How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in this discussion forum? - What is the secret to SuSanA's success?

  • Marijn Zandee
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How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

Dear all,

It is already some time ago that we had the Susana "open mic" webinar. forum.susana.org/forum/categories/10-gen...ebinar-18-june#13610

During the webinar, the old discussion of how to increase the forum participation of "practitioners" came up. I put the word between quotation marks because I am also not quite sure what it means. After all, is not everyone who uses a toilet a practitioner in sanitation :)? It think for the sake of this thread it could mean "someone who works at implementation level for sanitation projects".

Anyway, after the webinar I sent an email to Elisabeth with some observations and suggestions around this question. We have decided to put the mail out here on the forum for your feedback and opinions.

Dear Elisabeth,

Coming back to the (very fun) open-mike webinar which we had recently, Trevor (and maybe you) asked my perspective (as a practitioner) on how to increase the involvement of practitioners on the forum. Below, I will try to outline some ideas I have around this topic. Feel free to share, either on the forum, or within a smaller Susana development group.



Constraints

These are the main things I see as preventing people from posting (I know many more people read than post):

1. Time, I write most of my posts in my spare time. As I also mentioned during the discussion, for me this is relatively easy because I do not have family pressures other than my spouse. I think for practitioners from the South, where (wider) family pressures do take a lot of time, this would be a major constraint.

2. Language, the general standard of language use on the forum is quite high (which is good). This may not only make feel people uncomfortable about posting, but also means that writing a good post takes even more time :-(. In many developing nations English may be the third or fourth language people have learned.

3. Feeling intimidated by the general high standard and (perceived) “learnedness” of other participants. We want to hear the voices of those closer to the actual sanitation realities, but how to encourage them to be more vocal?

4. In line with the previous post, people may also not always connect the reality of their projects with a more “academic” discussion on the forum.



So far, I don’t think I have written anything that you are not already aware of. Below are some ideas, which may help to partly overcome these constraints.



First of all, we sometimes have had surveys among Susana forum users. Do we know whom of the respondents we would qualify as “practitioners” and what they marked as most valuable about the forum? (Or were they all to busy to respond to the questionnaire?)



Time

We cannot do anything to give people more time (unfortunate as this is), but we can maybe learn from how on-line media try to lure those with little time to their sites. For example, the forum could have a weekly post of 2 most interesting articles (not forum posts), related to sustainable sanitation, for the week.

Language

As suggested during the discussion, having a clearly advertised option to have a response language edited by a forum moderator (at Susana HQ?) before it is posted, may help people post more.

High barrier to join the discussion

I think, Jonathan Parkinson’s suggestion of having a “ask a stupid question anonymous” button, is great. We would probably have to have the questions checked by an editor to prevent abuse :P.

Further, I do think we are trying to be open to all, but maybe more could be done? I do not quite see how though. Note: please also check this post from Elisabeth: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/148-yo...posting-on-the-forum


Forum discussions may not link obviously to daily practices


Maybe, we can have a special category of question “Input from the field wanted”. If one of the admins picks up a question in a more “academic” thread it could be rephrased into a question that field practitioners feel they can give their views on more easily. I know this sounds a bit vague, but say that there is a conversation about school drop-out rates related to menstrual hygiene issues. A question could be posted along the lines of “As a woman, or as a father in “the South”, what made it possible for you / for your daughter to stay in school after you/she started menstruating?” Maybe not a grand example, but I hope you can understand where I am trying to go with this.



Kind regards



Marijn Zandee


Marijn Zandee

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Re: Follow-up from open mic webinar: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA?

Dear Marijn,

The suggestions that you made here about increasing participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA are really important and useful!

I have been discussed them on and off with Anne from the SuSanA secretariat and wanted to share some thoughts from us today:

About languages other than English Anne said:
"I really like the idea of having community moderators with Spanish and French language skills and knowledge of the sanitation sector in those regions. We also need to think of translation of SuSanA publications (there is non in Spanish or French available) and TDS Synthesis /summaries."

Regarding moderators helping with editing posts, Anne pointed out to me that:

"We have discussed this idea during the WG Exchange Meeting in Stockholm and quite a few people were concerned that this editing Option could rather initimidate as it could raise expectations that one needs to write errorless posts on the Forum. People rather suggested to encourage Forum useres to write in their mother tongue and provide translations services."

About the idea of "post a stupid question anonymously", Anne said:

"I also introduced this idea during the Wg Exchange Meeting in Stockholm and people were not so fond of it. It is not so much in line with the spirit of being an open discussion forum in which all people and all questions are welcomed, no matter how ignorant there may be."

My answer to that:
I think it is already happening though and some people do prefer it... You can see it with Dan and Cor who sometimes post a question for someone else without saying who it is. Or I see it in the Knowledge Point forum of WaterAid where people give no introduction about themselves or the context of their question but just "blast out" the question...

I would still suggest to perhaps giving the opportunity for practitioners who are worried about coming across as being ignorant (in an area in which they should be more proficient) to post a question anonymously (this was a proposal by Jonathan).

The purpose of my post today was to a) let you know that your thoughts and suggestions are being actively pondered about by us and b) to invite others to think further about this and to provide their suggestions here. Thanks.

Elisabeth

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Re: A lurker can also be a contributor

I am using this existing thread to say something about "lurkers" today, prompted by a tweet of Sailas from WSSCC recently about a blog post about lurkers that I found very relevant and actually quite comforting.

I have used the term "lurker" in the past (like others) to describe someone who regularly reads on this discussion forum but never, or hardly ever, posts.

After reading this article I think I will stop using the term "lurker", as it is too negative. People who "only" read and never or rarely post might still be making very important contributions in more indirect ways, as this article points out:

km4meu.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/1309/

"Me? A lurker? How ignorant of you! I am an empowered listener!"

The article distinguishes different types of ‘not-so-active’ network participants (and explains each in detail):
  • deserters
  • travelers
  • active listeners
  • bumblebees
  • the silent wise
and overall, the article prefers the term "empowered listeners"

I like in particular the bumblebees.
The article describes them as follows:

People who are following interactions on the spot, who are not intervening but actually influence other spaces and groups. Many of us are part of different networks and, depending on our level of confidence, connectedness and interest we play a different role in each. These are perhaps the online equivalent to Open Space Technology’s ‘bumblebees’, who cross-pollinate from a place to the next by sharing insights, ideas and perhaps even taking action, only in another space. They listened, they liked, they adopted elsewhere.


Do you see yourself in any of these categories? Would you like to tell us something about your behavior which results from reading posts? Would love to hear from some new "empowered listeners". :-)

Regards,
Elisabeth

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  • JKMakowka
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Re: A lurker can also be a contributor

I also know a few people that get & read the email newsletter but never contribute.
I feel a bit ambivalent about that. On the one hand it's great that the newsletter is reaching more people, but on the other hand it is a much bigger step to contribute to a discussion when reading by email than if you read it in the forums directly.

Microbiologist & emergency WASH specialist
WASH news aggregator at: news.watsan.eu
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  • F H Mughal
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Re: A lurker can also be a contributor

Dear Marijn,

I think, the 4 constraints you mentioned are very valid. Time is the major constraint in my case. Sometimes, I have to be away from this forum for 2-3 weeks due to my domestic chores.

Since, I'm from South Asia, yes, language is a problem. The other points, you mentioned, correctly reflect the constraints of the users.

Would it be possible for you to write a booklet on those 4 points - how can people overcome those barriers? You can add one on how to build courage and write a post (overcoming fear!).

As regards the "knowledge" aspects, is there any button that can lead a new user, or a person with deficient knowledge, to grasp some basics on sanitation?

Regarding the third point, will it be possible to ask the learned users to write in simple, easy-to-understand language? That way, new users will not feel "intimidated."

Regards,

F H Mughal

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Re: A lurker can also be a contributor

ADB has a publication on report writing (attached). Likewise, I think, WELL of UK also has a publication on writing a report. I can't seems to locate it.

F H Mughal

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Re: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

Interesting and awakening topic indeed. I am from South Africa and discovered SuSanA online as I was doing research one time. Community development is close to my heart and the Forum seemed to speak to me in that language. I am no expert in the field of sanitation and water affairs, but I felt affected as my country is one that is flagged a water scarce country and yes I live in a province and place in the country where development for sanitation and water distribution is still lacking in miles compared to other areas. The province is actually one of the least developed in the country and therefore tagged semi-rural with some parts really being rural.

From the above, I'm not sure if anything says 'she's a lurker', but yes, this is my first post on the forum and so far I have been empowered and challenged to make contributions "from the ground" if so I may say. I do appeal for implementation of the "ask a stupid question" by Jonathan, not so that people can ask stupid questions really. I don't believe there's such, but so that people can feel confident enough to post their questions and maybe even reports from their respective countries because there is a platform to be as lay as an illiterate person can be, who can only converse in their local language - and there comes the need for translation as well. I know it becomes a big task perhaps for the forum administrators and secretariat, but I guess that's the result of increased participation.

My explanation on my interest on the Forum was purely on the basis that I can learn a thing or two and implement on my local habitat, you know the bumblebee kind of approach. and so far I have learned a lot, hopefully to come back one time to say this is what I have done and the results thereof, registering the positive effects, not necessarily as an expert in any field, but I sure think of the mandate and reason for existence of the Forum as such. Empowered listeners we can be, but I really think for that to be effective as well, reports that this is what my empowered listening has yielded will address the question of the increase in participation of "practitioners" on the Forum - from a layman's point of view.
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Re: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

Dear Mughal and Gladness,
Thanks for your good suggestions!

Dear Gladness in particular: thanks a lot for jumping over the hurdle of making your first post! I much appreciate your ideas which you have shared here. Together with the SuSanA secretariat I will ponder over what can be done to improve the situation so that lay persons get more benefits of using the forum and interacting with other users.

Mughal you spoke about using simple language in posts. I agree with that and one little thing that people should always remember is to not use too many abbreviations (without explaining them). To help with the abbreviations, we have an abbreviations button below each post which takes you to the abbreviations list on Wikipedia which we've set up and which is continously growing:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_abbreviations_used_in_sanitation

Mughal you also asked about resources for newcomers: I recommend these two places:
  • The Guide for newcomers page (see the blue box with the two arrows at the top left of the forum page). This page for example offers a link to key documents for each forum sub-category here: forum.susana.org/key-documents - I have not yet finished with it but am continuing to work on it)
  • Wikipedia. The quality of the sanitation-related articles in Wikipedia have improved a lot in the last 12 months, thanks to the efforts of active Wikipedians, like myself, Joe, James and others (see some of them mentioned here on the WikiProject Sanitation page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProj...tion#Current_members ). The target audience for any Wikipedia article is exactly the average layperson and the general public, so they all have the aim to be written in simple, straight forward language.
Regards,
Elisabeth


P.S. Gladness: Since you're from South Africa, could you please share your knowledge here about the former bucket sytem in South Africa and this aspect of resistance to perhaps more modern cartridge or container-based mobile sanitation systems:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/166-de...-bucket-toilet#16059

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Re: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

Dear Elisabeth,

Your post is useful and informative, especially for the newcomers.

Just one minor suggestion:

When you say: "Guide for Newcomers," I thought that would be for how to make a post, i.e,. guiding newcomers on posting a message.

If you are referring to resources for newcomers, then, I think, the button should say: "Resources for Newcomers."

:) :)
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Re: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

Well I think the term "Guide" is better than "Resources" in this case because the guide for newcomers page ( forum.susana.org/index.php , accessible from the top left blue box) contains more than just resources. It does contain e.g. the guide or tutorial videos (on youtube) on how to make posts, edit your profile etc. (I know not everyone has access to youtube, but the same information is also available in the help section: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/132-forum-help-section )

It also contains a link to key documents, links to featured photos, videos and threads (when you hover over the round icons) and - when you scrol down - listings of top contributors and of tweets mentioning SuSanA. I think this is all quite useful stuff, so I think "guide" is fine for this page. Besides, it is shorter than "resources". :-)

I hope this page is not being overlooked as it should be quite useful for new people, I hope:
forum.susana.org/index.php
(there is always room for improvement though, so if anyone has any ideas what else could help newcomers or practitioners, please do let us know)

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