It all started in January. I was in the middle of a trip around the world, in part to meet with other community leaders. From these conversations, it was clear that the tide was beginning to turn from mass social media to more intimate and trusted means of connection. It was also clear that the current methods, platforms, and best practices for building communities weren’t fully serving us.
I didn’t know what 2020 had in store for the world, but it felt like change was in the air — which turned out to be quite literal.
In March, the COVID-19 pandemic brought life in the US to a screeching halt, and the world began an immediate mass adoption of digital collaboration technologies as millions were ordered to shelter in place.
Making Sense, Together
To help make sense of this (and to reduce the effects of my own isolation), I started hosting an open session for community leaders and facilitators on Mondays at 9 am. Some weeks there was a specific topic to focus on; other weeks, folks just needed to connect with the group as a proxy for the camaraderie and serendipity of in-person connections they were missing.
I wanted to attract people who were interested in the conversation and comfortable with an emergent structure, so I made the decision not to invite anyone explicitly, but rather, to offer up the invitation and see who showed up — attraction rather than promotion.
Out of these weekly sessions emerged a small working group that was interested in collaborating on a new approach to developing communities.
I proposed exploring the idea of a Co-op and sketched out a simple purpose and vision statement in a google doc:
Core Purpose: To gather a network of experienced community builders and network facilitators to support each other in personal, professional, and business growth.
Vision: To grow from a core group to create a federated and non-hierarchical cooperative for furthering modern, diverse, value-creating, and uncompromised practices for community development, free from the bias of software platforms, analyst firms (and other “thought leadership”), and self-interested institutions and individuals.
I shared the doc with the group, and we quickly begin brainstorming values, focus areas, and possible projects.
Towards Better Communities
Out of this came a desire to articulate our collective point of view on the largely missed (or misunderstood) opportunity for developing online communities as a core part of an organization’s efforts.
This is the first in a series of planned efforts by the Co-op to do our part to help shape a bigger and better future for virtual communities around the world.
- The current conventional wisdom of building healthy, inclusive, and value-producing communities and networks has largely failed us. This work has come into being because the world needs it now more than ever;
- We want to push past the limitations imposed by current best practice and platform limitations;
- We want to honor, and build upon the work of original thinkers who have helped lead us to this moment;
- Our working group is composed of experienced strategists, researchers, writers, and technologists. Communities aren’t a “bandwagon” issue for us — they are our vocation;
- We want to collaborate with others who are pushing community-building methods and technologies forward with intention and integrity.
From Moment to Movement
It’s true that “community” is having a moment. To create meaningful change -to have this moment turn into a sustained movement -we, as community builders, also need to change. We need to change our mindset from one of scarcity to abundance. We must develop the wisdom to see which current practices are holding us back, and the compassion to ensure all community stakeholders feel they belong in the communities we help build. We must have the courage to break from “best practice” to develop communities guided by the collective purpose members wish to take action towards.
In short, we need better communities.
My colleagues on the project are also offering their personal takes on the Better Communities vision, values and work.
What More Can We Do? Build Better Communities - Brian Pagels
It’s time for better communities - Venessa Paech
If you would like to learn more about our working Co-op, or have questions about Better Communities, please feel free to send me a note.