Building Digital Community Through the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Building Digital Community Through the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Posted on January 06, 2015 by Susanne Randolph Sparks

Whenever members of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Network gather in person, there’s incredible energy from peer exchange. The Campaign engages local leaders in 150+ communities across the country in identifying and sharing solutions to the challenge of helping more low-income children read proficiently by the end of third grade. But geography can sometimes be a barrier to connecting and learning within the network. Co-creating an online ecosystem

The Campaign had a fledgling "members only" website that in truth functioned as an online file cabinet and needed a major overhaul. Thanks to strategic insight and support from The Patterson Foundation, earlier this year the Campaign launched a revised and refreshed site, dubbed The Huddle. It’s an effective and up-to-date online community platform that brings the power of virtual connection to all Network members. The Patterson Foundation and the Campaign have a shared value of co-creation. Strategic insights from The Patterson Foundation's team helped shape the new community structure while design choices and content decisions for The Huddle were made in partnership with an Advisory Team of Network members -- a community designed by and for the very people who would be using it. The Advisory Team identified facets of the richly varied audience for the online community and provided many ideas for engagement. Our thought partners at The Patterson Foundation helped sequence those ideas into manageable, concrete steps. Taking time to nurture an online community

An online community is not an “if you build it, they will come” undertaking. It might be better described as “if you built it, you need to keep building it.” If you're curious about the time and effort involved, The Community Round Table is a great resource for providing context and setting realistic expectations. Part of the process of co-creation with The Patterson Foundation includes weekly conversations with The Patterson Foundation's thought partners. Discussions vary from guidance to develop a strategic engagement plan to providing insight on seemingly simple topics -- like email subject lines. Before these sessions, more of my outreach emails to Network members landed in a no-response zone than I liked and for reasons I couldn’t determine. My colleague consulting for The Patterson Foundation suggested A/B testing email subject lines to explore how differences in word choice and structure might influence the open rate. The next week, I did just that and discovered that subject lines that ended in a question mark, such as, “Would you please comment on the Huddle?” were far less effective than ones that made a declarative statement, such as, “Community Lead Interview on the Huddle.” Lesson learned: Be confident! (And tease new and interesting content in the subject!). Developing content that sparked conversation was also part of the learning curve. Blog posts and discussions that involved real lessons learned and interviews with Network members engaged in the challenging work within communities by far generate the most robust conversations. It's this perpetual learning and sharing that helps us grow the online exchange step by step. It’s gratifying to know The Huddle surpassed membership and engagement goals this quarter. I can’t wait for what’s to come in 2015."

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