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Towards A More Participatory Culture: Enterprise Q&A (Part 2)

In our earlier post, we explored growing interest in a new class of social application that AIIM calls “Enterprise Q&A”. We concluded that design and user experience were critically important. To deliver this type of application effectively, design practices had to accommodate the social dynamics that occur as people participate in various roles within “answer networks”. As organizations invest in social collaboration platforms, many of these systems will have, or will eventually include, an Enterprise Q&A capability. Design practices that prioritize user experience and social participation, not just Q&A automation, will likely deliver the best solution. While it seems to be straightforward design challenge (ask a question, get an answer), the cultural and social networking dynamics can be very nuanced. Those nuances are easily overlooked if solution providers implement Enterprise Q&A from a technological perspective.

Below are several strategy, design, and user experience considerations you might want to ask yourself if you are looking into this topic:

  • Where should the question get published to maximize the change of getting a applicable answer? While industry exuberance for activity streams makes it the likely candidate, is that always the proper mechanism?
  • If activity streams are leveraged, is posting a question into a stream cluttered with lots of other items vying for attention the right approach? Should we visually distinguish a question from other types of activity stream entries? What other filtering options should be considered so that questions receive the proper priority?
  • If posting a question into a stream is not always the best design decision, what other options should be considered? Should we decipher the meta-data associated with a question and map them to expertise tags of people and communities? If so, we can then define a notification process and ping those individuals and groups through different alerting options?
  • Should submitting questions into an activity stream include the ability to specify people, roles, communities, or other group structures? If so, will this design approach become a forcing function for better filtering of activity stream items so that “my questions” pop up in a pre-defined view of my activity stream? Cisco Quad already does this via its Watch List capability.
  • What if certain types of topics and questions can only be answered if people possess certain credentials? How do we address security and compliance (risk mitigation) needs in a Q&A solution?
  • How far should we go in terms of automation? Should there be some type of workflow included that supports an escalation or service level parameter? Should people matched to a question receive reminder notifications? Should questions have “due dates” associated with them? Or does this capability remain informal and rely on voluntary participation? Should people be able to “opt out” of Q&A requests?
  • As people participate in the Q&A environment, should they have the option to link those questions and responses to their profile? If I answer questions on E2.0 for instance, should my profile have a tab (or other design construct) that shows “My Q&A” where people can quickly see the types of topics and insight I’m currently involved in and historically provided? Today, we add tags to our profile to make claims of our expertise. Associating Q&A to the profile allows people to see how I am performing those claims – this in turn helps validate the relevant tags I’ve added (e.g., E2.0).
  • Should the organization be able to apply analytical reporting to Q&A data collected over time? Organizations are often interested in connecting people and groups from different parts of the enterprise. Q&A interaction data can potentially show how people are traversing organizational boundaries of various types (e.g., geographic, reporting, role/title, etc).  For instance, it might be a surprise to find that answers are coming from groups unaffiliated with the person and business unit posing the question.  Organizations might find that Enterprise Q&A helps bridge disparate groups or that there is an advantage in this type of serendipitous interaction that can potentially lead to more regular conversations between people and groups over time that are spatially or structurally separated.
  • What role will “gamification” practices have when designing the Q&A user experience? Beyond the obvious badges, leadership boards and such, how do we design affordances that encourage personal and teaming motivations, how do we interweave incentives that balance cooperation and competition, feedback loops, and reinforcement mechanisms? However, I have not (yet) explored the topic of “gamification” to any great detail so my thoughts here are a work-in-progress.

Just because you deploy a technology platform that includes Enterprise Q&A, its availability should not be positioned as some type of panacea. There’s no assurance that employees will share what they know, or that responses will be timely and relevant. It does not guarantee spillover affects that lead to better levels of employee engagement elsewhere. Alone, it’s unlikely to transform the organization or cause significant cultural change. Enterprise Q&A is just one of many social affordances technology platforms enable. Strategies need to plan and execute on a range of organizational, leadership, communication, change management, and governance practices to influence employee participation in ways that deliver desired business outcomes.

The report is available for download here (note: you do need to provide contact information prior to access).

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