Work | Open Directions

By: Open Directions  09-12-2011
Keywords: engagement

Communities that plan and practice resilience, are communities that thrive when disasters strike. In response to the growing need for enhanced emergency planning, Natural Resources Canada and the Justice Institute of British Columbia, in consultation with project partners and communities, are designing and developing a suite of simple and effective indicators, tools, and training materials for decision makers and practitioners to assess the capability and resiliency of rural health systems and communities across Canada.

Project Quick Facts
Client: Justice Institute/NRCAN
Consultant: Communicopia
Role: Strategy/User-Experience
Duration: 4 Months
Location: Vancouver, Canada

One of these tools is a platform called the Virtual Communities of Practice. The intent of the community platform is to develop a web-based resource that planners, emergency managers and researchers can use to access and share knowledge about risk-based planning in Canada.

Our Process

To support the process of creating this community, we lead a collaboration between these organizations which would seek to;

  • Define community goals and user-experience needs
  • Develop the initial user-experience wireframes and site map
  • Establish technical requirements and platform recommendations
  • Develop a community engagement plan
  • Create the initial designs for the platform

The combination of these efforts established a strong foundation upon which the organizations collaborating on this project are able to lead the development, launch and engagement of the community.

Community Vision

In our stakeholder engagement process we worked to define the vision for the community which would act as the guide for subsequent stages of the project and engagement with the community. The goal of the project is to:

  • Support rural, remote and coastal communities in their risk and resiliency planning
  • Create an open-source, online community of practice which enables member engagement
  • Bring thought leaders and those in the field together to share insights, stories and best practices

Community Insights

In addition to developing a set of recommended approaches, wire-frames, total cost of ownership analysis and platform recommendations, we worked to establish a set of principals that the organizations would embrace to both initiate, and sustain community engagement. Starting online communities is easy, sustaining them to realize their anticipated benefits is hard work. In our research we discovered that over 50% of all online community initiatives fail within the first 12 months. To ensure the success of this program we defined a top ten list of things that all great online communities need which became the model for the Justice Institute and Natural Resources Canada to use in this project.

Ten Things All Great Online Communities Need

  • Clear vision and purpose
  • Supportive organizational leadership
  • Strong community management
  • Empowered leaders within the community, from the community
  • Consistent and long-term funding
  • Consistent investment in engaging content and features
  • Communications and engagement plan
  • Strong connection to real-world events / relationship building
  • Culture of continuous learning and improvement
  • Connect community / social media into all areas of the experience

Nature Canada believes that when you connect with nature, it can lead to a lifelong appreciation of the living world around you. That is why they created the My Parks Pass program. Designed to introduce grade 8 students from all over Canada, to over 200 national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.

Project Quick Facts
Client: Nature Canada
Consultant: Communicopia
Role: Strategy/User-Experience
Duration: 3 Months
Location: Ottawa, Canada

Connecting Online to Offline

In our early strategy work, we spent significant time understanding all of the dynamics of the program delivery. This included a detailed analysis of the design of print material, prizing, contesting structures and in particular each detail of how the program was going to be introduced to every grade 8 class room in all of Canada. We asked questions like: Who delivers the program material? How does it get from the mailroom at the school into the classroom? How does the teacher introduce it to the class? What do they need to do that most effectively? How do we connect what they need to introduce the program in the classroom, into engaged participation online? We spent most of our work trying to connect the dots of the execution of these details with the user-experience and design of the site. This included extensive testing of the contesting workflow to ensure we would reach as many of these students as possible and convert their interest in prizing and nature programs into action online.

Removing Barriers – Making it Simple

Made with Partners

High-functioning collaboration creates success as it again did in this program. While the project was lead by and , funding, prizing and content resources were provided by , and . It was this combination of multi-organization collaboration that helped bring together all the elements of success needed to engage this often fickle audience.

Official Languages

In addition to building out all of the features of the digital experience in English, the team also created a French Canadian language version for every element of the site, including contesting, prizes and Google map integration. This is a requirement for all federal organizations and an asset to the program, but more importantly, interest and participation in the program from French students across the country contributes more than 20% of activity. Reaching them with tools and resources in their own language was a significant factor in ensuring their participation and success of the program.

Project Quick Facts
Client: BC Hydro
Consultant: Communicopia
Role: Community Engagement
Duration: 6 Months
Location: Vancouver, Canada


“Our office spans the entire province, and the extranet is vital to our jobs. It takes everything that we had written down or in our heads and puts it into a visual, easy-to-manage platform.” - Susan Doig, Energy Manager, Capilano University

With thousands of employees spread across a massive area, one of the biggest challenges BC Hydro faces is ensuring that everyone has access to the same timely, accurate information no matter where they work. “If someone can’t find something that exists, they’ll duplicate it. If that happens often enough, then ultimately you’re looking at a great deal of wasted time and lost productivity,” says John Atwater, Intranet Manager, BC Hydro.
Among the many services BC Hydro provides is a program to help large energy users hire full-time, in-house Energy Managers. These experts can help companies cut their energy costs, achieve their environmental targets, and build a stronger competitive advantage. Companies who qualify for the program can get a portion of the manager’s salary paid for by BC Hydro.

Although managers are scattered across the province, they’re also colleagues. They meet quarterly but try to stay connected throughout the year in order to share best practices and bounce ideas off one another.

Here is an example of one of the training screencasts we used to get the community building content and profiles to help them get engaged in the user-experience of the community:

“I work in Vancouver, but one of my most experienced colleagues works on Vancouver Island. We play a lot of telephone tag trying to figure out ‘How are you doing this?’ It can be hard to reach each other and it creates a time-lag issue when I need information,” says Susan Doig, Energy Manager, Capilano University.


Working with Communicopia and Habaňero Consulting Group, BC Hydro built a new extranet for Energy Mangers. The site is designed to help the group come together, share ideas and exchange best practices in real time, whether it’s on a PC, browser or mobile device.

The My Site feature of SharePoint 2010 helps provide Energy Mangers with a range of social networking features. They include a My Networks page for managing colleagues, interests, and news feed settings, a My Content page for managing documents and photos, and a My Profile page for managing user profile information.

“I think the one thing we’re starting to recognize is that work is inherently social. I don’t think teamwork and collaboration is really possible until you know who people are, and until you know how – even broadly speaking – you’re related to them. The platform helps us work toward building a social culture,” says Atwater.


“Our office spans the entire province, and the extranet is vital to our jobs. It takes everything that we had written down or in our heads and puts it into a visual, easy to manage platform,” says Doig.

Managing Content

“With a conservative estimate, I’d say that would reduce the amount of time it takes people to manage web content by a factor of two, even three. That to me is a key benefit,” says Atwater.

Return on Investment

There are plans to expand the use of online communities beyond the Energy Manager community. “Our plans for collaboration are quite ambitious. When I look at the potential for the platform, it provides an opportunity to create a seamless experience for all of our audiences, for our customers, employees and for partners. The evidence that we’ve gained from the Energy Managers pilot bolsters our business case for really looking at SharePoint 2010 as a standardized front-end.”

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

Project Quick Facts
Client: The Elders Foundation
Consultant: Communicopia
Role: Strategy & Planning
Duration: 5 Months
Location: London, UK

It Started with a Conversation

Leading the Digital Conversation

Christopher Roy, Peter Gabriel and Jason Mogus

Five Year Plan for a 500 Year Organization

The Elders were conceived as an organization that might last 500 years. Five hundreds years of leadership from a group of continuously evolving world leaders that would provide wisdom and council to the global community. We were working in year zero of this ambitious plan, and as digital strategists and thinkers, we were encouraging the Elders and the leadership of The Elders Foundation to consider putting the Internet at the centre of the organization for facilitating conversation and listening with the citizens who might be interested in engaging with their work.

Planning for Capacity and Sustainment

Beginning the process required of us to map out a five year plan that the leadership team could use to begin planning how the organization would structure itself to build capacity to begin, and sustain this work. This was our challenge. Build the five year plan. Working with an almost clean slate we began the process of mapping out the all needs a smart digital organization would need to make most effective use of online.

Whole View Planning and Collaboration

We turned these results into a mutli-phase, multi-year plan that mapped out costs, resources, and technology to support the strategic goals of listening, giving the Elders voice, action convening and amplify the impact of Eldership in the world. The plan included all aspects of digital, from organizational resources, talent, systems, platforms, partners, vendors, social networking, engagement and how to bring all these elements together to collaborate most effectively.

The Elders are now well on their way towards building the capacity of their organization and evolving the focus of their work. You can follow their progress online at The Elders Foundation.

BC Hydro is a utility unique among its peers. The organization has a clear and unusual focus for a large scale enterprise; they want you to use less of their product. Part government organization, part private business, BC Hydro’s corporate vision is to provide steady and reliable power to the citizens of British Columbia, while at the same time encouraging its customers to use less of the electricity it produces. The business case is simple. Bringing on more generating capacity is more expensive and less profitable than encouraging people to use less of the existing generating capacity.

Project Quick Facts
Client: BC Hydro
Consultant: Communicopia
Role: Strategy & Governance
Duration: 4 Months
Location: Vancouver, Canada

One of the core teams providing services within the BC Hydro organization to help meet this vision are the digital and internet teams. These groups lead and own the delivery of online interactions with both internal and external BC Hydro stakeholders. This includes sites such as and a myriad of internal and external collaboration sites within which various BC Hydro employees and partners collaborate to deliver their services.

Turning Organic Growth into a Well Managed Team

An organization this large, serving all most all of British Columbians, needs a strong internal digital organization that works effectively to support the needs of users. After years of organic growth, the digital teams needed to get better managing all of the governance and processes they use to manage delivery of digital services within the business.

Governance and Process Design That Supports Collaboration

To understand how to deliver these services more effectively, we worked with BC Hydro to conduct a discovery process designed to evaluate all the ways the team was managing and producing their work. This included a series of research interviews, surveys, process and governance evaluations to help us understand the unique needs of how this organization does what it does. Armed with these insights, our strategy began focusing on the creation of a Production Management System that would allow the easy workflow management of project requests, prioritization, budgeting and lifecycle management. The goal of which was to bring full transparency to the work the team was doing, to simplify day-to-day management of the growing volume of digital work and to use the entire process to communicate more effectively with internal and external stakeholders about the process and value of the organization.

Organizational Design and Strategy into Practical Outcomes

This whole view approach of discovery, strategy, creation and implementation have helped the digital teams that use this tool to move from reactive management of the digital program to proactive, prioritize delivery of digital solutions that most effectively meet the needs of the organization and its customers.

While we are citizens of the world, we live our lives in local communities. While communities thrive on real-world personal interactions, the benefits of those interactions can be amplified and supported by online networks and communities. In the last few years there has been tremendous focus on creating networks and communities that have global geographic reach, but increasingly there are opportunities to do just the opposite. Hyper-local online communities are powerful areas for collaboration, information sharing and more importantly, community resiliency and relationship building.

Project Quick Facts
Client: Salt Spring Media
Consultant: Open Directions
Role: Strategy & Engagement
Duration: Ongoing
Location: Salt Spring Island, BC

One area of our work has been in the creation of one of these hyper-local online networks for the community of Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. Salt Spring is one of the islands that make up the Gulf Islands in South-Western, British Columbia. Known as a vibrant local community for its artists, organic local food, entrepreneurs, farmers and stunning natural beauty, the island has enjoyed a tremendous strength of community fabric. Many people live on Salt Spring with an intention to be active in the community.

Strengthen Community with Digital Tools

Social Media for Community Good

Much of the growth of the service in the last year has been complimented by an extensive use of social media to promote community stories and engage the community in conversation. The engagement work has focused mostly on the use of Facebook and Twitter, the two most dominant social tools used by the local community. Using a strategy of promoting important community events, notices and even emergency alerts, has helped grow the following of fans in Facebook to well over 3,000. Connecting interactions and updates on the main site with interactions in Twitter and Facebook, promoting others and engaging in conversations has helped support this growth. The site and its social tools are now becoming one of the main ways new residents and visitors to the island first engage with locals before, during and after their visits.

Mix of Revenue Models

Community Building Strategy

Keywords: engagement

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