A while back, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Maxime Rouve, the Project Manager at Collectivity. In this post we are going to take a deeper look at how Collectivity, Naturaily’s client, improves the lives of African people by allowing experts to share their opinions on certain collaborative projects.

  • Could you describe what Collectivity is about and what it does?

Answer: Collectivity is a platform where professionals active in the Global Health or International Cooperation sectors are invited to dedicate time to discussion groups or projects. One of our main principles is that we encourage people to contribute to activities in voluntary basis.

Collectivity is a platform where an expert can join, talk and eventually contribute to activities.

  • Could you briefly tell us the evolution of Collectivity since its launch?

Answer: We publicly released Collectivity in November 2016. At that time there were 60 registered users, who were our beta testers, colleagues and friends. Today, more than 2400 users created an account. Hundreds of them have already been actively involved in one of the activities published on the platform.

As we build Collectivity in an iterative way, new features are regularly added. Since September 2017, it is possible to create or join discussion groups on the platform. So far, around 500 people joined at least one of the 10 “Communities” hosted on Collectivity.

  • What were you doing to promote the platform? How did you manage to gain users?

Answer: Before Collectivity, we managed Google Groups with thousands of users for several years. We communicated about the new platform in our Google Groups. We also presented the project on the occasion of several Global Health events. Our unit has a strong network - it is recognized and can have an influence in fields such as health financing or health policies in developing countries.

When it is relevant, we always integrate Collectivity in calls for proposals: the platform became a tool that we are using and we encourage our partners to use.

We are not actively contacting people anymore, new users generally join through word of mouth now. Some activities or communities have been launched by teams working for recognized institutions, like World Health Organization or Unicef. The fact those major actors of our sector agreed to test Collectivity helped us to reach people that initially were out of our network.

  • What was the development process of the platform like?

Answer: The project was initially funded by NORAD, the Norwegian agency for development cooperation.

The two main partners of the project were ITM – in charge of bringing its experience in knowledge management and documenting the process, and “BlueSquare” – a Belgian technological company. After the first year and half, “Naturaily” has been identified to perform the development of the platform.

Learn more about the project. Read Collectivity case study

Collectivity was developed from scratch, starting with a Minimal Viable Product developed from our identified needs. In 2018 we still regularly add features, doing our best to understand and conciliate what our members want, what our partners want, and what we want.

  • What were the challenges in the early stages of Collectivity? What are the main challenges now?

Answer: Our team was not used to work with ‘Agile’ or ‘Scrum’ methodologies. So the first challenge for the team was to learn the startup meta, to work on a business plan, to work in a different process, by fast learning circles - we learnt actually to change our patterns, to be more flexible.

One of the initial challenges was to communicate efficiently with the devs (“why are you asking me “users stories”, I wrote you a 10 pages Word doc!”). But past the early stages, it is now going smoothly and naturally… but maybe better to ask them?

As a non-scientific (sensu stricto) project living in a temple of academic research, it is sometimes still a challenge to make people around us understand what we are trying to do, and why; To encourage a vision of what really means ‘having an impact’, beyond the sacrosanct academic concept of ‘impact factor’ – the number of people that are likely to read the scientific journal where you published the article that took you two years of hard work to produce, and that will finally be downloaded 10 times max in total and will never be of any use in the real World. Bitter, me? Maybe a little bit! But sometimes it’s so frustrating to see so many brilliant minds not trying to have more impact… what could be done by interacting more with others (policy makers, field workers, experts in different disciplines).

Challenges for the future:

There are 2 main challenges for the future. The first one is to make the platform viable and the second one is to convince institutions to join the platform on a more regular basis.

  • So you have plans for monetizing system?

Answer: It’s not yet sure because, let’s say, we are currently inside ITM, we are funded by public money of Norway.

We will see, but if we want to have Collectivity still alive after the time of the project, we obviously need to think about the way to make it a viable. A solution can be to create some strategic value for big institutions or NGO’s.

  • What Does Success Look Like for Collectivity?

Answer: Collectivity will be successful if it will continue to attract people, if it will continue to attract active people. We will be very successful if we manage to have a sufficient pipeline of activities, and activities that produce a concrete impact.

Eventually, the ultimate success for Collectivity could be to grow out of the “Global Health” sector of activity. We are around 2500 people, around 600 users actively contributed in various activities.

  • What’s the current growth like? What are your plans for the future of Collectivity?

Answer: We are around 2000 people, around 300 users contributed in various activities, we are around 900-1000 people who completed a profile, it is a first sign of an activity for us. 2000 registered and 300 who really contributed last year.

We have people from 90 different countries, with a significant part of them from developing countries, Africa in particular. Our first members were generally academics, researchers, active in the Health Financing sector… Now we have more and more profile diversity, with people working in health ministry to NGO’s field workers active in the Community Health sector… It’s what we are aiming for - to create the conditions allowing a better exchange of expertise around the world.

  • Who is your biggest competitor? Are there any other solutions similar to yours? How does Collectivity stand out?

Answer: Today, the importance of Knowledge Management – and in particular knowledge sharing, is getting more and more acknowledged in our sector of activities. All big institutions are launching knowledge management initiatives. But changing old patterns takes time, and it’s where I think we are good: our team already have nearly a decade of experience and focuses from the very beginning on giving more visibility to experts “from the South”.

So far, I think we are good at mobilizing and reaching these people because we’ve worked with them for years. There are several of the initiatives, launched by big international actors that may have in theory more chance of success. In practices, often no one joins their platform and contribute actively. So far, what makes the difference is that we have maybe more ‘legitimacy’, and clearly more experience than a lot of other initiatives.

  • What are your plans for the future?

Answer: We have several ideas of new features to improve Collectivity. Maybe a little too much actually!

The coming months will be a very exciting phase for our platform : as the project is now over, Collectivity needs to ‘exit’ from the ITM. We are now working on the next steps: integrating the platform in a new legal entity. But that’s is another subject!




Make sure to take a look at Collectivity here - https://www.thecollectivity.org/

Want to learn more about this project? Read Collectivity case study!