How do we collaborate across different networks and organizations in times of crisis? Lessons learned from the Support Ukraine SuperHive experiment
When the war in Ukraine started we saw how many organizations and networks were drowning with incoming requests for help. At the same time they also received a large number of offers to support. Much activity in purpose-driven networks seemed quite repetitive and happening in silos.
We wanted to help. So we asked ourselves: How can we empower people to collaborate and share requests and offers across many networks and organizations?
Together with MitOst, an organization we had come to know and admire over the past few years, we set up a project to experiment with collaborations across networks and organizations: Support Ukraine SuperHive. Using the SuperHive technology the project manifested as a daily email that allowed people to submit requests or offers for help, or otherwise relevant information. The technology then collected all these requests and shared them back with everyone in a simple digest. In the digest email people then could easily connect with any relevant posts.
The project ultimately did not succeed and we have decided to shut it down and channel people towards other, existing platforms in support of Ukraine. But in the process we learned a lot about cross-network / cross-organization collaborations and we wanted to share our insights with you here.
How we designed it
- We needed a strong, trusted partner like MitOst that would be the face of the initiative and bring other people and organizations on board. MitOst is perfect, because they have been working with social change-makers in Ukraine and bordering countries for decades. They are a natural connector and know many people in this space.
- To allow for more efficient match-making we needed the help of technology. Because this was supposed to encourage cross-network collaboration around Ukraine we couldn’t rely on any existing group’s social network. It had to be a new tool, but we were also aware how challenging it is to get people to adapt a new technology. We intentionally chose an email-based tool, SuperHive, because with email, people don’t have to install anything, they don’t have to create a new behavior to regularly check a new network. We also wanted a solution that wouldn’t bombard people with constant messages, but allow for messages to be sent out as digests.
- We were intentional in how open we “branded” the initiative. Even though we had a strong partner with Mitost, the initiative was named after its purpose (Support Ukraine SuperHive), not after MitOst or any other participating organization. As a result there was no dominating host. We were worried about organizational ego and hoped that this purpose-driven, non-specific branding would encourage people to contribute across their specific organizational identities.
What actually happened?
Here is a screenshot from our stats:
- We had 237 people sign up from a wide variety of backgrounds and representing many organizations involved with Ukraine support. Out of those 18% of people actively participated at some point.
- We sent out 20 SuperHive newsletters.
- People shared 84 posts (requests for help, offer of help, share of information, and responses to all of those)
- 76% of all posts received a reaction (and the posts who didn’t receive a reaction were mostly sharing information, without a call to action).
- On average each post got 1.4 responses
As you can see, there were 84 interaction, which isn’t nothing. Yet from talking to people actually doing the work, we knew that people had many, many more requests they needed help with. And we also knew that people had many more opportunities to help.
The cross-collaboration wasn’t happening at a big enough scale. Somehow people weren’t sharing, why was that? We asked participants for feedback and I spoke directly with different participants to interview them about their experience. Here is wha we learned:
1 — We still need a shared identity, otherwise it feels unsafe to collaborate.
We received feedback that the initiative felt “too open”. That people were unsure who was behind it and felt uncomfortable sharing. People said that posting felt like putting something out into the void. It became clear that it was a vulnerable and risky thing to ask for help and offer help to someone you have no shared context with.
In networks it’s normal for strangers to collaborate or share resources, but it’s enabled by what we call “proxy trust”: While I don’t know you, I know that we are both part of a trusted network/community/organization and therefore I trust you as well, at least a little bit. As there was no shared identity, there was no proxy trust.
2 — But how do you create a shared context when you are working across an emerging set of organizations / networks?
Our sense is that a very basic shared identity has to be created and that it has to be clearly communicated which organizations and networks are part of it. A possible example is the Alliance 4 Ukraine in Germany. Their website lists very clearly what organizations are part of it. There is a clear host and clear participating organizations.
Now, setting up an alliance of organizations is much slower and requires way more buy-in than the grass-root approach we pursued. In our case, individuals could just join. In the case of an alliance, you need organizational buy-in. That slows things down, but also gives it legitimacy. It will be great to learn in future experiments what the right balance is.
3 — We need critical mass.
In order to allow for efficient matchmaking in these highly emergent situations, we need a critical mass of participants. And to get a critical mass we need partners who actively promote the initiative repeatedly through their own channels for weeks.
4 — Learnings on technology.
- An email-based technology served us well and SuperHive is a great tool.
- We started with a too intense rhythm of once every work day. We should have started with once or twice a week and then increased once we had more critical mass of people.
- Some people advocated for more fast-paced channels like Telegram.
5 — Hosting cross-collaborations needs resources
We underestimated how much time and effort it would require to pull together and lead this cross-weaving initiative. In particular it needs resources to promote the initiative, pull other partners in, to help participants onboard and understand the technology and just keep a steady rhythm of activity going.
A parting thought: Laying now the groundwork for future cross-collaborations?
We’re leaving you with a question we’re thinking about: Could it make sense to create an alliance of purpose-driven networks before the next crisis emerges, so that it can both be activated quickly and that a minimal shared identity can be created?
A big thank you to everyone who helped make this happen.
- Thank you to Annegret Wullf, Malwina Fendrych and the MitOst team for being great and flexible partners as we were learning on the go.
- Thank you to Margaux Pelen and Michael Mayernick at SuperHive for providing a great tool and offering us tech support in the middle of the night.
- Thank you Darius Polock at iac Berlin / Bosch Alumni Network for being a strong project advocate and catalyst.
- Thank you everyone who gave feedback and helped us learn!
- “You never know when you need relationships, but when you do, you need them fast”
- Communities = human search engines?
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What do you think?
What have you learned about cross-network collaborations? We’d love to learn with you, thank you for sharing your comments and feedback.