Online Group/Network/Community Checklist

We’ve found that working on real, versus theoretical issues, is a good way to learn about online community practices. We suggest that before the workshop, you take some time to fill out the checklist the best of your current knowledge. Ignore any questions that are not relevant to your situation, or which you don’t know how to answer and add any particular context that is missing. We can then quickly identify the issues of most interest to you and the group. You can also find this document online here:


To help us “stay on the same page” here are a few definitions of terms used in the checklist. For purposes of simplicity, we’ll use the word “group” in the checklist, but it could also be community and/or network!

Group – A defined set of people (you can list the names). Groups may be a one time gathering or over time.

Community – A group with a shared, common interest who interact together over time.

Network – An extended collection of individuals who share overlapping interests, who have connections with some or all of the other individuals in the network and who can be in contact with each other through those connections or through content related to those overlapping interests.

Platform - a technology package that integrates a number of tools available in the marketplace (for purchase or for free) that one can acquire, install, or rent. Vendors often organize a group of tools as a platform.

Tool - an identifiable piece of technology that supports a discrete activity in a community (for example, a discussion board that supports online conversations) or bridges different types of activities (for example, recording a phone conversation for later use). (From Digital Habitats)

Feature - a characteristic that makes a tool or a platform usable for a specific purpose. Some features define a tool; others add to its functionality or to the enjoyment of the experience.

1. Purpose/Outcome

What is the desired purpose and outcome for the group? What is the INTENT behind the purpose? People are busy and if they don’t see and understand the purpose and its value, they won’t participate.
  • What is the purpose of your group that you can communicate to potential members? (Practice on a friend or colleague. If they don’t understand, refine your statement further.) Please write it down here.
  • What are the group’s specific outcomes or process goals? Please describe them. (i.e. an outcome oriented group may be compiling a set of useful practices for use in the field. A process oriented group may be about building relationships that can then be deployed in the field, such as a group of emergency relief workers, building relationships before disasters so they can better respond and relate in the field.)
  • What are the benefits of participation? Are they measurable and visible to members and potential members? Describe them. Use the test question “what is in it for me” from the perspective of the participants.
  • Who is determining the goals? The organizer? Group members? Both? How are these outcomes negotiated? Think about how ownership by members may or may not play a role in the success of the group.
  • For organization based groups: Is the goal of the group in line with your organization? If the group is part of a larger organization, is the purpose consistent with organizational goals and culture? If not, how will that affect your group? Are you trying to do something new that may or may not be welcomed by the larger organization?
  • Must this happen online? Is the group's purpose something that can only be done / accomplished online? Will it replace something offline? Or is it some combination?
  • What can you learn from others’ experiences? Do you have examples of other groups with similar goals that you might explore for ideas? Please list, and if they have open websites, please bring the URLs to share.

2. Target Membership

Who do you want to draw in or need to participate in your group? How would you describe them?
Size of group
  • What is the minimum number of people you need for a successful initiative? Maximum?
  • How might your community can expand if there is greater interest? Where will these people come from? (This is a useful place to start thinking about the distinction between a group and a network. Networks scale easier than groups.)
Make up
  • What is the gender, professional, cultural make up of the group?
  • Are there power issues (i.e. will some feel disinclined to participate because people of power are participating? Think about work place communities, bosses and such!)
  • Are there any particular learning style issues you should be aware of? (auditory, visual, oral, kinesthetic, etc. Yes, it matters!)
  • Are there any language issues such as the need for translation, a common language or set of (or no set of) common languages?
  • How many different time zones might be represented by the group?
  • Do you want your community to be public or private? If private, what determines membership eligibility?
  • Where might you find potential participants? Are you building from an existing pool of participants? Or drawing in new people?
  • How might you communicate with your participants to market your online interaction space? (Remember: just putting up an online space does not guarantee anyone will come participate in it!)
Motivation and Interest
  • How motivated are your participants to participate? What is "in it for them?"
    • Is this part of their job, or in addition to their job?
    • Does if fulfill something hard to get or missing in their lives?
    • Is it fun or enjoyable?

3. Type of Member Activities and Interactions

To achieve your purpose, you generally design a set of activities that help accomplish the purpose. What kinds of member interactions do you want to foster?
  • Short term or ongoing discussions?
  • Are the interactions intellectual? Social? Sensitive? Controversial?
  • Do the interactions need to be synchronous (same time) and/or asynchronous (different time) interactions? If synchronous, what range of time zones do you cover?
  • Will they generate content/knowledge that needs to be captured?
  • Do they focus on learning? What do they have to learn?
    1. Learning from each other via question & answer?
    2. From experts?
    3. From content?
    4. From sharing practices?
  • Are interactions focused around information such as documents or other content?
    1. content creation or revision
    2. content access
  • Are they team, work or task based?
  • Are they entertainment focused?
  • Are they socially focused? Are you trying to build relationships and/or community?
  • Are the interaction started by you or by the members?
  • Will there be subgroups that interact or work on different things?

4. Technological Issues

  • What kind of Internet access do most participants have?
    • 56.6 K modem
    • T-1 access
    • DSL or Cable Modem access
    • Unknown
  • Is the Internet access available at all times; are there any limitations? (i.e do people have to pay for access, go to an internet café, etc.)
  • Have you identified the minimum technical requirements for your online tools? (Remember, you will need to communicate this up front.) Do participants have adequate computer equipment to have a satisfactory experience on your system?
  • What is the expected level of comfort and skill of the participants in using a web browser? (Yes, we still have to think about this for some people!)
  • Are there any organizational firewall issues? (This can affect some synchronous applications such as Skype and some chat and web meeting tools.)
  • Are there any prohibitions about downloading and installing applications?
  • Do you have an online conferencing platform, need recommendations on a platform host or some other combination?
    1. Do you need a platform or simply one or more tools
    2. Have you evaluated the features of the tools to see if they are useful to your context?
  • What technical support can you offer your participants? Who will support YOU technically?

5. Time Frame

How long do expect the online interaction to last? Think back to your tasks. Generally 1 day F2F equals at least a week online, sometimes longer if your participants are online daily. For example, many of our colleagues in Africa don’t have daily access and may have to catch up during one day. Plan for longer time frames in this type of setting.
  • Are there specific timelines or a project to be accomplished? Is there adequate time to accomplish the goals?
  • Is it time-delimited event? If so, how long?
  • Is it an ongoing online interaction space for conversation? If so, how will you keep up interest?

6. Guidelines, Rules and Governance

What kind of agreements, rules or governance do you want for your online interaction space?
  • Will there be strong and defined rules, or more general and/or casual guidelines? Remember, balance control and emergence. People like enough structure to be comfortable, but not so much control as to feel oppressed or controlled.
  • How will you communicate this to your members?
  • Will there be problem resolution processes? How will you share that process?
  • If this is a work team, what processes and agreements will you need? Virtual teams benefit from explicit processes and it is worth investing time in them. Short term events won’t usually sustain a lot of attention for process issues.
  • Do members have to agree to a "Terms of Service" or other form of agreement before becoming members? This is especially relevent to public online communities and networks.
Who makes decisions in the community about the online interaction space?
  • The online interaction leader(s), or sponsoring organization(s)?
  • The members?
  • Both?
  • How?
Who will host or facilitate in your online interaction space?
  • If not you, how will the hosts/facilitators be trained?
  • What will be their responsibilities?
  • How will they be supported and/or compensated?
  • What kind of reporting will you have them do to monitor as needed?

7. Monitoring and Evaluation

How will you know if your group is meeting its goals?
  • What evaluation methodologies or approaches would you like to consider and how might they work online?
    1. What qualitative measures? (Member satisfaction, feeling of belonging, sense of usefulness in their work, etc.)
    2. What quantitative measures (page views, # members, # posts, time elapsed for questions to be answered, tasks accomplished, etc.)
    3. For public communities, what measures of virality might be relevant (people posting links to the community, Tweeting/Retweeting, blogging, posting on Facebook etc.

Addendum: Online Meeting Logistics

For Time Delimited Events (like online e-conferences or meetings) here are a few more questions.
  • Potential start/end dates? Expected event duration?
  • Expected number of primary participants and their role(s)?
  • Planned number of facilitators?
  • Will you need facilitation coverage across time zones? Describe.
  • Anticipated amount of time participants are expected to devote to the event and on what basis? (i.e. 1 hour a day Monday - Friday for two weeks plus 1 hour of pre-reading)
  • Expected observers and their role?
  • Staff participants?
  • Guest speakers or presenters?