All comments posted on this blog do not reflect the opinions of any organization that I am affiliated with. These are my personal perspectives only.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

6 suggestions on how to ask the right questions to harness mass collaboration.

The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) is running a 'contest' allowing the general public to submit and vote for what they believe to be the "Great Canadian Wish". The intent is that the CBC will then do a TV broadcast focussing on this topic for Canada Day celebrations on July 1st.

What are #1 & #2 "wishes" so far?

#1: Abolish Abortion in Canada.
#2: I Wish Canada would remain Pro-Choice.

At first glance, it seems that CBC's attempt to focus on Canada has been hijacked by lobbyists. This has tones of familiarity from the Chevy Tahoe incident. I suspect the authors of the question were expecting something a little less controversial and perhaps a bit more unifying.

The CBC has responded with "There's no such thing as "hijacking" with this project. Who ever can best organize their wish, and get the most people to support it... will come out on top. I guess the whole point is to BE good at lobbying for your wish."

No doubt, that in the case of television, all publicity is good publicity, as it will draw a large viewership. Would the CBC actually only review one side of an argument? We could argue that it's not the CBC but the voice of the people. More accurate however, is that it's the voice of the majority of participants.

My interests, aren't really with the CBC and how this will unfold (albeit I am interested in seeing the outcome.). But that it serves as a good reminder to Enterprise 2.0 practitioners. Are you prepared to deal with the responses you get?

As corporations begin leveraging social computing applications they MUST thoroughly consider the QUESTIONS they are asking. A story relayed to me recently involves a university attempting to improve it's rankings in a popular magazine. The university asked it's student body "How do we improve our university?"...

This seemingly simple question yielded answers that the university was not prepared to deal with such as "Have free daycare for everyone... Reduce number of exams... Increase Breaks...". In this situation, not only are they asking a very broad question that will generate very broad answers BUT they were asking the wrong people. If they did their research, they would have realized that the rankings in the magazine were not completely based on the students but really based on the companies that hired the students.

So they made a mistake... No harm done right? WRONG! The impact of asking the wrong question is that you have now raised expectations of the participants and then deflated them when you are not prepared to address their responses. They basically have wasted their time. Ultimately this relates back to trust and confidence and erosion of a collaborative culture. The exact opposite of what should have been accomplished.

So how do you get the right question and the right audience

We can take lessons from "social computing 1.0" which would include the manual surveys we are all familiar with. Perhaps a little less interactive, but definitely an attempt to draw upon the intelligence of the masses. Here are 6 techniques to consider

1. Root Cause Analysis - Fishbone Diagrams - 7 Why's
This allow us to make sure we are asking the right root question and not solving a simply symptom of a more complicated question.

2. Process Mapping - Swim lane Diagrams
Allow you to also identify the "WHO" piece if you are attempting to solve a problem. This doesn't mean you must ask only those that are the obvious experts, but depending on the situation it may be most appropriate.

3. Brainstorm the realm of possible answers and your response.
Mock databases, or mack answers can provide a means to look at potential scenarios and how the corporation would look to address these. Ask yourself 'how would I deal with this'?

4. Pilot the question.
Test it out in a random sample of participants to get a sense of the input you would receive.

5. Be Clear.
Provide very specific guidelines of what type of answers are suitable. Also provide clear definition of the question and the context from which it is being asked.

6. Consider ulterior motives & timing
When you ask a question, people will respond based on their perspectives. Perspectives are influenced by the current events of the day. This may or may not be the right setting for your specific question. Consider an example in which a response would benefit the inidivdual at the expense of the corporation or of another group of individuals. People may not be always thinking of the pure best interest of the entire company.

So here's my question to you....

What other suggestions would you offer corporations looking to tap into the collective intelligence of their employee base?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Rex,

Just wanted to let you know I appreciated your blog about the Great Canadian Wish List, and the lessons to be learned in asking questions. I'll certainly revisit this when we do a post-mortem. And I'll certainly be adding your blog to my RSS lists. Very interesting stuff.

Thanks again,
Mike Wise