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Cyclical re-commitment: The importance of allowing community members to choose their roles regularly

Photo by Kamesh Vedula

In recent posts we have explored the same idea from different angles: The lives of community members are highly fluid and as a result their engagement in the community naturally fluctuates. Ideally we design for that by offering different roles that come with different depths of engagement, from stewards in leadership, to active members to observers at the periphery. If we only offer a binary option — in or out — members with little bandwidth might still commit, but feel guilty about not showing up fully. Or they might disengage now, even though this group might fit their needs in the future.

However, if we want members to choose different roles with different activity levels over time, there has to be a regular moment of re-evaluation and re-commitment. How do we do that?

One option is to leave it up to the member to decide.

The member might think: “I realize that my context has changed and that it affects how I show up in this group. I’m ready to step into a different way of engaging with this group”. I find that rather unlikely. When we go through moments of change, our priority isn’t usually to consider how this will affect my engagement in the communities I’m part of (unless they playΩ a very central role).

Instead, re-commitment should be integrated into the design of the member journey.

It should be a natural and recurring part of what it means to be a member. Once a year, or once a quarter, or once a decade — whatever time frame fits your group — every member is asked the same question at the same time: What role fits your current needs and what are you committing to for this upcoming time period?

This can beautifully be turned into a ritual.

Maybe there is a ceremony to close the old year and to open the new year. A re-commitment gathering. Maybe we say thank you to the people who are stepping out of leadership roles and we welcome people who now are stepping up. The moment of recommitment is also a natural time to call-in membership fees (where different levels of commitment come with different fees).

This provides clarity for community leadership

We know whom to focus on and whom to support. We know who really wants to be in this and who doesn’t. And we can gently let go of the people who are done. I know so many groups with large parts of their membership who are totally checked out. Many might not even read your emails anymore. With some you might not even have an up-to-date email address. What if once a year you cleared house?

But: This isn’t easy to operationalize

That’s the theory. In practice I have found that many groups struggle with implementing the logistics of this. Reaching out to every group member and asking them to renew their commitment needs resources and tools: How do members communicate their new roles? What’s the process for people who then choose to step out? What happens when people don’t answer to this request?

I sense it’s harder to implement a regular re-commitment for groups that are older and larger than 50 people. Ideally it’s clearly communicated already as part of the onboarding journey, but for many groups that ship has sailed. As new community tools are being developed in the web 3.0 space, I hope this dynamic of re-commitment will be built in.

How does this concept of cyclical recommitment resonate with you?

Have you seen successful examples or do you struggle with this? We’d love to learn from your own experience. Thank you for leaving a comment.

This post was created in community and is part of a bigger project.

We are working on a next version of an open-sourced community weaving framework. This post is part of it and has been shaped by the many conversations with Michel Bachmann, Erin Dixon, Sita Magnusson and the many community weavers who were part of our learning journeys.

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Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help people and organizations weave thriving communities. Here is where we share what we learn and think about. https://www.together-institute.org/

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Fabian Pfortmüller

Fabian Pfortmüller

Grüezi, Swiss community builder in Amsterdam, author of @CommunityCanvas, co-founder Together Institute, fabian@together-institute.org | together-institute.org

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