Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Community! Don't talk to me about community!

I don’t like the word community?  
Community is an overused under thought term. It means so many different things to so many people. yet people consistently use it in a narrow definition in relation to building a cluster to do something. Far better to think of networks of self identified individuals, or organisations clustered around an issue. Generally speaking they're there because of passion, vested interest or dissent. For example people who live in a village might consider their community as location based. Whereas Harley Davidson owners identify their community as worldwide. usually they have time on their hands. Organisations get on board because they have a vested interest.

If not community, how do things get done? 
I believe people cluster around issues, form projects and help tackle them. This could be in a place, or virtual. People with relevant skills or passions will come on board, but only as and when required. They dip in and out when they feel they can best contribute. They don't want to be part of any structure or organisation. When their part is over or the project delivered they will move on in favour of other things.

This is not a cynical view. I think it's a model way of working, crowdsourcing solutions to issues. It holds people's attention better than asking them to lock into any forum or club or community! It allows them to stay while they have the energy and walk when they've had enough. It is the best possible use of individual and organisational time. And it taps into Clay Shirky's notion of cognitive surplus.

What's the problem with community building?
Part of me dies when people say they are going to build a 'community' to do something. Experience has taught me that no one can purposely build a community.  So many times I've seen the 'build it and they will come mentality' often but not exclusively in the public sector, It doesn't work! People will only cluster when they have interest, passion for or feel strongly about something. Even then it takes considerable effort and time to get things done.

Can you encourage clusters to form?
Yes! The positive news is I believe you can encourage people to cluster around a topic. And there are conditions which can help this happen.

For face to face clusters these are my experiences (in no specific order):

  • venue must have a nice working environment with all the kit readily available
  • less faffing the better
  • venue should be consistent, as should time and hosts
  • welcoming supportive hosts/facilitators are a must
  • venue should be well managed
  • ground rules set from the start
  • plan meet ups but be adaptable
  • everyone should be supportive
  • encourage ideas 
  • social links beyond the cluster help
  • focus on doing things split up the tasks to willing people
  • each cluster member should have the opportunity to pitch their thoughts or ideas, one each time perhaps. this mitigates against soapboxing
  • members are equal even if they represent an organisation
  • people should be open and honest about who they represent
  • organisations should not dominate
  • no pressure to attend, as and when, participation levels vary
  • time out space should be available 
  • protect personal data unless otherwise agreed
  • use social media to keep people up to date, but not exclusively
  • ask for meet up feedback at the end of each session use this data to decide whether to continue
  • have a clear start and finish, either a date or a landmark
Don't come to me and talk about a community, come and talk about ideas and challenges and projects to address them! I'm expecting challenge on this so discuss...
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