Systems and humanity …

I was being shown a really impressive KM site yesterday on our intranet that one of our professional communities has set up with a view to rolling it out as a template for other professional communities across the business. They’d really given it a huge amount of thought and put a lot of effort into it. The problem is no one was using it and they wanted advice on how to increase adoption. I just had this niggling feeling which I couldn’t articulate very well at first around the fact that the site seemed to lack ‘humanity’.

My inability to articulate exactly what I meant by ‘humanity’ made me feel a bit stupid as the professional community director, who was showing me the site, is a really switched-on, business-focused, value-driven, hat-full-of-MBAs, high-flier kind of guy who, no doubt, I’ll end up working for one day! However, I persisted.

The problem is, you can tell people they are part of a business community (based on skills, experience, projects etc.) and provide excellent tools to support them in their community activities, but unless they feel they belong in some way, they won’t participate. For me, community is fundamentally about a sense of belonging. That sense can be very strong in close-nit communities (families; neighbourhoods etc.) or more subtle (Facebook groups; Yahoo groups etc.) but it has to be there as the invisible force that holds it together.

I eventually managed to explain what I felt was missing in a way that made some sense. While you can’t create ‘belonging’ via a system alone, you can ‘humanise’ your systems to help that feeling grow. Use photos rather than just names (photos that the users have chosen themselves); embed snippets of user-generated content onto otherwise ‘dry’ pages (such as Tweets and status updates); recognise most prolific or valued contributors in each area … but, the main thing for me, is to ensure that the people who create stuff, or contribute stuff, are linked to what they create and are properly recognised by their peers for their contributions. And, that every community member can see the entirety of both there own contributions and those of others (a kind of Friendfeed) … in other words, there own personal brand.



  1. Excellent stuff. Hugh Macleod has been talking a bit about humanification in recent weeks, following an excellent post by Lee Bryant called Free the Battery Humans.

    You have to wrap people’s engagement in these sort of systems with some sort of recognition of their efforts and contribution. I think building trust is an important part of that.

    It can be hard to do when you have a hard edged performance management system though.

  2. Interesting post Richard, and I like the way you define the issue.

    I’m wondering what they’d tried to do to from the human perspective to catalyze the community? had they approached the influencers and asked them to trigger some exchanges, for example? Probably there are clusters out there that already feel part of a community, but not that what they do happens on the KM site.

    I had a similar feeling last winter in a ski resort. there was a whole string of bars, many very stylishly designed. Most were deserted and two were so heaving you couldn’t get served. As you say, its not just about the place.

  3. Steve – you’re right, trust is all important in creating a sense of belonging.

    Chi-Chi – the system was designed to support a community of project managers: in the creation of best practice process/information; gatekeeping by subject matter experts; storing and categorising of new best practice content to make it available for re-use; and discussion fora etc.

    Sam – I think, not much on the human front. The challenge is that individuals are being assigned to specific professional communities based around their skills and these communities can be several thousand people in size. It’s not practical to kick things off with a face-to-face, which you would normally do when creating a new community, so they are having to think of creative ways to create belonging …

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