I’ve been reflecting recently on a couple of communities that I’ve been part of for almost a year. They’ve both become such a big part of my daily life that I struggle to remember a time before I joined them. There are few places, like these, where I’ve felt truly among my people. They feel safe, open, and the people there are generous and supportive.
I started to think about what they have in common and what about them is different. I came up with two lists…
- a single leader/creator plus a handful of volunteer hosts from within the community
- a clearly defined, and communicated, purpose
- a private space to meet
- a self-selecting and open membership with new people joining all the time
- a combination of active participants, occasional visitors, observers and dormant members
- one is work focused, the other personal
- one started out only meeting for live sessions, the other is asynchronous
- one has a small membership, the other large
This activity got me a long way towards figuring out some answers to my two initial questions:
- What defines a community?
- Can you create community and if so what conditions are needed?
I also did some reading around these questions, leaning heavily into Julian Stodd’s writing on community and landed on this definition:
‘Community’ is a term to describe our various structures of social connection, and comes in many flavours: some Communities are formal and established with codified rules and clear leadership structures, whilst others (most in fact) are socially defined, and lack either written rules, or a hierarchy (although they are governed by rules, socially held, and leadership, held beyond a hierarchy).Landmarks of the Social Age #3 – Community by @julianstodd
I feel like both communities I belong to lean towards the latter. There are leaders and rules, and in both cases, these are informal and upheld by the membership.
Another post of Stodd’s I came across is this list of questions about belonging. There are a couple that particularly stood out to me as the next threads to pull in relation to my curiosity about communities:
- Must you contribute to truly belong, or is it ok to simply sit, or consume?
- Do you always belong with the same ‘self’, or do you curate a different self in different spaces?
- Do you need permission to belong? (And a related question of my own: What are the barriers to belonging?)
As you can see I’m still very much at the beginning of my thinking and in a space where as I start to find answers to some questions, more arise.
I’m really keen to hear any thoughts you have on this topic. What communities are you part of? And what does your experience in them tell you about the nature of community itself?