Getting advice on collaboration software

A few weeks back I asked my facebook friends and colleagues about collaboration software. I tagged about 40 people, asking for advice on web platforms for discussion and collaboration.


Hi people. I have a request for anyone who understands web platforms for discussion and collaboration.

I really need some advice on the best discussion and communication platforms for collaboration.

I am helping to organise a conference in Colombia with Wray Irwin Lonnie Rowell, Christine Edwards-Groves and many others called the “global assembly for knowledge democracy”. It is really picking up steam and it looks like there’s going to be between 300 to 600 participants.

The day that I’m helping to design is a social innovation process where people will develop project ideas that they will evaluate, some ideas will be committed to and pursued by participants.

Basically we need a platform that we can invite the participants to join before the conference, where they can begin to interact and get to know each other, and begin discussing the themes of the conference. The same platform will then be used after the conference for the participants to be able to collaborate on the projects they decide to pursue.

So we basically need a platform that is not too complicated, not too expensive and which can help a group of 300 to 600 people have a variety of conversations and also to collaborate on different projects.

I’m aware of slack and loomio but not much else beyond this.

If anyone has any knowledge of a platform that they would recommend I would really really really appreciate it!

Here is a link to the conference website for a bit more information.

Thanks in advance!



From that post I got a torrent of advice on various software platforms. I’ve listed them here as a public resource, for what it is worth.

More importantly than this list, however, was the very sobering advice I got from some of the Enspiral Crew, some of which is pasted in the end.

Having reviewed the lot, there are many pluses and minuses for everything. I still like loomio for its discussion and voting. Slack seems good but we’ll see.

But a surprise runner up was Collabsystem which was very very impressive.

Thanks to everyone for supporting and your advice.




“Loomio is a place for your group to make decisions together.”

“Where work happens. Whatever work means for you, Slack brings all the pieces and people you need to get things done.”

“Polis is a new way to gather open ended feedback from large groups of people. It is well suited to gathering organic, authentic feedback while retaining minority opinions.”

“Commons In A Box (CBOX) is a free software project aimed at turning the infrastructure that successfully powers the CUNY Academic Commons into a free, distributable, easy-to-install package. Commons In A Box is a project of the City University of New York and the Graduate Center, CUNY and is made possible by a generous grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.”

“Mobilize is designed for networked companies to recruit, onboard, manage and mobilize their partners into action via communication experiences that are relevant, helpful and actionable. We’re on a mission to drive the transformation towards a healthy, networked economy, one mobilized network after another.”

Idea management software for smart organisations. Crowdicity is the easier way to harness the ideas and insights of your employees, partners, customers or anyone whose experience can help your organisation do things better.

“Discourse is a from-scratch reboot, an attempt to reimagine what a modern Internet discussion platform should be today, in a world of ubiquitous smartphones, tablets, Facebook, and Twitter.”

“The Remesh platform uses machine learning to understand and engage groups of people with real-time conversation. This is achieved by allowing a single moderator to converse with a group as if they were a single intelligence. Beyond inline conversation, the group’s opinion on every response is collected, analyzed, and presented in real time.”

“Digital collaboration transforms your company into a unified successful business force by connecting your people, information, digital tools, and company communications in one convenient place.”

“Feng Office is an integrated suite of software designed to help your organization run better. Stay connected to your customers, meet project deadlines, find information faster and grow your organization.”

“Socrative is your classroom app for fun, effective classroom engagement. No matter where or how you teach, Socrative allows you to instantly connect with students as learning happens.

Quickly assess students with prepared activities or on-the-fly questions to get immediate insight into student understanding. Then use auto-populated results to determine the best instructional approach to most effectively drive learning.”

“Participatory narrative inquiry is an approach in which groups of people participate in gathering and working with raw stories of personal experience in order to make sense of complex patterns for better decision making. PNI focuses on the profound consideration of values, beliefs, feelings, and perspectives through the recounting and interpretation of lived experience.”

“Effective Collaboration for Humans is only one more tool away. Trial our integrated CollabSystem solutions, Walking, Talking & Working, to make your team more effective today.”


Person 1:

“Oh boy, the transient conference community is a hard one. I don’t think i believe in it.

If i were to try for it i would shoot for easy to use, open, and expect it to die or evolve organically after the conference.

I would go for tools which allow nested threads, something like a forum (e.g. Reddit), because the conversation while people are getting to know each other is not linear enough to use something like loomio (i guess).

Polis and tools like it are sweet for integrating and seeing themes. I think audrey tang mentioned a couple of approaches / tools in her osos talk. She had one which she was using to crowd source questions for her workshop which was very interesting.

Tools aside i would honestly plow all the energy into designing and creating space for people to connect at the conference. E.g. If all people do is listen to talks and drink coffee, no-one will care about keeping in touch. You need to maximise connection and trust formation. If you make 50% of the planned time smaller groups / open space workshops where people can connect and communicate, then people will keep in touch more.”

Person 2:

Of course I ❤ Loomio, but honestly the facilitation and accessibility matters waaay more than the particular tool. If the people in your group aren’t going to engage with something unfamiliar, than it doesn’t matter if you select the perfect software because they won’t use it. Better to use what they’re already comfortable with (Facebook group, email list, etc). With good facilitation you can do excellent processes on almost any tool.

I think it’s also important to remember that engagement will follow a power law distribution. Design for this, don’t resist it. Many people will only lurk and not participate (but might answer a followup survey or something), another large fraction will only engage on a few points (but might have an important perspective or be testing the water), and a small group will be highly engaged. Each of these personas needs a different thing.

The best system will make it very easy to engage in a lightweight way, with clear invitations and support to go deeper. Then the people going all-in might need their own space for a different kind of deeper co-creation, without a bunch of drive-by commenters without context. You’ll want subgroups or different channels so people can focus their attention how they want.

We have done some cool things with Loomio mixed into realtime events. Recently for a startup founder conference, we invited everyone onto the Loomio group beforehand, and asked them to introduce themselves, as well as seeded a few topics we knew people wanted to discuss. Then at the event, there was a Loomio discussion started for each session, and it was projected behind the speaker, so people could post comments/questions on the spot. A few days afterward for one thread I went through and reflected back some themes I heard, and raised a proposal to clarify if the group wanted to take a specific action on an idea that has emerged. It worked pretty well. (Overall though, the people hosting the conference didn’t invest in facilitation of the online space so it faded out – see above re: investing in facilitation as a priority 🙂 )

I reckon you can go two opposite ways with this sort of thing: either really strongly hold the space (“this is where we’ll be keeping in touch, we will be facilitating and supporting this proactively, here’s a clear invitation”), or do something very lightweight because you want the group to determine for itself how it wants to communicate (“we’ve dropped everyone into a slack/mailing list/made a contact database, and here’s a list of cool tools you might want to use for working groups that emerge from your discussions – we’ll follow up with everyone to ask how they’re going in a month”). Totally depends on the nature of the community, how much facilitation resources you have, and what outcomes you want to see.”


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