Compendium 3.1 COPIE networking tools

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EQUAL COMPENDIUM ON INCLUSIVE ENTREPRENEURSHIP

3.1 COPIE – The community of practice in inclusive entrepreneurship

It is one of the successes of the EQUAL programme that the principle of transnationality has been mainstreamed into the European Social Fund as a whole – in other words transnational action is now possible in all the ESF’s activities. Of the 117 operational programmes in the 22001-2013 programming period, 42 have a dedicated priority for transnational work, while the remainder have included transnationality across all priorities.

In order to support transnational work, a series of communities of practice – learning networks – have been set up. Etienne Wenger defines a community of practice as: “a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems or a passion about a topic and who deepen their knowledge and expertise by interacting on a ongoing basis.”

To support these communities, several online platforms have been set up, notably http://www.transnationality.eu, which aims to:

  • exchange practice and experience in designing, administering and monitoring transnational experience
  • establish and manage an online platform to facilitate discussion and exchange of information
  • contribute to the development of the necessary skills and to building institutional capacity to effectively promote and benefit from transnational exchange
  • facilitate the development of suitable tools and procedures to make transnational co-operation work

COPIE – the Community of Practice in Inclusive Entrepreneurship – was set up in 2006 with four founder partners – Germany, Flanders, Spain, Portugal and Wales – with France, Wallonia, the Netherlands and Greece also taking part. COPIE has developed three online tools to support its collaboration.

Contents

The COPIE benchmarking tool

The COPIE benchmarking tool at http://copie.esflive.eu allows regions to assess and compare their performance in promoting inclusive entrepreneurship.

The benchmarking process takes a 360-degree approach, taking the stakeholders systematically through an analysis of enterprise support in their region, sub-region or city. This allows them to identify the main gaps or challenges to the support system for entrepreneurship in the four main themes identified by EQUAL, from the point of view of specific groups. Policy challenges are identified from the scoring process.

The tool takes into account the opinions of four stakeholder groups: experts, policy-makers, business advisers and entrepreneurs. It examines the situation that seven groups of potential entrepreneurs find themselves in: unemployed people, women, migrants and ethnic minorities, over-50s, under-30s, people with disabilities and social enterprises.

It works in the form of a questionnaire, which is quick to fill in – it takes about 15–30 minutes – and the process is enjoyable and engages the stakeholders. It comprises ranking on a scale from 1 to 5 a set of 30 or so statements such as “businesses are regularly involved in school activities” or “entrepreneurs can easily access the mainstream business networks (Chambers etc.). The results are summarised in an easy-to-understand ’traffic light’ matrix, which shows green for aspects that are good, yellow for average and red where things are bad. The whole appraisal can be done in less than six weeks.

The “traffic light” matrix shows out the main challenges to entrepreneurship from the point of view of disadvantaged groups. Armed with these pointers, users can click on the matrix to look up good practices developed elsewhere to meet similar challenges, in the four areas of culture and conditions, start-up support and training, consolidation and growth and access to appropriate finance. Finally, participants can bring both elements together to design an action plan or strategy for inclusive entrepreneurship period.

The tool has been piloted in eleven regions – Wales; Berlin Mitte, Brandenburg and Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany; Asturias, Andalusia and Extremadura in Spain; Flanders, Ireland, Lisbon and Ustecky in the Czech Republic. The UK (Pendle and Northamptonshire) and Italy (Veneto and Turin) are in the pipeline. The aim is to expand the community of practice to include all those Member States and Regions that are interested in working on such action plans in the future round of the Structural Funds.

The COPIE social networking site

A study was made of various social networking websites of differing complexity, such as del.icio.us, Facebook and Second Life. It was concluded that a tool of this type would be a useful support to networking within COPIE, the Community of Practice in Inclusive Entrepreneurship.

A site at http://inclusiveentrepreneurship.ning.com offers an online forum for each country involved in COPIE, as well as space for sharing photographs and videos of joint activities.

The Wikipreneurship wiki

The third online tool is a wiki, at http://www.wikipreneurship.eu.

Background

In less than a decade, the World Wide Web has become an essential tool for accessing, storing, disseminating and discussing information. Many organisations and projects – including EQUAL at European level – now use it as their principal dissemination medium, in preference to paper. At international level, it is now arguably the single most effective medium for spreading ideas in the world.

The first wave of websites took as its model the other existing media such as newspapers and then gradually, as bandwidths increased and the technical capacity for video became wide-spread, film. Interactivity was typically limited to searching for data in centrally compiled data-bases. The current wave, dubbed ‘Web 2.0’, extends the capacity for interactivity one step further by making not just the output but the content interactive – it is the users who create the content. This functionality has been expressed in a range of services that have been labelled “social networking”. These include online sharing of web bookmarks (e.g. del.icio.us), photographs (e.g. Picassa, Flickr), videos (e.g. YouTube), music (various peer-to-peer networks) and personal information of all sorts (e.g. MySpace, Facebook, Bebo).

It has also been applied to collaboratively compile online information sources, chief among which is Wikipedia. The communally edited online encyclopaedia Wikipedia was started in 2001 and now contains over 10 million articles in 253 languages. The English language version alone, which accounts for 55% of the encyclopaedia’s usage, has grown to over 2.1 million articles. Nowadays, most people are finding that a Wikipedia articles comes up near the top of a growing number of Google searches. As a leading market research company reports:

36% of online American adults consult Wikipedia. It is particularly popular with the well-educated and current college-age students. On a typical day in the winter of 2007, 8% of online Americans consulted Wikipedia.

To many people, it seems unlikely that an anarchic openly accessible jointly and anonymously compiled resource can be reliable, but a study of the English Wikipedia carried out by Nature shows that it is indeed as reliable as the Encyclopaedia Britannica.[1] Similarly, a comparison of the German Wikipedia by Stern rated it superior to Brockhaus. In fact being present on Wikipedia is coming to be seen as indispensable – certainly as evidence of a person’s notability and almost as evidence of something’s existence.

Wikipedia is the most famous wiki, but not the only one. A wiki is simply a shared online workspace which, taking the example of the MediaWiki software used by Wikipedia, provides:

  • editing rights for a closed or open group of people
  • hyperlinking among articles, and linking to banks of non-copyrighted images and other resources, throughout the world wide web
  • the facility to index articles hierarchically by allocating them categories or ‘tags’
  • a tracking function that maintains a history of all changes made, enabling vandalism to be undone
  • a talk page attached to each articles on which editors can discuss and squabble over content
  • watch lists that make it easy to keep an eye on your favourite articles
  • an arbitration system

Piloting

Towards the end of 2007 the use of ‘Web 2.0’ technologies to promote inclusive and social entrepreneurship was investigated. A number of EQUAL case studies on entrepreneurship were reformatted and uploaded onto two platforms – a dedicated wiki (the now defunct wiki.coop) and Wikipedia. The different problems that arose are discussed and conclusions are drawn.

It was found that:

  • several EQUAL projects are already using Wikipedia
  • there are significant barriers to its broad adoption
  • effort is required to stimulate interactivity
  • the logic of creating and publishing EQUAL results is in conflict with the encyclopaedic nature of Wikipedia.

It was therefore recommended that the results of EQUAL’s work should be promulgated through two channels:

  • a dedicated wiki should be set up to carry the bulk of the information. This should be structured so that messages and lessons (e.g. policy briefs) are hyperlinked to the underlying evidence (e.g. case studies on projects and products) and to explanatory articles (e.g. on the EQUAL principles);
  • a user community should be animated which will continuously update the evidence base (a community of practice);

For wider dissemination, a smaller number of Wikipedia articles should be created over time, and these should be of a neutral, encyclopaedic nature so as to comply with Wikipedia guidelines.

[1] Nature 438, 900-901 (15 December 2005). See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia

Wikipreneurship.eu

Wikipreneurship (http://www.wikipreneurship.eu) is a knowledge base on inclusive and social entrepreneurship. It uses the same familiar MediaWiki software as Wikipedia. It is accumulating and structuring wisdom, evidence, conceptual definitions and project case studies covering the whole area of co-operative development, local development, local employment initiatives, black and ethnic minority business, social enterprise, microcredit and so on.

The wiki was launched in February 2008 and now has over 700 articles, many – but not all – deriving from EQUAL’s work. Its aim is to capitalise on the learning that EQUAL has enabled, by building a real-time knowledge base that everyone can keep up-to-date. For instance the people running projects or social enterprises can update their own case studies – as can external evaluators, funders or other stakeholders. Individual projects can use the wiki as a platform for collaboration too.

Indexing in the wiki is very flexible and can be updated very easily to reflect changing policy interests. Each article can have assigned to it any number of ‘categories’. These allow organisation by type of article – news, project, product etc. – subject – microfinance, social enterprise, local development etc. – location – countries and regions – and by relation with the entrepreneurial ladder into social inclusion. The front page is laid out to give one-click access to the major categories, and new ‘tags’ can be allocated at any time.

The wiki is multilingual. In fact most of the content is on English, but there are articles in German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch and Swedish, and several articles are in multiple language versions. It can contain not only text articles, but also photographs, PDF documents and other resources.

Wikipreneurship is open to anyone – although after some initial vandalism, users must register a user name before they can create or amend articles.


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