Creating a community

We all know that the UK population voted on its view of community on Thursday, about which I am not going to comment, except for noting that whatever the size of 'community', there are certain things that identify a group of people as being a community:

  • Feelings of membership: feelings of belonging to, and identifying with, the community.
  • Feelings of influence: feelings of having influence on, and being influenced by, the community.
  • Integration and fulfilment of needs: feelings of being supported by others in the community while also supporting them.
  • Shared emotional connection: feelings of relationships, shared history, and a "spirit" of community.

But as two people contacted me last week with questions about 'community' I thought I'd be topical – and give them a response. They asked:

  • 'What I am looking for is anything that would stimulate the debate about is there a transformation leadership community, if there is who are they and what distinguishes them as a community and how do we create that?'
  • 'We are keen to start a conversation with the wider organisation design community about next steps in building our community and developing our collective capacity – can you give us your views on this?'

What struck me about the two requests I got were the statements about 'stimulate the debate' and 'start a conversation' about creating/building a community around a specific interest or identity – in these cases 'transformation leadership' and 'organisation design'.

There seemed to be an implied assumption that a 'community' is a good thing and that one can be created or constructed, which, I think, are assumptions worth testing. My experience is that to create a community involves energy, enthusiasm, commitment from a 'prime-mover', time, money, leadership and organisation. In an organisation that is jockeying for resources you'd have to show that the effort of creating and maintaining the community was adding some type of value. I've found they need a lot of support and co-ordination to set up and run successfully.

If you want to create an organisational community of interest or identity, the professional field of community organising is one to look at and learn from. Trained community organisers tend to take the view that the task is one of 'engaging' people in supporting something specific e.g. creating a community garden and they have a number of tools and techniques for generating that engagement.

Take a look at the community planning toolkit guide on Community Engagement. And for ideas on engaging an on-line community Bang the Table has 100 in downloadable format.

There also a Scottish National Standard for Community Engagement that can stimulate ideas and gives pointers that would be useful for anyone in an organisation hoping to create a community of interest.

What are your experiences of creating a community of interest? Have you got tips to share? Let me know.