Today, we’ll cover some of the basic principles and operating models for community-driven engagement and I’ll walk through a few examples of community-driven engagement in action. I’ll try my best to save time at the end for some discussion and q/a but you can ask questions or share a comment at any time.
Let’s start out with some common language and define some of the terms that will come up most in this conversation.
First: what is “community-driven engagement” anyway?
Community, driven, and engagement are words that probably have different meanings to each of us; but as a term, I mean programming, services, media, events or campaigns that emerge from the needs, actions and involvement of the community. It is not something that you thought up inside your organization, even if you thought it up with your community in mind or at heart. It means honestly that the ideas, shape and even strategy came from the community and you as the organization are the ones to support it or nurture it.
But, like many strategies or best practices, not every organization can pull it off. Community-driven engagement requires the right culture; unless your organization, board and staff are going to honor and support an idea that emerges from the community, there isn’t any point in trying to use these strategies. Instead, the community will feel cheated or lied to. It also requires capacity/staff to make connections and support the community. If there isn’t any capacity to “hear” the ideas, especially since they aren’t usually given directly, then even a well-intentioned organization won’t have what it needs to make the programs or events that the community wants.
What’s the foundation of CDE? You can see it in many things, and most clearly in grassroots organizing or any non-organization led action. The needs and goals of the larger community are listened to by someone or a group of people and they create opportunities for action, service, and change. But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t real opportunity for organizations to act that part. Especially with the increased use of social media tools to help community building activity around causes or specific organizations.
So, what is that opportunity? Think of it like this: In “Community-driven engagement,” the driving is up to the community; but you can act as the vehicle and even the map for those "drivers.” Using these strategies and leveraging social media, you can harness the power of the network towards your mission.
Before I move into the next section, I’ll pause to see if there are any initial questions about the frame or context of community-driven engagement. Jess?Well, let’s dive in then.
You will find that much of the work that involves your community, whether it’s building up the community, working on engagement, listening, evaluation, or anything else, involves strategy that goes in a circle. It necessarily simple, but after a few steps you want to circle back to the beginning to evaluate and iterate. From listening, to creating to evaluating and then back to the listening again so that you can modify and then evaluate again, and so on. The most basic version of this process has four key steps.
The first step: Who’s your community? What are they like: what are the demographics, the data, the stories?What kind of action and interaction already happens between them and your organization, and what actions or interaction are they looking to find? Whether it seems important in the moment or not, it’s really valuable to make a list or chart or picture, whatever you want, of all the information you have about your community. The more you list and share, the more you’ll start to see patterns or clear paths emerge. When I work on developing community-driven engagement opportunities with organizations, we have the team or full staff come together to discuss this. It’s always eye-opening for people as they hear the community described in ways they wouldn’t have thought of. Maybe there’s someone from the development and fundraising team sharing who they see as the community as it may be focused on the segment of the community that is supported through the organization’s direct services; and then someone from the program staff shares a very different view of the community as they are working on projects and with volunteers. The more discussion you can have and more details you can share at this stage will help you later in identifying who and where and what you have to work with.
Let’s pause here for a minute and talk about community. Many times we confuse our terms when really they mean very different things. Your organization is in the lower corner here. Your community is that first ring – you know these people, you could call them or email them directly. They have chosen to follow your updates on social media or subscribe to your newsletter. These are the people you can get to meet up with you offline at an event. The next ring is your network. These are the two that are most often confused as being interchangeable. The key difference here is that you can’t touch the network directly the way you can the community. Instead, the network receives your messages via the community – either through social media or word of mouth or even forwarding an email. They may see a sign or happen across a video but it wasn’t through direct connection to you. You can make some assumptions about who is in the network, as it’s the friends and family and colleagues of those in your community.The last ring is the crowd. You do not, and by definition can not, know the crowd. It’s everyone else. You also may not know how they encounter your organization, programs, messages, etc. As much as the community is responsible for carrying your work to the network, the crowd may receive it like a game of telephone one more step removed – or maybe straight from the community or even from you if they are looking for something and a google search leads them to your website for example.
Lastly on the “who is the community” front, you really want to identify where they are. Not just their demographics and interests, but where to they do online, where do they engage or want to engage with you, where do they go offline as it relates to your work? One thing I want to point out here, that often many groups over look when they start talking about who their community is, is the reminder that your partners are part of the community. Where are other organizations that you work with located? How do community members engage with partners in the community? Keeping these various segments in your conversation can help you identify opportunities for collaboration you may not otherwise think of if you frame yourselves as doing all the work.
Step 2 is finding the sweet spot. To do that, you first identify what your community wants to do – what it is coming together around, whether it’s an event, an action, or a movement. Next, identify what you want to do, what your organizational goals are. Those two “wants to do” will overlap and that gray area is the sweet spot. It’s important to remember that not everything your organization wants to do or achieve, matches up with what your community wants to do, and vice versa. The key is recognizing that’s okay! Maybe you provide services, and your community doesn’t want to be providing those services, but they are happy you are doing so. And maybe the community wants to endorse a specific candidate, and your organization doesn’t. But both the community and your organization want to see certain laws passed, things improved, programs created or groups supported. That’s the sweet spot where you can count on focusing community-driven engagement.
After you know who your community is and what they want to do, you probably already identified which tools they're using. In step 3, you can compare the tools they are using with the goals in the sweet spot to see if any will help reach those goals or if there are more appropriate tools to start using. Don’t ever go for a new, shiny, cool social media platform or tool simply because you’ve heard others talking about. Know where your community is and what tools they want to use, and use those. At least if you plan on interacting with them! Example from the National Wildlife Federation…
Lastly, in step 4 you’ll want to identify what roles are needed. Just like throwing a party you need to have someone making food, someone pouring drinks and someone else showing people where the bathroom is. Often times the community’s ideas or needs are shared in ways that require translation, of sorts—someone that can bridge the community and organization, listening to the conversations and identifying the opportunities for the organization. Depending on the tools you are using, you may need to have a community manager, content creators, event organizers, or something else. So, as much as it is key to identify which roles are needed for success, you want to also identify which of those roles your organization can take on and which need to be filled by the community.
In the next section I’ll walk through some of the key principles for community-driven engagement but before I do, I just want to stop for any questions from that last section.Great, let’s move on.
It’s a pretty simple four step overviewfor being strategic in community-driven engagement so I want to share somesome best practices that can compliment how you operate and engage with your community.This is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote quite a while ago that compares the roles of gardeners and landscapers in the context of community building. The idea is that as an over all best practice, you want to strive to operate in a way that supports the natural directions of the community, without trying to shape that growth. Here are 3 ways you can operate as a gardener: no short cuts, know your community, and strive to be replaced.
Not taking short cuts means to lead by example: interact with the community the way you want other organizations and the community members to do. It’s like the golden rule for community engagement. I like this picture for this point because often mother ducks will bring up the rear, supporting the ducklings and swimming along side them, instead of shooting ahead and expecting them to keep up.
Another way to not take short cuts is to operate in public. This means don't build it in secret and then "launch" it - regardless of whether it’s an online space, a program or a campaign. If it is really something that is coming from the community, you can’t just take the idea and run; you’ll want to co-create it from idea to implementation.
Lastly, not taking short cuts means asking for feedback and participation from the start. As I said earlier, often the ideas you have come from conversations or learning about the community and not from a specific recommendation (though you may get some of those, too!). So, you’ll want to share what you’re learning and thinking inreal time back to the community so you can find out if you’re right on, or way off the path.
Knowing your community. Part of doing this well is letting your community know itself. If the community isn’t in a position to see who else is there, contributing, following along, and so forth, that means the engagement is coming to and through you. That isn’t very sustainable but it also means you’ve created a bottleneck. Letting the community be visible, making it easy and okay for members to reach out and connect with other members (whether they are organizations or individuals) will help maintain energy and move things forward. Thinking back to the car metaphor, imagine if you had all those drivers unable to see anyone else was in the car or on the road – letting people connect will help them share ideas and lessons and more with each other without creating more work for you.
Knowing your community also means knowing your role in the ecosystem. It’s important, as I mentioned earlier in the strategy steps, to identify what your role or roles are as the organization and stick to them. Once you start spreading out, you squeeze out room for others to grow and develop or even to explore what’s possible. You don’t want to be the bottleneck, but you also don’t want to remove yourself from all participation and responsibility and expect the community will carry on. It’s a balance.
Knowing your community also means you help it grow. Sometimes that means making mistakes. Hopefully they are tiny and harmless, and that you’re there to learn alongside the community. But, it’s just to say that you are in it just like the community is, and not everything we try in life works smoothly. Instead, design for growth and sustainability from the start with lots of room for feedback, evaluation and iterations to continue developing and redeveloping. You will increase innovation and success by making the cost of failing lower. Nothing you and your community create or start working on should be an “end-all” type of thing – if it is, and when it doesn’t work exactly as planned, you’ll lose the community and probably even lose much of the faith in working with your community that you may have worked hard to build up inside your organization.
The third section is striving to be replaced, which can be a tough one for most everyone. It isn’t exactly in our nature but it is key to the ethos of a community builder. One way to work on supporting your community to not need you managing the program, platform, or whatever else is to encourage interaction without you. This touches back on letting the community know itself. If you’re making connections and supporting conversations across the network, you’re helping the community create strong ties that will not require your time and energy to maintain.
Striving to be replaced also means rewarding and spotlighting leaders. Positive reinforcement is one of the best leadership development practices you can build into your work across the board, whether it’s online or offline, on your facebook page, newsletter, annual fundraiser or offline events. There are many ways to do this, and some are dependent on the technology you’re using – if it’s on social media or actually on your own website or blog, for example – and others are just good ways of leading as an organization, like saying thank you for small things and big things, recognizing the contributions from individuals and organizations in a public way, and ensuring that you are giving recognition to all types of contributions. One pitfall that many groups encounter when trying to spotlight leaders is the doom of hero worship – picking out someone that’s contributed a great deal and positioning their contributions as unparalleled. That person probably feels great, but it makes it seem like too distant an opportunity for others in the community to replicate.
Lastly, the only way you can really operate in a way that prepares your community to take over for you is to share your toolbox. This is a lot like operating in public but that you are sharing the tools you use and the strategies you use. You can model behavior all you want but if no one can tell what tools you are using to be so successful, there’s no way they can jump in and help man the ship.
Before I move into the case studies, I’d like to stop to see if there are any questions about those guiding principles.
Like I said earlier, I do hope that you’ll share what you are working on here as another case study for others on the line to learn from.
Community Driven Engagement strategies for events – let’s look at the NetSquared Camps pilot. This is just a pilot and it is taking place right now, with three events that took place last week and two more later this summer. NetSquared had for a few years held a global conference in donated space in Silicon Valley and invited members of the community from around the world to come together offline to learn and share and build. It was great; the community loved it. Well, they loved the chance to get together offline and build things together, learn from each other and so on. They didn’t love when the government wouldn’t give them a visa to visit the states, or when the costs for international travel around the whole world were too expensive. So, we started listening and asking questions to learn more about what they really liked and what they didn’t need from the old model. And in collaboration with our NetSquared Local organizers, we created and launched the Camps pilot which allows Local organizers to opt-in, receive support and a bit of funding, and get all of our resources and branding to hold regional events that create the same opportunities for convening and collaborating as the global conference did, but without the high costs for travel and logistics.
350.Org is a terrific example of a community-driven campaign. When it emerged from the community, it wasn’t an organization at all but a group of people uniting under the call for 350PPM actions and legislation. Using 350 they rallied supporters around the world and it eventually became clear that longer-term “organizational” management could mean more integrated and impacting work from the community.
An example of community-driven media is connectipedia. This resource for funders, organizations and government agencies in the Pacific Northwest was created by the Meyer Memorial Trust in response to the need to capture, share, and retain knowledge from program officers and nonprofit staff that retired their experiences and knowledge with them when they retired from work.
Stacey Monk from Epic Change
Stacey Monk from Epic Change
For more information about specific resources or groups mentioned, follow these links. If you leave your business card at the end, I can be sure you get an email with all the links as well.
Here are the photo credits.
Thanks again to all of you for coming! Please feel free to connect with me online for more resources or conversation!
Community-driven engagement<br />
agenda<br />Community-driven what?<br />Being strategic<br />Guiding principles<br />Case studies in action<br />Discussion and Q/A<br />
BEST PRACTICE<br /> Operate like a gardener, not a landscaper:<br /> “The Gardener creates an ecosystem open to change, available to new groups, and full of fresh opportunities to emerge naturally. The approach is focused on organic collaboration and growth for the entire community. The gardener is simply there to help, cultivate, and clear the weeds if/when they poke up.”<br />