Lessons Learned and the Future of the CCLN

On March 23, 2012, my colleagues and I from the CCC presented a poster on the Collaborative Conservation Learning Network (CCLN) at the University Education in Natural Resources conference which was held here in Fort Collins.  Preparing this poster gave us an opportunity to reflect on the origins of the CCLN, to think about lessons that we have learned so far, to quantitatively evaluate its usage since the launch nine months ago (July 2011), and to ponder its future.

As you read through this blog, please think about how you think the CCLN should evolve?  Are there any features that you would like us to consider adding?  Are there parts of the CCLN that are not particularly useful?  Add your comments!

Below are some of the highlights of the poster relating to lessons learned.

Planning

Ø  Research the need for the site and evaluate usage and design

Ø  Establish clear goals and boundaries during the conceptualization phase

Ø  Create an internal communication plan to get design and planning staff actively working with the site

Ø  Strategize how to use other social media outlets to draw people into the site

Ø  Publicize before the launch to create hype

Ø  Think strategically about partnering with other organizations to help with development and upkeep.  This can lead to more exposure and more resources.

Design

Ø  Spend the time/money to make the site attractive, clean, and easy-to-use.

Ø  Establish a realistic timeline for launch, which will probably be longer you think. For us, it took two part-time staff members about 18 months of dedicated work to develop and test the site.

Ø  Get commitments from trusted beta-testers and explicitly state expectations.

Ø  Think long and hard about how categorizing and tagging is going to be done.  This has important implications for search capabilities.

Use

Ø  Having a successful website hinges on taking ownership of it.  Make a concrete plan for your staff to drive use until the site takes off on its own.  If you are not comfortable using your site, you can’t expect anyone else to be.

Ø  Promote the site heavily after launch.

Ø  Maintain the site and be vigilant about looking for problems (spam, hacking).  These things can damage the site and your organization’s reputation.

Ø  An early challenge will be attracting users to the site in an already crowded social media marketplace.

Trade-offs
There were many times when we had to evaluate different options for design and weigh trade-offs.  Below are some examples that we struggled with:

Ø  Designing and testing the whole site at once vs. designing and testing it iteratively

Ø  Broad scope and lots of functionality vs. a more narrowly focused scope with deeper refinement of individual features

Ø  Creating the site as a separate website vs. having it be a part of an existing website

Ø  Membership profile: collecting meaningful personal information vs. comfort level and privacy issues

Ø  Member-generated tags vs. predefined tags

The CCLN is still young and evolving. We are currently putting a great deal of effort into driving content from within the organization to push the network from creation to growth, where we hope to see greater interaction between members, more member-generated content, and the emergence of a true online community. To move in this direction, we will likely need to adjust certain elements of the design to meet the needs of our members; improve the interface for usability when possible; remain vigilant for security and privacy threats; and monitor and maintain the stability and performance of the CCLN (Iriberri and Leroy 2009). We will eventually need to reevaluate to determine whether the network is successful and meeting our goals, or when we might need to devote more or less resources to it, or redesign it.  

As the network grows, the generation of high quality, original content will continue to be a high priority, and emphasizing organizational credibility through content management will help build trust with our audience. We will also need to reevaluate and may benefit from spending more time and energy on a few components (or perhaps a single one), rather than the long list of components we now have. Or, we may want to go in the opposite direction and add more functionality, such as webinars, online trainings or signature events in order to draw in more users.

Please comment with your thoughts about the future of the CCLN.

Poster authors:  Jill Lackett, Ch’aska Huayhuaca, Turpana Molina, and Shelby Weiss

Citation:  Iriberri, A. and G. Leroy (2009). "A life-cycle perspective on online community success." ACM Comput. Surv. 41(2): 1-29.

You can view the entire poster here:  http://www.collaborativeconservation.org/learning-network/multi-media/development_and_evolution_online_learning_network_lessons_learned_and_f