Adapting Together: Lessons From an Online Community
A few months ago [Feedback Labs] wrote about what it takes to support the movement around adaptive management – a movement of many names that is evolving and growing, sprouting a variety of tools and approaches to sustain itself. We’ve previously highlighted the efforts and achievements of the Practical Adaptation Network (PAN), a network with an ethos of rapid, collaborative iteration. Today, we look at lessons learned by the founders of another key network, the fast-growing AdaptDev Google Group founded by Feedback Labs network members Alan Hudson of Global Integrity and Dave Algoso, an independent consultant.
AdaptDev group is an online community that connects people promoting more adaptive methods across the international aid, development, and governance sectors.
It’s free to join and has grown quickly – by June 1st it was connecting 331 community members from 118 different organizations around the world. Community members share links to online courses on adaptive methods, alert others to tools they find useful, solicit feedback on papers they’re writing, and discuss their own challenges and achievements in working adaptively (and sometimes even suggest podcasts).
So what have Dave and Alan learned about what it takes to support the adaptive movement with an initiative like the AdaptDev group? We sat down for an interview to find out.
What are the top lessons you’ve learned about enabling collaboration and peer-to-peer learning through your experience managing the adaptdev group?
The AdaptDev group is a purely online community (i.e. there are no meetings, conferences, etc), but it overlaps heavily with several communities that do have in-person meetings (e.g. Doing Development Differently, Global Delivery Initiative, PAN, etc). It seems like this overlap with in-person networks supports some of the sharing and conversation on AdaptDev, as members see names they recognize from other channels. At the same time, there’s not as clear of a common identity as you might see from an online community that stemmed from an in-person community.
So, for example: Most of the conversations on the list are sparked by someone sharing a piece of their work from elsewhere—i.e. a new report, blog post, podcast, etc.—and then others respond. This has, we think, been useful, and we’ve had positive feedback from a number of participants. However, we haven’t seen as many open-ended inquiries over the list as we hoped. We think this might be tied to the lower sense of common identity with others on the list.
This isn’t necessarily a problem, as we’ve also been able to pull together a larger and more diffuse set of people than you’d see at an in-person community.
What do you think is working well? What is a challenge?
List growth seems to be going well. We started with a set of people we know, then let it grow organically. It also helps to mention it in in-person/off-line forums as much as possible, as you’re more likely to bring in people who wouldn’t otherwise be in the same networks as current members.
Getting new members to engage is a different challenge. We now have 300+ members, but only a fraction actively participate in threads, and a smaller fraction initiate them. And, when managing the group happens in unfunded “spare time”, it can be hard to find the time to identify issues that participants are interested in, to facilitate conversations around those issues, and to actively build the sense of community.
Where do you hope the adaptdev group will go? How do you hope to build on it, or hope others will build on it?
We’d like to see more robust conversation on the list—not just a way to distribute new reports or other work, but a place to have more conversation about those, and even open-ended conversations about challenges that members are facing.
As for building on it: We see this as a very lightly guided space, with shared ownership, so we would be happy to see others build on it and to see it evolve in ways that help to meet the needs of participants and encourage further participation. It’s also worth noting that there are a number of other conversations and initiatives about adaptive development – for instance the DFID/USAID Global Learning for Adaptive Management initiative, and discussions with the Transparency and Accountability Initiative about an adaptive learning network – that the AdaptDev group could usefully connect with and potentially support.
Many thanks to Alan and Dave for sharing their experience creating and growing the AdaptDev group. To add your own voice to this rapidly growing and active community, sign up here!