In her most recent blog post, Doris talked about online projects as a tool for collaborative learning. In that blog she described a valuable process for collaborative projects that included identifying a challenge that matters to you, seeking people who share your passion, reframing goals and mission, and establishing a timeline, target milestones and regular sharing rituals.
Some project skills are the same both online and offline. As with offline projects, you must continually focus on the mission, reflect and ask questions, make each connection or meeting productive, and remain flexible and open to new ideas. However, working online hones and reframes leadership skills and technical knowledge.
Learn New Skills
In addition, convening or participating in projects could require learning new tools and processes such as:
- Mastering how to use gathering places such as LinkedIn, BuddyPress, or Ning for asynchronous discussions, and applications such Google Hangout, Skype or Adobe Connect for synchronous discussion.
- Setting up and maintaining online calendars and timelines to keep project groups informed and on track.
- Organizing and sharing information in applications such as Wiki Spaces, Google Docs, Diigo, and mind maps.
- Conducting meetings effectively and efficiently to ensure that all points of view are heard in a venue that lends itself to information silos.
Projects conducted with people from across the hall or across the world provide the potential for greater reach. They allow collaboration with people who have knowledge and skills unavailable in offline settings. Organizing and participating in online projects allows you to work with and learn from people you do not know in places you have never been.
DO Important Work
Online projects are certainly an outstanding tool for LEARNING, but they are just as important for DOING – doing things that were previously impossible or at least much more difficult.
Today, anyone with an internet connection has power to do things they could never do before. They can collaborate in real time with individuals from around the world who have diverse perspectives and extensive knowledge. With the proper tools, it is possible to collaborate to write a book, design a building, create a new product, write and record a song, collect articles and information about business issues or simply to share recipes or photographs.
Online efforts can also involve working collaboratively to provide professional growth opportunities for hundreds of people who never leave their homes. For example, this week my online friend, Mitch Shepard, is finishing her Women in the Real World Summit (WiRL) where 28 powerful speakers have talked about ideas and issues related to leadership, communication, balance and reaching your potential. I was able to hear authors and speakers I could not have heard without traveling many miles and spending hundreds of dollars to attend a conference. These speakers were available to me through a computer and internet connection.
It is also possible to organize professional support organizations and communities of practice like virtual mastermind groups or virtual Lean-In groups, as we do at the Studio. In short, the opportunities to connect, learn and support one another are now virtually unlimited. (No pun originally intended.)
Make a Difference
However, I believe online collaboration can serve a much more important purpose. Entrepreneurs have many reasons for taking risks to start and run a business, but high among those reasons are the opportunity to make a difference. They want to know that their efforts have improved the lives of others.
In addition to opportunities to learn, grow, interact and share, the internet has the potential to solve very pressing social and economic problems. Using the same steps to effective learning, concerned individuals study and join together to fight hunger, bring water to remote villages, fight human trafficking, combat disease and save priceless art and architecture.
Individuals have the opportunity to contribute to science using open-access archives and journals such as Public Library of Science. Other sites allow members to tackle other kinds of problems through systemic innovations. For example, the mission of Koios is to introduce and then work to solve complex social problems such as obesity in the US or beggars in Oslo. Corporate Rebels want to improve the lives and sense of purpose for people in organizations. Goodnet calls itself the network for doing good. It lists the best apps and services for productive change. Causes.com invites you to discover, support and organize campaigns to share ideas, strategies and action around causes that are important to you.
One very intriguing online collaboration project is the Climate CoLab at MIT, which invites anyone to contribute ideas about climate strategies to a community of thousands of experts from around the world including people from NASA, the World Bank, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Climate CoLab now has over 10,000 members from more than 100 countries who submit, evaluate and select effective climate change strategies.
With powerful applications such as Basecamp and open-source project management tools such as proProjectLibre and LibrePlan, people who share a passion for saving the world can lead efforts to do so more easily and effectively. Those who simply want to learn more and to participate in existing communities also have that option.
The slogan, “Think global; act local” has now expanded its reach. It is now possible to carry out projects from your home that affect individuals around the world. Online projects make it possible to LEARN and to DO.
What experiences have you had with organizing or working to solve problems? What tips would you give to make the process easier?