents.

A privacy policy explains to visitors how their data will be used and how secure the site is.

When drawing up the privacy policy, I referred to the Data Protection Act and the Information Commissioner’s Office, an independent authority created to improve access to official information and to protect personal information.

Terms and Conditions are a contract between the user and the site administration that the user agrees to abide by when he progresses beyond the landing page.

Like the privacy policy, this will always be linked on the front page of an online community.

Terms of Use cover how users use the site. These include not impersonating other users, not posting spam and not breaching copyright.

I have also been researching the laws of copyright using the Intellectual Property Office website.

So why are all these rules and regulations needed for an Online Community?

A Privacy Policy is needed to ensure that users are aware of how their data will be used, and so they will feel comfortable with visiting the site.

While the huge majority of the time users will contribute to the site in a positive way, there may be an occasion where a user does something that will offend other users or cause the online community to be brought into a legal dispute.

Spamming can also be a problem. For example, Scope web content manager Alex White has told the Media Trust that the charity’s web forum receives between fifty and sixty spam messages a day.

These issues can be avoided by a well written Terms and Conditions and Terms of Use.

Selecting tools to build an online community

5 February 2009

We have been considering what tools to use for the online community.

So far, we have been looking at Drupal and Typo3 as the best content management systems.

Both offer a wide variety of plugins, including the ability to have a discussion forum and a document library. We also want to host a variety of webinars and interactive training courses.

For the webinar, we will be trialling Gotomeeting’s GoToWebinar option.

Selecting tools:

When selecting tools, it is important to us that they are open source and that we are able to train our members and stakeholders on how to use these tools.

It is also important that contributed content does not just come from ISEAL Alliance staff, but from those who we inform as well.

Our members and stakeholders have a wealth of experience to share with each other and ISEAL.

Indeed, many stakeholders have been helpful in meeting with us both in person and via Skype to explain their experiences with possible tools we are considering.

The landing page for the online community should also be welcoming and informative about the work that ISEAL does, without distracting the reader with too much information.

We are considering having a slideshow for the landing page showcasing ISEAL’s work, using slideshare.

What tools would you recommend for use in an online community? Have you been involved with planning or building an online community?

Why not give your view in the comments?