Building Community Through Innovation: Pt. 1

KQED and the power of public media as network

According to Charlie Brown, CEO of Context Partners, a big shift is occurring in the way organizations relate to their audiences.

The way causes are supported, brands are launched and innovations are scaled is evolving from a push to a collective build. Traditional models are no longer enough to yield results. This shift is led by vocal communities that are replacing passive audiences. Those organizations that fail to capture this momentum are destined to be left behind.

Recognizing this shift, KQED’s audience-first strategy has been about pivoting from traditional audience development to a more active style of community engagement. Executing this strategy has meant identifying who these audiences are, creating relationships, and learning from them. Achieving these goals requires innovation, not only in thinking differently about audiences, but in applying new tools for conversing with and convening diverse communities.

The challenge for KQED and all of public media is deciding what it means to serve the local community in a world where access to content is so freely available, from anywhere. With the launch of their strategic plan, KQED embarked on a mission to create new relationships with their community, turning, as one person said “..what was a broadcast situation into a conversation situation.” The mind shift was present, but how would they get there?

Linkages through Matter

KQED’s partnership in Matter and the resulting collaborations with participating start-ups has proven to be a primary catalyst for accelerating these new community-driven relationships. Matter’s goal is to support aspiring start-ups that espouse public media values, helping to create and foster informed communities through technology and entrepreneurship. Matter emphasizes the idea of ‘media as network,’ which situates public media as a kind of ‘connective tissue’ between media and their audiences to improve knowledge and raise awareness.

Matter’s entrepreneurs were impressed with KQED’s willingness to embrace the open-endedness and collaborative spirit of the design thinking process; to become, in effect, part of their community, not to profit from it, but to learn, guide, and be an active partner and participant. To paraphrase one Matter alum: the strength of Matter is leveraging the community and culture to think bigger. These were values shared by KQED, and made up core elements of their strategic plan. There is a commonality in purpose and values.

Both KQED and the Matter start-ups think deeply about audiences; KQED, as a public media entity, from a content delivery and programming perspective, and the start-ups, working with public media entities, in developing tools and platforms to facilitate community and engagement. Matter provides companies an opportunity to try out their ideas inside of KQED in an experimental way without necessarily being disruptive to KQED as an organization. Within the shared space of Matter, a synergy built around community was just waiting to happen. This two-part series will explore two such examples within KQED Education and News.

Sharing is Part of Learning: KQED Teach

We knew we wanted to teach teachers how to use media. We knew we needed a social place in order for that to happen. We knew what our audience needed. We knew all of those things, but we didn’t know how we were going to get there. — KQED education staff

Incorporation of an active space for social learning and sharing is a core component of KQED Teach, a series of online professional learning courses designed to help educators learn and practice important 21st century digital media literacy skills and strategies. Teachers can choose from a series of course modules on topics such as Video Storytelling Essentials, Social Media, and Validating Online Information. The courses are aligned to subject matter standards and the approach is task-based. KQED Teach emphasizes the teacher as the producer/maker of media, providing opportunities (called Make and Share) for teachers to share their media-making experiences and strategies with others within an integrated online community.

KQED Teach participants have access to a wide range of social and digital media tools to construct and remix media in multiple formats and across a variety of platforms. In each module teachers can practice a media literacy skill they have learned and share it with the KQED Teach community. Teachers are also asked to reflect on their experiences and describe how new skills and knowledge influence their learning environments. By sharing both product and process with their peers, teachers participate in a dynamic and collaborative online learning environment.

Examples of Make and Share activities include:

  • Writing, producing and posting a one minute video using a smartphone
  • Posting a blog article on Medium about the experience of integrating digital media in the classroom
  • Designing an interactive collage to visually illustrate influences shaping one’s media bias
  • Using Flipboard to create a digital magazine as part of a social learning network
  • Using Storybird to create a digital picture book of a personal story

The concept behind KQED’s Teach’s online community redefines the idea of a learning space by providing an openness of the learning process for teachers. Teachers not only demonstrate what they know, but also see how the whole learning process evolves. Demonstrations of learning projects aren’t buried in nested forums, but become part of a teacher’s active online portfolio. Teachers can track their own learning, similar to what students are being asked to do.

Discovering a partnership

KQED staff had some experience with design of this kind of online community space, but not in building out the design from the ground up. Before deciding not to develop the product in-house, KQED staff conducted an extensive review of existing and emerging online learning platforms and determined that none adequately addressed their main needs and interests. A number of outside developers suggested implementing ‘out-of-box’ solutions, but these proposed solutions did not feel right to KQED staff for functional or pedagogical reasons. The situation changed when KQED Education staff connected with Known, a start-up member of Matter’s third class cohort.

Known is a community platform that allows groups to publish publicly or privately. A user can choose who can see the content they publish, as well as where that content reaches specific audiences. Content can also be syndicated to social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, SoundCloud, Flickr, LinkedIn and more. Known’s initial product to market was a platform for college students to create and share material outside of learning management systems, through an open source process.

KQED Education staff first became familiar with Known during pitch presentations at Matter in 2014. Tim Olson, KQED’s Vice President for Digital Media and Education, made sure to leverage a connection between Known and KQED Education. This resulted in a follow up meeting with Education staff at a digital media learning conference in Los Angeles later that year. It was there that the connection between Known and KQED Education formally began to take shape:

Ben and Erin from Known were part of a panel presentation. They started talking about the ways that Known creates this space where people can design a history of the way they converse, and how it’s both public and private. I knew that’s what we needed for the foundation of everything we build. I talked to Ben right after the session, and said this is exactly what we’ve been looking for. As soon as I came back from that conference we immediately started to talk to Known about how we were going to build that community functionality into our courses. — KQED education staff

This entree through Matter, helped to quickly establish both a relationship and a working partnership. According to a KQED Education staff member: “If Known wasn’t a Matter company, and I saw them at the same conference, I wouldn’t have made the same connection.”

Following the conference, Known staff ran a pilot for KQED Education staff using a themed version of their community platform concept, a unique idea to complete courses and lessons by posting to a community space. Known customized the product to work with the KQED brand, and integrated it with KQED’s web presence.

The relationship between Known and KQED was an alignment of two organizations with complementary core strengths. KQED brought a deep education and media knowledge base, while Known had the infrastructure to create online communities, and a commitment to the kinds of values important to public media.

Both parties also benefited from experience with the design thinking process, which emphasizes experimentation, iteration, and a focus on meeting audience needs. Both KQED Education and Known staff were exposed to design thinking through Matter. (Matter hosted a one-day design thinking boot camp for KQED staff, in which most of the Education team participated). Education staff commented that the development process would have been more difficult had there not been a shared appreciation for design thinking.

By leveraging their knowledge of digital media and its applications in the classroom through KQED Teach, KQED provides value ‘in the middle’ to these online teacher communities. KQED serves as a convener for teachers to share and dialogue with each other in a safe and trusted space. It is an opportunity for KQED to demonstrate and model the power of media in community.

Benefits to Known

The relationship with KQED also resulted in some concrete benefits for Known. During development of KQED Teach Known considered a variety of strategies for designing system features and functionality. KQED Education staff was very clear in articulating what worked and what didn’t when designing a community attached to their unique problems. This feedback helped the Known team improve the platform in response to KQED’s requirements. These refinements provided Known with a product concept that triggered a reassessment of their positioning as a player in the education market.

It’s (project with KQED) helped us deeply, deeply understand what the challenges are for the kind of organization KQED is. We (Known) are evolving as a result and actually evolving out to education again. We’ll still provide educational services but we’re thinking about publishing an identity on the web in a very different way. We realize there are some much larger problems so that’s been a really good lens for us. — Ben Werdmuller, co-founder, Known

Known’s experience with KQED Teach made their product stronger, and more attractive to their higher education clients. By bringing pedagogy into the community function Known was able to differentiate its platform from other more ‘niche’ community applications.

Known’s connection to KQED extends beyond development work on KQED Teach. One of the company’s co-founders, Ben Werdmuller, has served as an advisor to KQED Lab. This is another example of the mutually beneficial relationship between KQED and Matter start-ups. KQED staff learns from experienced professionals how to conceptualize, test and pitch their ideas, while companies learn more about needs and issues of a large public media organization to help improve and market their own products.

In Part 2 of Building Community Through Innovation learn how KQED’s audience first strategy and connection with Matter start-ups have fostered a new type of community engagement within public news media.