This is the second post in a series on community building.

The following is a “laundry list” of recommendations Community Developers should consider in the creation of their social community.logostacked

Adopt a paradigm that views the community construction process as one of co-design that compliments and enhances your organization’s mission and values.

As you make decisions about the openness of your community, the empowerment of roles, and the creation of categories, artifacts, and discussion topics make sure you do so with the organizational mission and vision in mind. For example, my previous school district’s mission is: The Virginia Beach City Public Schools, in partnership with the entire community, will empower every student to become a life-long learner who is a responsible, productive and engaged citizen within the global community. If I was developing an online learning environment for VBCPS I would want to make it open enough that students could engage with a global community. I would embed digital citizenship pieces that enabled kids to be responsible and productive members of a global environment.

Create an emergent, evolving co-design with the collaboration of your intended members in developing a shared vision, community niche, and ongoing feedback loop on ways to improve design and usability.
Once you have your design, tools, platform and have made some decisions about protocols and norms for community interaction you will want to make sure that it is a loose enough design to allow for a collaborative redesign as your members join you and weigh in with their ideas. While you will design with your organizational mission and vision guiding you, it is the co-creation of the shared vision and mission of the community that will move the organization forward through your community involvement.

Utilization of a loose governance through light leadership roles in the initial launch, such as, community organizer, expert voice/subject matter expert, cognitive coaches, moderator/facilitator, help desk or support. Then build to an evolving leadership pattern that focuses on self-directed learning and self-governance.
People like organization, especially when the content is new or the environment is out of their comfort zone. In the beginning you will want to have a loose governance that will allow for ease of launch and comfort of experience. However, as your members become comfortable and experienced with connecting and collaborating in your community space, you will want to let go of some of your predetermined constructs and adapt and evolve based on the needs and strengths of your community members. Don’t build a rigid design and governance that doesn’t allow for active member involvement and leadership. Participants want to find value add in your community space. That means they will need you to create opportunities for buy-in and co-ownership.

Careful selection of a community organizer who should have passion, vision, enthusiasm, a clear understanding of professional practice, who is visionary and must not be afraid of innovation or changes
The community leader or organizer can make or break the success of your community. This person needs a well established digital footprint, a discernible online voice, and a personality that pulls people in to conversations. They need to be genuine, a good facilitator, and able to make inferences in what is not being said, as well as what is being said in what they read. This person needs to be able to multi-task, understand that deep relationships can be developed in online spaces and they need to be a great question asker. Community leaders share content but more importantly they pull content from others. A community leader needs to be able to make their members visible, while making themselves less visible. They need to understand how to celebrate small accomplishments and how to feel comfortable using social media while sharing and reflecting transparently. Your community leader needs to be adept at leading and learning online.

Creation of profile customization, identity tools, subgroup areas and activities to build trust and sense of community
One of the first things you will want to do in your community space is to build trust. In a face to face environment there are multiple cues – facial expressions, body language, voice intonation, and quantity of interactions that help trust develop naturally over time. In online spaces it is through the development of profiles, identity tools and forum discussions created specifically for building a sense of community that trust develops.

Creation of a tool set that should enable like-minded individuals to form subgroups around shared goals and interests
The missing ingredients in most community building applications and platforms are the tools needed to co-construct knowledge beyond simple threaded discussions and conversations. Community building tools should provide opportunities for the co-development of white papers, videos, documentaries, web spaces, and such. It is through the co-creation of content that community develops and is sustained.

Tools not rules – When possible use tools to help members self-govern
While communities need some guidelines and norms to help guide use, it makes much more sense to use tools to help members self-govern and self-direct their learning activities. Engaged, active community members who can intuitively understand what to do in various spaces of your community are much more apt to find value and be creative than those who are stifled with rules for determing where they go and what they can do inside your learning space.

Inclusion of expert voices with name recognition that will bring newcomers and experienced community members together to share and learn from each other
One of the strengths of PLP is the name recognition our guests, coaches, experienced voices, and community leaders bring with them. The excitement of collaborating with such thought filled leaders creates a desire to participate within the community. Invite lots of recognized names to participate in your activities and empower them to lead or create while they are with you.

Initiate regular content around relevant provocative issues and help members develop a sense of ownership

If you are sharing content that your members find relevant and they are empowered to share content then everyone’s needs get met. If all content sharing is left up to you then chances are someone will not find value. It is when everyone is sharing and everyone is deciding where and what they will read, do, or reflect upon that the real action and learning in a community takes place. Model yourself out of a job. Make things easy for natural leaders to emerge. Figure out the strengths and talents of your community members and then give them a title that empowers them to do that role well. For example, if you find someone who is always nurturing and explaining things to newbies – then give them a title that puts them in charge of that role. Empower them to find others to help them carry out that role as well. Let them figure out what really works and what doesn’t as they define the role. Learn from their strengths.

I hope you are finding what I am sharing as useful in the development and leading of your online communities. I also hope you will add your laundry list additions in the comments section below. This series will only be as good as we are collectively sharing. Questions? Comments? Ideas? Resources? I am ready to learn with and from you.

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During a 25-year education career, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach has been a classroom teacher, technology coach, charter school principal, district administrator, university instructor and digital learning consultant. Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice, where she works with schools and districts from around the world to re-envision their learning cultures and communities through the Connected Learner Experience and other e-learning opportunities. She is the author (with Lani Ritter Hall) of The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age (Solution Tree, 2012) and serves on the ISTE Board of Directors.
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