CoP Usability and Sociability Heuristics

As some of my regular readers will know, I’m involved in a major new project to deliver the ‘next generation’ community of practice platform for UK local government organisations, see previous blog posts about the ‘Knowledge Hub’. The current platform has been (and continues to be) a huge success, with over 63,000 users and more than 1,300 active CoPs, working towards various outcomes but with a common goal to improve public service. These will eventually be migrated to the new platform when it goes live early in 2011.

The new platform will use open source software and delivered using an agile development process (a series of Sprints and Scrum workshops), which means incremental but rapid delivery of features and enhancements. More about this in a future post.

Having been heavily involved in the architecture and design of the current platform, I was caused to reflect on some of the key design characteristics that need to be considered as we progress to the new platform. In fact, we should be able to learn from the mistakes (yes, there were quite a few) in the design of the original platform and ensure these characteristics are optimised for the new environment. Not all of this is hard-wired stuff, but it should cause developers and system administrators to ponder on whether their design solution will support the usability and sociability requirements needed to encourage community engagement, collaboration, reciprocity of knowledge and an inherent trusted community space. Understanding the users and their needs is a key starting point.

Users typically want to know whether they can find and do what they want, when they want, and that their interactions are comfortable. The eight questions that follow raise the typical concerns expressed by most users. The answer to these questions provides heuristics for developers, system administrators and community moderators/facilitators. In conjunction with guidelines, they are useful for guiding the development process and planning evaluations. They will be used as we begin the development and design for the Knowledge Hub.

User Questions Usability Concerns Sociability Concerns
1. Why should I join this community? Does the community have a clear and meaningful name? Is there a clear description of the community’s purpose? Is the content attractively presented (design, colour, graphics etc.? Will the site be updated regularly What title and content will communicate the community’s purpose effectively and attract people?
2. How do I join or leave? Are the instructions for registering clear? Is it a short procedure? Is there a statement ensuring privacy and security? Should this be an open or a closed community? How sensitive are the issues and participants?

Do we want to control who joins?

3. What are the rules? Are policies clearly and concisely worded and appropriately positioned? What polices are needed? Should a facilitator guide and enforce rules? Do we need disclaimers ort other statements of intent?
4. How do I read and send messages? Has appropriate support been defined and provides (e.g. templates, emoticons, FAQs, single messages or digests for listservers? Is support needed for newcomers? Should the system facilitate sending private and group messages?
5. Can I do want I want easily? What capabilities will best meet communications needs (e.g. different formats for information, such as Web pages , FAQs, content variation; search facilities, effective help at the appropriate level; private communication, etc.)? What is the best way to ensure that the community is a congenial place, one where people can do what they want to do? What are the communication needs of the community?
6. Is the community safe? What are the best ways to protect personal information, secure transaction processing, support private discussion, and protect members from aggressive behaviour? Will the community need a facilitator to ensure appropriate behaviour? What level of confidentiality and security is needed?
7. Can I express myself as I wish? Will users need, want or expect emoticons, avatars, content icons, a seamless link to private email, Web pages etc.? What kind of communication capabilities does a community with this purpose require, and how should they be supported?
8. Why should I come back? How often and by what method should content be changed (e.g. news, broadcast, provocateur to stimulate discussion, etc.)? What will entice people to return on a regular basis?


  1. Nick Milton said:

    Useful set of questions Steve – thanks

    July 30, 2010
  2. Steve Dale said:

    Hi Nick – thanks for the comments. Glad the post was useful.

    July 30, 2010

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