Why are online Collaboration Forums effective for engaging stakeholders?

The final blog in our series on stakeholder engagement (part 1 | part 2) looks at the psychosocial factors that underlie group brain storming, and why collaborative forums are emerging as an effective tool for business.
We know that collaboration between individuals is particularly effective when attempting to generate unique and constructive solutions to problems. Group brainstorming has been shown to produce more high quality and relevant ideas compared to individual efforts1, 2. Exposure to others’ ideas has been shown to stimulate idea generation3 and innovative thinking, allowing individuals to link and expand their own ideas onto the ideas, experiences, and knowledge of others4. The result is an experience of a “collective brain”, where all members of the collaboration are thinking and functioning in synchrony. However not all forms of collaboration produce equivalent results. Face-to-face brainstorming is effective but certain social and psychological obstacles can impede the collaborative process – such as evaluation apprehension (the fear of being judged by others) and production blocking (group members take turns to express their ideas).
Online collaborative forums eliminate the psychosocial impediments that can arise from face-to-face collaboration5 by providing an interactive platform for people around the world to engage and discuss important issues. Relative to traditional face-to-face collaboration, electronic brainstorming has been shown to facilitate greater communication, creativity and performance on problem solving tasks6, 7, while promoting a higher level of satisfaction in group members.
GlobeScan has found that online collaboration forums are powerful tools for companies and organizations. We can bring together dispersed groups of leading experts and stakeholders to tackle industry-related issues, to bolster the development of constructive and relevant solutions in a real-time collaborative space. These online platforms allow us to retrospectively scan through commentary, isolate ideas, and further develop solutions that reflect the perspectives of stakeholders, and on a broader scale, the perspectives of society as a whole. For a more quantitative approach, GlobeScan also applies discourse analyses and statistical modelling to help isolate the most important issues that arise in the discussions and the favoured solutions for each of these issues. This method can also be applied as a “segment analysis” to compare the discourse of particular stakeholder groups and identify favoured solutions across different populations of interest. The forums can also be used to solve organization-specific problems, allowing employees to engage with one another and discuss topics in a collaborative environment.
Collaboration forums capitalize on the creative power of group brainstorming. The result is an informative discourse that illuminates important issues and bolsters creative solutions, allowing organizations to better align with their stakeholders, industry experts, the general public, and even their own employees.

1 Stroebe, W., Nijstad, B. A., & Rietzschel, E. F. (2010). Beyond productivity loss in brainstorming groups: The evolution of a question. Advances of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 158–210.
2 Ziegler, R., Diehl, M., & Zijlstra, G. (2000). Idea production in nominal and virtual groups: Does computer-mediated communication improve group brainstorming? Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 3, 141–158.
3 Nijstad, B. A., & Stroebe, W. (2006). How the group affects the mind: A cognitive model of idea generation in groups. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 186–213.
4 Osborn, A. F. (1957). Applied imagination (1st edn.). New York: Scribner
5 Valacich, J. S., Dennis, A. R., & Connolly, T. (1994). Idea generation in computer-based groups: A new ending for an old story. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 57, 448–467
6 Lubart, T. (2005). How can computers be partners in the creative process. International Journal of Human–Computer Studies, 63, 365–369
7 Dennis, A. R., & Williams, M. L. (2005). A meta-analysis of group size effects in electronic brainstorming. International Journal of eCollaboration, 1, 24–42.

Part 1: Why does stakeholder engagement matter?

Part 2: What is the future of stakeholder engagement?

This post was written by former GlobeScan Senior Research Analyst, Dr. Melaina Vinski.