Just as a quick hit and food for thought: in a recent e-mail exchange with WASH colleagues regarding online participation, I came to realize that it would be great to have some sort of (transferable) WASH karma for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) experts.
I have a friend who is an expert in the open-source server-side scripting language PHP. Being a programmer by profession, he often contributes to Stackoverflow.com – a Q&A site for IT people. Questions and answers are rated and get voted up and down. His karma or online reputation is based on the quality of his answers. There is a direct relation between his expert knowledge, his willigness to share it with others, the resulting karma / online reputation and new contracts. Because, hey, wouldn’t you want to hire experts only? Right.
An unrelated, but still interesting photo to attract the reader’s visual attention: Microthrix Parvicella, a family of bacteria the author of this blog encountered while working on a waste water treatment plant back in the days.
The International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) is currently also prototyping a website (under the interim name “Knowledge Point”) that is based around the same software that powers Stackoverflow (StackExchange). I support this cause and believe that it will be great.
I have been thinking about the forum of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance and other interactive websites that facilitate the exchange of expert knowledge online. As far as I see it, there are at least two main criteria that play a role when it comes to engaging experts in online conversations:
Motivation: Why should I contribute my knowledge/expertise to a forum/website/group? Can I do this during office hours? What if my competitors read up on my entries and copy from me? Will I get paid?
Sustainability: Why should I keep on repeating myself online? I have already shared this knowledge/expertise in a publication. Forum ABC has similar content like forum XYZ – where will I be active? Can I import my previous posts on another forum? Can I keep my aggregated karma points? What happens to my posts when the site goes down?
There may be even more criteria that limit the interaction of experts online and this list certainly isn’t complete. It may be against this background though that many contributors probably come from the scientific sector, less from the practitioner’s or (sanitation as a) business side.
WASH karma score
So in comes the idea of a transferable WASH karma / online reputation score. Something similar to the Klout score that measures the social media influence. But while Klout is based on an unknown algorithm, the proposed WASH karma score would be open and transferable: the better your answers and interactions, the higher your ranking. Quality instead of quantity (because that’s a well-known downside with Klout). And transferable with an application programming interface (API) – similar to the “Gravatar” avatar/profile pic icons you see that come along with comments. An independent site that keeps track of your contributed WASH expertise online – so that YOU as a contributor won’t have to worry about double efforts.
Everything counts, there is no single resource online, not the one-and-only-forum that has the magic solution. Small sites, comment threads on blog posts, locked Ning networks, LinkedIn/Xing groups, Twitter, Google+, FB, YouTube, etc. – all of them matter. People who contribute to such platforms online will do so for various reasons. Their knowledge is shared via a variety of channels, but they still are individuals who often have the desire to get credit for their various activities. A specified online reputation score for the WASH sector that will come along like a Gravatar image could probably contribute to that desire.
What do you think – would it be an improvement to have such a karma score for the WASH sector?