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How To Unite Diverse Community Stakeholders Using Online Spaces

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In music, harmony isn’t created when everyone sings the same note. Harmony is created when different people sing various notes that complement one another. The same is true for communities: the most impactful communities are those in which diverse stakeholders come together and create a harmony between different perspectives, expertise, interests and ideas.

In our latest webinar presented by Jamila Kheil from Open Social, Sander Hees who works for the IATI Secretariat & UNDP United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and David Messer from Our Food Future shared their expertise on creating harmonies within their stakeholder-driven online communities.

Watch the full webinar below:

Getting everyone on board to create a better food future

Our Food Future is Guelph-Wellington’s smart cities initiative to create Canada’s first circular food economy: reducing food waste, increasing access to nutritious food and creating more sustainable solutions to the food economy.

To achieve this goal, the Our Food Future initiative uses an Open Social online community to connect and create collaboration amongst a wide range of stakeholders, including:

  • Citizens
  • Universities
  • Researchers
  • Businesses
  • Farmers
  • Government agencies
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Food relief organizations
  • and more

 

During the webinar, David Messer shared how they manage to bring such diverse stakeholders together on a single platform, and create opportunities for them to collaborate.

Creating a unified space

The unique advantage of having a flexible and customizable online community platform is that you can easily tailor the platform to meet the organization and community’s unique needs.

David explained that Our Food Future is set up in a way that different community members can find specific kinds of information or resources on separate (but interlinked) parts of the platform:

  • The homepage is more informational, giving information and updates about the project.
  • The Kitchen Table is the community space where members can find and join events, discussions or groups.
  • Workstream Groups allow members to collaborate with organizations on three central workstreams.
  • Challenges allow businesses to pitch Food Future ideas and get support from the public community.

“When we started we were looking for a platform that would serve as an online innovation portal. Something where we could launch challenges and members of the community and businesses can respond… But we also wanted to make it much easier for different parts of this network to tell their stories, to inform the community of what’s going on, and promote circular businesses” – David Messer

Challenges

An important part of creating impact with Our Food Future is to give businesses a new funding procurement stream.

Using Open Social’s Crowd Innovation extension, Our Food Future launches community challenges through which local businesses can pitch sustainable food projects or ideas. What is unique about these challenges is that they allow all the community stakeholders to vote on and get involved with the initiatives.

“We did a challenge last summer where we gave away 108 thousand dollars to local urban agriculture projects. We had a community voting mechanism and we got around 300 votes over 4 different projects. This is amazing. It’s raising awareness about the initiative and once we have that buy-in, people will be thinking about it more.” – David Messer

Through these kinds of community-driven challenges, members throughout the community are engaged beyond just clicking on a ‘like’ button. Rather, it leads to follow-up engagement and discussions as the projects evolve.

Building Trust Between Humanitarian Funding Stakeholders

Sander Hees is working for the International Aid Transparency Initiative and manages its community platform,  IATI Connect. Using Open Social, this community brings together governments, multilateral institutions, the private sector and civil society organizations from all over the world.

During the webinar, Sander talked about how IATI Connect created an inviting online space for their Communities of Practice to explore developmental and humanitarian spending data, exchange knowledge, build new networks and connect with a multitude of stakeholders.

Onboarding new members is key to creating cohesion

How you integrate new members into your existing community is crucial for creating collaboration across groups, areas of expertise and organizations. If they feel at home on the platform, it is easier for you to venture into specific areas where you might meet and connect with different members.

To help onboard new members, IATI Connect has created:

  • A bi-monthly IATI Connect ‘Crash Course’ event where new members can ask questions about the initiative and how it can relate to their work
  • A ‘Newbies Corner’ group where new members can ask questions and get to know each other
  • Guidance material such as an extensive About page and FAQ to help orient new members

“It’s super important for expanding the reach of our initiative to include a more diverse community. So, it’s important for us to onboard those members in a proper way.” – Sander Hees

Collaboration prevents ‘silos’ from forming

A big problem for communities with different stakeholders is that members start creating ‘silos’. ‘Silos’ are groups that work in isolation and are reluctant to connect or share knowledge with other groups.

IATI Connect has three primary Communities of Practice:

  1. Data use: For users of IATI data on development and humanitarian spending, including civil society organizations and partner-country governments.
  2. Data publishing: For organizations who publish IATI data, including aid organizations and donor governments.
  3. Technical issues: For technical specialists and data experts to help make the best use of IATI’s open data initiative.

 

However, using different content types IATI Connect can engage members across these three Communities of Practice. These content types include:

  • Topics where members are encouraged to share knowledge
  • Events that are open to the whole community
  • Discussions & consultations between different Community of Practice members

“As we use our platform primarily through these [Community of Practice] groups, we also need to prevent that these groups become closed off. So we try to launch cross-posting features that allow us to create discussions between different kinds of groups on the platform” – Sander Hees

Making connections possible with Open Social

Both IATI Connect & Our Food Future use a range of existing Open Social tools, features and extensions such as Crowd Innovation and Discussions.

But, as Jamila Kheil explained in the webinar wrap-up, Open Social is always working on exciting new extensions to make it even easier to connect diverse stakeholders. Some of the latest extensions include:

  • Organization Profiles: Easily create an inter-organizational community by giving each unique organization a dedicated space for them to connect their members within the larger community.
  • Custom Content Access: Decide which members see specific content and give different stakeholders access to content relevant only to them.
  • Monetization: Create different access & subscription tiers for different types of community members.

 

If your community was an orchestra or band creating a unique harmony between different stakeholders, what kind of music would you be creating? Let us know in the comments below!

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