My take on Communities

I’m a little tired.  Two nights out with the kids, Music with Mark at Burnside High School (where we made over $90 in the 15 minute interval selling drink and chips) and Drama/dance with Anna.  I was so tired last night I probablyu could have fallen asleep.  And my wrists are playing up a little.  But I did drift away in my thoughts last night and decided I do have a little to say about community.


The homework for this week: «Write a post to your blog with your thoughts about the meaning of an online community and its uses. Include a list of identifying features that YOU would look for when assessing an online group or network for features which make it a community»

Community is about people.  With a cause.  [eg Educational designer, Clinicalhealth education, Media studies teachers, Non-hodgekinsone lymphona sufferers, waste water engineers] Dare I say some passion and care.  Care for the cause and for other people.  They need some level of shared experience, history, trust and/or understanding.

Here it immmediatley becomes complex.  Poor understanding can be balanced by some good shared experieince – understanding emerges, or can emerge.  A high level of understanding can make up for lack of shared experieinces and help trust grow.

I think there needs to be some sort of core group: formally or informally recognised.  I often prefer the word leadership rather than facilitation.  But a particular type of leadership: frunction (ie what they do) rather than status (ie it’s Not a power thing).  Leadership by influence.  Greenleafs Servant Leadership one model I warm to.  Or the notion of distributed leadership.  On the other hand a strong individual with the right habits and attitudes can also have the nurturing emergent effect needed in a community – as opposed to a team (with it’s boundedness and task oriented nature.

Again it is complex: weak leadership can be made up for with other factors – like shared care.  leadership trying to come in from outside and shape direction for external agendas can kill off a budding wannabe community.

Merrolee Penman coined the term “Community with Amnesia” in her peripheral participation in an online workshop in 2004.  ‘They have the seeds of community, but don’t know it’.  I remember raising the existential question with her: Is a coward a coward before they do a cowardly act?  Is a community a community before they do a community act?  Mere potential is not enough for me.

Dysfunction can set in when levels of trust + shared experieince + caring + passion + care + focus + vision (etc) add up to less than a critical mass.  [But a level of tension and debate is also needed to prevent communities from atrophying, imploding, withering.]

This is my cylinder theory, I’ve never put on the net: the cylinder of function can be filled up with lots of different inputs – – – I may come back to this.

I have seen a teacher switch schools and see a difference in community feel that is like night and day.

Here is recent news (headline news here yesterday) of the funding body/sponsor for one community I have been involved with:

From Aug 4th 2008:  The West Coast Development Trust is so dysfunctional and divided that it can not be trusted to do its job in delivering economic benefits to the region, the auditor-general said today.

The trust was set up to administer $92 million of $120 million funding package given to the West Coast in compensation after it banned the logging of native forests.

The auditor-general’s report released today paints a picture of trustees infighting with allegations of corruption being thrown around and counter-allegations of leaking confidential information.

The auditor-general said the situation was so serious that trustees should sort it out immediately or just stand down.

“Unlike other public entities with elected board, there is no other ready mechanism for resolving this level of dysfunction,” the report said.

“Until we see evidence that the group of trustees is able to take effective collective responsibility for the governance of the trust, we are unable to provide assurance that the trust is able to deliver fully on its purpose of generating sustainable employment opportunities and economic benefits for the people of the West Coast.”

National Business Review

Lastly (for now) there is the concept of membership and identity.  Who can join?  If I show up will I be accepted?  If I bring in screwy ideas, what will happen?  If I turn up with an agenda, ditto?

I have tremedously benefitted from community like entities over my entire professional life.  I have had a lot of fun.  I have seen (unfortunately) more than my share of bullying, manipulation and crassness.  But: I have not given up yet.

The online/virtual bit?

Communities exist [or not] and the online supports them.  How, tech problems etc is a whole other matter.  Someone else can write on this.

How do we recognise a [healthy] community?

I think from the people, that they have some sense of identity that they carry with them that allows them to be better stronger as individuals than if they were on their own.  Both a sense of their own identity and their identity as part of a group.  Are they better in their cause for being part of the group?  Is there nurture and care, both of the person and the cause.

Robert Greenleaf said this: “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?” (You can Google to find the ref)

How do we recognise a dysfunctional/dying withering comunity?

You get the idea.  I’ll only write on this if I really need to.

Refs: you will recognise elements of Etienne’s forumlation here (Domain, Community, Practice, CoP), and Amy Kim, and Nancy White etc etc.

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