How to produce a document when you are several hundred persons (Part 2)

Card's author : Jean-Michel Cornu
Card's type of licence : Creative Commons BY-SA
Description : The first part of this document is available here

Constitution of the group

Invitation to join in
First you need to invite people to form a group. This can be done collectively or individually. Both are complementary. An invitation is not a subscription, the person must give her authorization to be part of the group. But, if she is interested, her subscription must be as easy as possible : a simple click on a link in a email with as little information to give as possible (generally first name and name, sometimes the firm. The email address can be detected directly). Otherwise, a simple return answer by email can be suggested in order to lower even more the threshold of acting out 17 . The answer may be manually treated or automatically with a return heading to a robot which allows to register the person directly (by detecting in the email address the person's email or his/her account in the social network as well as his/her name).

For the collective invitation, niches for the information display must be chosen first : emailing lists (discussion or diffusion), social networks, newsletter... Be careful not to spam groups where such an invitation would not be in the subject. A natural niche where the invitation could be sent would be the list of members, the newsletters and the social networks of the organization(s) which is or are managing the new group. With a CRM (Customer Relationship Management, profiles and sending management system in an organization), it is even possible to personalize the message of the invitation especially by mentioning the name and/or first name of the person.
For those you particularly want in the group
The first individual job to do is to draw up the list of people you wish to have in the group. This can be done for example with a spreadsheet where for each person to invite a field for "First name Name " <adresse_mail> (format which allows an easy sending with not only the email adress address but also the name). Other columns can bear the organization, a field for commentaries on the interest of having this person in the group or else a field with the sending date, the answer, the possible date for first and second reminder, etc. This board (or a more efficent efficient app) allows to keep an eye on individual invitations 18 . If after a week the person has not answered, a first and then a second reminder can be sent. No need to insist, consider that someone who has not answered after two or three reminders, doesn't want to join the group. Invitations and messages need to be personal with first name and name, at least at the beginning, even in a standard message. It can be useful too to have to kinds of messages : familiar and formal (the type of sent message must be quoted in the board) 19 . The message has to be as short as possible but still very clear and complete (it must not take up more than an average computer screen) and it must end with the signature of one or two persons with possibly their status rather than being anonymous and signed by a group or an organization. This way of handling individual invitation, when well carried out and with a minimum knowledge of the guests (messages could be ideally signed by a person who knows the guest) allows a good return rate (up to 80 or 90%).

It can be wise to mention in the invitation that contribution to be part of the group is not compulsory (between 60 to 90% of members are observers or even completely idle 20 ), that the number of messages will be reasonable (for example only summaries and a selection of contributions will be sent with a maximum of five emails per week, details being available on the web) and that unsubscribing is possible any time 21 .

To know more about the subject : example of customized individual messages
Example of customizedindividual message (aimed for a man and using a familiar tone)
Subject : starting up of a work on monetary innovation

Dear <first name>,

I am launching within the Foundation Internet Nouvelle Génération (Fing) an "expedition " (a collective work of several months) on "Monetary innovation " : Today more than 5000 "complementary currencies " are circulating in the world. The crisis, the research in new means of development, the internet and finally the mobile phone have speed up its development. What if the same factors could also help to reinvent the very uses of these currencies and what they make possible?

All the results of the expedition will be made public and freely reusable. The objective is to open up new opportunities and to provoke action. With regards to your knowledge on currencies, I suggest that you join us to take part in this reflexion. If it's ok for you, simply click on the following link <link to register> or, if you prefer, you can email me back and I will take care personally of you registration.

Looking forward to exchanging on the topic with you.

Best wishes.

Jean-Michel Cornu

Example of reminder (aimed for man and using a familiar tone)

Dear <first name>,

The first discussions of the Monetary Innovation group will soon occur. If you want to follow the debate on the new definitions for currency uses and what they enable (and maybe participate if you have time), click on the following link : <link to register> or, if you prefer, you can email me back and I will take care personally of you registration.

Best wishes.

Jean-Michel Cornu

[copy of the previous invitation email]

First gathering of exchanges
Once the number of participant reaches one hundred, the first thing to do is to invite each participant to present himself briefly in one or two sentences adding what he expects from the group and how he might contribute. This first pool may seem useless particularly in social networks where each member has a user profile, but its aim is to have the maximum people speaking a first time with a simple question that can be answered immediately. Those who have already posted a message have more luck to contribute later, allowing a larger number of contributors (not counting those who systematically contributes...). It shows to other members of the group that they are numerous and that many of them contribute, a fact which also catalyse participation. For the launching of this first gathering of opinions, partners which will introduce themselves very fast might be required to encourage others to introduce themselves as well. That kind of gathering of opinions may enable a participation of up to 40% in large groups.

This first email inviting people to introduce themselves is also the opportunity to present short and simple rules for the functioning of the group. They have to be easily agreed by all members and will allow remarks to contributors whom will not respect them.

To know more about the subject : example of three short functioning rules
Short reminder of rules for our exchanges
  • Be short : one email one screen (except for summaries...)
  • Be constructive : no one has all the solutions, each contribution improves the debate
  • Dare to contribute and welcome new contributors : no idea is useless

If the group is long to set up (over fifteen days), it may be necessary to send, before the first gathering of opinions, a message to inform that the group is underway, that discussions will soon start. On the other hand, it's not compulsory to wait for all registrations to start the first gathering of opinions (there might be just few individual reminders to send after fifteen days).

Once the group is over a hundred and that the first gathering of opinions has enabled a maximum people to talk, the group is ready to undertake a work of collective intelligence. The introducing cycle often continues while the first question on the topic is asked. It's normal, once participants see that more and more people are contributing, that some undergo a certain stress which leads them to introduce themselves in their turn. Others won't. It's important then that messages from the manager put a stress on the fact that there is no guilt to have for people whom did not contribute (in a large group the non-contribution is normal), but those who want to share an idea even a simple one, are welcome anytime no matter whether they have contributed before or not.

Besides a group of partners has to be identified : people that you know well and that you may contact individually to ask for their contribution in order to initiate the discussion, hence creating a "catalysis " effect for the reactive people within the group.

Web watch, common understanding and ideation : an iterative mapping

This stage is made of an alternation of phases of contributions followed by textual maps summaries giving an instantaneous overall view on the problem's understanding. It can be separated in 3 main functions : web watch, building of a common understanding and pointing out of new ideas. It may be interesting to present them one by one, but they often occur simultaneously. Therefore, a more precise understanding of certain subdivisions of the initial question will lead some participant to quote web watch resources and new ideas will often make compulsory the reorganization of previous knowledge with an improved classification.
The initial question
This stage starts with the wording of the question or even better, when a prep work has been done, with a first map. The debate is even more motivating for contributors that it is well advanced while leaving numerous domains to explore. From this question or this textual map, the question is now to ask the group members what are, in their opinion, the missing knowledge and to start quoting relevant resources in those domains (watch).

As in each "stage-email ", rules can be reminded briefly (see previously "example of three short functioning rules ").
Contributions : from "partners " to "reactive people "
To spark off first contributions which are going to spark the following ones, partners can be called for : ask directly some persons of the group whom you know very well and outside of collective messages, to react to your messages the faster they can to initiate the discussion. Of course you will do that just before sending the initial email or the intermediate maps. Even if not all partners will react, contacting them directly increases relevantly the percentage of those who will contribute. By contacting from 6 to 10 people you are sure to have between 3 to 5 first contributions which will encourage other participants to react.

Leave a little time too (generally a week or little less if many contributions) in order to enable the reaction of those who wish to. In groups where everyone sees all contributions (list of discussion for instance), answers from others have a boosting effect. In groups where only some messages are sent to the whole group, sending a message quickly written with a selection of the contributions received just after the initial email (one or two days after the sending of the initial answer or the intermediate map) may be useful. These contributions will contain those from your partners but also some more spontaneous ones

Boosting exchanges can also be done by pointing out domains where contributions are fewer. You can also suggest to identify web watch items (with references or URL), to improve the differentiation between two very close concepts (and bearing sometimes the same name) to achieve a better common understanding or else to suggest the developing of new and not yet identified ideas. Participants often focus on some approaches keeping the discussions in the same fields. As presented by Plato in his dialogues of Socrates, maieutics is 22 "the art of delivering a soul " by asking questions. By suggesting the group to focus especially on such or such part or approach, you will improve the final result quality.

To know more about the subject : the method of the six thinking hats
The Edward de Bono's method of the six thinking hats 23 allows to point out the angles of the different contributions. Relaunching the group towards insufficiently developed approaches becomes possible then:
  • white hat : which ideas can be suggested from a rational point of view ?
  • red hat : what can be added from an emotional and intuitive point of view ?
  • black hat : what are the problems from a pessimistic point of view ?
  • yellow hat : which new opportunities from an optimistic point of view ?
  • green hat : let's start anew from a creative point of view
  • blue hat : which management to develop the control over the process ?

In a debate, more comprehensive methods enable to point out the domains that are insufficiently covered in order to get an optimal quality 24 .
This part of iteration can also be done during online or face-to-face sessions, as a supplement to online asynchronous exchanges. Within the framework of the Lift meetings an underway map about monetary innovation 25 was submitted in two different workshops in Marseille and Paris, by asking the participants what in their opinion was lacking. Even though the assembly was composed of participants from the group and of people unaware of the topic, the presentation of each part of the map has enabled each time a discussion with the emergence of new trails and new concepts. Each time these meetings allowed the updating of a map that was then submitted back and online to the group. A third meeting has been organized in the high place of Design in Paris inviting three speakers from different disciplines (anthropology, economy and philosophy) to react to the map resulting from these collective works. In another group, a stage of contribution has been tested during an online session about stigmergy 26 (a mechanism of indirect coordination between agents which allows a system of allocated self-organization) by adding items from the SECI method for animating a session proposed by Nonaka and Takeushi 27 . Iterations can be mixed during asynchronous online exchanges (from half a week to a week long)and online or face-to-face sessions (lasting from an hour and half and three hours), in order to get the maximum diversity within the contributors. Some are more comfortable with written or oral contributions, even among those whom attend both exchanges and sessions.
Textual mapping
Once a week, twice if contributions are numerous, improve the map which summarize the items coming from the participants watch, understanding and new ideas.
The first stage consists in catching contributions items in the different messages from the group. There can be two or more contributions in a message. To ease their use, they can be characterized by a reformulated sentence of one line maximum. Keep the name of the contributor to ease the esteem mechanisms within the group 28 .
The following step consists in completing the textual map of the debate (or creating it if it's the first time) by inserting new contributions wisely. This process often needs to reorganize the map by adding levels to distinguish concepts which were before mixed up.
The map is aiming to give an overall view of exchanges. It appears under the shape of a bullet list with different levels. In order to keep the map as short as possible and to avoid scrolling to read it, there is one contribution per line. The first name of the contributor can be added at the end of each line. The objective is to circulate on the textual map as you read a graphics board : instead of needing a complete reading, we must be able to point out quickly the key items and then to look closer at the parts we are interested in. For that purpose, the use of bold, underlined, italic lay out allows to enhance some important words or group of words. Colours can also be used, red for example to point out special items.

To know more about the topic : example of map about to show cooperation
Which cooperation sell ?
  • 1) Safeguarding general interest forgetting short term personal interest (altruism) (Mathieu)
    • Foundations exist but they are complicated (theory of green beards...)
  • 2) Joining on the long term collective and personal interest (Michel)
    • it is the foundation of cooperation (Jean-Michel)
    • there are economic models : radical collaboration, coopetition (Gatien)
    • What simple examples to understand easily ?
How to join personal interest with collective interest
  • Giving a long term vision (Mathieu)
    • "the shadow of future " in the jargon of economists (Gatien)
  • Developingabundance rather than rarity(Jean-Michel)
  • Favouringesteem mechanisms
  • Taking part in a collective work and sharing it (Michel)
  • Transforming the mechanisms of support for projects (Michel)
Cooperation can help us to gain time... or to loose some...
  • by the contacts it brings in (networking)
  • belonging to a community creates confidence and legitimacy (Richard)
  • the production of the group can help us to gain time (mutualization) (Philippe Olivier)
  • but cooperation needs to be less time-consuming
    • for participants : method of online exchanges (Jean-Michel)
    • for managers : by being a "lazy smart " as Linus Torvarld (Michel)
Cooperation can help us to earn money... or to loose some (This side needs developing)
  • Living better collectively : redirecting rivers to irrigate soils (Mathieu)
  • Innovating economical models (see free, web 2, music...) (Jean-Michel)

The map is not only a summary of the discussion. In fact, by reorganizing it, the manager often sees what is obvious in terms of new ideas. He must not do without adding them on the map because the next iteration of comments might invalidate or complete his choice.
End of the stage
After several iterations, contributions tend to dry up and participants stop adding new ideas. This may occur after the first iteration (but in this case the contributors ideas have not been exchanged) but we have example of exchanges including up to 7 iterations 29 . Besides, if the manager thinks that enough angles were treated (see for instance the six thinking hats method above), then a final map can be displayed within the group. The question is now to make choices and more than that to show results under a form that anyone who is ignorant on the subject will understand.

Choice : an approximate consensus

Not all discussions need to be finalized by choices. Sometimes it's useful to keep everything in order to show the maximum approaches, for example when one wants to publish a guide on how to implement a project 30 . On the contrary in other cases, a collective choice has to be made within the diversity of submitted ideas on actions to be implemented by the group or on proposals to carry out. The method used for the previous stage enables to lessen the problem generated by the people's tendency to fight first for his point of view against other's.The most interesting ideas are often those coming after several iterations. Even if they come from one participant, they blossom from the numerous exchanges and cannot be attributed to only one person (even if the first name of the person is quoted in the textual map). People choose more easily from collective ideas than from individual ideas.
An efficient approach is the rough consensus one. It is neither a consensus (hard even impossible to achieve) nor a vote which leaves aside part of the participants choices. In the rough consensus, the question is "has anyone got a major objection to the actual choice ? ". Like in all large groups where participation is an exception and non-contribution a majority, the rough consensus only asks people who would have a real problem with the choice to react. It is therefore possible to reach a point where all the choices made, even though they are not those each person would have made individually, are acceptable enough for all.
The rough consensus is one of the base of the IETF, Internet Engineering Task Force, the community which specifies the standards of the Internet since 1986. Despite the important stake for many industrials to choose a standard rather than an other, the IETF methods have enabled the development of standards agreed by all 31 .

Text writing : collective proofreading

Once the group has pointed out all items of reference, concepts and ideas – and eventually has made choices among them – the whole work still needs to be turned into a document that anyone outside the group can understand. This stage is undertaken more traditionally by one or two "scribes " for the writing and the whole group for the proofreading and the comments.

The proofreading by the group is useful because even with the best will in the world, no one understands all the subtleties written in the final map, not even the manager who drew it ! So, by writing the whole in a literary style, words considered as synonyms are often used to lighten the style. But one contributor may notice that if the word used in the map is right, it is not any more in the proposed text. There still are therefore many implicit items in the final map. If the map is accepted by all members of the group, a slightly different wording which would be harmless to the majority of the group, may be unacceptable to some.

The map done by the group can either give birth to a text of one or two pages or to an important text. So, in the example of the group on monetary innovation, the six weeks of online debate and the three working sessions have issued on 7 versions of the map and a 160 pages book 32 . The Book sprint 33 methodology used by Floss Manuals 34 to carry out collective books in a week time can be useful. A group of people gathered for five days to write each a part of the book. In our case, it is not so much experts in one domain whom will bring their knowledge but people whom have taken part in the exchanges and whom will try to transcribe as faithfully as possible the final map in a way understandable to all. The contents is parted between the different participants (numerous enough to write their part in just a few days) and each written part is submitted online to the group for comments. Tools which enable to comment online such as Co_ment 35 or Google Drive 36 are useful during this stage.

Once the writing is up and stamped by the group, an edition work to hunt mistakes, improve style and homogenize the whole. At this stage, avoiding adding mistakes is very important. It is also interesting to have the final text displayed with the modifications, done on the text proposed by writers, visible (added text in bold and removed text crossed out), in order to enable the group to have an easier final proofreading only focused on changes.

Once the work is completely over, a wide online and/or printed diffusion still needs to be done. The use of a CC-BY-SA 3.0 Creative commons licence 37 allows to ease its diffusion and its taking over by a large community.