Behind the Scenes at IBM WorldJam

This piece was written to accompany the News story, "IBMers Jam Globally," in the August 2001 issue of Knowledge Management magazine.

Yvette Burton, a social scientist with IBM's Institute for Knowledge Management in New York, managed to stay awake and online through about two-thirds of the three-day WorldJam forum she facilitated. The topic was making rapid decisions with less-than-optimal information. As an example of the issues it dealt with, she cites an IBM employee in Latin America who described a problem she was having with a client. Some comments that followed this entry picked up on her theme, but others went off on tangents.

It was the job of Burton and her moderators to comb through the postings in the online forum and connect people who might have insight into the problem. Some of the most useful ideas, she reports, came from participants in Asia, where other employees had similar experiences but could apply different cultural perspectives to solve the problem. "The employee who initiated this discussion just happened to participate in the event and put out this information that was on her mind," Burton says. "stepping out of a Latin American business culture to leverage an idea that had been successful in Asia, and having a moderator in the U.S. doing a conceptual map to connect these folks in a real-time way, was very effective."

"One of the most common reasons for failure in initiatives like WorldJam has been a lack of attention to KM," Burton asserts. "We want to follow up diligently to outline for our corporate members the roles they need, the variables to consider and the strategic implications to designing an event like this."

Much of the groundwork for WorldJam depended on IBM's social computing laboratory in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. For example, the lab developed the chat technology that moderators and facilitators used as a back channel to share what they were learning as the event progressed. Devoted to studying how people collaborate in electronic space, the social computing laboratory will go on to survey participants, text-mine the forums, analyze data and interview moderators and facilitators in focus groups and one-on-one meetings.

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