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TOPIC: Concerns about quality of the forum

Concerns about quality of the forum 23 Jun 2014 12:23 #9028

  • christoph
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Dear colleagues and friends,
I will make a post now I have in mind since some time and it is an aspect that drives me a lot since this forum was started.

I am in this forum because I wanted to have technical discussions and views of other professionals, I would never be able to have as I would not know them. Therefore I really liked the “good old days” in ecosanres when we had quality discussions on views about the subject sustainable sanitation.

Since some time the number of interesting discussions has gone down… ok I understand it is not possible to discuss always interesting aspects, but there would be lots of subjects still. Or maybe (the number has not gone down, perhaps but the number of (just from my perspective) useless posts has gone way up. So I just look rapidly at the posts, there are tons of posts, but very seldom something really interesting (for me) and I might miss the good one (happened several times to me). We always said a forum lives from the quality and the number of active members.

Is it my impression or real? The number of active members who discuss on a professional level has gone down.

How could we bring that up again? I am really not happy when I make a post about some wastewater treatment and get a ton of posts mentioning something about polio. Or someone asks for advice to construct on a professional level and really thinks there is good answer… how could I give as a professional give advice by Internet about a technology? I will destroy reputation of that technology as I am convinced even the most simple thing has its secrets you have to learn during application. I´m not speaking of the development of new ideas or a special detail, I´m speaking about common professional knowledge which just that person does not have.

There should be a way to sort out these posts …It would be important as well for the quality of the forum concerning new active members. I know a lot of professionals who laugh about me when I confess that I´m writing on SUSANA – and more and more I have to agree. So what can we do? I really enjoy when the information is put up by the Gates grantees, but it is very obvious to me, that they do it as they have to, not as they see the forum as a quality discussion exchange place.

Just some thoughts of a concerned user.

I know it is difficult, but how do other professional forums solve this? That is a question for the forum managers. I think they should be more strict, may be sort out as spam? (I know the question is - where is the limit?)

Yours

Christoph
Last Edit: 23 Jun 2014 12:31 by christoph.

Re: Concerns about quality of the forum 23 Jun 2014 13:54 #9032

  • JKMakowka
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With the constant increase in forum users, there has certainly been an "dilution" of topics.

Some of it is maybe just not so interesting for technology minded people, some is indeed a bit "off-topic" and there is certainly also a bit of almost SPAM.

Partially (for me at least) that is annoying as the high number of available categories makes me prefer to read via the "recent topics" view, which however exposes me to all those less interesting topics also.

There are I think two technical ways to attempt to solve this:
1. Personalised activity feeds, i.e. similar to the "recent topics" view but you can personalise which categories you want to have included
2. Forum that is sorted by votes (like reddit or stackoverflow) so that only the high quality posts (or at least the more popular) "float" to the top where they are easily accessed.

Both can also be combined.

However this hardly solves the issue that people need to contribute good content and it is a real pity to hear that Christoph and the mentioned professionals don't feel inclined to post on SuSanA.

Edit: Another reason why the quality is going down a bit is that people seem to come to the forum to promote their activities; and that rather in a drive-by way i.e. start a topic with a text copied from their corporate blog etc. and maybe answer some questions, but without any real purpose of solving an issue they faced or something like that, which could start a professional exchange.
Krischan Makowka
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” - Buckminster Fuller
Last Edit: 23 Jun 2014 14:02 by JKMakowka.
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Re: Concerns about quality of the forum 25 Jun 2014 11:23 #9071

  • joeturner
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I want to just note that users should always take anything they read on this forum as 'use at your own risk'. There are potentially legal issues should someone take advice from here which fails for some reason if they believe that they are being given professional advice.

Following on from this, some users have recently been asking questions which to me are firmly within the category of 'consultancy'. For example someone asking about the legal issues regarding land spreading of faecal sludge in different jurisdictions.

In my opinion, the only proper answer to this question, particularly with reference to North America and Europe, is to contact the relevant regulator and get professional consultancy assistance. We are not here in a position to offer consultancy work, we do not have full knowledge of the situation across jurisdictions, particularly where the rules are complicated.

Where the person asking is doing this as part of their own consultancy work for a client, I believe this is improper and immoral. Not only is asking this question 'picking the brains' of other users when there are better ways (and more accurate ways) to get the relevant information, it is profiting from that knowledge. I do not think that is what this forum is for.
I don't work for anyone, I am a philosopher interested to think about how we think about WASH and sanitation. All thoughts are mine alone, I am responsible for any errors.

Previously trained and worked as a Soil Scientist and worked on projects composting sewage sludge.

Re: Concerns about quality of the forum 26 Jun 2014 03:18 #9084

  • christoph
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Dear Joe,
You write
I want to just note that users should always take anything they read on this forum as 'use at your own risk'. There are potentially legal issues should someone take advice from here which fails for some reason if they believe that they are being given professional advice.

And I agree ons this, so no worries on my side that somebody uses something and it does go wrong and there is a liability issue. My concern is more on the .. something goes wrong something crucial has been overlooked and therefore the opinion about the solution is... that does not work. For simple solutions this opinion is common (as it is so simple) whereas for more complicated solutions there is often the understanding something specific is wrong.

You wrote
For example someone asking about the legal issues regarding land spreading of faecal sludge in different jurisdictions.

In my opinion, the only proper answer to this question, particularly with reference to North America and Europe, is to contact the relevant regulator and get professional consultancy assistance.

I strongly disagree on that. For me the forum would be a very good source for first ideas and a general idea about if there is relevant information, I have to check by myself for the primary source. This is an important aspect for me in the forum...cut the reading and searching, as others might have the information on hand.... but obviously this has to be a taking and giving. So when I expect answers I have to feed in information.

Yours
Christoph

Re: Concerns about quality of the forum 26 Jun 2014 06:27 #9085

  • joeturner
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christoph wrote:


I strongly disagree on that. For me the forum would be a very good source for first ideas and a general idea about if there is relevant information, I have to check by myself for the primary source. This is an important aspect for me in the forum...cut the reading and searching, as others might have the information on hand.... but obviously this has to be a taking and giving. So when I expect answers I have to feed in information.

Yours
Christoph


I agree, I was not trying to say you personally were the problem, Christoph. I do not think we disagree, I have no problem if the general understanding is as you state here. I am not sure it is - at least for some forum users.
I don't work for anyone, I am a philosopher interested to think about how we think about WASH and sanitation. All thoughts are mine alone, I am responsible for any errors.

Previously trained and worked as a Soil Scientist and worked on projects composting sewage sludge.

Re: Concerns about quality of the forum 26 Jun 2014 16:03 #9093

  • neilpw
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Hello, I'm Neil Pakenham-Walsh and I run a series of global health forums (Dgroups) under the banner of HIFA or Healthcare Information For All. We are about 12,000 plus health professionals, publishers, librarians. I won't say more for now as I think my signature profile will be automatically added below.

I have been working as a moderator of such forums since the year 2000. Our motto with moderation is that if the message is likely to be seen as irrelevant, or non-sensical, or spam, or overtly self-promotional, or it just doesn't add anything of interest (for example, a message that just says "Yeah, I agree") then it does not generally get approved for distribution. We provide guidance to members when they join about this. Importantly, the moderator should take time to explain to the author (on a one-to-one basis) whenever a message is inappropriate.

Meeting the needs of the wider readers is our starting point and this is why we call our approach Reader-Focused Moderation. You can read more about RFM here:
journal.km4dev.org/index.php/km4dj/article/view/96

Dgroups Foundation: www.dgroups.info
HIFA: www.hifa.org
Neil Pakenham-Walsh is the coordinator of the HIFA campaign (Healthcare Information For All) and co-director of the Global Healthcare Information Network. He is also currently chair of the Dgroups Foundation (www.dgroups.info), a partnership of 18 international development organisations promoting dialogue for international health and development. He started his career as a hospital doctor in the UK, and has clinical experience as an isolated health worker in rural Ecuador and Peru. For the last 20 years he has been committed to the global challenge of improving the availability and use of relevant, reliable healthcare information for health workers and citizens in low- and middle-income countries. He is also interested in the wider potential of inclusive, interdisciplinary communication platforms to help address global health and international development challenges. He has worked with the World Health Organization, the Wellcome Trust, Medicine Digest and INASP (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications). He is based near Oxford, UK. www.hifa2015.org neil.pakenham-walsh AT ghi-net.org

Re: Concerns about quality of the forum 26 Jun 2014 16:44 #9094

  • AquaVerde
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Dear Colleagues,

May I suggest to use the direct (non public) contact to the person you very strongly disagree or get very hot about for what ever reason, instate of going quick ugly and confrontational or "case closed" (trowing stones against each other like in our younger ages on the play ground, nowadays via encrypted texts ).

Frustrations which been most often collected outside this PUBLIC forum should not be released via this forum.

One of the past "user of the month" mentioned some how that he is liking the kind way how people communicate within this forum. We should keep it this way please.

Keep controversy up, this is needed on much of the subjects this forum is dealing with.

A kind of "professional censorship" like Neil suggested will kill the forum. Even if Neil have with his suggestion the most honest intention.

Take care
Detlef
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Last Edit: 26 Jun 2014 16:56 by AquaVerde.

Re: Concerns about quality of the forum 26 Jun 2014 18:19 #9095

  • JKMakowka
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AquaVerde wrote:

A kind of "professional censorship" like Neil suggested will kill the forum. Even if Neil have with his suggestion the most honest intention.


I'm also somewhat active in the RWSN dgroups and I really would not call it censorship... but it is the delay for moderator approval (usually only a few hours at most) that is the single most annoying thing about it. The problem is that it results in a lot of very similar responses being posted more or less the same time as people don't see what others wrote.
This might result in a nice set of often varied responses for the original question, but it pretty much prevents an professional exchange following up on other's comments.
Krischan Makowka
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” - Buckminster Fuller
Last Edit: 26 Jun 2014 18:22 by JKMakowka. Reason: spelling

Re: Concerns about quality of the forum 26 Jun 2014 20:39 #9100

  • muench
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Dear all,

Thanks Christoph for starting this thread. It can only be good for us if we collectively think of ways of improving the quality of the forum! (and I mean this in terms of posts but also user experience)

My own observation lately hasn't been that the quality has gone down, but that the quantity of visits and page views has declined, see here (second graph):
forum.susana.org/forum/statistics
(quantity is easier to measure than quality of course)

One reason for that is less participation from the BMGF grantees (which Christoph also observed) and one reason for that is that many of the grantees are currently a bit "in limbo", waiting to be told if their application for follow-up funding has been successful or not (the same applies to the grant for introducing the BMGF sanitation grants on the forum (i.e. the grant that we describe here in the first paper of this journal issue:
susana.org/lang-en/library?view=ccbktype...p;type=2&id=1867). That's also the reason why right now there are no SEI webinars with grantees in the pipeline. The webinars helped in the past to increase interactions with grantees.)

I really like the advice we got here from Neil about forum moderation - he is an experienced moderator who has moderated e-mail-based Dgroups of 10,000 people (wow!). It is a bit different because with those Dgroups you can check each post before it appears on the internet, whereas with the forum the post is made first and then afterwards checked by moderators for spam or inappropriateness.

What you may not realise (and here I also disagree with Detlef who said "A kind of "professional censorship" like Neil suggested will kill the forum" - although it is possible that I misunderstood him): we, the moderators, regularly have to delete posts: spam posts with plain advertising currently happen 1-3 times per week. Then you get silly one-liners or posts that are not of general interest (like "I would like to apply for the job that is posted in the job section" or "Can I get a scholarhip to attend your conference?" Or: "I found this link: xxx" - without further information). This is a discussion forum, not a bulletin board... When posts are border-line then we may temporarily delete them, speak to the user, and then see if it can be modified and made visible again. Another example: This post was initially just the first sentence - no link to the conferencen, no date, no location: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/21-eve...the-netherlands#9092 - I then added the additional information about the conference and contacted the user about it; this converted a not-so-useful post into a useful post (in my opinion).

Each and every one of you can help in this process: if you see a post that you think might not belong to the forum, then you can simply click on "report to moderator" underneath the post (this button is visible when you are logged in). This sends an e-mail message to the moderator team who can then decide on the right action.

May I also remind people of the rules of the forum which are listed here (we might have to think about updating certain parts of it): forum.susana.org/forum/rules

Rule number 5 is very important:
No useless posts. This includes: Thread bumping ("Thread bumping" is the act of posting in a thread, with the sole goal of getting it back to the top of the thread list.), useless one liners, flamewars (when users engage in provocative and insulting interactions), trolling (purposely posting off-topic, derogatory or inflammatory comments) and spamming.

"Harping on" about the same point over and over again without adding new insights or arguments should be included in Rule 5. I think Rule 5 should be modified to say that all these kinds of posts will be deleted by the moderators (and the user informed about this; deletion is always temporary at first; such posts can be restored if needed).

I think we should in future be more rigorous when it comes to those "off-topic" posts (or the extremely repetitive posts); topics that are not sufficiently closely connected to sanitation. They should be discussed on another forum; unless we created a new category called "off-topic posts" and not have them show up in the "recent topics" and not in the e-mail digest either.

But coming back to Christoph's points. I am not sure if the comparison with the old ecosanres e-mail discussion group still holds. I was also a member of it. Keep in mind that it had a very narrow focus, only ecosan. This forum is so much broader, so it is inevitable that there will be topics that you find less interesting than others. For example, one of the best threads in my opinion of late was the thread about violence against women in India and open defecation, where even someone influential people like Rose George made her first post on the forum:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/142-up...ld-as-a-toilet-india
But this thread, which I liked a lot, might be totally uninteresting for other people.

Therefore, I think we need an IT solution here, like what Kris proposed. Already now you can subscribe to specific category and get e-mail notifications when a post is made in that category: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/143-qu...e-mail-notifications

We should have something equivalent for the e-mail digest that is sent out so that the posts made in the last 24 hours are grouped or someone could select to only receive the e-mail digest for a certain category. This could be helpful for those people who rely on the e-mail digest to see new posts?

I have discussed with Trevor also that we will change the way users can register. From now on, registration will no longer be instantaneous but will require ticking a box by a secretariat member. This is to avoid that someone signs up and then makes 10 spam posts while we are asleep.

I like Kris' idea of using the crowd to judge the quality of posts. Having a 5-star rating system for each post (like for products on Amazon) could be nifty. However, for IT reasons users would probably have to login to give such a rating and I know that many people read but don't bother to login... (just like now to "like" a post and to give Karma points to users; What I don't like is that there is no "unlike" button in case I have changed my mind about liking a post).

If anyone has specific ideas about such technical improvements you can also post about them here at any time:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/148-yo...vements-of-the-forum

Let me come to the end of my lengthy post by asking some questions to Christoph:
  1. What is your advice to the moderators, what should we do differently? What should we do more of? What should we do less of?
  2. What is your advice to novice users: what should they do differently?
  3. What is your addvice to experienced users / frequent users: what should they do differently?
  4. What is your advice to people who only read but do not post?

And finally, I didn't understand what you meant with this:
I know a lot of professionals who laugh about me when I confess that I´m writing on SUSANA – and more and more I have to agree.

Are they laughing or saying "why do you give away your knowledge for free when you could ask to be paid for it (since you are running a private company and do consulting work as well)?" or saying "how do you have the time to do this?" or is it the same people who were laughing when you said you used to be part of the Ecosanres discussion group? Or the same people who would laugh if you tell them that you use Facebook, twitter, flickr, instagram or any of those social media things? I really didn't quite understand this point.

Once again thanks to anyone for any good ideas and suggestions to raise the quality of our forum (by the way, I think this week we have had very high quality discussions! E.g. Composting toilets in Ukraine, lime treatment for faecal sludge in Cambodia, The elusive effect of water and sanitation on the global burden of disease - it's as if all the people contributing in these threads wanted to prove you wrong this week! )

Kind regards,
Elisabeth
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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Last Edit: 26 Jun 2014 20:49 by muench.

Re: Concerns about quality of the forum 27 Jun 2014 07:38 #9108

  • neilpw
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"A kind of "professional censorship" like Neil suggested will kill the forum."


I would invite you and others to join the HIFA forum yourself to experience how it works. We have more than 7,000 members on HIFA alone, and a further 5,000 on our other four forums in three different languages. Nine out of ten people who have ever joined HIFA since 2006 are still members today. The quality of discussions is very high. Please also take a look at our page "What people say about HIFA": www.hifa2015.org/what-people-say-about-hifa/

The readers value the fact that every message they open is likely to be relevant and meaningful. And the authors, too, almost always value the fact that a problem with their message has been pointed out by the moderator, and corrected *by the author* before re-posting. Reader-Focused Moderation is not "professional censorship", but a facilitatory process with benefits for readers and authors.

Our methods clearly work for us as a transprofessional global health forum, and this has been confirmed by a formal external evaluation which concluded that "HIFA achieves an extraordinary level of activity on minimal resources from which many people around the world benefit".

I would stress, however, that when it comes to methods to facilitate forums, "one size does not fit all". I am simply sharing HIFA's experience, to let you know what works for us. I am not suggesting it is the right method for SuSanA. Whenever a forum faces a challenge - such as perceived low quality of messages - it is valuable to consider all possible options and to discuss among the members, just as we are doing here.
Neil Pakenham-Walsh is the coordinator of the HIFA campaign (Healthcare Information For All) and co-director of the Global Healthcare Information Network. He is also currently chair of the Dgroups Foundation (www.dgroups.info), a partnership of 18 international development organisations promoting dialogue for international health and development. He started his career as a hospital doctor in the UK, and has clinical experience as an isolated health worker in rural Ecuador and Peru. For the last 20 years he has been committed to the global challenge of improving the availability and use of relevant, reliable healthcare information for health workers and citizens in low- and middle-income countries. He is also interested in the wider potential of inclusive, interdisciplinary communication platforms to help address global health and international development challenges. He has worked with the World Health Organization, the Wellcome Trust, Medicine Digest and INASP (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications). He is based near Oxford, UK. www.hifa2015.org neil.pakenham-walsh AT ghi-net.org
Last Edit: 27 Jun 2014 07:46 by muench.
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Re: Concerns about quality of the forum 27 Jun 2014 07:43 #9109

  • neilpw
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Thanks JK,
"it pretty much prevents an professional exchange following up on other's comments"

We have not experienced this problem. Indeed in my experience unmoderated discussions with large groups (ie more than 500) make it more, not less, difficult to have professional exchange.
Neil
Neil Pakenham-Walsh is the coordinator of the HIFA campaign (Healthcare Information For All) and co-director of the Global Healthcare Information Network. He is also currently chair of the Dgroups Foundation (www.dgroups.info), a partnership of 18 international development organisations promoting dialogue for international health and development. He started his career as a hospital doctor in the UK, and has clinical experience as an isolated health worker in rural Ecuador and Peru. For the last 20 years he has been committed to the global challenge of improving the availability and use of relevant, reliable healthcare information for health workers and citizens in low- and middle-income countries. He is also interested in the wider potential of inclusive, interdisciplinary communication platforms to help address global health and international development challenges. He has worked with the World Health Organization, the Wellcome Trust, Medicine Digest and INASP (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications). He is based near Oxford, UK. www.hifa2015.org neil.pakenham-walsh AT ghi-net.org
Last Edit: 27 Jun 2014 07:46 by muench.

Re: Concerns about quality of the forum 01 Jul 2014 05:01 #9164

  • Marijn Zandee
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Dear colleagues,

I understand where Christoph's concern comes from and I partly share them. It seems to me that the increase of off-topic posts and responses may also be partly due to the fact that our field is slowly gaining more traction and attention outside the group of "old-hands". If that is true, it would be a great achievement for all, but inevitably also mean that there will be more people on the forum who have not followed the conversation for multiple years.

I like Kris' suggestion to have a function to switch off some categories from the recent topics feed. On a voting system, I am less sold, who is going to vote and what will come to the top? I think the number of people who would likely vote would be too small to create a good average indication of quality.

Pre-vetting of posts, as Kris and Neil suggest would be one possible solution if you want to make sure the discussion stays professional. I think this may run into a resources problem at Susana though, and it may also deter people from posting to a degree.

Further, it is a reality that we live in an age where people go out on the interweb to get ideas and information. Having a forum like this one, where the discussions surrounding sustainable sanitation is kept in the realm of science to a large degree is probably a good thing in that light.

Ultimately, I think it may be time for a discussion on what we want this forum to be. Is it to be a very open and easy access platform on which we accept that some posts and answers go off-topic, but where we have an atmosphere of "there are no stupid questions"? Or do we want a forum where the discussions stay much more focused, probably at the risk of deterring some people who are new to the field? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

One suggestion for a middle ground could be that the moderators are given some standard responses (maybe with a little cartoon), to gently remind people that they are getting to personal or off topic. This may be a tool to help moderate a bit closer.

Regards

Marijn
Marijn Zandee
Technical Advisor
Nepal Biogas Promotion Association (NBPA)

Deutsche Gesellschaft für
Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
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