ACM CSCW hat unseren Blog Beitrag zu unserem Paper „ Stronger Together: How Neighborhood Groups Build up a Virtual Network during the COVID-19 Pandemic” veröffentlicht. Anbei der Blog-Beitrag von Steffen Haesler im Wortlaut.

This blog post summarizes our work “Stronger Together: How Neighborhood Groups Build up a Virtual Network during the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Steffen Haesler, Stefka Schmid, Annemike Vierneisel, and Christian Reuter presented at the 24th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW) that explores new forms of volunteering during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

By integrating established organizations, like a local soccer club, the network could use the soccer fan base as volunteers to distribute a flyer to the households offering help in the COVID-19 pandemic for everyone.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which happened in Germany in March 2020, we as a researchers in Crisis Informatics [1], CSCW, and HCI asked ourselves how to deal with this new, in our region unknown crisis. This did not only affect our perspective as researchers but also as citizens with regard to information gathering, learning, and following statements of virologists or government officials. Having a focus on research on Crisis volunteering [2-5] at PEASEC (Science and Technology for Peace and Security at Technical University of Darmstadt), we were interested in how volunteering would be carried out on social media under the circumstances of physical distancing and the big scope of the crisis with all citizens being affected.

For two weeks in March 2020, we observed 80 volunteering groups in five German cities and monitored their digital and analog activities, member growth, and process of institutionalization. We then chose to take a deep look into one volunteering network called “Round Table” and began to capture their activities until May 2nd by observing meetings, conducting interviews, and analyzing their Slack communication with regard to the following research questions:

RQ1: What are the motivating aims and mid-term goals of the volunteer network?

RQ2: How is both cooperation and collaboration within the network conducted and mediated through technology?

This network was interesting because it consists of both emerged groups operating digitally, such as the administrative board and social media groups, and established actors, such as a local soccer club, church, political parties’ youth organizations but also individuals. One of the founders described the goal of the Round Table as:

Well […] the aim of the Round Table is to connect helpful initiatives and organizations to ensure that aid actually reaches those in need and that overload of single initiatives or organizations can be cushioned while free capacities can be used optimally.

As a theoretical lens of theory, we relied on Activity Theory for our coding scheme and thus helped us to structure our perception of actors, their motivation, the use of tools, type of actions, or the environment they operate in along these lines.

In sum, the network was very successful. Next to emerged social media-based groups, they integrated established organizations, and had enough people who ultimately carried out digitally preorganized activities on the street. This included the distribution of a flyer or helping a disabled man to dispose an old fridge without having a long matchmaking process for seeking volunteers as they were already known. But not everything was efficient as many decisions were made under time pressure conditioned by the crisis or due to the absence of fully established routinized processes. As a core contribution of our analysis, we formulated six implications regarding civil engagement in crisis volunteering:

1) Networks should expand their abilities by integrating people’s skills as resources

With technical problems being prevalent in the beginnings of the virtual meetings, it became clear that individual skills are relevant for successful cooperation. It is crucial which technical skills are available within the group.

2) Groups should support community building

As indicated by actions determined by adaptation at the beginning of the video conferences, actors need to pay special attention to verbal performance. Especially if actors have no prior personal relationships, speech acts may determine emotional interconnectedness across the network. This may also have an impact on cooperation, as problems are presented euphemistically and less clearly defined.

3) Actors should not overlook suitable software solutions when adapting from other contexts

People use tools and processes they know from other contexts. The tools used were adapted from spheres of employment due to the feeling of time pressure and because they adopted the processes that work in other contexts to crisis volunteering. This may lead to missed opportunities using more suitable tools for crisis volunteering.

4) Groups should not orientate too much on external structures and look constantly at their needs

The network had the claim to operate for the city, but not beyond, e.g., for the county or surrounding villages; so they often looked on their work with the lens of a city official. They adopted external structures like the official city’s district mapping into Slack channels, which did not work out because they did not need to break down their activities on this micro-level. When distributing a flyer to every household in the city, they had a better approach with a topic-related channel and using a digital map. Thus, being flexible and open to having a dynamic, root-based channel creation does support aims, goals, and activities and encourages members to participate.

5) Virtual groups should consider the integration of analog or analog-virtual groups to empower their capabilities.

Social media-based groups can help to connect with users, but most of the power lies in personal and organizational networks. Yet, even if they are members of a group, users still constitute individualized actors and it may become difficult to work towards collectively formulated goals and aims. In contrast, organizational networks carry a greater potential of agency.

6) Companies should support crisis volunteering

Money is a factor and could be seen from two perspectives: First, spontaneous support groups, if not covered by an institution, have no budget which is evident not only in the choice of tools but also in discussions, e.g., about the costs of printing the flyer, where members donated personal money. As a result, they are dependent on sponsors when choosing proprietary tools or carry out actions.

Second, companies could support crisis volunteering not only by lowering financial barriers but also by implementing features to support crisis volunteering, such as better management of offerings and requests for help as Facebook did as part of their Crisis Response feature.

The full paper can be found here.

If you have questions or comments about this study, please contact Steffen Haesler (haesler[at]

Paper citation: Steffen Haesler, Stefka Schmid, Annemike Vierneisel, and Christian Reuter. 2021. Stronger Together: How Neighborhood Groups Build up a Virtual Network during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact. 5, CSCW2, Article 304 (October 2021), 31 pages.


[1] Leysia Palen and Kenneth M. Anderson. 2016. Crisis informatics — New data for extraordinary times. Science 353 (Jul.
2016), 224–225.

[2] Christian Reuter, Thomas Ludwig, Marc-André Kaufhold, Volkmar Pipek (2015)
XHELP: Design of a Cross-Platform Social-Media Application to Support Volunteer Moderators in Disasters
Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) Seoul, Korea. doi:10.1145/2702123.2702171

[3] Christian Reuter, Marc-André Kaufhold (2018)Fifteen Years of Social Media in Emergencies: A Retrospective Review and Future Directions for Crisis Informatics, Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management (JCCM) 26(1), 41–57. doi:10.1111/1468–5973.12196

[4] Christian Reuter, Marc-André Kaufhold, Thomas Spielhofer, Anna Sophie Hahne (2017)
Social Media in Emergencies: A Representative Study on Citizens‘ Perception in Germany
Proceedings of the ACM: Human Computer Interaction (PACM): Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing ;1(2):1–19. doi:10.1145/3134725

[5] Steffen Haesler, Stefka Schmid, Christian Reuter (2020)
Crisis Volunteering Nerds: Three Months After COVID-19 Hackathon #WirVsVirus
MobileHCI ’20: 22nd International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services. doi:10.1145/3406324.3424584

ACM CSCW Blog Beitrag: „How to bring online communities on the streets — A digital volunteer network in the COVID-19 pandemic with on-site volunteering integrating established civil engagement“