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November 27, 2006 » 9:49 pm

Catalytic Communities’ Secret Sauce: Trust

A few weeks ago, I drove down to The Tech Museum in San Jose for the Tech Museum Awards exhibit. All 25 recipients were there showing off their projects, including Theresa Williamson, who was an Equality Award Laureate for her organization, Catalytic Communities.    (LKF)

I’m a big fan of Theresa’s. She is a wonderful person, and she’s doing awesome work. Catalytic Communities, besides having one of the best names in the business, is a knowledge-sharing network for community activists all over the world. It consists of an online database of community solutions and a community center in Rio de Janeiro known as the Casa. There are over 130 projects over nine countries documented on the site, and over a thousand local community leaders have met at the Casa to share stories.    (LKG)

What’s really interesting is that she’s doing an outstanding job of leveraging technology to help catalyze her network, even though her tools and her organization’s knowledge of tools is rudimentary at best. Theresa says that she first heard the term, “Wiki,” from me at a talk I gave a few years ago. Well, her ignorance of the concept hasn’t hurt her one bit, and it may have even helped.    (LKH)

At the awards exhibit, I asked her what she thought her secret sauce was for catalyzing a vibrant network. “Trust,” she responded without hesitation. I shook my head vigorously and protested, “No, that’s too trite. What have you done to build that trust?” She thought for a moment, then cited the importance of Casa. She suggested that face-to-face interaction was even more critical for building trust in Brazil than it was in this country, where a culture of digital literacy is starting to emerge.    (LKI)

I think the jury is still out as to whether or not face-to-face is inherently better for building trust than other mediums. Nevertheless, there is unquestionably something special about face-to-face interactions, yet many organizations don’t do a very good job of leveraging this.    (LKJ)

Looking back, I was too quick to dismiss Theresa’s initial response: Trust. This past year, several groups asked me to comment on online tools they were building to help catalyze knowledge sharing and collaboration within their networks. The majority of the efforts were completely over-engineered. The problem was that the designers got too excited about Web 2.0 bells and whistles, and didn’t think deeply about how those features addressed their underlying challenges, challenges such as how to build trust within a network.    (LKK)

When I originally founded Blue Oxen Associates, my main goals were to identify and name patterns of high performance collaboration and to understand the forces (like trust) these patterns facilitated. While I haven’t completely strayed from these goals, I’ve certainly done my share of meandering. My conversations with Theresa and others these past few months have helped me refocus, and I hope I’ll have interesting things to report over the next year.    (LKL)

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