by Hailey Cooperrider
It’s been nearly three months since Collabforge launched Epic Collaboration and made our promise to you. In that time, the effort has been mainly supported by Collabforge, with a small but growing band of committed collaborators.
The purpose of this post is to evaluate our progress so far, share some things we’ve learned, and offer our thoughts on the best approach going forward. At the end is an invitation to provide your own reflections and ideas, and join us for an informal strategy session tomorrow (August 26th.)
What we’ve learned
1. It takes time:
Everything takes longer and costs more than you expect. People go on leave and get sick. Good intentions get delayed, or go unfulfilled. At the same time, when you accept a slow and steady pace, you make room for the unexpected to emerge. One of the biggest things we’ve learned is that it’s OK to go slow.
— John Baxter (@jsbaxter_) July 18, 2014
Others don’t always share that perception of ‘slow’ anyway.
2. The content is valuable
From our stories, and the growing list of patterns, to the Level Up Handbook, those who have taken the time to digest the site's content have given us positive feedback. We’ve found it’s easy to pull the Library items up on the screen during a meeting or workshop, to help explain a concept quickly, and have been getting the feedback that others have been using the content in a similar way.
3. The discipline of sharing is beneficial and clarifying
Just the act of publishing our thinking helps to clarify that thinking. Like the old saying: if you can’t teach it, then you don’t understand it - we've had to deeply assess our methods in order to document our approach. For example, the challenge of writing the Level Up Handbook (even in its early draft state) forced us to surface every aspect of our practice and organise it into an overarching frame.
The whiteboard we used to organise our thinking, before writing the Handbook
Just doing that work has helped us to integrate those ideas more deeply into our everyday work. Moreover, it has helped us clarify the value proposition for our work, communicate it better to others, and overall increased our credibility as “experts”.
4. People are keen to share, but it’s hard
We’ve been really heartened by the number of people willing to share their stories and knowledge, and take up the call to collaborate on collaboration. Even overcoming that barrier, however, is not enough to get us there. Sharing well takes time.
We promised to deliver two stories per week.This was not possible for a number of reasons, which have taught us about our capability vs. enthusiasm and a need to ask for additional help.
Here’s what we have done in the past 11 weeks:
- 5 stories, or 1 story every 2 weeks
- 14 patterns
- 3 frameworks
- 1 approach
- 2 resources
Stories can take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours to get finished, including:
- Initial interview and data gathering
- Writing the text (which is a bit of an art)
- Getting approvals from relevant parties
- Surfacing, agreeing, and creating or linking patterns
- Creating the content for web (HTML tweaks, image selection)
When we’ve worked with other folks to surface their stories, we’ve taken on the majority of this work. Going forward, we’re going to need to rely on others to complete more of these steps themselves. And we’ll scale back our own story commitment to 1 per month.
5. Affiliated events are an unexpected win
As expected, you can’t predict where people will see the value, or which aspects will gain momentum.
Our friend Kathryn Ananda (Positive Handprints Foundation) made a strong commitment to merge her own efforts with those of Epic. She has already run a workshop in which she used the site as a teaching and facilitation tool (update to come).
Another friend, Caroline McLaren (Coactiv8), is anticipating using the Epic site in an event she plans to run in Sydney.
These sorts of affiliated events weren’t anticipated by our model, but they are an efficient way of getting the ideas distributed, and an excellent practical proof of the value of open knowledge. For Kathryn and Caroline, they are able to add value to Epic by presenting its ideas in a workshop context, and at the same time it makes it easier for them to run events that raise the profile of their own organisations.
Collabforge’s own Level Up Workshop, which is driving the development of the Level Up Handbook, is another example of an affiliated event.
6. Events get positive attention, but are heavy lifting
Our launch event forced us to really clarify our story, and brought together many key players associated with the collaboration industry in Melbourne.. We gained important collaborators and supporters, and feel confident that people want us to succeed, and value what we are trying to do.
We aspired to continue doing events to engage the network, maybe once per month. We ran a second event later in June, 'Collaborating with the Crowd', which focused on engaging potential supporters beyond the Epic network and providing insights and content to people who might be new to the idea. We got positive feedback about the event, particularly a desire to “get to work on real problems.” This had a positive spinoff for the presenters from Open Food Foundation who asked for and received help on their crowdfunding campaign.
At the same time, the event required heavy lifting, and wasn’t an efficient way to raise money for Epic Collaboration. It paid for a little less than one day of website development, and took more than one day to deliver.
We have another Epic Collaboration event coming up in October, as part of knowledge week, but until then we are going to hold off doing any more formal Epic events.
7. Contribution is king
Perhaps the most important lesson is that behind every beautiful webpage or engaging piece of content, there is a mountain of effort. Researching, writing, designing. And of course, web development. All of the development of the EpicCollaboration.com website is done by Collabforge. We can justify this expense a long way, because of the way that stewarding Epic Collaboration allows us to position ourselves in the market. But the unfortunate reality is that a lot of really obvious updates to the site are not able to be finished because we simply can’t prioritise them.
8. What is the new business model, really?
If we are to realise the ambition of Epic Collaboration to be something that is owned by no one and everyone, then we will need to solve a really difficult and fundamental challenge - how can it sustain itself?. Might we need a supporting institution, as some early commenters suggested? Is there a business model that can make it self-supporting? Or is there some more fundamentally distributed option we can’t yet see? I dived into some of these issues more deeply in an earlier post.
The good news is that a number of organisations have stepped forward to make contributions of content to the site. We can feel momentum building. We just need to keep making small, smart moves.
Thoughts on next steps
Here is what we are already thinking in terms of strategy going forward:
1. Maintain pace:
Don’t rush. Don’t sprint. Keep plugging along. We don’t need a “speed to market” strategy, because we’re not trying to compete with anyone.
2. Develop partnerships and social proof:
Having Kathryn make her pledge openly has been a huge inspiration for others who have considered participating. Even incremental increases in the people and organisations you can see on our site will have a big impact on our credibility.
3. Keep solving the business model puzzle:
The more we can work out how to run a thriving business on a platform of open knowledge and open source software, the more others will believe it is possible. Slowly but surely, we are finding more clients that align with this idea, and that is feeding back into the platform and content.
4. Ask for help:
Collabforge needs to continue to be vulnerable, not try to do it all, and progressively let go of our ownership over Epic Collaboration as others step up to lead. In return, we hope that others will step into that space, and provide meaningful contributions of effort and problem-solving, as opposed to just helpful ideas and suggestions (though we’ll take those too).
How to contribute
In order to draw these threads together with some smart and passionate people, we are hosting an informal strategy session next week:
- August 26th, 5:30pm - 8:30pm
- Hub Melbourne, Level 2, Collabforge Team Room
- 673 Bourke Street
- Melbourne, VIC 3000
- Bring a few bucks to join a group pizza order, or brown bag it :)
- RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Our first round of invitations went out to those who indicated their interest in Epic Collaboration via the webform on the homepage. As a result, the following people have already committed to attend:
- Peter Tsipas - Lawyer, Mentor, Blogger, Photographer & Curator - http://petertsipas.com/
- Chris Watkins - Director at Appropedia Foundation - http://www.appropedia.org/
- Dale Bowerman - Digital, Communications, Social Media
- Laura Wilkinson - Citizen Experience Development Lead - Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages - http://www.bdm.vic.gov.au/
If you can’t make the event, fear not, we will provide updates and new opportunities to provide input.
In the meantime, we encourage you to submit your ideas and questions in the comments on this post. We’d love nothing more than to see a discussion of these matters in advance of our in-person session.
Before you do so, we encourage you to review the homepage, about page, past blog posts, and the content of the library. And if you missed the opening event, our 20-minute launch presentation is probably the best way to understand what we are trying to do.
Looking forward to hearing from you.