Case Study: NATO ACT

History and Background

NATO’s (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) ACT command (Allied Command Transformation) is responsible for the planning and delivery of NATO education and training programs using NATO facilities worldwide.

ACT connect was conceived by the staff of the ACT Corporate Communications section in late 2013 and early 2014. Previously, approximately a year was spent experimenting and testing the delivery of news, information and events management to ACT staff using the WordPress Content Management System. Internally, this was simply referred to as, “the blog”, or ACT Newsline. As the limits of the blog in its initial design were reached, an outside consultant was brought in to re-evaluate the thinking and mission of ACT Newsline. It was this evaluation that led to the development of ACT connect.

ACT connect is an example of what is increasingly being called an Emergent Collaboration platform. Coined by Andrew P. MacAfee in 2006, Emergent Collaboration represents ideas that have evolved out of Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0 thinking. At its heart, it is the application of modern social software tools to increase transparency, openness and collaboration within organizations. It leverages the best tools which increase the levels of openness and raise the frequency at which collaboration emerges organically and naturally. This is sometimes called the Serendipity Effect.

Emergent Collaboration is often called the future of organizational internal communications and represents the cutting-edge of organizational communications and management support.

Of the various of tools and functions that often fall under the umbrella of Emergent Collaboration, Version 1.0 of ACT connect primarily uses the following:

 Authoring or Blogging

The ability to write blog posts (or Articles) is open to all staff members regardless of position or rank. Internet blogs have proven to be a useful outlet for information. By opening Authoring up to all staff members, ACT connect creates a formal, and open, conduit across the organization. Authoring lends credibility to individuals and demonstrates leadership while sharing information about work and projects in addition to opening the door to collaboration. It also replaces the need for All-Hands emails commonly sent across organizations.

 Ideation

Ideation Platforms allow for the presentation and sharing of ideas while allowing staff members to vote and support the best ones. These tools allow for the best solutions to emerge through dialogue and consensus. ACT connect’s Ideation Platform is the Question & Answer forum. Modeled on the popular Stack Exchange series of websites, it allows staff members to present questions seeking answers and provides for the natural back-and-forth of asynchronous dialogue as discussions ebb and flow to find the best solution.

 Microblogging

In the consumer sector, this is often referred to by its original name of the status update. Made popular by Facebook, microblogging is a tool in which the user can post brief updates about their work, mood, activity, or anything else. It is a form of content sharing that is fast, efficient and widely open. ACT connect users, from their own profile page, can post quick updates that are tracked and displayed in the site’s main activity stream as well as easily accessible by other user with whom they are connected.

 Open Messaging

Open messaging is an improvement and evolution of the role email has played within organizations for decades. Too often, the exchange of short, brief, one-line emails have dominated the bulk of organizational internal communications. Individuals reply back and forth, and then when someone else’s input is needed, the email is forwarded. The resulting email chain is a confusing, inefficient product that contained in an informational silo.

On ACT connect, open messaging reverses this trend by allowing users to visit another user’s profile page to leave them a message. The resulting thread is open and public, not contained in a silo. It is easily read and understood and, more importantly, makes it efficient to include new participants in the conversation.

 Signaling

This is the practice of signaling other users when content relevant to them becomes available. ACT connect facilitates this by implementing what is commonly called the @mention. Devised by Twitter, and @mention is method in which users may invite identified new participants into a conversation. Signaling allows for the efficient notification of identified subject matter experts and others without the hassle and chaos of forwarded email threads.

 Rich User Profiles

This is a function that supports the modern organizational concept of Human Capital Management. In many ways they represent the digitization of this idea. Understanding human capital represents the thinking that management expert Peter F. Drucker described when he wrote, “In hiring the worker one always hires the whole man.”

ACT connect not only asks for, but allows users to provide deeper information about themselves. This, combined with their open communications activity allows for colleagues, supervisors and leaders to learn more about the individuals, their ideas and their contributions. In short, it allows users to know better the people they are working with.

 Gamification

The implementation of Game Theory is a supportive tool often used in collaboration platforms to encourage user activity, action and collaboration. On ACT connect, users are publicly recognized for the activity and contributions to collaborative effort. The more consistent users are in their communications and collaboration, the more recognition they receive.