KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

What’s the Scoop on social networking at the World Bank?

with 4 comments

A large part of my work is on introducing communities of practice and social networking into the organization, and while we have a number of enthusiastic supporters and already have a few very active communities, like in many other organizations we face some internal skepticism, especially when it comes to getting the resources we need  to do this well.

An important part of trying to do this well, and also to convince internal constituents is to learn from the experiences of others. Thanks to connections on Twitter with Giulio Quaggiotto (@gquaggiotto) I was able to get in touch with the World Bank and get them to share their experience with UNICEF.

A couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to have Maggie Tunning present “Scoop”, their social networking platform via webinar and explain how this had been rolled out in the Bank. Giulio who had also worked on this project joined the webinar, although he has since left the Bank to join UNDP’s KM team. The talk was followed by a lively question and answer session with the audience.

What was interesting was not so much the platform itself (you know my views about platform-envy from this previous post), but the process followed and the lessons learned in developing it and rolling it out.
I’m sharing here a few points of note from the presentation and discussion:
  • The platform was developed in Elgg, an open-source content management system. It was chosen as it is a powerful tool with a strong developer base, and that allowed flexible development. The development team worked closely with a group of “super-users” and made frequent small enhancements to the site based on feedback rather than making less frequent major releases. This way they could iteratively improve the tool and also make sure they were responding to user needs as they evolve (noting that it can be hard to pindown exact requirements for collaboration systems since users often don’t know what works best until they try things out).
  • Staff were not forced to join or use the platform, and it was not advertised widely through the Bank’s formal communication channels, instead there was a deliberate strategy to let it spread virally, promoting it through informal means including social events. Even so they have had over 7,000 staff sign up to join the platform, around 70% of which are in headquarters with 30% in the field, but with more and more field members are joining over time (update: over 10,000 staff have now visited Scoop, as a result of the platform being linked from the Bank’s intranet).
  • The team made efforts to reach out to each new member individually (all 7,000 of them!) to get to know them and support them to use the platform.
  • Users can create their own groups and have created over 400 interest groups on both work related topics, and on shared social interests. They meet with potential user groups to advise on how Scoop might be used, and on some occasions have recommended groups to use other tools if Scoop isn’t suitable for the needs expressed by potential users. Allowing use for social as well as business groups, as well as advising people when not to use the toll were important ways of improving the credibility and attractiveness of Scoop.
  • The Scoop team uses awards to recognize those with particularly noteworthy contributions, and encourages and recognizes leadership from staff in the field as well as in headquarters.
  • An important aim of Scoop is to speed up and broaden the participation in information and knowledge sharing. It will be important to document examples of how this has worked in practice (to help demonstrate) value and the Scoop team have already begun to do this. A number of questions from our audience were on this – in particular concrete evidence of the improvement of programmes (although I imagine it is a bit too soon to know this – but as always in development there is a demand for immediate results)
  • The platform does not directly link to other corporate IT platforms such as the ERP or the organization’s document management system but works as a standalone system. It was commented that this could be a limitation in terms of integrating with existing business processes, but also a strength in that it wasn’t bound by them. Such integration is now being considered.
  • The Bank is currently working on a mobile version of the site for people to access via mobile devices or in low bandwidth environments.
  • The Bank plans to develop a version of Scoop that will allow external partners to participate. This will also grow organically driven by needs for existing bank users to network and collaborate with people outside the Bank rather than being explicitly tied to the Bank’s partnership strategy, or being imposed upon partners.
  • The timing of the initiative was important to its success coming as it did with a major commitment by top leadership in the Bank to greater openness and collaboration, and the Bank’s open data initiative, as well as a new KM strategy. That said, they did need to overcome a number of challenges including: 1) fear about security and people wasting their time online 2) legacy tools – lots of turf wars 3) the organization not being familiar with agile development 4) some doubts as a result of previous KM initiatives (quite a few of these seem familiar to us too!).

Overall there are number of relevant  lessons from the Bank’s experience that we can learn from in taking forward our own work on communities and social networking, and luckily we are already doing some of them!


Written by Ian Thorpe

November 24, 2010 at 10:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. I am currently working in communities of practice at the IADB and we are also using the ELGG platform. Although we don´t have that large amount the the WB has, (2500 members between internal and external), we have been able to design an strategy to create communities with specific puporses.

    On monday we met with the WB to share our experiences and we would be more than happy to meet at some point with your organization to exchange practices and strategies.

    Luz Angela

    December 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    • Great – we’d be happy to be in touch to learn from your experience and to share ours – I’ll drop you a line. (We’re using Lotus Notes rather than Elgg – but from our exchange with the World Bank it seems most of the challenges we face are the same despite technological and organizational differences).


      Ian Thorpe

      December 10, 2010 at 3:09 pm

      • We have initiated a very similar platform at IFAD for the Asia and Pacific Region, its called IFADAsia ( and our experiences are almost identical to those in the World Bank. We use the Liferay content management system as it is the one supported by our IT Division. Our roll-out has similarly been informal and links to the corporate IFAD website exist, but are not too prominant for the moment being. This allows users to add content without feeling too self-conscious about whether their work and ideas are ready for public display at the corporate level. Launched in September 2010 we have some 1200 members from our community in the region. We try to provide individual welcome but with just one person backstopping development and user support, this is a challenge.

        In contrast to SCOOP we have about 70% members from the region and 30% from headquarters. This is a limitation in so far as the members in the region are somewhat less savvy with respect to what to write and how to use social media. On the other hand, its great for the morale and comradery of the community in the field. It gives the people at headquarters some important insights to work in the field that otherwise does not see the light of day. Also, the platform provides them with an opportunity to publish and acquire a name for themsleves and their projects.

        If others are interested, perhaps we could organise a face-to-face or online discussion to share experiences of IFI’s and UN agencies in this area.

        Chase Palmeri

        January 9, 2012 at 4:36 am

  2. Oops, typing error above, we launched in September 2011, not 2010.

    Chase Palmeri

    January 9, 2012 at 4:38 am

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