Planning to Share versus Just Sharing

(This is a long post, born out of years of frustration with ineffective institutional collaborations. If you only want the highlights, here they are: grow your network by sharing, not planning to share or deciding who to share with; the tech doesn’t determine the sharing – if you want to share, you will; weave your network by sharing what you can, and they will share what they can – people won’t share [without a lot of added incentives] stuff that’s not easy or compelling for them to share. Create virtuous cycles that amplify network effects. Given the right ‘set,’ simple tech is all they need to get started.)

I have been asked to participate in many projects over the years that start once a bunch of departments, institutions or organizations notice that they have a lot in common with others and decide that it would be a good idea to collaborate, to share “best practices” or “data” or whatever. It always ‘sounds’ like a good idea. I am big on sharing and have benefited much over the years from stuff I’ve shared and stuff shared with me by my peers.

But inevitably, with a very few exceptions, these projects spend an enormous amount of time defining what is to be shared, figuring out how to share it, setting up the mechanisms to share it, and then…not really sharing much. Or sharing once but costing so much time, effort or money that they do not get sustained. Does this sound familiar to anyone else? I don’t feel like this phenomenon is isolated to me or somehow occurs because of my own personal ineptitude, but you never know.

Now I contrast that with the learning networks which I inhabit, and in which every single day I share my learning and have knowledge and learning shared back with me. I know it works. I literally don’t think I could do my job any longer without it – the pace of change is too rapid, the number of developments I need to follow and master too great, and without my network I would drown. But I am not drowning, indeed I feel regularly that I am enjoying surfing these waves and glance over to see other surfers right there beside me, silly grins on all of our faces. So it feels to me like it’s working, like we ARE sharing, and thriving because of it.

So I began to wonder, why does one the (institutional-driven/focused) approach continually fail while my personal learning network continues to thrive. Here are some thoughts on why:

We grow our network by sharing, they start their network by setting up inital agreements

We just finished a workshop this week on “Weaving your own PLE.” While part of this was definitely an effort at straight tech training, that in my mind was actually the minor part – the whole reason many of us are so attracted to blogs, microblogs, social media, etc., in the first place is that they are SIMPLE to use and don’t require a lot of training.

No, in my mind, a lot of the message was helping newcomers to get over the hump of “well, I created a blog/joined this service/etc, but how come no one is reading it?” A lot of what we discussed were the practices by which you can grow your connections, and by and large these involve some form of sharing: writing interesting posts (sharing your insight and learning); writing comments (sharing feedback/conversation); publishing work in open spaces (and pointing to it). Your network will grow. It may take a little time, but it will grow. The other thing we emphasized was a line I think I stole from Dave Winer – “It doesn’t matter if there are only 2 people reading your blog as long as they are the right 2 people.” The notion that if you grow your network organically, don’t force it, it will settle, over time, on just what you need.

Contrast this with these formal initiatives to network “organizations.” In my experience, these start with meetings in which people first agree that sharing is a good idea, and then follow up meetings to decide what they might share, then, somewhere way down the line, some sharing might happen. The whole time, some of the parts of a network are already present and could have just started sharing what they have, heck they could have started before ever meeting, even WITHOUT ever meeting, but this never happens. (I say part, because if it’s a network it will grow to include many others not in any intial group.)

We share what we share, they want to share what they often don’t have (or even really want)

Much of the sharing that happens in my learning network happens through seredipity. People publish a blog post, bookmark a delicious link, etc, as a normal part of their own workflow,and whether through syndication or the “All seeing eye of Google,” it comes my way, as John Krutsch would say, “Right On Time.” Or I ask the network, through my blog or twitter, or sometimes directly, for help with a question or problem: sometimes the answer comes in seconds, because someone’s already worked it out; sometimes in minutes, maybe because a slight twist needs to be given to existing work; sometimes in days or weeks, when it tweaks someone else’s mind as much as mine and they do the work because it seems worhtwhile to them and they can do it; sometimes it comes in months or years, because it’s a big problem. But so far, it’s never not come, eventually. Our sharing is “good enough,” not perfect; optimal, not ideal. We don’t build our entire houses on this single foundation, but it sure helps get a lot of structure built quickly on many an occassion.

Contrast this with the formal approach. In my experience, a ton of time goes into defining ahead of time what is to be shared. Often with little thought to whether it’s actually something that is easy for them to share. And always, because its done ahead of time, with the assumption that it will be value, not because someone is asking for it, right then, with a burning need. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but my experience over a decade consulting and working on these kinds of projects is that I’m not. Someone always thinks that defining these terms ahead of time is a good idea. And my experience is that you then get people not sharing very much, because to do so takes extra effort, and that what does get shared doesn’t actually get used, because despite what they said while they were sitting in the requirements gathering sessions, they didn’t actually know what the compelling need was, it just sounded like a good idea at the time.

By the way, if my writing is making it seem that I haven’t done this myself, many times, that’s just wrong. For the longest time, it seemed like a good idea to me too.

We share with people, they share with “Institutions”

I have never spoken to “an institution.” I would be scared if one started to speak to me. But I’ve spoken and shared with many *people* in institutions. Many *people* use stuff I have shared. And usually, in my experience, its people who directly, not through some intermediary, have a need.

The institutional approach, in my experience, is driven by people who will end up not being the ones doing the actual sharing nor producing what is to be shared. They might have the need, but they are acting on behalf of some larger entity. The need ends up getting diffused over all the people involved ultimately in sharing, and the people who go to the meetings, form the relationships, have *the actual network* end up delegating the work to people who are excluded from the network, acting as proxies, instead of forming their *own* network. There is nothing stopping them from doing so except the need being defined at the top of the org but driven to the bottom, instead of the need being defined (differently) at each level of the organization and at each level personal networks being built (and if this were happening, the whole notion of “levels” would no doubt start to get a bit woobly.)

We develop multiple (informal) channels while they focus on a single official mechanism

I blog. I use twitter. I use delicious. I use flickr. I use facebook (when I have to.) I use I use slideshare. I use scribd. I use google docs. I use… the list goes on and on. Many of the ones above are ones that have persisted in my practice for some time now, while there are others that come and go. The point is, though, I have yet to come across a situation where someone in my network asked for help (through any of these channels, or indeed simply through email) and I (or someone in the network) did not find SOME way to share what they needed with them. More often than not, we’d shared it ahead of time and it’s Google finding it, and typically always things are shared in a way that allowed everyone else simply to benefit from that act of sharing. The technology is NOT the problem. Given a compelling need to connect, people will find a way, be it through smoke signals, Morse code or Usenet news groups.

Contrast this with these formal initiatives to network “organizations” – in my experience, much time goes into finding the right single “platform” to collaborate in (and somehow it always ends up to blame – too clunky, too this, too that.) And because typically the needs for the platform have been defined by the collective’s/collaboration’s needs, and not each of the individual users/institutions, what results is a central “bucket” that people are reluctant to contribute to, that is secondary to their ‘normal’ workflow, and that results in at least some of the motivation (of getting some credit, because even those of us who give things away still like to enjoy some recognition) being diminshed. And again, in my experience, in not a whole lot of sharing going on.

What to do if you are stuck having to facilitate sharing amongst a large group of institutions?

So hopefully it’s clear at this point that I am a big believer in everyone, no matter what their role in an organization, developing their own personal learning network/environment. But the reality is, you and I are going to get asked for years to come to help groups who say they want to share. So what do we do. Well, if you can, my advice is to provision as little tech as possible and urge an approach that focuses on the sharing and the network creation first. But if you must provide a single “platform,” my advice is to focus on providing one with these three simple pieces:

  • a simple way to find out who else is out there (profile, even just a directory)
  • some simple channels to communicate: email lists/addresses, threaded discussions
  • a simple way to publish content

That’s it. Maybe a synchronous tool. If the need and desire to share is real, these basic means (which really, they already have access to, but sometimes you need to build them a new one, after all we all like to feel special sometimes) are ALL THEY NEED TO SHARE. You see, at the end of the day, that’s all any of us, who started building our personal learning networks with, say, blogs, actually had. And it worked. It works every day. – SWL

83 thoughts on “Planning to Share versus Just Sharing”

  1. I don’t have anything profound to say. Just wanted you to know that you’re not alone. This has been my life. So many meetings talking about sharing stuff, planning to share stuff, talking about defining the perfect tool in which to share that possible stuff that we might possibly share at some possible time in the future for some possible good. Aarrgghh.

    You’ve come up with the same solution that I had come up with (though I hadn’t consciously done so; it just happened). This is why I’m using a wiki for my class ( instead of the university-designed, -implemented, -supported Sakai site that just seems too clunky (and lots of other “too”s as well). The wiki is quick, dirty, public, available. It just works for me and my students.

    Nice post.

  2. Scott,

    Wow, another doozy. You nail the inanity and paralysis that pervades the whole conversation around sharing at an institutional level perfectly. I wonder how many big universities are joining OCW and the like because it is a good PR move, or the thing to do currently. And while such a move is in many ways positive, I think the costs that were being reported back from OpenEd 2008 for this kind of packaging seems insane–am I right Did Yale spend $25,000 per course for their Open Course project? Who could sustain such a model? Point being, why don’t institutions simply provide the tools for publishing all this stuff online freely and easily, and then have folks form a culture through a more protracted environment of experimentation, innovation, and an honest examination of what it means to share online. Therefore, your logic of just sharing is what needs to happen, these open edifices of “material” kind of echoes the same logic of Learning Objects, given how they are divorced in some ways from the stream of thought, and being within a conversation around ideas.

    I came to the whole blogging as an edtech thing through Gardner’s recommendations that I start reading and blogging about what I did. I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, but then while reading D’Arcy’s blogging of his work with Drupal it all made sense. Oh, wait, just share out what I am doing, it’s simple and free—and according to Gardner it was part of my job. That’s a beautiful thing. And the fact is when I started first hacking around in WP, I had to turn to blogs and forums regularly to figure out how to get myself out of the latest jam, or make something work I promised to deliver for a course. The search and discovery was fun, moreover, I truly appreciate the fact that people took the time to share their process in the hopes that someone else would benefit from what they learned. That, in many ways, is a learning community as you note, and the compulsion to do it is framed by a meaningful task through which something has to be built, learned, discovered, etc. That shared purpose may be the key to sharing freely, and that purpose seems clearer and clearer everyday with posts like this.

  3. Nice post Scott. I guess a lot of this goes back to all that community of practice work – you can’t manufacture communities (you can nurture them though). I agree, sharing becomes a first principle (i’m occassionally taken to task for ‘over-sharing’), and then people start to share back. A small experience I had is here:
    and also I gave a talk recently where I had a slide on the power of sharing – from my own experiences I said how because I has blogged about sociallearn, George asked me to do a session on it, then because I blog about PLEs, Michael Feldstein asks me to write a piece for his On the Horizon edition, etc. And we all have loads of examples like this.
    So the more you share, the more comes back to you. As you elucidate so nicely – I didn’t plan for these benefits of sharing, and I don’t share _because_ I want these rewards, but they are the results of working this way. We know this in other fields, so why are we still resistant to it in education?
    Oh, and another example – you’re sharing your interest in the Fleet Foxes on Twitter has got me into them 🙂

  4. Eloquence indeed, Scott. As much as I agree with your analysis, I see little chance of things changing much in the near or mid-term. In countless meetings and online networks going on right now, people are laboriously planning those rigid sharing sites. Repositories continue the FOD syndrome (Field of Dreams)- if you build it, they will come (and share)(abundantly)… (not).

    Like others chiming in, my blood and ethos has ran sharing from the start in ed tech, before the web, it was the sharing of code and projects via FTP at the good old Stanford sumex-aim site. I really cannot imagine reaching @Martin’s reported criticism of “over-sharing” and am not sure such a thing exists. But I agree that in giving, you get more in the long run. It comes back.

    The challenge, and the endless recursive loop is, that you cannot come to this conclusion fully until you experience it.

    I’ve built one (and never more) repository, that people then did resonate with, the virtual warehouse and package metaphor thingie back at Maricopa

    As much as people gushed about it, and as much as I poured in more features like comments, RSS (on searches as well), special collections, syndication tools, tying it to other systems that required reporting– getting people to contribute was climbing a vertical wall. We tried different approaches, including bribery and competition, and always felt like we came up way short:

    And while I, and most of your readers, may grok the wide open sharing, I am waiting for signs that can spread among more than a narrow core of hard core sharers. I even struggle with colleagues in our field to get more than a small handful of them to join in shared tagging for resources, and when I look at things like tagged photos from a conference, in ones with several thousand attending, and a significant number of them observed with cameras, a few times when I looked at the distribution, those that contributed to a tag were less than 1% of the attendance.

    I don’t despair, and keep on sharing, and just hope for the sharing tide to start to rise beyond the core.

    Maybe your blog post will start the rush 😉

  5. Security is an question that can often complicate matters, especially when it is wrapped in rigid policy as it often is in institutional contexts. Providing a secure platform is often not as simple as UID and pwd – but requires infrastructure that meets policy. I agree with the need for simplicity and have tried to promote the use of simple tools but keep running into the security bugaboo.

  6. Nice to see this post work its way out here. It’s easy to overlook how much easier planning and getting ready and getting ready to get ready are than actually doing anything– and that while groups and institutions might facilitate sharing in any number of ways, no group has every shared anything– it always comes down, at some point, to an individual pulling the trigger to share work that individuals have done.

    So, while it’s no surprise that there are any number of overplanned, overspecified, overdesigned graveyards where sharing was meant to happen– we need fewer people worrying about how to make a better overdesigned mousetrap and more to do what you do here, essentially saying: oh, shut the hell up already and share!!

  7. Jim said “inanity and paralysis” –this describes exactly what I’ve been facing here at UVU for the past 3 years. We now have official approval to engage in some openness–but only through a committee, so there are still some significant limitations on what we can do, and when we can do it.

    Still, it’s a step, and taking Scott’s wise and strong insights into consideration, I hold out hope that we can do something worthwhile, and not just be redundant, self-indulgent, or unreliable.

  8. Thanks all for the comments – makes me feel slightly less like these are my uniquely crazed rantings.

    @jim – “and according to Gardner it was part of my job” exactly! This came up so many times in the PLE workshop – “how do you possibly find the time?” And I tried to explain to them that *this is part of their job*, that “how could you possibly NOT find the time?”

    @martin – so glad to hear you got turned on to the Fleet Foxes! This is something I am actually learning from @jimgroom and @brlamb, that it is not a bad thing to weave parts of your other interests into your ‘professional’ life online. Though I have yet found the way to weave them as magically as either of those two inspirations.

    @tones “bugaboo” is the right word, but what you describe is very common. The part I find people always leaving out is the Cost/Benefit analysis of whatever security measure they are proposing; instead of asking “why do we need to protect this material, what’s the cost of not protecting it, and what kind of protection does it actually need?” they just set their default mind-set to “private” (or to steal a brilliant turn of phrase from @brlamb, set up “fearwalls”). It’s easier that way. Many of us have hoped things like OpenID and OAuth will help too, though we’re still waiting, and I fear will be for a while for these tech solutions to cultural/mindset problems.

    @chris it can be a hard sell, I know, but sometimes the best way to help is to do nothing at all. It takes a lot of courage (more than I know I’ve often been able to muster) to tell bosses that you won’t build yet another mousetrap until you see some evidence that the ways they *already have to share* are not good enough.

    @jared I saw the news on twitter, congrats and good luck! The funny thing is I wasn’t specifically thinking about OER-type projects here, though that seems to have resonated with folks and I think applies as well.

  9. I just got back from another ETUG workshop & am still all fired up by all the great ideas, new vigour about openness etc. so when the title of this post appeared on my rss feeder I had to check it out. It really sounds like you are frustrated with the standard ‘project management’ model & who can blame you? What you say is true. Institutionally we still (often) see each other as competitors even when as individuals we see each other as colleagues. I wonder if what we need is a new project management paradigm for the web 2.0 world? Wonder what that would/could look like? I understand (deeply) that ‘just go ahead & start sharing’ really works but wouldn’t it be helpful if we could use this approach to work WITH the institution rather than in spite of it?

    Hmm, this is more just musing rather than a considered reply but it sure makes ya think.

  10. Fortunately, I am in a situation with less selling than most. The truth is, I believe in over-complicating the philosophical and under-complicating the execution. It makes sense to me to spend some time figuring out a coherence in terms of strategy, need, necessity, and approach– the WHY– and spend as little time as possible in the implementation, using tools that are already available, and simple technologies warts and all– the HOW.

  11. Hi Scott. Good one. I think the word you use most here is “sharing”, but I actually think the key word is “planning”, or rather “over-planning”. Over-planning has been a theme in all sorts of people technology projects I’ve been involved in. I think there’s a good historical reason for it: in the pre-web world, projects were more difficult, needed more resources, more whatever, and the price of getting a project wrong was higher. Hence planning was a good thing. But in our current world it’s just a whole lot easier to do this kind of project, and the planning actually becomes an impediment. Instead of planning, we need to keep it simple and light, get it out there, and iterate until we get it right. (Or abandon it, since we haven’t wasted many resources.) In the web world the price of failure is low, so planning is less critical. Okay, some huge generalizations in the above paragraph, but maybe I’m barking up the same tree you are.

  12. @Gordon I might accept some of what you are saying, but it’s more than just that. I think part of what I was trying to argue is that networked learners (or networked employees) approach the problem of sharing differently (and in my experience more effectively) than hierarchically-minded ones. I’m saying that the people who say they need the knowledge need to be involved (directly, intimately) in producing and sharing it, otherwise it turns into a ‘publishing’ exercise, not an actual learning one.

    @gina “wouldn’t it be helpful if we could use this approach to work WITH the institution rather than in spite of it” – I think we can and it does, but it doesn’t support entrenching hierarchical ways fo working. The network is going to allow (and to force) institutions to become both more permeable and more malleable. It is not simply a matter of coopting these approaches to support continued institutional structures. At least I don’t believe so. So maybe another way to ask the question is “What would an organization/institution look like that had embraced the ways of working and learning that the Network enables?”

  13. Arrgh, a comment I posted got lost in the wash. I cannot remember what I said. A lot of praise, and remembering all the efforts to get people to share in my old Maricopa Learning eXcahnge through what I termed “Bribery, Competition, and Pleading”.

    I just found an old web paper I liked back in 2000- “Why Teachers Don’t Share Resources, and What We Can Do About It” by Greg Webb in Australia:

  14. Alan, sorry, your first comment got trapped in moderation, quit talking about viagra all the time!

    I don’t despair either, and I think your assessment is quite right, but that maybe this is also exactly as it should be. This is part of the issue I am describing – us wanting things to happen faster/better than they actually can, and that if they are to emerge, be organic, grow, then they need the time to become so. Shifting entire institutions and cultures away from “closeded-ness” and “scarcity mentalities” takes time, and likely the best thing we can do is to continue modeling the behavior we want to inspire and helping those who show interest to grow too. This was exactly our inspiration for doing the PLE workshop, the belief that if instructors are to teach students using PLEs (and who *need* to become network learners simply to survive) they will only be able to do so if they are themselves learning to learn this way.

  15. @Gordon Whew, I have never had a problem of “over-planning” anything!

    @Scott thanks for rescuing my comment from the spam bin —

    This was exactly our inspiration for doing the PLE workshop, the belief that if instructors are to teach students using PLEs (and who *need* to become network learners simply to survive) they will only be able to do so if they are themselves learning to learn this way.

    Certainly the approach of teaching fishing rather than tossing fish nuggets; still seems like slow uptake when you talk on institution scale. We are still seeing at best, estimates of use of what we would call “old tech” (blogs, wikis) at the most optimistic best; 15 or rarely 20% — is that crossing the chasm??

  16. I just wanted to thank you for the post. Funny how I’ve been feeling the same way, I’m way too much frustrated at my university because everything is too much bureaucratized (I wonder if they do it this way because as long as the project is active, they keep getting funding…which eventually won’t get to the right place…but this is mean thinking, I know). I work as an outcast, or at least I feel like one, I don’t use their platform (Sakai), I don’t use their intranet or Politube (their sort of Youtube). And I have this mind bursting with ideas that I know I can’t share with the powers-that-be from my institution, because there aren’t mechanisms for a liquid (non-disruptive) flow of collaboration, it’s just a rigid vertical hierarchy that works as a geyser: the ideas from grassroots gradually lose all their strength and power the higher they get…and end up scattered on who-cares desks. Hung up on words and cumbersome language. That’s how I see it and feel it.
    Wasn’t Elvis who said it best? Little less conversation and little more action?
    Thanks again. Great to see we’re not alone. Greetings from Valencia (Spain).

  17. It’s great to see this starting to be in the collective conscious if only as a beginning. Perhaps the tide is turning. In my world, it seem that while the hierarchy persists and tries to cling to ownership and systems for managing sharing and community, slowly its hold might be starting to give. As technology that allows for the likes of blogging networks, twitter, and diigo communities to grow without the sanctioning of universities and system managers becomes more common place, with creative commons licensing taking away the fear of being public and needing to hide behind higher authorities for legal protection, I’m confident the nature of sharing will change. Thanks Scott for raising this.

  18. @alan “is that crossing the chasm??” – no, probably not, yet. But a few comments about that. One is that this model does butt heads with institutional/hierarchical structures (as they exist now) and “institutions” are notoriously slow to change. So again I’d reiterate that I am not personally displeased with this level of adoption. Two, given that these practices are also causing conversations to happen (again, albeit slowly) around some of the structural inhibitors to personal networks/individual sharing (conversations about adjusting ‘institutional’ recognition/rewards to acknowledge online forms of publication and sharing; conversations around the need for “permeability” of institutions and courses; and many more) I am also encouraged. Finally, I also think the the very model we are pursuing here, *personal* networks, has the potential to disrupt the conventional Rogers/Moore “diffusion of innovation” paradigm and grow virally, peer to peer, so that nearing 20% may not be so small an achievement as one might first think. Nothing to do but keep modeling, demonstrating and doing it, I guess.

    @elena, all I can say is “Amen” and glad if this resonated for you.

    @betty I appreciate you citing “collective consciousness” here – while the phenomenom I was describing was very specific, it *is* part of a much larger shift we are seeing. For the longest time I wanted to understand the present solely in terms of the past, that this was just an incremental change at best, but it does truly feel like a sea change, and not just related to networks and technologies. I’ll stop there lest I start ranting about the Age of Aquarius, but I do take heart that this realization and this conversation is part of a larger shift going on.

  19. Working through Screens is a reference for product teams creating new or iteratively improved applications for thinking work. Written for use during early, formative conversations, it provides teams with a broad range of considerations for setting the overall direction and priorities for their onscreen tools. With hundreds of envisioning questions and fictional examples from clinical research, financial trading, and architecture, this volume can help definers and designers to explore innovative new directions for their products.

    Take a look at this and think about how it might be used in the design of effective tools for learning … might be useful.

  20. Kevin, I am not sure what to make of your comment. The resource you point to looks kind of interesting, so I am not going to remove it even though the comment itself seems like such a non sequitar as to make this seem like comment spam. But can you maybe elaborate a bit on your comment and how it fits in the above conversation? It’s not immediately obvious to me.

  21. Wow. I came here from the Edublogs Awards page… and all I can say is TAG: to Delicious for about 30 other people in my world.

    Thanks for thinking through all of this from your perspective. I appreciate the depth of this post very much.


  22. Sharon, Hooray! It is immensely gratifying to read posts like yours, and glad if my writing helped in any way to you finding your power and voice as a network learner. Keep it up!

  23. Sharing is HARD! This year, I won 2 prizes on internet science competitions, made the news section on but as yet no research has been done on my creative commons licensed work. Why?
    I invented the pulser pump over 20 years ago. I cannot even give it away!
    It is a water driven pump with no moving parts. (I believe that it would be great in poor countries and here too). People in science refuse to test it. I made a couple of prototypes in the late 80’s and one of them is still working
    In the last 2 years I have been doing low tech solar. I have invented the “mechanical mathematician” (to let poor people make parabolic dishes without doing the math), dripper trackers, (to do low tech tracking of the sun) and compound parabolic dishes (to work with the low tech trackers because parabolic dishes require extremely accurate tracking and compound parabolic does not) but always the same problem.
    I can work with them but they will not work with me!
    Scientists have an agenda and they will not deviate from it.
    I have probably come close to my limit on these things. They are out there, they are all free but little or no development. WHY?
    The compound parabolic solar cooker is especially good. It gives results comparable to commercial solar cookers but have to be realigned with the sun much less often.
    Currently, I am trying to get blender, truespace and google sketchup people interested in modeling the compound parabolic dishes and parabolic dishes but it is the same old thing.
    What is in it for me? Same as me, nothing but the game of doing something completely new.
    Very few are interested in this game.
    But surely it is more worthwhile than watching tv or playing a video game?
    Rant over
    Brian White

  24. Hey Scott,

    Just came across this fab post and felt compelled to comment! “Collaborate to share” can be as difficult a process to facilitate within an institution as what you describe between institutions! Having been involved in a few of these projects, here’s my perspective about what works:
    – involve users (in our case, the resources we were developing were for students, so they were involved in every piece from project development through content creation and technical development). Users will cut through the crap and help you steer clear of any barriers to sharing that you might not have thought about.
    – use a simple tool for communication and resource sharing (you mentioned this). Basecamp ( was helpful for us as a way to keep each other updated, share resources and prompt quick decision making. Posts go to email so easily tracked by everyone (even tangentially) involved in the projects.
    – choose a tool for content authoring/distribution that everyone can use easily – for us this was a blogging platform – we chose both WP and MT.
    – make it easy for people to get your content (embed code, cc license, etc).
    – identify your “dealbreakers” right from the beginning. If you can come up with some general principles around sharing, re-use and “grow as you go” – you likely won’t be so caught up on getting it perfect right out of the gate (which seems to be where the boots get stuck in the mud on many projects). Either that or you won’t reach any common ground and the project will collapse right there – which may be a good thing?!

  25. “and the project will collapse right there – which may be a good thing?!” Ha, wise words. It’s true, sometimes failing early might be the best outcome. I know I am guilty of sometimes digging a deeper pit, sure there was a pony down there somewhere!

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  27. Hi Scott
    Just read your post and some of the responses. Don’t have opportunity to respond fully right now as preparing to give a talk at a social science conference on sharing best practice through OER. I’ll be referencing your post and synthesising some of the responses.
    Feels like perfect synchronicity.

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