E-Mediat: A Simple Design Process for an Online Learning Community Site | Beth's Blog

E-Mediat: A Simple Design Process for an Online Learning Community Site

Networked Nonprofit

This second post shares some insights from the planning sessions for E-Mediat project, a networked approach to capacity building for NGOs in Social Media in the Middle East.  (For context, read my earlier post)

One of the project tasks is to develop a multilingual online learning community for partners, contributors, sponsors, participants, teams, mentors, social media techies from the region, and trainers to interact and share best practices.   Meedan, an implementation partner, is responsible for designing and implementing the online learning community.

Meedan brings to the table a unique Arabic-English translation technology to tackle challenge of a “web siloed by language.”  This  perhaps allows the learning community to  have their knowledge flowing in two directions.    One of the key strengths that Meedan brings to this project is its approach to user-centered design.    I’ve been involved with too many projects that embrace a platform too quickly without thinking about the end users and they fail.    Working with the Meedan and their creative development process was refreshing.

One of the personal highlights of this project was finally meeting Chris Blow in face-to-face.  I “met”  virtually Chris first through the NpTech Tag in 2007 and he kindly helped me clean up an RSS mess.   Chris is the Director of User Experience for Meedan.  Meedan’s founder Ed Bice, Meedan’s founder, and Andrea Burton also helped guide us.

Chris lead us through a simple user design process based a book by Giles Colborne.  The process  encourages stakeholders describe user profiles  and what the site needs to meet their needs.    Chris, who is a talented designer and visual facilitator, used a variety of  techniques to help us brain storm, discuss, and flesh out the user scenarios.    Three hours never went so fast.

We identified the need for a strategy to avoid the “cold start problem.”   When social web sites are designed to support a community – you need to think through the content and engage strategy because people don’t see the value of a social network unless the social network is there.

Watching Chris model visual facilitation was inspiring.  It made me examine my own practice and rekindled a goal to push my own visual facilitation skills.    It’s been an interest for a long time and was recently sparked again by David Sibbet’s Visual Meetings Book.   Over the holidays,  I got a new marker set and sketch pad – watch out.

One thing I discovered was Meedan’s  “Transbrowser” that allows you to plug in a URL in one language and translate it to another.   It uses machine translation but on the Meedan site there is a cue for human translators.   I immediately starting playing around with it ..

“Beth’s Blog” translates into Open House!

But the Meedan site and its transbrowser have a more valuable purpose – it gives us an opportunity to read what is happening in the Middle East from a Middle East perspective.   This is especially important given what is happening in right now in Tunisia.

What has been your experience with user-centered design process for online communities and web sites?


12 Responses

  1. Tobias Eigen says:

    Hi Beth,

    Thanks for sharing this interesting information. I’ve been working lately with Eduglu (http://eduglu.com) a “social learning platform” built using Drupal. I think it would be interesting to connect up Eduglu and Meedan.

    What I like about Eduglu is that it’s simple to use and doesn’t have too many bells and whistles, and yet it’s an open source project led by a developer who has many ideas and is open to input from other developers and users. It’s also Drupal, which means that it has the multilingual and other features that an elearning platform in the middle east and Africa might need. As the platform improves, everyone using it will benefit. The Eduglu.com platform is a hosted offering, but the Eduglu code can be downloaded and installed on custom sites as well.

    I’m going to be migrating Kabissa.org to Eduglu this month. A few months ago we already installed their og_mailinglist module from Eduglu to provide email discussion functionality (like mailman or a listserv) to Kabissa groups.



    ps – note typo in tunisia near the bottom. 🙂

  2. Tobias Eigen says:

    Meedan = meedan.net (not meedan.com)

  3. Beth says:

    Tobias: Thank you for the catching that typo – fixed! The network is my copy editor!!! Meedan founder is on Twitter @ebice and Chris too – @unthinkingly.

  4. ed says:

    thanks for this post- definitely worth mentioning that there is also the non-profit driver in our methodology. In two regards: first, non-profits have a highly motivated user base- so developing solutions for np orgs gives us access to people who are willing to put energy into interviews and feedback on wireframes and generally be engaged in the process to an extent that might be more difficult for the designer/developers who are trying to build the next gen e-commerce site; and, second, the fact that np orgs are generally working on a slim budget means that we need to be able to iterate early in the process- before the ideas are set in mortar and bricks and code- ie, the luxury of refactoring after development might not be in the budget.

    Doing this in an open ecosystem means these experiments in np org design and dev can be recycled- ie, we all win.

    Thanks again for this post, Beth. Looking forward to fun on Emediat.

  5. I love the shared learning via communal table concept (pass the katsup!), and am definitely interested to see how this process goes from a “cold start” to a vibrant mutual assistance and knowledge sharing community. Given the context of the site (MENA region), I’m wondering if this be an open or closed model?

  6. Beth says:

    Noel: The site will be open and accessible to participants and others who are interested. We’re using a wiki as an interim site for project planning and curriculum development – and it is open. You’ll be able to peak over our shoulders as the materials are developed:

    Thanks for stopping by and asking a thoughtful question.

  7. ed says:


    There are lots of great proof points for open source code being a powerful driver for efficiencies and networked innovation, but fewer for an open design process yielding the same results. IIE is to be commended for supporting an open approach to the ‘full stack’ – design/ content/ code- on the e-mediat project. please keep an eye on the work and let us know what you think of our ketchup.

  8. Nancy White says:

    As always, Beth, I’m deeply grateful that you take the time to write up and share all this.

    On the visual methods – I noticed the slide of the IDEO cards and of course LOVEd the post its and visual stuff. You know I’m addicted to these things. So if others want to follow down the rabbit hole, here are some resources:

    * Posts on my blog related to visual thinking – a big grab bag http://www.fullcirc.com/category/visual-thinking/

    * More focused posts on graphic facilitation http://www.fullcirc.com/category/graphic-facilitation/

    * Other “card deck” tools like the IDEO cards http://www.fullcirc.com/2010/01/28/facilitation-card-decks/



  9. Beth says:

    Nancy: Thank you for stopping by. I’m addicted to, but I have not really let myself feed it. My 2011 goal is to immerse myself in visual thinking practice technique and practice it until I get better. What I like about this project, is there is so much to learn on some many levels: training, curriculum development, cross-cultural challenges, online community development, visual thinking, etc. But on a big picture level, the project is a networked approach to capacity building. The project leaders understand networks – and display amazing qualities of networked leadership. Anyway, I’m off to go down your visual thinking rabbit hole ….

  10. Nancy White says:

    Come to the workshop in July in Rossland BC! FUN! Play! Draw. And we can catch up on all this network stuff (which ,by the way, has a deep language trap I keep running into and haven’t had the focus to write about!)

  11. Beth says:

    What’s the date? URL? Crossing fingers schedule gods are smiling.

  12. Nancy White says:

    July 13 (evening) – 15th. http://www.fullcirc.com/2011/01/06/graphic-facilitation-workshop-july-2011/ – my recommendation is to tack on a few days vacation. It is BEAUTIFUL up there!

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