Putting the Participatory Culture to Work

Chris Harman asked:

The “participatory culture” has been defined as a ‘new way of life that lets people create and circulate self-made content such as video, audio, text, and images’.  The culture has been taking shape in the form of popular social networking sites like facebook, flickr, and wikipedia, which have encouraged mass participation and collaboration.  The participatory culture is changing the way people and the media communicate and engage.

This participation-effect it seems is also extending its influence into the enterprise.  Many of us are finding we need to interact, form on-the-fly communities, and convey self-made content and contributions between ourselves, encouraging a participatory culture to develop making employees within teams work together in a new and different way.  Teams in today’s modern workplace are being asked to deal with the pressures of ad-hoc projects, information overload, and high-performance.  And the challenges are precipitating new technologies and communities to assist the participatory activity.

According to Gartner, the research firm, the participation-effect is here today as many firms are already considering or adopting new methods to collaborate and make employees more productive.  The Participatory Culture is said to embrace communication, coordination, community, and social interaction as workers need tools to help them talk to one another, plan and coordinate projects and activities and work with like-minded individuals, or even interact socially.

The interest in collaboration has been escalating and demand for improved information sharing along business functions is driving solid growth.  Through 2011, web conferencing and team collaboration software markets are expected to grow at a rate of 23% and 15.9%, respectively, says Gartner.  By adopting collaboration firms will become truly agile say the experts.  Companies able to make the most of the wherewithal, skills, knowledge and ideas of all staff can use collaborative technologies to vastly improve a businesses’ agility.  Collaboration it would appear is an obvious choice but with most companies carrying vast amounts of dead weight in terms of processes and behaviours the trouble it seems is how we are going to instill a new set of values for productive collaboration.

These values will include empowerment; making every key team member – across all relevant functional areas and geographies – feel part of the strategic, planning, execution, and innovation process.  How to prevent information being hidden away in silos.  Individuals and teams need to have access to all important data, resources and creative ideas.  And how to manage the communications and relationships within much larger, more complex teams of dozens or even hundreds of individuals – firms will need to adopt Enterprise 2.0 practices with the most advanced collaborative, web-based tools available to thrive.

Adopting the values will acclimatise firms to the culture change.  For improved collaboration, organisations must specify the behaviours or actions required to move from a functional (silo-ed) approach to a cellular (node) approach.  For example, requests for assistance from those nearby or internally should be treated as an external customer request – where individuals respond positively and within an acceptable response time.

Leveraging a business’s participatory culture also creates the “architectures of co-operation” avoiding the problems of traditional knowledge management (KM).  The biggest asset of any enterprise is what people know and the problem has always been they keep going home with it.

Conventional KM has always attempted to create the infrastructure for knowledge sharing in the enterprise but its limits are the limits of understanding of the firm.  KM assumed everybody was prepared to give up what they know.

Collaboration (like collaborative workplaces that anyone can edit) can overcome any reluctance to participate by identifying who is contributing the information and help; measure what that means to the company or to partners and customers; and reward it like any other contribution – which can be a big shift from current attitudes.  Software can make businesses visible to themselves and collaboration networks can become the real structure of a company.

Making all this visible will mean that what should have been rewarded all along gets rewarded – and once you reward the right thing, individuals will hopefully get more of it.

Mark Levitt, Vice President for Collaborative Computing and the Enterprise Workplace at IDC, says that most organisations are still in the evaluation phase for next generation enterprise collaboration tools.  Figuring out how these tools will improve the workplace and how they might fit into the existing technology infrastructure are the biggest challenges.  But certain companies have already nurtured a work culture of innovation that encourages individuals to contribute to projects that would normally fall outside of their individual job descriptions.

Google for example asks its engineers to spend 20% of their time on personal projects and participate in small teams.  IBM’s workers are encouraged to share ideas in company wide “jam” sessions held every year.  Through daily interactions with the company’s social networking tools, IBM has encouraged its employees to think more about how to help the company perform rather than just helping the departments they belong to.  This active emphasis on shifting cultures towards a more collaborative environment, combined with the right tools that make collaboration easy, are keys to successful innovation.

Mindjet, a company that delivers interactive knowledge sharing software in use by over 1 million individuals, also believes that the future of work will leverage the shared community.

Mindjet Connect, the next-generation release of MindManager software, allows teams to collaborate with a series of new web applications and online services that make mapping and team collaboration more powerful and accessible.

As a hosted software-as-a-service, teams can use Mindjet Connect to collaborate on maps in real time.  With real-time editing work, processes and communications are streamlined i.e. no time-consuming versions of work being emailed back and forth and individuals are able store maps and any other documents in secure workspaces with version control and different access levels for various team members.  From their map or workspace, individuals can then chat with other team members and launch web conferencing to present information, share their desktops, and record notes collaboratively in a dynamic, online whiteboard.

Like Google and IBM, Mindjet is also seeing firms and individuals embrace the participatory culture using mind-mapping software.

Jim McNeil, the world-famous Artic-explorer, used the software to plan the ‘Ice Warrior’ epic expedition to the Artic, which took place in March 2008.

The expedition led by McNeill attempted a polar journey that explored the North West Passage and saw him attempt to reach the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility in a crucial scientific exploration of the Arctic Ocean.  The pole otherwise known as the Arctic Pole, had never before been reached and stands as the very last World First in Polar history.  The planning for the journey started in 2003 with the use of MindManager and the software was used by the Ice Warrior team to plan all their logistics and critical contingency measures down to the minutest detail during preparations.

McNeill, Ice Warrior’s founder said, “These expeditions are logistically very complicated and visualisation software has been a revelation in planning for it.  As a team we have used the tool to visualise and brainstorm different events that we might face in the Arctic; even the unexpected and highly-u
nlikely scenarios.  MindManager is fantastic in that we can visualise any potential situation and
plan for any contingency before we have even set off.  My team has played out multiple scenarios in simulation and feel we are as well planned as we have ever been.  When faced with a potentially life-threatening situation to the team, the responsibility of getting everyone home safely is imperative.”

While an extreme example, the Ice Warrior project serves to illustrate the capability of the collaborative-visualisation tool to capture and plan complex events in a software environment then safely execute that scenario in real-life, exactly what the software was invented to do.

Mindjet has worked across some of the world’s most ambitious projects.  It was used by the Federal Aviation Administration, an organisation tasked with keeping airports – and air traffic flowing in Florida and Southeastern US during the onslaught of Hurricane Dennis, the only storm to be elevated to Category 4 status, which caused between $1 billion and $2.5 billion in insured losses.  Mindjet helped track a million variables, from the status of each airport to equipment damage, facilities damage, and where response teams and equipment were.  The ability to quickly access and understand a lot of very complicated, changing information is key to staying organised and efficient in the middle of a crisis.

All these projects illustrate that the concept of collaborative-visualisation and managing information on a complex scale and demonstrate the power of information if it can be collated and interpreted properly as well as keeping you on budget.

So why does it all matter?  Why is harnessing the participatory culture so important?

Shifting the corporate culture towards collaboration fosters a more interactive, creative workforce that is engaged and motivated.  Projects of any size can be handled more efficiently and effectively. Firms need to take advantage of the new tools and techniques to get more done.  Putting the participatory culture into practice and embracing the applications, practices, and mindset will mean firms reaping the rewards.


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