Project development

Below is the original programme for The Membership Project. That changed during 2008 - as explained here - and in February 2009 we started a new phase. There will be more on that shortly.

 The background to the project is here, together our inspiration for an open, collaborative process to develop guidance, products and services for groups and membership organisations in a more networked world. Relevant blog items are listed at the foot of the page.

Getting started: February - March 2008

Because this is an open, collaborative process we've deliberate gone for a messy start, exploring what's happening in the field and who might be interested. That's reflected in the sequence of blog posts you can see in the project timeline. From these early explorations we've started to develop specific work packages: a possible Guide, products and services. further research, a toolkit and other links to resources.

Next steps March - July 2008

During this phase we aim to:

We are looking out for a major 4Good Festival due to be held in London in early July, which we hope will provide a powerful incentive to all of us to have something to show by then. Look out for more about the Festival here.

What happens after July depends on how successful we have been in marketing early products and services, and in securing additional funding.

Getting funded (and getting data) - pledgebank

Funding, as always, is essential!

One thing we discussed is the potential of using a pledgebank model. Eg

We will do x if y number of people will contribute z

x can be the various packages of work

z will need to include money, but may also be about time or data, eg

'We will publish research into the changing patterns of membership of voluntary organisations, if 30 organisations will each contribute £500 and share data on their membership levels over the last 20 years'


'We will edit and publish a rich collection of case studies from membership organisations about how their membership schemes are changing, if 30 organisations will each contribute one case study online and £100 towards production costs'

How to get the project started

I've been thinking a lot about how we can get The Membership Project started in an open, innovative way, and coming up with a few ideas. Here's first thoughts:

1. The best way of doing things would be to have another team meeting and work through our objectives, the tasks, who does what, the milestones etc. But that would delay thing for a few weeks if we organised it face-to-face. We could try doing it synchronously online, but it would still take a bit of organising.

So - stop worrying about being too neat and tidy - just drop some ideas in here which we can clean up later, or better still leave as an honest example about how processes are messy!

2. On previous projects, like the Open Innovation Exchange, we ran a multi-author blog like this one and also has a private "backstage" system using Basecamp. We used that for team messaging, documents, todos and milestones. Do may need that this time too, but let's see how open we can be here.

3. This site needs some tweaks, but we can do that on the run by using our immediate blogging to test what changes are needed. Let's have an area for feedback and the fixes needed.

4. We need to set some milestones around events. The first is the team meeting that we do need to have - but sometime in March. Then a bigger meeting of people who may be contributors to the project. Question - is that a fairly self-organising Barcamp-type effort, or something more formal with organisational representatives? We will be running a workshop at the NCVO membership conference, and should look out for additional opportunities to engage with people.There's a calendar on the site.

5. If we are going for an open innovation process, then the people who will make this work are other enthusiasts operating in an open, collaborative style. A good place to start is people who demonstrate this by blogging about their work. In an earlier post I've put together a first list.

6. We need to put together a proposition, then start with wants and offers. How about we put together a short version of about this project, and get in touch with those on the blogger list in these terms:

"The aim of this project is to create a market place for ideas, products and services that will help people think about and manage the changes that social media is bringing to membership organisations. Are you interested? If so, what are you looking for, and what could you offer?

"Do take a look at the list of people we are contacting. Can you think of anyone else? We hope one of the attractions of the project will be joining a network of people with an interest in this topic. We are trying to develop some membership here! Any ideas on how best to do that?"

7. We need to look at the lessons for open collaboration, not least in Charles Leadbetter's new book We-Think. What's clear from our past experience is that however wide the collaboration, you need a core group of enthusiasts, a process for making decisions that is not wholly democractic, and a way of chunking work up into modules or packages.

8. We should start developing an FAQ (questions and answers) about the project.

How does seem to the rest of the team?

Our Big Question: what to say to the Cat

Alice and the Cheshire CatAlthough we started this project by Throwing mud at the wall, I think we are coming to the point where we need to address the Cat Question, from Alice in Wonderland:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.

In other words, what and who is this project for, in the digital wonderland. We have said that it "explores how the social web and other factors are changing the ways in which we may belong to groups and organisations" - but we'll need to be more specific if we are to engage people, as we hope, in a collaborative exploration that produces something useful at the end. I've found two main strands emerging: one with a research focus, and the other around products and services. I think we want to end up with:

1. Ways to understand better what membership and belonging may mean in a networked world. That ties in well with the research (here and here), and Guide proposed by Megan Griffith of the NCVO Foresight team. I think it may also interest our partners at the RSA. We are meeting next week to see how, among other things, we best draw on experience from the RSA Networks project that helped inspire this project. The RSA is a particularly useful testbed because its 27,000 members get a mix of services, recognition (through being termed a Fellow), and opportunities to work together on socially-useful projects (that's the RSA Networks strand). I hope we can get more reflections from Paul and others on what members of organisations really want - and what they may contribute.

2. Ways to help membership organisations - and people seeking to organise without with organisations - embrace a mix of new online and face-to-face methods for consuming, communing and co-creating: getting information and services, connecting with others, doing good stuff together. On that front I think we'll be concentrating on what you can do with a mix of free or low-cost tools. New heavy-duty online systems will be needed in many cases: but if we are examing the challenge that social media brings to organisations - because members can start doing things online for themselves - then it makes sense to focus on the low cost tools. It also means that we can develop some products and services that will provide direct benefits to individuals and organisations. Prototyping those will be a great way to explore what works and what doesn't, in what circumstances. Simon Berry has given us insights into how that might work.

If we have some idea of "where do we want to get to", how do we get there? When and where? In order to put some drive into the research and tools development, I think we need some energising milestones along the way. We have some small events in mind - about which more later - and I'm very hopeful we will soon hear more about a London event this summer to rival Reboot (Copenhagen) and LIFT (Geneva). I hope that could provide us with a face-to-face festival where we can find a small corner for the ideas that we are developing here, and at least a partial answer for the Cat.

Oh, I almost forgot. This is a collaborative process. Do you think that's where we should be going?

Project update 1: a deliberately messy start

Here's the first round-up of how the Membership Project and the site has developed in our quest to "explore changes that the social web and other factors may bring to groups and organisations ... and to our ideas of belonging in an increasingly networked society". These updates will be archived here.

You'll find the background and early development of The Membership Project on the About page, and then first thoughts on how to get the project started. From that and Throwing mud at the wall you can see the approach has been open and evolutionary: get started and organise as we go along. This may seem rather disorganised, but it means you can invite in a core group, blog some items, see what interests people, and then create the structure from that.

Editorially it means tagging posts - see the cloud top right - and then putting up some holding pages for key topics which can be used to summarise content. The system we are using - Drupal - allows you to index blog posts under pages, as I am starting to do. You do this using the outline menu when editing.

These early posts have confirmed some core work packges:

In addition to these proposals we've had some lessons about what works and what doesn't, and news of relevant book and social networking site launches.

The next steps will be to do some more tidying up on the site, including a better How to use ... and FAQs, and invite more people from the list here, and other places. Then we'll start looking at events, and more detailed work packages. Once we have more people on the site we can start turning it into a real market place for ideas, products and services. Life is messy - but you have to do some planning too!

Thanks everyone for contributions so far - David 

Project update 2: getting organised

Here's the second update on this Membership Project. We've spend the last three weeks finding out more on what people are saying about social media and organisations, and developing project plans, as reflected in the project timeline.

Social media and organisations

Project plans

Because of the open, collaborative nature of the project - explained here - we expected a messy start. However, by mid-March we had broad agreement on the way forward, and that has now been translated into a set of work packages you can see in the left sidebar for a Guide, products and services, research, and a toolkit.

There's a summary of project plans here, with next steps being to identify a core group of collaborators, develop a workshop game and other products ready for the NCVO membership conference on April 22.

If you would like to join in, drop a comment here or even better register on the site and contribute. Here's how, plus some questions and answers.

David Wilcox


Throwing mud at the wall and other ways of finding what sticks

Mud on wallSaul Albert has come up with some excellent first ideas for a structured approach to research, and developing frameworks for thinking about membership. I'm encouraging Saul to look for collaborators, and maybe develop a proposal for funding or other development.

I'm all for an organised approach, but at the same time believe we have to throw out ideas and see where they land. I first heard the term "throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks" from my friend Johnnie Moore a few years back. He says it's an entrepreneurial principle, which is good enough for me.

LifebeltsI was musing on this while out for a walk across the Thames to Tate Modern, via Millenium Bridge, and dropped down to the mini-beach to see if I could find some useful images ... hence the rather mucky wall above.

I also came across a couple of life-belts, and I'm sure there's another metaphor here about diving in while making sure you have some safety measures.

It reminds me to drop a note to Tessy Britton, also an RSA Fellow, who has a terrific blog Thriving Too which makes really good use of images.

All this is by way of saying, feel free to try some stories, pictures, metaphors and just plain daft observations to start our explorations.

Who might like to contribute

We want to work with a core group of people who are interested in sharing their ideas, and promoting online what they have to offer ... so where better to start than bloggers.

I've been playing around with widgets at Grazr, which allows you to organise RSS feeds. I created a reading list of people who I thought might like to contribute to this site. You can click on the name in the left pane, then review items by clicking over in the top right and reading below.

If you are not on the list and want to join in, drop in a comment below. Suggestions on other bloggers welcome. More here on joining in.