An ESN Garden for Affinity Groups

Overview

Our core innovation migrates affinity groups – specifically those associated with supporting diverse employee populations in an effort to foster an inclusive workplace – to the digital space, and by doing so fosters previously impossible connections among them. At the same time it also generates the roots for a more inclusive and collaborative community at a large organization.

Who is this for?

This initiative is targeted towards the often individualistic and independent arena of academia, but is feasible for any enterprise aiming to support greater connection and collaboration for a diverse workforce.

How might it work?

The intent is for the ESN to serve as the launching pad for enhancing community and inclusion across the diverse population at a large university. To facilitate this effort, our solution starts with helping existing campus affinity groups extend their presence and connection within their own group, and with other groups by establishing digital communities. While they often have overlapping goals, affinity groups are siloed, existing in one particular school or area of the university. As such, these groups can benefit from coming together, and forming greater connection with each other. As part of this effort, we will help each of our pilot affinity groups establish a community to enhance collaboration and connection in their own group, as well as make it easier to reach across to other groups. While the ultimate goal is to enhance collaboration, we also aim to preserve each group’s existing individual identity.

ESN+garden

We see each local affinity group (i.e. women in IT, working mothers, women in business) as a petal on a flower and the overlapping areas of interest for these groups (i.e women’s issues) as the center of the flower. The ESN is the substrate or soil in which these groups can grow together and thrive. As the groups become more comfortable with the ESN, we expect they will interact more with each other and identify further areas of common interest and ways to partner toward achieving common goals.

Challenges

User adoption: how to transition a population/group from an independently defined space or communication style to operating in a more digital environment

Privacy: users may be uncomfortable sharing sensitive information in an online space. We expect some in-person, private communication must be retained.

Identity: how will groups feel about being lumped into broader categories for the sake of collaboration? Purpose and mission must be clear.

Experiments

This innovation could be tested through implementation with a targeted broad group and related subgroups. In our specific example, we identified several campus affinity groups (i.e. women, Latin Americans, work/life balance groups) to be potential catalysts for generating greater university-wide participation. Quantifiable data points would include participation rates, membership increases, as well as engagement data (number of posts, likes, comments). More informal measures will also need to include a look at changes in cross-affinity group communication and collaboration.

Innovation developed by:

Scott Koenning
Rebecca Parker
Juli Scalf
Laura Zaverdinos

MSLOC 430 Winter 2016

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