I’m taking the results from the Landscape of Trust research, and the Communities of Practice research, and trying to hack together a short Handbook, intended to share relevant aspects of the combined research, alongside interpretation, links to other writing, and a series of sections on ‘what you can do about this’, some practical tips and guidance. It will probably cover ten aspects of Community, and i’ll make it freely available online. Again, i must thank our various research partners, the NHS NW Leadership Academy, and North West Employers, as well as the thirty or so Research Partners in my community research hub, all of whom have connected or contributed to this in some way. Below, i share an incomplete chapter, to illustrate the context, as part of #WorkingOutLoud.
4. Ways That People Connect
People exist within social systems: within these systems, we connect in a wide variety of ways, using a broad range of technologies to do so. Sometimes the context of the conversations dictates or defines the ways that we connect, sometimes our perception of consequence dictates the channel that we use. If we consider that the subject of our conversation is ‘forbidden’, then we are more likely to take the conversation into a safer space, perhaps using hidden technologies. Technologies that exist beyond the sight or control of the Organisation itself.
Its very clear that the conversations we have are far more broad then any specific formal technology, or formal space, and this points clearly to the need for us to focus on the skills and capabilities of Social Leadership, community-based authority, alongside, or even more so, than formal leadership skills. To be effective, it will be necessary for us to engage in multiple spaces, using different, contextual, power to do so.
When we look at the results from the research, there is a very clear emotional overtone to much of the language that people use when describing the communities that they are part of: people don’t just express that they ‘need’ to connect with others around a specific purpose, rather they use a range of other emotive language.
Despite us talking about ‘Communities of Practice’, as if the ‘practice’ were the defining feature, in reality, it’s the ‘community’ that provides the dominant effect: if you lack the Social Capital, Technological Skills, or access to the technology itself, if you lack explicit Permission, or individual Impetus, to connect, then you can be disenfranchised, left out of the Community. And many of these things, like ‘permission’, and ‘technology’, can be actively denied to us.
Even when we do have space and opportunity to connect, we may lack the Cultural Grammar to do so: we may lack a full understanding of the rituals of engagement, or the artefacts of power, and the shared social scripts, that would enable us to do so.
It’s possible that there is a taxonomy of engagement too, something along these lines:
- Direct personal engagement, one to one
- Individual engagement, into an existing group
- Role based engagement to other roles
- Power based engagement into hierarchy
- Subversive engagement outside the system
- Oppositional engagement, held against the system
The ways that we engage may relate closely to this taxonomy, so that the ways we engage in ‘opposition’ are likely very different from the ways that we engage in ‘consensus tribes’.
What the research shows
21% of people described being ‘vouched in’ to a community, as opposed to being able to access it through ‘self driven participation’.
We know there are many different types of community, and not all are equally open, indeed some communities gain their internal coherence and value by being communities of status, or even communities defined by exclusion.
The majority of people ‘strongly agreed’ that meeting face to face is important in building relationships: this is not atypical, but may represent that this is how we are used to doing things.
Whilst we can quantify that we forge online relationships differently from face to face ones, there may be nothing inherently ‘bad’ about forging relationships online. This is an area that i want to unpack further in future research.
We could read this as a strong development need: how often is it practical to meet face to face and, possibly more importantly, if we just grow our communities through face to face interaction, are we building in greater bias and a stronger mono-culture?
What you can do about this
Here are some things that you can do to help people connect:
- Consider regular sampling to see e.g. how many communities people are part of: if results present a broad spread, see if that correlates to demographics. Is part of your audience excluded?
- Train specific capability around Social Leadership, the ability to understand how communities work, and how to join them
- Consider how you view Social Capital within the whole organisation: consider curating a conversation, a diagonal story, across the organisation to explore how it currently sits
Resources relating to ‘Connectivity’
This piece considers how we create more trusted leadership.
This piece explores the notion of interconnectedness, how we link up the different tribes.
This article explores the taxonomy of social collectivism.
This piece explores the scale of social systems.
Finally, this piece looks as a culture of sharing, one component of Social Leadership.