« Social Software in Government: Headed for Mainstream | Main | The Social Software Value Matrix »

January 28, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Penny Edwards

Great post Michael. The (anti-)patterns you describe go along way to explain why many knowledge intensive organisations (not just law firms) stumble during the adoption process. Whilst there can be a level of formality within each of the levels you describe, the higher the level of abstraction the greater the barriers to participation in the form of perfectionism, authority, sign-off and lack of time.

These stumbling blocks bring to mind the story of Wikipedia's false start (i.e. Nupedia). In a nutshell, Nupedia was hamstrung by efforts to formalise the contribution processes to ensure quality, which included establishing editorial policy guidelines and processes for the creation, review, revision, and publication of articles. Once the stringent levels of control were lifted contributions flowed.

Wikipedia is often used as a prime example of a 'knowledge base'. But I wonder how often people reflect on its origins and how processes and controls had to be altered to encourage contributions.

For instance, looking at the client-specific collaboration level, we see that people are using the tools to help them get their jobs done, and are doing so at a more informal, conversational level. It is from those daily interactions and exchanges of information, ideas and expertise that people also learn. I think this has clear implications for engagement and contributions at the other levels, and the amount of control that is exercised over the process in general.

Chris Rasmussen

the US Intelligence Community is struggling to get past the wiki as knowledge base too. Intellipedia is mostly used at the margins. "Finish intelligence" (a report with a logo on it) is still king. How long can we "think out loud" and continue to paste social tool conversations into agency-specific production system?

One of the most tiresome counter-arguments is "our customers" demand X so we can't change. Follow-up with the question, name 10 people, and you get crickets. This caricature of what people want is often a projection of their likes and dislikes of how to receive information and control of the process.

We need to cut to the heart of the business and use a "living intelligence" model. There are several units working similarly to the examples of client-specific collaboration you listed but at the 50,000 level most social tools are viewed as adjunct to the "official" process.

Doug Cornelius

Michael –

I both agree and disagree with you.

I agree that the general know-how ends up as an encyclopedia that requires updating “above-the-flow” and is less likely to get lawyers engaged.

I agree that incorporating social software “in-the-flow” is the best use and the better way for law firms to operate. (Actually, I whole-heartedly agree with this).

I disagree that know-how is a bad place to start. I think starting with know-how offers a few advantages and starting with a client relationship has some disadvantages.

First, by getting the know-how in the platform, that information, that knowledge now becomes much more findable. The number one complaint I hear at law firms is that they cannot find the information they need. When we started “wiki-fying” our know-how and other content, you could now find that stuff very quickly. That gives you a quick win and an easy 10 second demonstration of the power of social software.

Second, know-how is less mission critical. Essentially it can be a sandbox for the lawyers to learn how to use the tools. I have lawyers less likely to try something new in front of clients. By injecting it into a mission-critical place as a shared resource with a client, failure now has severe consequences.

Third, lawyers do not really collaborate with clients. They work closely with clients, but they do want to share interim drafts that come along with wikis and social software. (I wrote some about the behaviors in this published article: http://dougcornelius.com/files/Wikis_and_Document_Management_Systems.pdf)

Fourth, lawyer-client extranets are largely unsuccessful. I championed them for years, but they rarely worked. Perhaps using a social software platform would change that, but I am skeptical. The challenge is getting both the lawyer team AND the client team to learn the tool and change the way they communicate. That is a big challenge.

Now I am not saying that these are set in concrete and will never change. I think we are just ahead of the adoption curve.

I found a great use of the social software was managing an internal legal team. Instead of running the transaction process through a word-based agenda that gets emailed to the internal team, I moved that process to a wiki. It collapses three processes. Before, it was find the word document, edit the document, and then email the document. With a wiki, finding it is easier. Editing and emailing is collapsed into one process since the wiki automatically sends out the update to subscribers. The other benefit is that the wiki is kept more up to date than waiting for the next email to come around.

The plan, before I left Goodwin, was to eventually roll this process into an extranet. But only after the internal team got very comfortable with using the tool and could explain it to the client.

Your proposal makes adoption twice as hard, requiring a CIO to convince the lawyers to use the tool AND convince the client to use the tool.

Michael Idinopulos

Doug, great comments. I agree with you that collaborating directly with clients is probably not the place to start. By "Client-Specific Collaboration" I didn't necessarily mean that the client would be directly participating (though that is the most extreme form), but just that legal teams would collaborate directly on the delivery of billable client work. Your internal legal team example reveals a great step-up use case: In-the-flow collaboration on work that's less high-stakes than direct client service.

Michael Idinopulos

That's a really insightful point about Intellipedia. We experienced the same dynamic when we introduced wikis to McKinsey & Company. The natural next step for the intelligence community would be to launch small-scale "grassroots" collaborative workspaces at the project, team, and/or department levels. The only catch is, "Intellipedia" isn't the right brand and the folks who live for Intellipedia's openness may cry foul. They need to understand that team collaboration and public knowledge-sharing are very different use cases. Both are valuable uses of social software, but they require different norms and processes.

Gordon Vala-Webb

I would suggest that collaboration between team members (including from the client side) is different than social computing / networking. In collaboration you have a defined, limited, group of people who are told to work each other and are working on some sort of shared outcome. In social computing anyone (largely) can participate, people can come and go as they will, and there is no shared outcome (only the sum of the individual outcomes). Different contexts, different outcomes, different kinds of value.


These are some brilliant points and very well articulated.

Another use case for information management, inside of law firms, is the management of "network intelligence." In other words, "who knows whom and how."

An example of where this goes wrong is the business development manager in a law firm spends days, sometimes weeks, trying to figure out who can make an introduction to a specific company -- a potential client. What he or she didn't know is that one of the firms' partners is on the board of a local non-profit with a founding partner of that company that is the potential client and can make a meaningful introduction.

This is the problematic, social process that my company works to convert into a fast, technology-driven social process.

You can see a case study of how we do it here: http://jutenetworks.com/2010/01/independent-sector-a-quick-case-study/

If you or any of your readers are interested, I'm happy to do a demo.


Gaurab Banerji

Very interesting points Michael. As a community manager for an enterprise social software platform (tibbr.com), it is part of my responsibility to identify key use cases for clients to succeed in their adoption. I think what you mention here is very similar to what i preach to my clients about deeply integrating the business process into the social software tool at the core business level. The deeper into the core you start (e.g.: Client-Specific Collaboration) the more direction and investment users will have in such a platform.

I've found, as you mention, without clear purpose on what the collaboration platform is supposed to be used for, users will maintain a 'Thanks, but no thanks' approach. If you give users a very specific use case to follow, in which they will almost instantly see value in, they will do it. Eventually, the more peripheral use cases will emerge as adoption spreads.

Thanks again.

Michael Idinopulos

Beautifully said, Gaurab. Good luck at Tibbr!

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter