Communities don’t usually “just happen” there is idea, or vision that attracts people, and there are community organizer(s) or catalysts that proactively seek out others who share a vision and help bring a community together.
Growing community, cultivating community, nurturing community, weaving community, building community, creating community – all slightly different metaphors describing this process that happens when people make the effort to create space (an environment) for people to meet, inviting people into the space and encouraging conversations that help connections and foster relatedness.
Community is what unfolds when people come together voluntarily, learn about one another, begin to care about one another, and start to do things together. In doing things together that are successful, trust develops and people begin to work and act together IN community, doing progressively more difficult things, becoming strong and more resilient.
Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point we know about Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople, social archetypes that play different roles, each with their own value in helping information flow, networks form and communities emerge.
It was great to have him articulate this i finally had a label for my own activity/passion – I have become a maven of a few things throughout the years. user-centric digital identity was a subject I really got into in 2003-4. I read everything I could about the subject as I began to meet some of the people thinking about it. I became passionate about the topic and applied my connector skills and started meeting finding people who were interested in the subject. Those who didn’t know about the subject I sold them on the idea :). I am not by nature a sales person about “anything” but only those things I believe in.
One can also see a community as the evolution and maturing of a network, that is the relationships between people. When beginning the links might be very weak, but in time as the potential community members get to know each other and take action together and the ties strengthen; they become a stronger and more resilient “real” community. A paper that was very influential in my understanding was Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving by Valdis Krebs and June Holley that I read in 2003 (along with every popular science book on network science out then: Linked, Sync, Six Degrees, Emergence, Nexus)
This paper investigates building sustainable communities through improving their connectivity – internally and externally – using network ties to create economic opportunities. Improved connectivity is created through an iterative process of knowing the network and knitting the network.
Knowing the network and knitting the network have been foundational in my practice of community weaving. I regularly meet with people in the community and help them get connected to others who’s work is related to their goals. Two examples first RSA as often happens those new to the community “knock on my door” and ask to meet for lunch or coffee to share what they are doing and learn more about who they should connect to in the community. Mike wanted to meet with me he to share about his new company Gluu that does inter-domain identity. It was great to learn what he was up to and also share papers/doc’s/projects relevant to his work and people he should meet. Yesterday I followed up with someone I invited to/and attended IIW. I spent 2.5 hours talking with Joe Johnston who attended about his efforts to bring interoperable identity (OpenID and other things) to Pachamama Alliance and other organizations with similar missions.
In terms of knowing and knitting networks between different communities/standards bodies/consortia/projects I wrote a post about Community Diplomats and Community Diplomacy last year thinking about different community-connecting roles and how if they are named they can be seen better and foster inter-group collaboration and communication.
Another essential but often un-named aspect/milestone of community development is communities development is shared language and then shared understanding. Shared Language is a prerequisite to collaboration enabling what were different perspectives and world views to sync, and then out of that it is much easier to work together. Eugene articulates three elements needed to create shared language:
- Share individual contexts
- Encourage namespace clash
- Leave enough time and space to work things out
An example of shared language that was developed in the community was the identity gang lexicon that Paul and others worked on in 2004-2005 so that when discussing different identity technologies there was at least a common language to talk about them.
Another example of the evolution of the communities shared understanding grew out of Johannes original presentation at IIW2006 with the identity triangle with three pillars – user-controlled, company controlled and then microsoft controled. He did an updated it almost a year later explaining of the community language and understanding had evolved. This starting point was moved forward by Eve Maler creating the Venn of Identity and became an IEEE paper written by her and Drummond Reed. Johannes has continued to be a wholistic thinker about the landscape and in 2008 he articulated an onion to think about which identity technologies are applicable where.
Space and Spaciousness for community to form is a key part of what the Internet Identity Workshops have been about about. We have never “set the agenda” there but instead allow anyone attending to post a session idea. We encouraged dialogue with space rather then having an agenda.
We have an amazingly rich community fabric of working relationships that is both resilient and delicate.