Harnessing Community Input to Inform Software Design

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The question: "How well do offline models of community organizing transfer to organizing online?"

Marc started with a framework for community organizing that he finds helpful: Marshall Ganz's "Public Narrative" approach, built from a lifetime of involvement in organizing. Public Narrative involves three components:

1. "Story of self" - the formative (even family) influences that make you care. Talking about one's own story makes many people uncomfortable but it's essential - "if you don't define your own story, other people will define it for you."

2. "Story of us" - building a connection from your story to the stories of your audience. This makes a collective basis to move forward on an issue that we all care about. If you can't build the "story of us" - it may be that you're talking to the wrong audience.

3. "Story of now" - present the audience with an urgent need that requires a choice or decision - "are you in?" It should involve an actionable "ask."

If this is a good model of community organizing.... what are some specific challenges & possibilities involved in moving it from F2F to online? Some discussion points from our esteemed group:

- In the online version, the "ask" must be extremely specific and well-connected to stories... because an online audience doesn't have an opportunity to ask for clarification.

- If this "story-telling" is online, then every part of it must be extremely easy for users to use. Developers might think that it's simple to use this "upload a video story" feature on a website, but it's probably harder for users than you think. ("If you find yourself saying 'Why can't the stupid users do this properly,' that's probably a clue that it's too hard!")

- We tend to think that forums are a great way for people to tell their stories. Not necessarily so: "haven't worked so well for Occupy SF." Maybe better for information sharing.

- Some actions/asks may not really be possible online. Use the online presence to generate broad enthusiasm and transfer it to local F2F efforts (e.g. NetSquared national website channels people to a local offline group)

- "What if there's no specific ask yet?" (e.g. Occupy) - "make that part of the ask; that people engage, take responsibility for defining the ask."

- "Is it fair to push your agenda by hanging out on other blogs & forums, commenting to show that you're interested, hoping people will reciprocate by linking to your blog/site/forums?" This may seem strike people as a bit stealthy... why not reach out to people directly. If you're offering resources, help, and other value in forums and blogs, people will appreciate.

- "My experience with study outreach: sending fliers directly to people and organizations, leaving posters in places where my target audience goes & shops, was more successful than email. People treat mass email as spam."

- For the "story of self" step: "People are natural story-tellers. Not everyone can sing a song or draw a picture, but it's surprising how well people can tell a story." However realize that telling your story means you have to be vulnerable.

- For the "story of us" step, be very mindful of the language you're using. Even if the content is good, unfamiliar language can alienate people. How can you tell your story so that an audience of diverse stakeholders can hear it & resonate?

    * AVOID JARGON
    * Hit on shared human experiences - emotions, pain, sacrifice, success
    * Pictures and graphics can help
    * Building the shared story forces a connection and some adaptation of 
      your individual story. (But not so much adaptation that you compromise 
      your original purpose!)

Resources:

- The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Heifetz - discusses leadership as an activity, rather than mere authority

- Don't Make Me Think!, Krug - classic book about web design (including user stories, user interface) - making sure that the site communicates simply and well