Archives For socialbusinessmanifesto

Paolo Calderari di Palazzolo, Andrea Pesoli
Originally part of the Social Business Manifesto published for Harvard Business Review Italia by OpenKnowledge team. Read more on: 

“Creativity in itself shouldn’t be encouraged: we instead need to encourage creative solutions to real problems. Innovation is only “good” when it’s useful.”

“There’s no such thing as a bad idea! Just poorly executed awesome ones.”

Look beyond innovation for the sake of innovation. More and more organizations today find themselves having to find and exploit new ideas and opportunities in order to respond to growing competitive pressure and to changes in customers’ needs. The recent economic recession has only further accelerated the urgency of this change and the “demand” for innovation for companies.

The main objective of innovation is not (only) to create the next hot product. Various types of innovation exist and people need to be engaged and stimulated to recognise and pursue not only product innovation, but also process or business model innovation. We need a way to encourage innovation and make it “normal”, namely not to separate it from the rest of the business. It has to be treated systematically, like any process in which a problem is determined and a solution is found. Some of the key questions we need to ask ourselves are therefore: What do we want to obtain and how? What resources will we need? Who will be part of the team? What will be the factors to motivate people and what recognitions will be given? How will the initiative’s success be measured?

Creativity therefore doesn’t have to be seen as a mysterious gift or prerogative of few “talents”, but as the – daily – activity of creating not obvious connections, putting things together that are normally not together. Innovation is always more the product of a collaborative process among individuals rather than the result of the intelligence of a single person.

What is Idea Management?

But where are all of these innovative ideas hidden that are so necessary to drive growth, productivity and value creation? When innovation is more important than ever, the collaborative management of ideas (collaborative idea management) through functions and geographical areas can help organizations to make new ideas emerge, and to refine them and ensure that they reach the right people. This approach is also a way to make employees more responsible and recognise the ones who are more active in the innovation process, so as to measure and stimulate creative activity and to promote a more open, collaborative and social culture in organizations. In other words, to create one or more innovation communities that work in a vertical or cross-cutting way in organizations.

Idea Management is a structured process – an integral part of the innovation process – aimed at the collection, management, selection and sharing of ideas. This process is typically supported by specific technologies (Idea Management Platform) that provide methods and tools that make the union of ideas, their assessment and – in some cases – even their execution, more effective and amplified. Idea Management can be applied in various contexts, from incremental improvements to more radical ones, and it can even cover the entire company ecosystem, including external stakeholders, partners and customers.

It is the social evolution of the traditional “idea box”, where, however, the use of the social processes and technological platforms of Idea Management profoundly transforms its nature:

  • Various forms of participation: these systems value the contribution not just of the idea proposal but also of the cross-valuation (vote), comment or criticism of the idea;
  • Contamination: everyone sees proposals from colleagues and a consistent idea can be born out of a proposal which in itself is not very concrete, or is unfocused, by enriching the information and/or concept;
  • Emergence: the most read, most commented or most appreciated ideas emerge and stand out from others, allowing the community to rapidly see the selection process in progress;
  • Collective Intelligence: if duly supported, the community can make proposals evolve by exploiting the intelligence and knowledge present in the system;
  • Focus on people (and not just on ideas): the proposals that stand out also identify a group of people who believe in the idea and who could also be involved in its implementation.

How to make the innovation process social

There are quite a few contributions that underline the importance of considering innovation as an open process that must involve many players within or outside the same business ecosystem.

The concept of “players” in the innovation process is important and interesting, because it reinterprets a “social” company role that is not always made clear in an organization chart (or rather not only focused on the R&D function) or in a specific organizational role. Unlike the traditional stage-gate selection process, the social approach to involvement and to the realisation of ideas and improvement projects is based on the activation of three different communities: he who brings or generates ideas (explorers, perhaps the most common meaning of innovator), he who carries them out (exploiters), and he who has the task of selecting and assessing them. It is precisely this last role, typically concentrated in Management, which is of fundamental importance for facilitating and “bridging the gap” between explorers and exploiters. Instead of acting as a restraint or gate-keeper (as a team would act by sticking to the assessment methods based on expert committees), the team has to act with a role of broker, a key figure who supports and accelerates the realisation of an idea.

A typical innovation process will therefore have the structure shown in Figure 1.

PHASE 1: Setting of objectives and scenario

  • Identify the topics and main areas of applicability of the initiative. A punctual analysis can help to understand both the sensitivity of an organization towards specific business topics and the level of cultural alignment on the social approach to innovation (readiness);
  • Identify the key players in the innovation process: therefore not only the formal figures, but above all – as we have already seen – those who already play an important role at an informal level (e.g. broker);
  • Specify and define the topics on which to start the first phase of idea production;
  • Involve and form the support team (experts, assessors, moderators, …).

PHASE 2: Generation of ideas

  • Launch the initiative on a restricted group of people (soft-launch) with the twofold objective of having a punctual feedback from end users and starting to populate the platform;
  • Involve a wider group in the generation of ideas (full-launch);
  • Punctually manage the growth of the community, timely intervening to “correct” negative behaviours (e.g. unconstructive comments, missing information, inappropriate language) and award positive ones (e.g. connections between ideas, precise comments, …);
  • Communicate the state of progress within and outside the community, also giving visibility to Top Management.

PHASE 3: Idea selection

  • Give visibility of the phase of approval of single ideas directly on the platform, punctually engaging the experts in the assessment;
  • Select the ideas (or groups of ideas), based on various KPIs. Ideally, the services on which it is important to concentrate are impact on the company (e.g.
    turnover increase, cost saving, scope of the idea, brand value, …) and feasibility (e.g. resources necessary, time to market, investment, …);
  • Award those who come up with the best ideas and…realise them!

This process, especially in phases 2 and 3, can obviously be repeated whenever new innovation initiatives on specific topics are to be launched (see figure 2).


What to do and what not to do.

We end this article with a series of pieces of operational “advice” based on our experience:

  • Establish clear objectives. At times collaborative innovation initiatives are born within organizations as experiments or as extensions of collaborative social aspects. In these situations, the “learning by doing” approach sometimes takes over, and risks defocusing and dissolving the experience. In reality, to ensure the project’s success it is useful to initially identify clear business and result objectives, so as to strongly link the innovative process to an additional value brought to the organization and to its stakeholders.
  • Know the target. Before launching an innovation initiative, it is important to know who the participants in the process will be, in terms of profile, role, business unit and localisation in order to outline the best engagement strategy possible. Culture-country aspects must also not be underestimated. Tools like Social Network Analysis can also shed light on the existing collaborative dynamics and on the roles that some key players already play within the organization. These people should be punctually involved.
  • Manage the change and the alignment with the company strategy. The addition of an Idea Management tool must also be accompanied by a process of change management and alignment of the innovation initiative with the company strategy. There are many hidden barriers, firstly the natural low propensity to sharing and collaboration and the calling into question of formal roles. The communication, sharing and engagement of stakeholders in the process, especially if the approach is new within the company, are key to the initiative’s success and adoption.
  • Balance quality and level of engagement. Quality of ideas and level of engagement (e.g. number of people who actively participate) are two often conflicting objectives. We therefore need to know how to balance these two aspects in the various phases of maturity of the initiative, initially favouring engagement and introducing metrics to assess the quality of contributions once a certain consistency and stability has been reached in the community.
  • Exploit online and offline communication. As visually engaging and refined as it may be, online communication alone (email, launch videos, ….) still shows its limits. The best initiatives always mix online and offline elements in communication, especially when specific populations have to be involved in the initiative.
  • Being transparent in the assessment process. One of the weak points of the idea box approach is its lack of feedback in the assessment process. On open and social platforms, every remark, every feedback (e.g. a critical comment from an expert indicating the weak points of an idea) can be both the mainspring that makes the idea itself evolve and a moment of personal “formation” and formation for the community as a whole.

Finally, a few points for attention:

  • Only concentrating on the “numbers”. Modern platforms offer very refined and punctual analysis and reporting mechanisms. It is however important to avoid concentrating too much on the numbers alone (e.g. ideas, votes, comments posted, …), because the real value is in the interactions between people and the connections they generate. Different cultural backgrounds produce creativity and innovation. Favouring and appreciating different opinions, identities and perspectives therefore generates a greater level of innovation. Although it is possible to measure these dynamics, a linear relationship does not always exist with real added value. The phrase “Not everything that counts can be counted” is therefore valid.
  • Lowering the guard on community management. The promise to involve employees in an open, collaborative process of research and development of new ideas is certainly compelling. However, once the initial novelty and interest period has worn off, the community’s activity must be supported by constant specific communication and engagement initiatives. Be careful not to overestimate the impact of gamification dynamics which, alone, cannot increase and sustain the participation and involvement of users.
  • Sidelining usability and graphic aspects. The consumerisation of IT cannot be ignored. Users, whatever their profile or role, will definitely pay attention to aspects that are easy to use and access. It is therefore better to spend a bit of time making the user experience easy and pleasant.
  • Not involving sponsors/executives in the process. Innovation within large organizations is often thwarted by the presence of inflexibility, a uniform company culture, and communication flows that are too formalised. Executives therefore have the fundamental role of facilitating and accelerating the various phases of the innovation process and, ultimately, realising the ideas. Having finally stressed the aspects of change, the involvement of senior figures is important to lead (in terms of leadership) the cultural and – where possible – organizational change.

Innovation Today

October 19, 2012 — Leave a comment

Rosario Sica, Paolo Calderari di Palazzolo
Original version of this article is part of the Social Business Manifesto project – 

What is innovation? If we take the dictionary definitions, we find things like “introduce something new” or “a new idea or method, or tool”. In short, a novelty. So then, if one morning you get out of the wrong side of bed, have you been innovative? If you find a new way of using a document are you creating innovation? We believe that this ends up trivialising what is truly innovation. Let’s try to start again from the definition of innovation. From our point of view innovation regards problem solving. It consists in finding new solutions to present problems, or even in discovering problems that people might not even know they have, thus improving their lives.

One of the biggest problems that we have noticed over recent years in innovation concerns the spending and investments that are being made in research and development, expressed as a percentage of the gross domestic product: they have continued to decrease significantly as shown in the table below:

Country R&D (in billions of euros)
USA 368.8
Japan 138
China 86
Germany 69
France 43
South Korea 34
GB 35
Russia 24
Taiwan 16

Source: Main Science and technology indicators, OECD

We have less research and development. All the resources are in fact concentrating on development, which means that we are developing products and services for which we know a market already exists. The majority of research laboratories that once existed now no longer exist. All of them, without exception, have cut out projects in which they were investing, in order to concentrate on the four or five projects for which they are certain there is demand. In other words, they are only creating what is commonly called incremental innovation. If we think of the size of problems that the company is dealing with (energy, economic crisis, environment, etc.), these are not problems that will be solved by choosing the colour of an iPhone. These are fundamental problems that have yet to be solved, and we cannot solve them if we remain anchored in what we already know. We need new knowledge, we need to explore new intervention paradigms, and new research, that allow not the expected results, but the unexpected results, and that as a result are capable of changing things.

A search in Google for books with the word “innovation” in the title finds 120,000 books. Just five years ago there were only a few hundred books with the word “innovation”! There are too many books on innovation and too few on real innovation.

Potentials of the Social Web

Where can we find true innovation over the last few years and what are the new paradigms in line with the “network society”? Think about the internet and how it has profoundly transformed our lives. Think about how much time it took for the internet to be successful: 30-40 years for it to become what it is, for it to have such a profound effect on our lives. The internet came out of the Bell laboratories of General Electric. There they invested in pure research, without the slightest idea of what concrete results would have been obtained. The internet itself was an unexpected result, among many, of a great amount of intense research driven by military needs. Where is the research that may generate unexpected results with regard to media communication, new materials, and new energy frontiers? Where is investment being made today to achieve these critical results for our future? We have not seen many initiatives going in this direction.

We are at a turning point, a consequence of the internet: social web. We are starting to see that there are strong possibilities that collaboration will become a fundamental driver to accelerate processes and information exchanges. The possibility for billions of people to start to connect and communicate in new ways has never been possible in the past; it is a significant step forward and offers enormous potential.

The true challenge is how to seize this potential, both as companies and as a society, in order to change the way of innovating. We see two different types of companies: one includes those that we call “winners”, i.e. those companies that are willing to take risks and therefore to upset the market by making things that previously did not exist; the second type includes those companies that we’ll call “losers”, those who are afraid of changing, i.e. companies that have a strong position and are trying to defend it, rather than create new positions for it.

Let’s take the case of Apple: did it listen to its customers, and use an “open” process, when it was thinking of creating the iPhone? No, contrary to what we usually hear, it was a completely closed process, based on the quality of internal Apple resources that carried out research, investigated the problems experienced by people, and had the vision of how a new service could have been. They had the leadership, ability and willingness to take risks. They had the courage to say: “People have never heard of an iPhone, but everyone needs one”, and they created it. We can’t go to customers and look to them for answers, or get a concept of a new product from them when they don’t even have an idea that the possibility of it exists. These are the limits of crowdsourcing.

Leadership and social capital

The heart of the question is leadership. We remember Kennedy’s speech when he announced to America that a man would have been sent to the Moon: it was a risky challenge, but taking this idea forward meant discovering and finding solutions to many of humanity’s problems: this extraordinary vision ruled American society, dragging everyone behind it, because in taking man to the moon America created new industrial sectors, it created innovation, and Silicon Valley was in large part driven by this research. The spin-offs generated by the technology developed for this venture were numerous, but when the space program began no-one could have imagined what the developments would have been: new materials, new technologies for calculation and communications, etc.; or that companies would have been created that today have an annual turnover of billions of dollars and that these new activities would have given jobs to millions of people throughout the world. These results after the fact did not drive the action. People developed the space program because they believed in a problem-solution process that would have allowed them to discover new areas of knowledge.

Now the situation is completely different: there is no driving vision; everything revolves around cost-cutting, and that is a very serious problem. Companies like Nokia, who had dominant positions on the market, are very cautious, and do not want to squander the advantage and destroy or deteriorate the ecosystem around them in which many benefit from the value chain they created. Take what happened, for instance,
with the arrival of IP voice servers that made the voice nothing more than another Internet application: everything that the business had been built on, and everything that had been defended for years by keeping others out, now seems like a common commodity, because anyone can create a voice application. Thus, these companies end up adopting very defensive behaviours, which in fact become major obstacles to innovation: the people inside these companies are isolated and the chance of them being able to do things that are truly new is becoming all but impossible.

These heritages are becoming serious obstacles; we have business models that are no longer up to date, that no longer allow us to generate past earnings: the CEO of a telecommunications company must think in the short term, three or four years at the most, trying to maximise the value of shares in that restricted period. This means that what the company can do is limit itself to what it already has, to what can give in the short term a certain return – even if small – and what it cannot do is invest in long-term research, necessary in order to have a future.

As a result, the staff within an organization end up destroyed, as they are deprived of an environment of exploration, of reasons to take risks, to do something truly new. It is no coincidence that the breakthrough innovations of the last 15/20 years did not come from telecommunication companies.

It is time to talk about social capital and innovation. Today we have real possibilities of creating great innovations if we are able to combine two things: the vision and leadership of a Steve Jobs with the potential of the people within the company, or rather its social capital. If a company can do that, it can take assume a dominant position on the market.

Social innovation: building communities for innovation

To focus on social capital, a starting point is the digital generation: a generation of young people have grown up with this technology and no longer consider it “technology”, but rather their way of being in the world. They are not digital children because of digital technology, but because they were children when this change happened. This technology has been internalised by them because it allows them to carve out spaces for themselves, where they can do the things they need whilst growing up: create their own identity, have fun, do crazy things. MySpace or Facebook were not successful because of the technology, but because there was a new form of expression by this generation, in which they could express and acquire knowledge or simply act like kids. The crucial point of all of this is that new generations are established on social relations, and their way of existing in the world is today mediated by this technology. When individuals from this generation start working at an organization – such as a large company – they feel suffocated if people start telling them what they cannot do, and if they are isolated by those social tools that have made them what they are. These tools, instead of being seen as a threat (as many CIOs do), should be seen as opportunities: the consequence of social networking that these individuals experience and that has created their identity, is that in this way they have created collaboration without wanting to, they are collaborating in ways that were inconceivable in the past. This is the potential that is found in what they do, but how can it be exploited within companies?

The social capital or, in other words, the network of formal and informal relations existing within the company, represents how the company itself truly works. Each organization has a formal structure, from which it can be deduced who holds what positions and who reports to whom; but when we try to understand how things really work, we discover a completely different network: people know who to turn to in reality to make fast and effective decisions, regardless of what the organization chart says. Each person knows who to turn to if he/she has to collect up-to-date information on a technology or on the product market. This relation network – the social capital – is what we must free up today if we want to exploit it to our advantage. So, how can we make it grow?

Today platforms exist that allow people to find others like themselves, who can be found in parts or roles that are very different from the company, but who share the same passions or the same experiences. For the first time people are allowed to discover and rely on this sort of intangible network within organizations, whose existence was not even known about before. It is a way of seizing the possibility for these people to find each other and start working together in ways that were unimaginable up until now. Organizational silos are bypassed. These platforms also highlight the contribution that the individual can bring to the group.

Should we tend towards incremental innovation or towards radical innovation? We believe that this is the wrong question, and that the right question is: can we have both? Is it possible to have the leadership, vision and culture that allow an organization to take risks, at the same time allowing people within the organization to come together in completely different ways than in the past, in order to use this strength to guide the change? It is possible if we are able to create the right motivation and the right context.

The answer is not just in the technology. Everything depends on the organization and its culture. It is not about “capturing” ideas, but rather about building communities. The fundamental point is that key players be identified, the right people at the right time, to transform their network and their informality into a business value. From these assumptions – of social capital as a true element of a company’s distinction and advantage – approaches such as Idea Management and Social Innovation are born.

For decades business process mapping (BPM) has been the starting point for analyzing work processes. Total Quality Management, Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, and Business Process Re-engineering are all methods of work management that have the “Business Process” as their point of reference – and centre of attention – for business improvement.

When we try to break down the “Business Process” term we realize that its usage stretches far beyond the mechanical workflow processes, ideally pointed out by BPM techniques. For example: are the subtle negotiations between a seller and a customer adequately represented in a process map? What about the relationship between a social worker and client, or its network of reference? And what about the network that inspired the sale of Apple’s entertainment products? The understanding of a university professor’s lesson? The treatment from an expert doctor?

We can of course describe the above operations in terms of business processes, but in order to improve such processes we need to go beyond traditional mapping and analysis methods.

Stabell and Fieldstad in their pioneering work on “Value Chains” identified how business value can be generated through methods other than those of traditional simple process analysis. They also introduced the concept of “Value Shops” to satisfy the business processes driven by experts, such as medical centres, law firms, consultancy companies or research institutions, and “Value Networks” for businesses that thrived on client interdependence, as in the case of telecommunications, banks and entertainment businesses. All of these alternative business models have traditional process chain activities, but in no way do these activities represent the key process. Subjecting these models to traditional analysis techniques essentially means improperly using available resources, thus running the risk of not achieving satisfying results.

So if your business is not centred on Value Chains, what are the alternatives? Two mature approaches are used to analyse businesses related to Value Shops and Value Networks: Social Network Analysis (SNA) and Value Network Analysis (VNA).


SNA is able to identify the people within your organisation that others depend on in terms of work processes, information and support. In this sense SNA does not mean a method that simply covers technical expertise. In fact, in our experience, SNA has often uncovered matters related to organisational expertise, i.e. to those competencies that answer the questions: “how can we make sure that things work around here?” or “how can we make sure that the procurement system works for us?”, which also help to understand the relationship channels between your experts inside the business and the rest of the organisation. This is similar to a BPM for the more mechanical processes and offers the same level of analysis and benefits.

SNA can provide information both on Value Shops and on models based on Value Networks. VNA can underline – from its perspective – Value Networks and Value Chains by pointing out the client interdependencies and shaping the tangible and intangible flows that connect the different “roles” within the organisational network. SNA works, therefore, at the personal level and VNA works at the role level.

There is a gap between the two analyses that allows us to observe how organizational roles interact at the more personal level than at the work process level. We call this analysis gap Organisational Network Analysis (ONA), which simplistically can be traced back to an SNA with the “roles” as the network nodes, instead of the individuals. It differs from VNA because the connections between roles are not detailed and explicit like value flows, but simply identified by their degree of inter-role dependency. ONA can be complementary to both SNA and VNA and can address, in different ways, all three value configurations (figure 1).

In this document we will introduce the concept of ONA and illustrate it in detail with a case study.

Where would ONA be used?

Over the years we have conducted numerous SNA and VNA activities. These investigations were not only limited to Value Shops or Value Network businesses but also to Value Chains. Inevitably there are elements of both techniques that can limit the choice of adopting them. For SNA, for example, reluctance is typically connected with privacy issues and the presence (or non-presence) of some people within the social network map emerging from the concluded analysis may be observed as “uncomfortable”. All of this can be mediated by avoiding showing the names of people on the map, but we must not forget that an SNA in fact asks people to mention individuals by name. For VNA privacy is not a problem as the unit of analysis always refers to the “role”. Tangible value flows within the map created with VNA are familiar to those practised in traditional analysis techniques. Intangible value flows are instead often related to people – or centred on relationships – which can be perceived as “foreign” by VNA participants and can take some time to practise before they are acquired. As in BPM, the entire mapping process can be time consuming as each individual role is analysed for the contents of its value flows. All of this can often limit the level of organisational analysis that can be achieved.


By considering ONA as a meeting point between SNA and VNA, it is possible to achieve the benefits of both approaches while avoiding many of the limitations.

ONA is essentially an SNA conducted at the role level. Participants are asked to nominate “roles” rather than “people” they depend on for performing their job correctly and well, together with the degree of dependence they can have on certain roles. In this case, the privacy issues that emerge with SNA are therefore avoided (or at least they are for roles that have more than one occupant!). It is also much simpler (especially compared to VNA) for participants in the analyses to indicate the roles they depend on and refer to for their work processes.

The real positive side of ONA is that it could be much easier for organisations to adopt, given that it does not require the long analysis and processing time of VNA and it does not interfere with privacy and personal issues of employees, thus avoiding becoming an “uncomfortable” and expensive procedure.


We therefore deem that ONA is best placed to be adopted by organisations intending on doing a quick and broad organisational analysis that goes beyond sim
ple business processes.

It will typically be Value Shops and Value Networks that will be able to benefit the most from ONA, although Value Chains could also be positively influenced by it. ONA can highlight these aspects in a much faster and more efficient manner than analysis processes such as BPM and VNA.

ONA Case Study

The best way to illustrate how ONA works, along with its actual benefits, is through a case study (figure 2). For our case we have chosen a large financial organisation with over 120,000 employees. The project was focused on the Information Technology Services department of over 4,000 people. Problems related to privacy and the protection of employees prevented the department from adopting a traditional SNA. The classic procedure was therefore adapted to ensure that people could nominate “roles” (and no longer nominate “individuals”) that they depend on to efficiently and effectively carry out their own work. The roles were therefore analysed at multiple levels by observing, on the company’s organisation chart, the links connecting them directly. At the top level 8 service line roles reported directly to the CIO. At the second level there were 44 business units, below which were 200 activity roles. All of these roles were well documented within the department and each service was detailed in an operations manual.

The work process. As could easily be envisaged, by a top-down management organisation, the department has performed a considerable job over the years of identifying the roles and breaking them down precisely into responsibilities and tasks. However, what were not taken into consideration were the (informal) peer-to-peer exchanges within the business. One of the main objectives of the ONA was in fact to highlight these peer-to-peer exchanges within the company.

The questionnaire. The initial study collected results only at the management levels (for a total of around 200 officers), with the intention of broadening the research at a later stage. The survey was structured so as to present activities belonging to the business units, which in turn depended on service lines, and the organisation was therefore described in classical hierarchical terms. Respondents could, however, nominate any other role – including from other areas – that they interacted with in the performance of their work, and they also had the possibility to indicate the degree of important of that interaction. The questions on interactions concerned:

  • Daily operations (day by day);
  • Problem solving support;
  • Information sharing;
  • Desire for more contact.

As the organisation was described in hierarchical terms, a report of a connection between two activities could infer a connection also between a business unit and service lines, thus facilitating analysis at different levels. In practice, however, the limited sample of 200 respondents meant that the analyses at the activity level were less significant and made it clear that a larger sample would be required.


Mapping and Analysis. The ONA results have shown data on relationships among roles and on their dependency and the strength of the links. At the highest level, the relationships are defined as a “critical dependency” of one role on another. Such links can be reciprocated, indicating a bilateral dependency of two nodes of the network (i.e. when one depends on the other and vice versa).

Figure 3 on the previous page shows the dependency links between the role activities for the daily operation relationships. The nodes represent a role activity, coloured based on the service to which they belong. The size of the node reflects the number of “mentions” received (in-degrees), underlining the importance of the node: the more a node is requested the larger it is on the map. In this case the map only shows the critical dependencies.

What is immediately noticeable is the difference between the mapping produced by the ONA and the organisation diagram typical of process mapping. As we can see the map is not at all structured and shows a lot more connections than those highlighted by the organisation chart. While we can see some areas grouped together, we can notice that the connections between service lines are not as structured as they would seem. So the question is: which is closer to reality: the organisation chart, the business process map or the ONA?

Business process mapping, when used for functional improvement, is intended to represent the performance of working processes. The analysis of the “as-is” situation is then aimed at providing the opportunity to design strategies from which the “as-is” processes can be adapted or even removed in order to improve the organisation’s performance.

But what happens when the “as-is” representation is only a false reflection of what is really happening? In an organisation based on the Value Shop style a Business Process Map could effectively show, as we have said, a patient’s stay in a medical centre, but it is very unlikely that it would be able to show the critical dependencies between roles in the centre relating to information, experience or knowledge flows existing in the organisation. In an organisation based on the Value Network style, BPM would only be able to identify linear flows, inevitably missing all the critical feedback or connections that exist in reality. Even the most sophisticated business processing tools are used to collect feedback and to facilitate the modelling of processes, and we can verify the possibility of collecting these data with classic techniques, soon realising the level of complexity that the analysis would require.

So what innovative techniques would an ONA offer? The final objective of an ONA is no different than the objective experimented with a BPM: the search for interventions that are able to improve working flows within the business and lower costs by increasing the quality of products or services offered. The analysis techniques and the related methods differentiating the two approaches are shown in the following table:

BPM Analysis Techniques ONA Techniques
Mapping of transactional flows Mapping of dependence between network nodes
Starts with “stock and flows” Starts with relationships among people
Looks for inefficient flows Looks for complex interactions and interdependencies
Analyses capacity and use Analyses capability and involvement
Optimisation has a mathematical interpretation Optimisation has a behavioural interpretation

As the table shows, ONA is an approach much more centred on people than BPM. The success of this type of analysis is enhanced for all organisations that are focused on relationships among people and on the supply of services, such as the medical, legal, financial, educational or social work sectors, which, as we know, nowadays dominate the most advanced economies. The following analysis techniques, applied in this case study, have been adapted or extended by consolidated and largely tested SNA techniques, and re-studied specifically to be applied to the organisational context.

Demand (and supply) analysis

The netwo
rk diagram shown in figure 4 identifies the connections between roles by directional arrows. If role A is pointing to role B it means that someone in role A has nominated someone in role B as a “critical” connection for him/her. From a supply and demand point of view we could interpret this context as role A as demander and role B as supplier. In this sense, the roles that have many recurrences (called “in-degrees”) are high in demand. The following table shows which of the 44 business units were most in demand by the observed network.

The business units most in demand can be easily represented as bottlenecks. In fact, a simple efficiency measure of a company could be calculated and guessed simply based on how much the work is spread out within the organisation.

Criticality analysis

Networks placed where there are concentrations of demand on only a few nodes suggest the presence of critical units that are potentially at risk of becoming bottlenecks in the organisation. We can measure and carry out benchmarks of these bottlenecks by making an estimate of criticalities (figure 5):


We can notice how 27% of activities correspond to 50% of connections. Although we would not expect all activities to be equally in demand, this diagram provides us with a scale of the organisation’s robustness. For example, if we found a business in which the main activities (10%) represented 50% of the connections, we would have to deduce that the organisation in question was much more vulnerable (from the point of view of achieving inferior performance) than the company that we examined in our case study.

Value Sources and Value Sinks

When we look at a map of an organisation from the point of view of supply and demand of value, it is possible to understand how various roles and the activities they perform relate to each other by identifying the roles from which there is higher demand for help and those which supply more help. If a correct mapping is carried out, it is also possible to identify the balance of the company by identifying the Value Sources (those in demand) and the Value Sinks (those who demand).

Figure 6 shows a map highlighting the connections between nodes of the same network in relation to supply and demand. In this case the colours identify the Value Sources or the Value Sinks. The size of the nodes depends on the number of connections and the thickness of the linking lines identifies the strength of dependence. Value Sinks are roles that tend to demand more than they supply, whilst the opposite can be said of Value Sources.

What should we try to deduce from this analysis? On a first, more superficial, level, we can note that Value Sinks are negative because they drain energy and demand more than they supply, so they require constant work. On a second level, we can understand how even Value Sources, if too strong, can be negative. This is because the widened size of one of the nodes shows a lack of capability to respond effectively and efficiently to the organisation network. And perhaps a lack of capability could be due to a lack of desire to draw knowledge from other sources.

In this case study, showing the analysis results to individuals in charge of the organisation caused a considerable amount of discussion, also due to the fact that an ONA had been conducted for the first time. We highlighted for the executive committee the example of the change management unit as a Value Sink, which appeared as a node able to absorb large resources compared to the amount it supplies. The CIO informed us that the unit had been broken up just a few days before, suggesting that the analysis conducted was valid.


New visions and future implications

We have already underlined our belief that ONA can be a useful method able to provide a detailed business process analysis without wasting excessive resources, especially compared to BPM and Value Network Analysis.

The analysis of Value Sources and Value Sinks allowed us to immediately identify the areas requiring a more detailed analysis or a greater amount of attention than others. When we identify some business units as Value Sources or Value Sinks, we can ask ourselves why our business has assumed this organisational dimension. For example, we can review the competency level of the individual units that have been identified as Value Sources or Value Sinks.

Figure 7 suggests some possible improvement interventions for the Value Sink/Value Sources issue. A low competency Value Sink can be explained in light of a new position, of a new hire or in any case of any skill-set being formed and that is still gaining the correct competencies to interact with the other roles. The action to take could therefore be to support the role (in terms of time and competencies) in an attempt to make it become more efficient. If the Value Sink is instead highly competent, it is possible that it is not so visible – or accessible – within the organisation and a possible solution could be to promote its role or review the network configuration. In other cases, such as the Change Management Business Unit of our case study, we could consider breaking up and reassigning that role to other roles.

As regards Value Sources with low competency, their roles should be trained and helped to access different roles, so that they can improve their own competency and grow. If the Value Sources are already competent it is therefore possible that their existing resources are insufficient and the demand cannot be efficiently met.

The ONA results can also be usefully used to focus on the processes and activities carried out by Value Networks. A specific focus on the interaction with a good number of Value Sources and Sinks is likely to provide the best return when applied to these complementary analytical techniques.



We have presented Organisational Network Analysis as a technique to review the approach to Business Process Mapping and more focused on the personal and organizational dimension.

We have called these new business models Value Shop and Value Networks, which are much more dependent on the optimisation of the processes within them, on the general improvement of competencies and on the certainty that information and knowledge are truly shared within the whole organisation. In cases like these, simply mapping the work processes prevents us from grasping the real essence and concrete configuration of the business.

We have distinguished ONA from SNA suggesting that, by maintaining the focus on the role, rather than on the personal level, organisations were freer to operate without running into legal constraints caused by the management of employees’ privacy. The case study was used to show how a simple application – on a limited sample – of ONA is able to provide useful information for interpreting the organisational context and the functioning of processes at multiple levels of association. Through a simple analysis of Value Sinks and Value Sources, businesses can easily identify internal problems and take quick action in ord
er to curb them. Alternatively, it provides a valid starting point that can be crossed with other analyses already experimented with, such as Value Network Analysis and Business Process Mapping.

Originally posted on Social Business Manifesto – An Harvard Business Review Italia publication. Written by Laurence Lock Lee and Rosario Sica –

Stefano Besana, Rosario Sica, George Siemens
Pubblicato originalmente su Harvard Business Review Italia. Read more on 

Social Learning: inquadramento teorico

Iniziamo con una premessa fondamentale: il Social Learning non è un nuovo trend. I modelli di apprendimento come quelli delle corporazioni, delle gilde e dell’apprendistato hanno invocato molto tempo fa quello che noi oggi chiamiamo Social Learning. Andando ancora più indietro nel tempo, i primi filosofi praticavano quasi esclusivamente il “Social Learning”, come ci ricordano molto bene le storie che ancora si raccontano su Socrate, Platone e Aristotele.

Ciò che c’è – oggi – di veramente innovativo è la scala sulla quale possiamo essere coinvolti in un processo di Social Learning. Le tecnologie basate sul web riducono moltissimo le barriere che i discenti erano costretti ad affrontare nel passato (tempo e geografia sono solo due delle molte possibili variabili che possiamo utilizzare come esempio): con lo sviluppo dei social network e di strumenti come Skype, Google Talk e i device mobili, il livello e la scala rispetto alla quale possiamo essere “social” sono aumentati in modo consistente e considerevole. In questo senso, il Social Learning è un ritorno più naturale al nostro modo di apprendere e di interagire con gli altri.

Per quanto riguarda il rapporto tra Connettivismo (1) e  Social Learning possiamo vedere le attività del Social Learning come parte del Connettivismo. Entrambi i concetti si riferiscono a come si distribuisce la conoscenza ed enfatizzano come problemi complessi possano essere risolti assumendo un’ottica reticolare e sistemica.

Il punto in cui il connettivismo differisce dal Social Learning è sull’accesso a risorse e fonti anche non-social. Per esempio: le nuove idee, molto spesso, non sono altro che rielaborazioni d’idee che si sono susseguite nei secoli passati. William Rosen nel suo libro The Most Powerful Idea in the World, mette in evidenza proprio questo: il modo, cioè, in cui le persone connettono tra loro le idee non è sempre sociale. Inoltre, il modo in cui le organizzazioni creano la loro struttura manageriale influenza il modo in cui l’informazione scorre all’interno dell’organizzazione stessa. Il Connettivismo è legato al come queste informazioni, tecniche e strutture sociali impattino e contribuiscano allo sviluppo d’innovazione, invenzione e adattamento dinamico dell’individuo e dell’azienda.

I maggiori sviluppi nel prossimo futuro – parlando di sistemi di apprendimento emergenti – saranno soprattutto nel dominio dell’analisi della conoscenza: produciamo, infatti, enormi flussi di dati in quasi tutto quello che facciamo (processo amplificato enormemente dalle tecnologie mobili). Le nostre idee, le nostre posizioni, quello che leggiamo, con chi interagiamo. Tutto è immortalato in Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter e sui nostri blog. Molte aziende brancolano nel buio in termini di conoscenza e apprendimento organizzativo. Riconoscere e utilizzare con intelligenza l’enorme quantità di dati e flussi d’informazioni che sono prodotti è il primo passo per muoversi verso un approccio analitico nei confronti degli scopi e degli obiettivi dell’azienda, oltreché un modo per costruire competenza. Attraverso l’analisi dei flussi d’informazione le aziende possono comprendere in che modo la conoscenza si muove nelle reti, come le persone collaborano, quali persone dovrebbero lavorare assieme secondo le attività che hanno in precedenza svolto e come fronteggiare efficacemente problemi complessi (come ad esempio l’ingresso in un nuovo mercato, l’acquisizione di una nuova azienda, o il lancio di un nuovo prodotto). Le analisi di questi dati – in sostanza – possono aiutare le aziende a comprendere meglio se stesse.

La maggior parte degli esperti e dei consulenti enfatizzano la dimensione sociale e il modo in cui le nuove tecnologie – Facebook, Twitter e i blog – contribuiscano a far divenire “social” le persone. Trattano l’aspetto sociale come il più critico all’interno del processo di apprendimento. Noi crediamo piuttosto che le persone siano mosse prima di tutto dalle informazioni. Processiamo l’informazione costantemente. Da quando siamo bambini, cerchiamo di dare un senso al mondo cercando di rifletterci sopra, di valutare, di connettere le informazioni che incontriamo. È un tratto evoluzionistico: siamo esseri viventi basati sulle informazioni. Ci sviluppiamo in relazione alle informazioni intorno a noi.

Tornando indietro all’epoca in cui l’uomo era un cacciatore-raccoglitore, quelli che sopravvivevano erano coloro che erano in grado di dare un senso alle informazioni presenti nel contesto in cui vivevano: quali piante raccogliere, quali animali evitare, di cosa cibarsi e via dicendo.

La nostra assunzione di partenza è che il tratto dominante dell’umanità sia l’acquisizione, la processazione e la creazione d’informazioni. Impieghiamo approcci sociali che ci consentono di gestire meglio le informazioni. Troppe persone che parlano di Social Learning vedono la dimensione sociale come il punto di arrivo. Vediamo piuttosto nella ricerca di senso e di una via lo scopo primario che ci fa utilizzare gli approcci sociali per assisterci in un’evoluzione personale e nella sopravvivenza.

Già Wenger e Lave, nei primi anni ’90, avevano intuito il ruolo fondamentale delle comunità di pratica e degli scambi informali tra persone nelle organizzazioni. A distanza di oltre vent’anni dai loro primi lavori il panorama organizzativo si è evoluto in maniera considerevole, ma l’importanza del ruolo delle comunità informali nella costruzione di conoscenza, non solo è rimasto immutato, ma ha anche beneficiato, rafforzandosi, della grande evoluzione – tecnologica e culturale – di tutto quel mare magnum che può rientrare sotto l’etichetta Enterprise 2.0, in cui il ruolo delle community è diventato dominante e di primaria importanza.

In questo senso il Social Learning si colloca in quella dimensione organizzativa legata all’apprendimento, allo scambio di conoscenza, alla formazione e alla gestione delle risorse umane che risulta essere fondamentale in tutte le aziende, siano esse più o meno complesse.


Lo schema riportato in Fig. 1 ben sintetizza l’evoluzione che dagli anni ‘90 ad oggi le concezioni della formazione attraverso le tecnologie hanno avuto, passando da sistemi e approcci di semplice formazione a distanza sino a giungere a modalità di blended learning e di costruzione di ambienti che permettono un livello di interazione e un numero di funzioni sempre maggiore.

Cercando però di dare una definizione concreta di Social Learning potremmo sostenere che esso sia un fenomeno emergente (non predeterminato o pianificato) che origina a partire dalle reti di conoscenza (knowledge networks) e dai flussi di informazione, siano essi formali e informali, all’interno delle organizzazioni. Il Social Learning è, altresì, l’appoggiarsi a reti sociali e interazioni per avere assistenza nella propria ricerca di attribuzione di un senso alle informazioni presenti nel nostro contesto. Conoscere – oggi – significa essere connessi:
la conoscenza si muove troppo velocemente perché l’apprendimento possa essere considerato semplicemente un prodotto che giunge alla fine di un processo puntuale. Abbiamo bisogno di connetterci ai network d’informazione e di “depositare” la conoscenza nelle relazioni più che nelle nostre teste o nei sistemi di knowledge management.

Non si tratta quindi della semplice applicazione di tecnologie sociali (o 2.0, secondo una ormai vecchia etichetta) all’ambito dell’apprendimento, provando a evolvere le classiche logiche degli LMS (Learning Management System) verso modelli più simili a quelli dei noti social network: si tratta, piuttosto, di ripensare alla formazione e allo sviluppo dell’apprendimento in una modalità più integrata con il fluire delle attività operative, pensando alla learning organization come un organismo vivente che si evolve continuamente.

Cerchiamo però di capire meglio il contesto di riferimento e i principi effettivi del Social Learning attraverso l’analisi di un caso di studio.

Applicare il Social Learning: un caso concreto

Cerchiamo di spiegare meglio i concetti alla base del Social Learning con un esempio pratico legato a un contesto in cui molte organizzazioni possono ritrovarsi: una grande multinazionale ha l’esigenza di rivedere il proprio Learning Management System causa obsolescenza. Il portale che eroga i contenuti formativi era basato su una piattaforma in rapido declino funzionale. Inoltre l’azienda avverte anche la necessità di evolvere verso un sistema che abbia costi di mantenimento e di gestione inferiori e che sia possibile manutenere in modo autonomo, senza la necessità di appoggiarsi a vendor esterni per qualsiasi esigenza, anche banale. Il progetto nasce quindi con lo scopo di effettuare un porting di tutti i dati storici e dei pacchetti SCORM/WBT in modo da poter continuare a offrire i moduli formativi a tutti i dipendenti della società (parliamo di una popolazione servita superiore alle 5000 persone). L’utilizzo che viene fatto di questa piattaforma è estremamente classico, basato su learning object precisi e concreti in cui la parte di e-learning viene fruita in modalità estremamente tradizionale, come semplice erogatore di contenuti statici e repository di file. In sostanza, la modalità di apprendimento sottesa alla piattaforma è basata su un concetto molto semplice: gli utenti in formazione iscritti alla piattaforma hanno accesso ai corsi a cui sono assegnati e ne fruiscono in modo passivo, limitandosi ad osservare la spiegazione mostrata a monitor e a compilare un test di comprensione alla fine del percorso.


La sfida del progetto è stata dunque di fornire al cliente non solo un mero porting dei contenuti da una piattaforma all’altra, ma integrare le quattro dimensioni dell’apprendimento, dimensioni che riteniamo indispensabili all’interno della progettazione di un ambiente di Social Learning:

  • Training & LCMS (Learning Content Management System): un’azienda –  piccola, media o grande che sia – ha l’esigenza di erogare corsi per i quali è richiesto un tracciamento (pensiamo anche solo a quelli obbligatori per legge: 626, Privacy, ecc.) e un tool che faccia da LMS classico deve essere presente in un ambiente di Social Learning. Realizzare un progetto di Social Learning non significa buttare all’aria anni di esperienze e di apprendimenti sul mondo e-learning, piuttosto valorizzare queste esperienze alla luce di un contesto che è mutato. Altro tema da coprire è quello dell’assessment e della reportistica che – molto spesso – è necessario produrre e che non può essere lasciato scoperto. L’inserimento all’interno del contesto di una piattaforma che copra queste necessità è sicuramente utile e importante ai fini dell’erogazione di una formazione più tradizionale. Il Content Management System: riguarda la gestione dei contenuti e la presentazione degli stessi in modalità il più possibile user-friendly, graficamente accattivante e nel rispetto dei classici principi della user experience: non è un caso raro imbattersi in piattaforme aziendali di gestione della formazione e dei corsi di apprendimento che presentano un’interfaccia tutt’altro che in linea con queste riflessioni: ambienti difficili da utilizzare, macchinosi e con una pessima user experience sono purtroppo all’ordine del giorno. È bene non sottovalutare la modalità di presentazione dei contenuti, perché solo in un ambiente che presenta le giuste affordance cognitive l’apprendimento può essere efficace. Inoltre un CMS per l’idea progettuale che ne sta alla base è realizzato per permettere la facilità di caricamento e di condivisone di contenuti e – tema di non secondaria importanza – per supportare una varietà di formati estremamente elevata. Questo permette di facilitare notevolmente il compito di chi si occupa della formazione: la creazione di percorsi di apprendimento modulari e specifici.
  • Self Learning: i repository aziendali abbondano di contenuti che possono arricchire e integrare i percorsi formativi. Nella progettazione di nuove piattaforme per l’apprendimento bisogna prevedere l’integrazione di più sorgenti, sia interne che esterne, in modalità self service.???Inoltre, nel pieno rispetto di quelle che sono le lezioni del già menzionato 2.0: il ricorso a folksonomie, a percorsi modulari e personalizzabili e alla focalizzazione sulle esigenze del singolo utente rappresentano – oggi più che mai – la chiave vincente all’interno di un percorso di apprendimento.
  • Community & Social Network: le community, l’aspetto “social”,  sono la vera rivoluzione culturale, sociale e tecnologica che ci ha coinvolti in questi anni. Saper valorizzare le comunità di pratica e i network ad esse sottesi risulta oggi il vero fattore differenziante per la realizzazione di un ambiente di apprendimento in grado di generare del valore per tutto l’ecosistema aziendale.
  • Nuovi formati: wiki, social bookmarking, storytelling, gaming, micro-video sono solo alcuni dei tools che gli utenti devono avere a disposizione per generare contenuti per alimentare la piattaforma con contributi dal basso. Come obiettivo bisognerebbe alimentare un repository per costruirsi, ad esempio, uno YouTube, uno Slideshare aziendale o altro, e per fornire ai discenti tutti gli strumenti necessari a condividere in modo semplice e rapido i contenuti funzionali all’apprendimento. Per fare un parallelismo, l’ambiente dovrebbe essere quantomeno in grado di consentire il livello massimo di presenza (3) al suo interno. Solo in questo modo gli utenti saranno davvero liberi di sperimentare nuovi formati e di trarne un reale beneficio in termini di apprendimento significativo.

Per il progetto di cui parlavamo in apertura, ad esempio, sono state integrate le quattro dimensioni (Fig. 2) attraverso l’utilizzo di tecnologie OpenSource che coprissero i differenti temi e le diverse esigenze. Per quanto riguarda la gestione lato LCMS si è scelto di impiegare Moodle che, soprattutto negli ultimi anni, è diventato un punto di riferimento nell’ambito degli LCMS. Per rendersene conto basta dare
un’occhiata alle statistiche riportate sul sito ufficiale: Tuttavia Moodle è ancora ancorato – per scelta e necessità – a una visione dell’apprendimento classica e manca di molte delle funzioni che strumenti più social hanno (in questo senso basti anche solo pensare al tool per la gestione dell’apprendimento Schoology (

Come fare dunque per sopperire a questi limiti e come personalizzare in modo più efficace l’interfaccia di Moodle? E’ iniziato un processo di integrazione con componenti CMS e Social. A questo punto resta da definire un tema d’integrazione degli ambienti, che abbiamo scoperto essere già prevista in buona parte e implementabile attraverso  plugin. Resta scoperta la gestione degli aspetti informali, che abbiamo coperto anche in questo caso con un plugin ad hoc per la creazione di community interne a Joomla: il plugin in oggetto è JomSocial (

Con l’integrazione di questo plugin tutte le aree di sviluppo sono state coperte.

Il caso presentato vuole solo essere uno spunto per capire come sia possibile con pochi semplici strumenti realizzare un ambiente di apprendimento che sia il più ricco e stimolante possibile e che tenga conto di tutte le esigenze dei singoli attori coinvolti.

La difficoltà tecnica di realizzazione di un ambiente di questo tipo è modesta. La vera sfida oltrechè nella progettazione sta nel mantenimento e nel coinvolgimento dei soggetti in apprendimento.

In ogni caso resta sempre valida l’idea che un progetto di Social Learning, e più in generale un qualunque progetto di Social Business, debba essere studiato “sartorialmente” sulle basi delle esigenze, differenti e specifiche per ogni contesto e caso.

Sforzandosi di fare un esercizio di riflessione più ampio a partire dall’esempio visto, sottolineiamo come le tecnologie sociali possano garantire la possibilità di creare percorsi di formazione e di apprendimento vasti e articolati. L’applicazione delle tecnologie sociali alla formazione d’aula può poi evolvere le già mature considerazioni che sono state fatte sul blended learning portandolo a un nuovo livello che sappia valorizzare contenuti differenti.


In questo senso riportiamo in Figura 3 lo schema presentato in Scotti e Sica (2007-2010: Community Management) che ben mette in luce come la formazione a catalogo e pianificata riesca a coprire solamente una parte del mare magnum in cui l’apprendimento ha luogo. In questo senso la creazione di comunità che supportano la conoscenza risulta un requisito fondamentale per facilitare quegli aspetti taciti che altrimenti non potrebbero essere valorizzati.

Valutare il Social Learning

Anche nella valutazione dell’apprendimento dobbiamo rivedere e ripensare metodologie e tecnologie: è chiaro che non possono essere utilizzate logiche vecchie applicate semplicemente a nuovi paradigmi, ma deve essere rivisto l’intero framework dei processi di apprendimento, dell’individuo e dell’organizzazione in generale. Molte ricerche stanno andando nella direzione dell’utilizzo della Social Network Analysis (SNA) per valutare la formazione e l’apprendimento.

Nei primi anni 2000, in un progetto di Social Network Analysis che ha coinvolto il dipartimento di una grande università negli Stati Uniti, abbiamo valutato oltre 100 persone e abbiamo cercato di comprendere in che modo essi collaborassero gli uni con gli altri, dove andassero per chiedere aiuto e come usassero le reti sociali a loro disposizione per risolvere i problemi di tutti i giorni.

Comprendere i nodi essenziali della rete del dipartimento è stato un importante primo passo per dare l’avvio a un cambiamento organizzativo.

In modo molto simile, le organizzazioni di oggi hanno bisogno di prendere in considerazioni analitiche nuove e modelli di valutazione innovativi per riconfigurare la loro struttura. La conoscenza che giace nella maggior parte delle organizzazioni non è connessa adeguatamente. Molto spesso certe persone lavorano su alcuni problemi senza sapere cosa fanno gli altri, senza consapevolezza.

Sul piano dell’analisi dei risultati dell’apprendimento, sia a livello individuale che organizzativo, abbiamo bisogno di ripensare il modo in cui individuiamo e analizziamo i risultati degli interventi formativi.

Gli strumenti di analisi giocano un ruolo importante nel mappare la conoscenza organizzativa. In questo senso, le analisi ci forniscono un modello dal quale partire per riconfigurare la nostra azienda. Nel passato i leader hanno preso le decisioni con angoli di visuale completamente ciechi. Per esempio, l’unione di due dipartimenti è stata condotta perché aveva senso dal punto di vista finanziario. Poca è sempre stata l’attenzione posta alla conoscenza e al come l’apprendimento e la costruzione di sapere potrebbero essere influenzati. Con questo tipo di analisi possiamo comprendere meglio questi ‘punti ciechi’ ed eliminare i rischi nella riconfigurazione dei reparti della nostra azienda.


In questo senso è possibile rivisitare il modello – ben noto a chi si occupa di valutazione dell’apprendimento – di Kirkpatrick (basato su una valutazione individuale degli impatti della formazione) ed evolverlo verso un approccio più ampio della valutazione che estende i livelli di analisi a una dimensione più ampia e “di rete” in grado di valutare anche impatti organizzativi più diffusi che coinvolgono le comunità presenti all’interno dell’azienda (si veda Figura 4); nello specifico ci si domanda: in che modo emergono le reti collaborative? Alla fine del corso di formazione quali reti sono state migliorate e quali nuovi nuclei sono nati? Come si muove la conoscenza all’interno dell’organizzazione? Le affinità interne rispetto ai temi del corso si sono modificate? Come si dovrebbero organizzare i team di lavoro per migliorare efficacia ed efficienza aziendale?

È quindi possibile identificare altre quattro dimensioni da affiancare a quelle inizialmente previste dal modello, per meglio valutare gli impatti che il corso di formazione ha sulla rete lavorativa:

  • Affinità: al termine del corso è cambiato il grado di affinità dei partecipanti rispetto ai temi trattati e agli obiettivi più generali?
  • Social Knowledge: attraverso il corso di formazione è stata diffusa conoscenza all’interno dell’organizzazione sfruttando le reti informali?
  • Network Creation: sono stati creati gruppi collaborativi e nuovi legami all’interno del corso che poi siano estendibili al resto dell’organizzazione?
  • Network Development: abbiamo svilupp
    ato i nuclei creativi già presenti?

L’integrazione di queste “nuove” metodologie e processi di valutazione all’interno degli schemi classici e già noti a chi si occupa di formazione consente di avere un quadro valutativo completo dell’organizzazione e permette di comprendere appieno gli scambi formali e informali all’interno dell’azienda.


(1) Per riferimenti all’approccio Connettivista è possibile consultare il volume di George Siemens: Knowing Knowledge

(2) Con SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) s’intende un modello di riferimento che consente lo scambio di contenuti in modo indipendente dalla piattaforma. Un WBT (Web Based Training) è un pacchetto formativo erogato, appunto, attraverso il web.

(3) A livello di psicologia dei nuovi media (Riva, 2008) definiamo il concetto di presenza come la sensazione di essere all’interno di un ambiente digitale data dalla possbilità di mettere in atto le proprie intenzioni. 

Emanuele Scotti, Rosario Sica, Emanuele Quintarelli

“Markets are conversations”
Cluetrain Manifesto, March 1999

Collaborative mechanisms are radically changing the way in which markets function and the way in which organizations create value. Consumer behaviour is becoming ever more conditioned by the reputation of companies among consumers and influence among peers, often leaving businesses themselves out of the conversation. How does marketing, advertising or CRM re-establish itself in the new millennium?

The method previously relied upon to organize work – born during the manufacturing industry era in order to segment and control industrial production, a method which has reached the present day almost intact – appears inadequate and clumsy in managing the need for reactivity, innovation and agility in today’s organizations. How can we regain efficiency and speed? How can we free the great potential of intelligence, creativity and energy that is exploding onto the business network but which is still trapped in the bureaucracy of modern organizations? These questions go beyond popular phenomena or trends and critically examine business and management practices and convictions in today’s society.

This is a reflection that dates far back and that has re-emerged over recent years in a devastating manner, taking the name of Social Business. Social Business is how a business operates in the era of interconnectivity. Social Business is a new way of organizing work and relationships with a business ecosystem.

Management disciplines have developed great capacities to make stable and repetitive processes efficient over time. Businesses are now being asked to be more agile, to continually redefine themselves, to provide a relevance to service and customer experience, and more. This makes those capacities no longer sufficient and, in some cases, even dangerous.

In this context, the emerging models of Social Business, both inside and outside an organization, are starting to show their value.

If we really want to create something entirely new, we need to start looking around in a new way, otherwise we will continue to behave as we always have. To create new things, we need to look at creating a newer version of ourselves. Let’s consider another period of great transformation, that of the transition from the medieval era to the modern day. The person who best represents this change is Christopher Columbus. Discovering America is in itself an intriguing story for those who study innovation. When we look at great moments of change, we often risk making the mistake of seeing things in a linear manner: some have thought that to do a certain thing, you need to plan the journey and then you will arrive at the destination. However, when you are on the journey of change it is nothing like this. It wasn’t like this in 1492. The story behind the discovery of America is full of errors; Christopher Columbus was convinced up until his death that he had shown the way to the West Indies and not that he had discovered a new continent. It took twenty years to correct this mistake. In order for people to understand that an unknown continent had indeed been discovered, Western Europeans had to change their own opinions and create new maps.

In times of great change things like this happen: you discover things which you never expected to discover. And in turn your convictions, identity, and cognitive processes change.

So why this introduction? Because today we find ourselves in a time very similar to the end of the medieval era, a time of great confusion. And for those of us who work in the world of organizations, it’s easy to see that in all of this confusion, traditional values and managerial models are heavily involved.

The first point to consider is that we need to change some of our convictions. The current management models for our companies no longer work. We have made management a science; we have tried to transform people into machines; we have divided work tasks into segments, taking significance away from the things we do whilst we work; we have depersonalized things in order to try to control the work place; we have tried to standardize work to guarantee the possibility of repeating services without unforeseen events.

This type of organization worked well when the theme of the business was repetition. It becomes a model that works far less well when the nature of the business is knowledge-based, striving for constant innovation, within an intangible environment.

We don’t have the organization and the appropriate technology for the era that we are living in.

Just as at the time of Christopher Columbus, even we need new maps, especially because it is very difficult to manage things that we are not capable of seeing. These new maps are obliged to work with a technological infrastructure that has only been created in the last few years – the Web, more specifically, Social Media – which is interesting not only in itself, but also for the social behaviour it allows.


The dynamic that emerges by collaborating with other people online can be represented by a curve showing increasing marginal returns (Fig. 1): the overall growth corresponds to overall input. If we learn to harness the power of patrimonial intelligence and the energy of group work the value that is generated grows exponentially. For a long time we have been used to performance curves which in general have decreasing marginal returns, such as the typical curve of experience. (Fig. 2)


This comparison is very interesting, as it opens up possibilities for us of radical innovation which we don’t even know how to see using our current cognitive processes. We are in a time of great changes, but we think of change in an old way, as something linear, where we have to say where we should go, what the expected ROI is, what the benchmark of reference is, and what the plan of action is in order to reach the goal. But we will never get anywhere if we do not change our way of observing things. We could discover, for example, that – as happens on the internet – if organisations also moved their attention from codifying content (archiving documents, procedures, rules) to protecting connections they would have improved efficiency spaces in front of them. Controlling communication flows among individuals is becoming more important today than controlling the content of the communication itself.

This adjustment must be made quickly, because the world is moving faster than ever. As the Queen of Hearts says in Alice in Wonderland, we must run, but we must run just to stay in the same place. There are emerging countries that are running much more than us; the phenomena that we have already mentioned are creating markets with different rules. The customer is now social (“social customer”) and much more efficient in making the most of the information on companies and products than the companies are themselves. The same thing is happening in some way within companies, with the birth and self-organization of communities and spontaneous networks favoured by technologies, often operating consistently with the organization’s project, but sometimes not.

This tendency has grown from a new generation of young people, who bring with them a completely different culture from that of the organisations that we have created. In this generation, there are completely new
concepts of belonging, of boundaries, of mine and yours, and of collaboration. Businesses must therefore act and act fast. Many of them are already doing so, while others are trying.

Many of them are aware that they have lost control of their own brand, which is passing into the hands of the people who are online – people who discuss their experiences, leave comments, and give criticism in more far-reaching, and more appreciated ways than traditional communication initiatives and campaigns. As Chris Anderson says, we are no longer what we say we are but what Google says we are. The voice of the consumer has gradually become more important in the creation of the image and the reputation of the brand.

A lot needs to be done to create an organisation and infrastructure which are more in line with today’s economy and social context.


First and foremost, we must create infrastructures of emerging collaboration, i.e. infrastructures which have increasing returns. People have to be able to build trust and resources, they have to be able to organize themselves, they have to be able to solve their problems collaboratively (Fig. 3). This must be done through the integration of two worlds: that of traditional organization (which nevertheless remains necessary for defining responsibilities, plans and tasks) and that of new forms of organization and the emerging collaborative network, which are necessary for dealing with unforeseen circumstances. There is also a lot to be done on the external front – engaging with the client (fig 4).


We need to talk to clients. We need to stop shouting; we have to listen and understand how they use products and what they want. Companies can carry out “social marketing” activities, letting enthusiastic clients “infect” others. They can use social networks to generate sales, and provide customer care and innovation together with clients. There are also plenty of examples of this.

We have to look at innovation from a new perspective, a less linear, less planned and exploratory perspective (Fig. 5). Networks are much more efficient at this than hierarchically organised groups, because when we explore something new we need to believe it, we need to have different points of view, we need to organize ourselves each time in line with the task at hand, and networks are much more efficient at this. Today is no longer about evangelization; that was the case years ago, when we started our project and launched the Enterprise 2.0 Forum in 2008. Today this has become mainstream. So what kind of company do we imagine? It’s an open, emerging and collaborative organisation, in which we need to talk to people outside the company with feedback flows precisely because we are organised inside the company with similar flows. The organisation can therefore do social media marketing, innovation/crowdsourcing, collaborative support with clients, and more.


We need courage, energy and faith in order to make this journey. But above all, we need to wear the right glasses, and look at new phenomena with new eyes. Only at that point will we discover that we have reached a new land of opportunities.

  1. Chaos is simplicity that we cannot  see yet
  2. Organisations are conversations
  3. Entropy is born from trying to use new tools to do old things, or from using old tools to do new things
  4. E-mail has been overtaken by more open and emerging exchange platforms. Organizations should abolish their internal use of e-mail
  5. When faced with ever more complex and inter-connected problems, decision-making architecture – represented by modern business and governance models anchored in a hierarchical command-control principle – shows all its inadequacy
  6. The road must be the culture of risk: new perspectives do not open up without risks
  7. Clients know the products much better than the companies that produce them
  8. Those who work expect in some way to be able to participate in the organizational project; malaise is generated by the impossibility of this participation
  9. In order to see new phenomena we need to build new tools of analysis and measurement
  10. Organisations are living organisms. Even before generating products they generate and transform knowledge
  11. The ability to generate and transform knowledge makes organizations emerge or decline in the knowledge economy
  12. Knowledge is generated and transformed in conversations among employees, among clients and between clients and employees
  13. Conversations go beyond walls and roles and favour relationships of trust that are difficult to condition
  14. The weak point of knowledge management is the management
  15. Collaboration is the challenge for modern organizations. We have only just begun to deal with this; the management tools currently available are inadequate for the purpose, as they were born in another era and for opposite objectives.
  16. Collaboration does not (only) mean coordination, planning, and role management. Collaboration means putting collective intelligence to good use
  17. Today we need to come together, create stories and common meanings, involve personal feelings, find ways to engage with people
  18. Organizations that are inflexible risk extinction
  19. High-performance organizations have disorganization and weak links as their strong point
  20. There is much more intelligence in our organizations than management is willing to recognize
  21. The intelligence in organizations today is trapped in procedures, customs and roles
  22. It is difficult to direct a conversation; it is easier to feed it or silence it for good
  23. An economic crisis is also a crisis of management models and work organization models
  24. Today, man’s great works are born from conversations, and often they don’t need governance
  25. The knowledge of organizations today lies more in connections than in company databases
  26. Teamwork, integration, collaboration: organizations are cramming themselves full of concepts that are ever further from their own practices
  27. The market today has a faster and more articulate intelligence than the intelligence of organizations
  28. Organizations react to stimuli in their market with a speed that is inversely
    proportional to their size
  29. HR’s plans hide the fear of freeing the energy and intelligence found within the organization
  30. Clients, like employees, are looking for a contact and a dialogue but instead find rubber walls with high-sounding names: call centres, customer care, direct lines
  31. Consultants strengthen the status quo: they try to bring complexity to the pre-established order but by doing this they increase entropy as they simply move the disorder to another level
  32. Disruptive innovation does not occur in  R&D departments: it occurs by mixing points of view and knowledge in new and open connections
  33. One-way intranets are useless; Social Intranets can today become the nervous system that allows an organism to feel and act as a unit: they allow the exchange of stimuli, the accumulation of memory, the formation of identity and the coordination of actions
  34. Today there is a need to come together: to connect the dots (vision) but also to connect people and create autopoietic (self-creation) systems
  35. Reputation is the key
  36. Centre and outskirts are concepts of the last century. Online, centrality is a function of authority and visibility
  37. Listen, listen, listen: it’s the client who tells you who you are
  38. In the knowledge economy you don’t have to know everything but you do have to be well connected
  39. From the knowledge economy to the gift economy…
  40. The business process emerges bottom up, learns constantly and adapts itself according to feedback from employees and clients
  41. Think in a new way: abandon slideshows and restructure work spaces.
  42. Listening to conversations is not enough. We need to draw meaning from them and direct change
  43. Your employees come first. Without their involvement your Marketing department will never be able to engage customers
  44. Consulting firms are not needed to build new organisations.
  45. Ideas from clients, employees and suppliers are just as good as those from management
  46. Social Business is not a new technology, it’s a new type of company
  47. Looking at the market through the eyes of the product and socio-demographic segments has lost its value. Let’s seek out passions, needs, tribes
  48. A company is centred on the client when it is able to look at itself from the outside, knocking down barriers both internally and externally
  49. Bottom-up innovation does not mean carrying out everything that the clients ask for. It means understanding the problem that the clients want solved and helping them to solve it
  50. Socializing processes does not mean creating new silos, even if they are social. It means breaking down traditional and social silos.
  51. Only working for a wage never makes the difference. People today are looking for a common mission
  52. Opening a Facebook page is easy. Opening the doors of a company and welcoming clients is difficult
  53. Companies hardly ever know what the client wants because they have always been afraid to listen
  54. Communities of people are not created and managed. Communities attract members and are cultivated by them
  55. The new management model is closer to cultivating a community than to leading a flock
  56. Change starts from the early adopters, but sustainable change reaches everyone else
  57. Customer service is the new marketing
  58. The only way to balance the excess of information in which we are drowning is by adding more information that acts as a filter
  59. A group of kids has created more innovation in the last 15 years than IBM, Microsoft and Oracle put together

Social Business Manifesto is proudly written by OpenKnowledge team. Learn more on –

George Siemens, Rosario Sica, Stefano Besana

A theoretical framework

We begin with a fundamental premise: Social Learning is not a new trend. Learning models such as those of corporations, guilds and apprenticeships invoked long ago what we now call Social Learning. Going back further in time, the first philosophers practised Social Learning almost exclusively, as the stories which are still told about Socrates, Plato and Aristotle remind us.

What is really innovative, today, is the scale on which we can be involved in a process of social learning. Web-based technologies greatly reduce the barriers that learners were forced to face in the past (time and geography are just two of many possible variables that can be used as an example): the development of social networks and tools such as Skype, Google Talk and mobile devices, the level and scale at which we can be “social” has increased consistently and substantially. In this sense, Social Learning is a return to our more natural way to learn and interact with others.

As regards the relationship between Connectivism1 and Social Learning activities we can see Social Learning as part of Connectivism. Both concepts refer to how knowledge is distributed and emphasize how complex problems can be solved by assuming a network and systemic perspective.

The point at which Connectivism differs from Social Learning is the access to resources and sources including non-social ones. For example, new ideas, very often, are simply reworkings of ideas that followed one another in past centuries. William Rosen in his bookThe Most Powerful Idea in the World, highlights exactly this point, i.e., the way in which people connect to each other’s ideas is not always Social.  Furthermore, the way in which organizations create their managerial structure influences the way in which information flows within the organization itself. Connectivism is linked to (the question of) how this information, these techniques and social structures have an effect on and contribute to innovation, invention and dynamic adaptation of the individual and the company. The biggest developments in the near future – in terms of emerging learning systems – will above all be in the domain of analysing knowledge: in fact, we produce huge flows of data in almost everything we do (a process amplified greatly by mobile technology). Our ideas, our positions, what we read, with whom we interact. Everything is captured forever on Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and our blogs. Many companies are fumbling in the dark in terms of knowledge and organizational learning.

Recognizing and using wisely the huge amount of data and flows of information that are produced is the first step to moving towards an analytical approach as regards the goals and objectives of a company, as well as being a good way to build competence. Through the analysis of information flows companies can understand how knowledge moves in networks, how people work together, which people should be working together based on the activities they have previously performed and how to deal effectively with complex problems (such as entry into a new market, acquiring a new company, or launching a new product). Analyses of these data – in essence – can help companies better understand themselves.

Most experts and consultants emphasize the social dimension and the way new technologies – Facebook, Twitter and blogs – contribute to making people “social”. They deal with the social aspect as the most critical element within the internal process of learning. We instead believe that people are motivated primarily by information. We constantly process information. From childhood, we try to make sense of the world by attempting to think about it, to evaluate it, to connect the pieces of information we encounter. It is an evolutionary trait: we are living beings based on information. We develop in relation to the information around us.

Looking back at the time when man was a hunter-gatherer, those that survived were those who were able to make sense of the information in the context in which they lived: which plants to collect, which animals to avoid, what to eat and so on.

Our starting assumption is that the dominant trait of humanity is the acquisition, processing and creation of information. We employ social approaches that allow us to manage information better. Too many  people discussing  Social Learning see the social dimension as its final goal. We see it rather in the search for meaning and a way whose primary purpose is to use social approaches to assist us in personal evolution and survival.

In the early ‘90s Lave and Wenger had already intuited the pivotal role of communities of practice and informal exchanges between people in organizations. After more than twenty years from their early work, the organizational landscape has evolved considerably, but the importance of the role of informal communities in building knowledge has not only remained unchanged but also benefited and been strengthened by the great evolutions – both technical and cultural – of all that vast sea that may be labelled as Enterprise 2.0, where the role of the community has become dominant and paramount.

In this sense, Social Learning fits into the organizational dimension connected to learning, the exchange of knowledge, training and the management of human resources that has become fundamental important in all businesses, both more or less complex.

The diagram shown in Figure 1 summarizes well the evolution from the ‘90s to the present of the conceptions of training in terms of the technologies they employed, from simple systems and approaches to basic distance learning up to blended learning and building environments that allow a degree of interaction and an ever-increasing number of functions.


In trying to give a concrete definition of Social Learning, however, we could argue that it is an emergent phenomenon (not predetermined or planned) that originates from knowledge networks and information flows, both formal and informal, within organizations. Social Learning is, moreover, the reliance on social networks and interactions for help in our own search to give meaning to the information around us. Today “knowing” means to be connected: knowledge is moving too quickly because learning can be considered simply a product that comes at the end of a process. We need to connect to networks of information and “deposit” knowledge in relationships rather than in our heads or in knowledge management systems.

We are not dealing, therefore, with the simple application of social technologies (or 2.0, according to by-now dated label) to the context of learning, trying to evolve the classic logic of LMSs (Learning Management Systems) towards models similar to those of well-known social networks. Rather, we need to rethink training and learning development in a way that integrates more with the flow of operating activities. We need to think of the learning organization as a living organism that is constantly evolving.

Let us understand better the context of referral and the principles of Social Learning through the analysis of a case study.

Applying Social Learning: a case study

We will try to explain the basic concepts of Social Learning with a practical example related to a situation in which many organizations may find themselves: a large multinational company needs to review
their Learning Management System, which is becoming obsolete. The portal that delivers training content was based on a platform whose functionality is rapidly declining. In addition, the company also needs to move towards a system with lower maintenance and management costs and that can be maintained independently, without relying on external vendors for every need, even a small one. The project, then, started with the aim of porting all the historical data and SCORM/WBT packets so as to be able to continue to offer the training program to all the company’s. (We are talking about a population / user base of more than 5,000 people).

This is a classic use of this platform, based on precise and concrete learning objects in which the e-learning part is used in a very traditional way, as a simple static content provider and file repository. In essence, the mode of learning underlying the platform is based on a very simple concept: users of the platform access training courses they are assigned to and training is performed in a passive manner, limited to observing the explanation shown on the monitor and completing a comprehension test at the end of the trail.

The challenge in this project was therefore to provide customers not only a mere porting content from one platform to another, but integrate the four dimensions of learning, which we consider indispensable in the design of a Social Learning environment:

Training & LCMS (Learning Content Management System): a company – small, medium or large – needs to provide courses for which tracking is required (we are only looking at those required by law: 626, Privacy, etc.) and a tool that will be a classic LMS must be present in a Social Learning environment.

Creating a Social Learning project doesn’t mean throwing away years of experience and knowledge about the e-learning world, but rather means to valorize these experiences in a changed context. Another topic to cover is assessment and reporting which very often need to be produced and cannot be left uncovered.  Introducing a platform which covers these needs within the context is certainly important and useful in order to deliver more traditional training.

The Content Management System: This deals with content management and its delivery/presentation in an as user-friendly way as possible, with appealing graphics and meeting the classic user-experience principles: it is not uncommon to find company training management platforms and learning courses provided with interfaces which are not in line with these considerations: user-unfriendly and complicated environments with a very bad user experience are unfortunately quite common. It’s better not to underestimate the way contents are delivered, because learning can only be effective in an environment provided with good cognitive affordance. Moreover – considering the basic project idea – a CSM is aimed at allowing an easy upload and sharing of contents and – secondary but equally important – at supporting an extremely wide range of formats. Here’s what makes things much easier for people dealing with training: creating modular and specific learning paths.

Self Learning: companies’ repositories abound with contents that can enrich and integrate training paths. When planning new learning platforms it is necessary to expect the integration of more sources – both internal and external – in a self-service way. Moreover, being fully consistent with the lessons of the previously mentioned 2.0: relying on folksonomies, on modular and customizable paths and focusing on the single user’s needs today more than ever form the winning keys in a learning process/path.

Community & Social Network: communities – the “social” aspect – are the real cultural, social and technological revolution that has involved us over these years. Being able to valorize practice communities and related networks is a distinguishing crucial point when it comes to creating a learning environment which can generate value for the whole business ecosystem.

New formats: wiki, social bookmarking, storytelling, gaming and micro-video are just some of the tools that users should use in order to generate contents to feed the platform in a bottom-up way. The goal should be to feed a repository to create a Youtube, a company Slideshare or something else, and provide learners with all the necessary tools to share learning-related contents quickly and easily.


To make a comparison, the environment should be able to allow the maximum level of presence3 inside, at least. Only in this way will the users really be free to experiment with new formats and get a true benefit from them in terms of significant learning.

For example, for the project we talked about initially, the four dimensions (fig. 2) have been integrated by using OpenSource technologies which covered different themes and needs. With regard to LCMS management they chose to use Moodle which has become a point of reference, especially over recent years, in the LCMS field. It just takes a look at the statistics on the official website to realize that. Nevertheless Moodle is still bound – by choice and by necessity – to a classic view of learning and is missing most of the functions found in more social tools (just think about the tool that manages learning, Schoology ( So how can we meet these limits and customize the Moodle interface more effectively? An integration process with CSM and Social components has started. Now all that is needed is to define an environmental integration process, most of which we have discovered to be already provided for and implementable through a plug-in.

Yet we still haven’t dealt with the management of informal aspects, which we have covered also in this case by a special plug-in to create internal communities in Joomla: this plug-in is JomSocial ( By integrating this plug-in all the development areas have been covered. The case above is meant to be a starting point to understand how to build up an as rich and stimulating learning environment as possible with a few simple tools, which could take into consideration all the needs of the actors involved.

The technical difficulty of creating an environment like this is modest. Besides the planning, the real challenge lies in the maintenance and involvement of learners. In any case the idea remains that a Social Learning project – and, generally speaking, every Social Business project – is to be planned as a tailor-made project based on the different and specific needs for each context and case.

By forcing ourselves to try to extend what we learned from the example above to a general context, we underline how social technologies can guarantee the possibility to create wide and articulate training and learning paths. The application of social technologies to training in classes can later evolve the mature considerations made about blended learning so far by taking it to a new level which can valorize different contents. In this sense in fig. 3 we have included the diagram shown in Scotti and Sica (Community Management, 2007-2010). It clearly shows how the planned and catalogue training is only able to cover a part of the mare magnum where learning takes place.


In this sense the creation of communities that support knowledge is a fundamental requirement in order to facilitate those silent aspects that couldn’t be valorized otherwise.

Assessing Social Learning

Even when assessing learning it is necessary to review and rethink methodologies and technologies: it is clear that old logics cannot be used and applied to new paradigms, but the whole framework of learning processes, of the individual and – more in general – of the company, must be reviewed. A large amount of research is heading in the direction of using Social Network Analysis (SNA) to assess training and learning.

In the early 2000s, we used a Social Network Analysis project involving a department of a large University in the US to assess over 100 people. We tried to understand how these people collaborated with one another, where they would go to ask for help and how they used social networks to solve their everyday problems.

Understanding the essential nodes of the department network was an important starting point on the path to an organizational change. In a very similar way, today’s companies need to take in consideration new analytics and innovative assessment models to reconfigure their structure. The knowledge lying in most companies is not properly connected. Very often certain people work on some problems without knowing what others are doing, without any awareness. When analyzing the results of learning on both an individual and organizational level, we need to rethink the way in which we identify and analyze the results of the training interventions. Analysis tools play an important role in the mapping of organizational knowledge. In this sense, the analyses provide us with a model to start from to reconfigure our company. In the past, leaders have sometimes taken decisions blindly. For example, the joining of two departments was carried out because it made sense financially.

Very little attention has therefore ever been paid to knowledge and to how learning and the building of knowledge could be influenced. With this type of analysis we can better understand these “blind spots” and eliminate the risks in reconfiguring the departments in our company.

In this sense the Kirkpatrick model (based on an individual assessment of the impacts of training) – well-known to those in charge of assessing learning – can be revisited and evolved into a wider assessment approach extending the analysis levels to a larger and “network” dimension, also able to assess the most widespread organizational impacts that involve the communities found within the company (see fig. 4). Specifically we ask ourselves: in what way are collaborative networks emerging? At the end of the training course, which networks have been improved and what new cores have been born? How is knowledge moving inside the company? Have internal affinities towards the course themes changed? How should work teams be organized to improve company efficacy and efficiency?


We can therefore identify four other dimensions to support those initially provided for by the model, in order to better assess the impacts that the training course has on the working network:

  • Affinities: at the end of the course has the level of affinity of the participants changed towards to the themes dealt with and the more general goals?
  • Social Knowledge: through the training course was knowledge spread inside the company by taking advantage of informal networks?
  • Network Creation: have collaborative groups and new links within the course been created that can then be extended to the rest of the company?
  • Network Development: have we developed the creative cores already present?

The integration of these “new” assessment methodologies and processes within the classic models that are already well-known to those in charge of training allows us to have a complete assessment framework of the company and fully understand the formal and informal exchanges within the company.


  1. For references to the Connectivist approach please consult the George Siemens volume: Knowing Knowledge
  2. SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) means a reference model which allows the independent exchange of contents on the platform. A WBT (Web Based Training) is a training package supplied on the web.
  3. At the level of psychology of new media (Riva, 2008) we define the concept of presence as the feeling of being inside a digital environment given by the possibility of putting into practice our own intentions.