Empowering equality by enabling communities to collaborate towards shared goals

Equality has instrumental value in bringing digital transformation there where it is needed the most

Digital transformation spreads slowly there where it is needed the most. Today every successful company is a technology company, using data we generate to entertain, connect, feed, transport and accommodate us in ways we couldn’t believe would be possible two decades ago. But society and communities driven by different values and metrics, from governments, municipalities and school districts to nonprofits and charities, are unable to innovate and embrace technology in the same way.

These communities often progress through incremental improvement. Development programs are funded to streamline processes and add new infrastructure. But digital transformation isn’t about improvement. While the problems and goals often stay the same, digital transformation means entirely new solutions that completely replace existing thinking, processes and activities. Digital transformation is as much about letting go as it is about building new.

Startups can, and are often encouraged to pivot, even when it means complete ceasing of profitable business activities in the search of something even more transformational. Founders with secured funding can spend months seeking and refining new angles and models before the next attempt. In startup world this is often called simply failing and faster you can do it, the better.

Societies, on the other hand, are unable to fail. Functions have to remain continuous and incremental change will never result in something fundamentally different. A digital transformation is a disrupting process and larger and more rigid is the organization, larger is the disruption. Digital transformation of even entire countries still isn’t impossible.

Major events are ideal moments to start the digital transformation. When you are disrupted by something already, why not disrupt other things while you are at it? Estonia is a good example. First they went through the political, social and economic turmoil that followed the fall of Soviet Union in 1991. They then joined European Union in 2004. These events forced the country to go through a fundamental transformation and thus provided a window for the digital transformation to happen as well. In 2014 Estonia launched it’s e-residency program, allowing individuals and companies to become essentially digital citizens of the country. Today they are holding the 18th place in the Information and communication technology development index, just behind Finland and ahead of countries like Canada, Singapore and Ireland. Estonia is constantly introducing new digital thinking to business, governance, cities and transportation.

Other way to reach digital transformation is from ground up and through the individuals. Next I will explore how equality and digital communities enabling goal-driven collaboration could introduce digital transformation to societies.

Equality and shared goals

Lack of shared goals makes communities unable to evaluate their members based on the ways they could contribute. Emergence of a shared goal often transforms communities to accept members with positive impact to the goal, regardless of their background, ethnicity or social status. But if some community members are unable to contribute, they are easily marginalized and pushed aside, leaving them out from not only the collaborative effort, but voiding them the ability to affect and steer the goal.

Digital transformation is not just blockchains, 3D-printers, machine learning and augmented reality. These are new ideas emerging from already transformed individuals, communities and organizations. But digital transformation is far from a simple engineering problem: it drills down to the lives and experiences of all community members and requires contribution from everyone.

Participation inequality is often used in the context of democratic processes to describe the imbalance between different groups. In the context of online communities, the participation inequality is also known as the 1% rule: only one percent of an online community actively takes a part in the content creation, nine percent does so occasionally and the rest are passive content consumers, or so called lurkers. The idea was introduced by Jakob Nielsen in 2006. According to him, this equality is always going to be with us — no social platform ever has been, nor ever be, able to overcome it.

Nielsen still suggests some solutions to alleviate this inequality. They are (full descriptions of the solutions can be found from the link above to Nielsen’s original article):

  • Make it easier to contribute
  • Make participation a side effect
  • Edit, don’t create
  • Reward — but don’t over-reward — participants.
  • Promote quality contributors

We see these tactics being utilized through the entire social media and online community landscape. I would still like to add one solution:

  • Allow your platform to be transformed by the creators themselves to invite contribution from those who wouldn’t otherwise contribute

This is not a simple solution technically nor conceptually, but if successful, would create a network effect where active contributors are contributing by building new ways to contribute. The effect would start from those both interested in solving a common problem and in bringing other community members onboard.

The real digital transformation has happened when the community members are no longer just consumers of technology built and provided by others, but active participants in innovation and development. The framework that facilitates and enables individuals with diverse skillsets and backgrounds to contribute to the shared goals has to be built by those already empowered and enabled.

A shared goal can be found from a holistic desire to achieve digital transformation. New innovations are required to bring them all together and allow contributions from individuals with different backgrounds, skillsets and knowledge. Next I will discuss about means to achieve this and two existing platforms that are already partially succeeding in it.

Platforms with embedded goals are focused

Determined online communities operating on democratized platforms can have a world-altering impact. Twitter has had a central role in multiple revolutions and uprisings and Wikipedia is arguably one of the largest undertakings in human history.

Digital collaboration platforms are excellent in facilitating knowledge creation, learning, decision making, planning, coordination and discussion. Less often they contain, host or facilitate the very outcome of the collaborative effort itself. The preliminary work done online is later translated by individuals or smaller groups into tangible outcomes like events, product features, infrastructure or new practices.

The lack of enforced constraints and structure in these platforms results in noise and lack of focus — to the point that there are startups solely focused on solving the noise problems of collaboration tools build by other startups. Some collaborative social platforms exist where the goals, collaborative work and it’s outcomes are integral parts of the same platform. This seems to affect the amount of noise present and enable more focused collaboration.

Wikipedia is perhaps one of the best examples: writing, editing, discussion and refereeing happens one click away from the article available for everyone to read. Wikipedia has a very clear and confined mission and the strict, self-regulating community actively deviations from it.

GitHub is the home of thousands of successful open-source initiatives that bring together developers from all over the world. Documentation, discussion, bug reporting and code versioning is happening through a single platform and the common goal and collaborative effort is visible and tangible for all the participants. GitHub is almost solely targeted to developers writing, sharing and controlling code, which is albeit important, not the only requirement for digital transformation.

A platform that would come close to what the democratized digital transformation is needing would:

  • Have the accessibility and determination of Wikipedia
  • Have the flexibility and diversity of GitHub
  • Host and facilitate results and collaboration on a same platform
  • Have the capability of contributors to build new ways for new community members to participate

When the context is the entire digital landscape — from nonprofits building their own invoice automation to entire governments running in the cloud — building a platform that meets these requirements is not an easy task.

But it is a task that we at Valaa have accepted as our mission. If you are interested in hearing more about Valaa, our technology or have feedback, please leave a comment or drop me an email at ville@valaa.com.