Participation in the intranet

Introductory post to a series on status, motives, levels and formats of participation in the intranet

Pressefoto der Techniker Krankenkasse für redaktionelle Zwecke.

Source: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, flickr user: TK Presse

Participation is an issue of our time. Citizens and consumers who used to be silent audiences today raise their voices on the Internet: Be it on companies and products, on public infrastructure projects or on the precarious relationship between church and modern society. They not only do this because the Internet has become a participatory medium, but because participation is part of the lifestyle of individualized societies.

Individualization and flexibility

Institutions in politics, business and society have lost much of their lead on the interpretation of our lives. Over the last decades, the individual has obtained more and more space to shape for herself. However, in an environment where nothing seems to be irreversible, there is also higher pressure on the individual to take more responsibility. For example, in the welfare state the safety of guaranteed pensions is increasingly being replaced by the expectation to plan for private care. And even large companies – once a haven of stability – keep reinventing themselves under the pressure of global markets and require their staff to stay flexible.

From affected to involved

Those affected by the constant change also want to be involved in shaping it, or at least they need to understand at all times, what, when, and why it happens. The only question is: how much of this participatory spirit has arrived inside organizations, in internal communication and in particular on the intranet? The social intranet certainly has been established as a software product, but how much participation has actually entered the technology, culture, business and communication of our companies?

At the end of the beginning

According to the global 2014 Social Business research report by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte, 73% of respondents said that social business is important or

Social Business Maturity level of respondent companies. Source: 2014 Social Business Global Executive Study and Research Report by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte

Social Business Maturity level of respondent companies. Source: 2014 Social Business Global Executive Study and Research Report by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte

somewhat important to them today. Nearly 90% saw its importance on a three-year horizon. So clearly social intranets have arrived on the mainstream agenda, but there is still much to do before they can reach their full potential. Companies wanting to benefit from social communication and collaboration, must reach the appropriate level of “social maturity”. However, only 17 % of the survey respondents saw themselves already on a maturing level, whereas 51 % were at an early stage and 32 % still developing (see graph). Summarizing the current situation it might be fair to say that we are at the end of the beginning: the majority has realized that this is going to happen, but only few have come far enough to reap the benefits.

Time for method

At the end of the beginning, we still have a long way to go, but we have come far enough to do more than experimentation. It is time to go beyond trial and error and use our learnings for a more methodological approach. This series of posts is meant to help with that by working through the following questions:

  • Why is more participation for companies and their communication so important?
  • What does participation mean for the organization and communication model of a company?
  • How does hierarchy get along with network structures?
  • How does traditional internal communication fit together with participation?
  • Which levels of participation do exist on the intranet?
  • What role do social ties between employees play for online participation?
  • Which participation formats are there and what can we expect from them?
  • And finally, what are success factors we have to consider?

Please note: This blog post series is an edited, updated and translated excerpt from an article that was first published here: Dörfel, Lars (ed.): Instrumente und Techniken der Internen Kommu­nikation. Band 2. Berlin 2013. S. 29-50. A German version of the series can be found on the blog of Klenk&Hoursch.

Georg Kolb