Let Community Members Help with Social Design

Nancy White and I have been working with the March of Dimes on an online community site called ShareYourStory.org. The site has close to 5000 members and has been going since September of 2004.

We’re working on the next version of the site, which will significantly change its design and navigation. This kind of change can be a minefield with some online communities because the members feel intense ownership in the site, as they should. A poorly handled transition can result in mutiny.

Mutiny was never a worry for the "Share" site, but Nancy and I wanted to do what we could to make sure the transition happened *with* the members and not *to* the members. To do this, we did a number of things…

  • We started a new discussion forum in the community called “Coming Enhancements to Shareâ€?? and invited all members to come and help.
  • We posted information about conference calls and invited the members to share their perspectives publicly and privately.
  • We participated in online chats with the members to gather more information
  • Using the new discussion forum, we asked targeted questions about the new design and provided mockups. How could this feature be better?

The March of Dimes staff is also getting involved and asking the members for input on things like advertising.

By being open with our plans and engaging the members, we think the transition to the new design will be a smooth one. The community leaders have been vocal in our planning discussions and we hope they will be evangelists for the change, being positive voices among the membership. We're lucky to have such dedicated and enthusiastic members -- they are an incredible resource.

At the very least, we have opened a dialogue with the membership that will ensure honest, two-way communication during the transition. If needs are not met, the members have an outlet to let us know.

The transition to the new design is coming soon and I’ll surely report back about how it went.