Diversity of working out loud topics and the constraints of #ESN design

We’re at the end of day two of our Working Out Loud week within the full M.S. Learning and Organizational Change (MSLOC) community – about 220 graduate students, staff and faculty.

Let me reflect here for a bit on two observations: The diversity of topics we’re covering and the impact of features/affordances on how this may all play out.

MSLOC students are all working professionals who average 12 years of experience in a wide range of industries and organizational types. What draws them to our graduate program is an interest in understanding the people side of organizational change. That’s reflected in their working out loud topics.

Here’s what they are working out loud on:

  • Finding a blogging platform and setup tips help document a year-long (scholarship sponsored) project in Myanmar.
  • Design of a how-to-make-better product decisions workshop.
  • Self-study of The Social Psychology of Organizing by Karl Weick.
  • Elements of a new manager on-boarding program at a children’s hospital
  • Elements of an on-boarding program for new project managers
  • Design of an education program targeted at talent acquisition leaders
  • Discovering the needs and interests for a women’s initiative at one organization
  • Understanding effective practices for startup implementation of Yammer at a smaller firm (80-100 people)
  • Helping an organization figure out what it means to create a learning culture
  • Developing an on-boarding plan for a specific new hire
  • Developing a market research report based on customer stories
  • Developing a short session for clients on how to get more comfortable with difficult conversations
  • Re-imagining an organization’s existing internal online community to improve information sharing, collaboration and on-boarding
  • Putting a professional voice out into the online world

All of these topics are being explored as sub-threads to a single working-out-loud thread we started on Monday within our the program’s private enterprise social network (ESN). To date, we have 66 total responses (each of the above working-out-loud topics is one response, meaning we have 50-ish replies to topics); 21 active participants in the discussion; and 57 total viewers (which means we have 36 lurkers).

Those are interesting activity numbers. But the level of conversation is more interesting. The discussion thread gives each individual a chance to respond thoughtfully (and they do). Our ESN also includes an @mention feature, allowing participants to signal others an bring them into the conversation (and they do). It truly is an example of thoughtful reciprocity.

This was a calculated move, to have one discussion thread home for all the working out loud activity in our private ESN. It’s unsatisfactory, however. Shortly this thread will be difficult to navigate (we may be there already for many participants).

What we really need – within an ESN – is a way to aggregate the top-line topics and updates that then draws people into a specific space (like a blog) where the conversation is going deeper. This exactly the design that cMOOCs use on the web (see Thought Vectors in Concept Space or Connected Courses as recent examples).

Wondering if anyone in the ESN product space is actually looking at what is going on in with these innovative cMOOCs.

Final thought: Have something to contribute to any of the topics noted above? Use Twitter hashtags #msloc430 #wol

3 thoughts on “Diversity of working out loud topics and the constraints of #ESN design

  1. Update. I teach a 2 1/2 day class on enterprise social networks starting tomorrow (Thurs, May 7). Thanks to Keeley Sorokti (@sorokti on Twitter), we have a new option that we’ll experiment with. It still doesn’t quite mimic what I see happening (and useful) on the web – but it’s getting closer.

    Briefly: It’s a combination of using our ESN’s status update, tagging and personal blog features. We can have individuals use their internal ESN blog space to do long-form working out loud (both for original posts and for comments/discussion). Status updates can almost substitute for a Twitter hashtag stream – micro posts and pointers to blog posts or other resources.

    Tags give us some capability to aggregate streams of activity, but I am at this point uncertain whether those streams will have the same affect as reading twitter streams, or streams of aggregated blog post headlines. Both (Twitter and blog headlines) give a reader some idea of the topic or content. In our system, some stream activity is simply a notification that user A replied to user B’s post – no topical reference point.

    This strategy may work well, also, because I have the opportunity to do this with a live class group. We’ll all be in the same room and can work through the details of what it takes to pull this off effectively. It would have been a much more difficult challenge, requiring more time and planning, to get the general ESN community comfortable with a new way of doing things. Maybe once we model it, we can use it again.

    More soon.


  2. Nothing like designing on the fly Jeff! It has been fascinating to watch this all play out. I do think you’ve hit on an important note about how to help community members in our enterprise social network understand how to monitor new activity in a meaningful way when we don’t have a chance to gather them together as you will have this week. Another design and communications challenge for the next time we run a #WOL week (I guess I’m assuming we’ll do this again).

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