Introducing Maven: a new social network where you follow interests, not influencers. Be heard without needing followers and find others who share your interests.

The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging by Charles Vogl

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Key Takeaways

  1. To create something that others want to join and support, we have to remember a core tenet: communities function best and are most durable when they’re helping members to be more successful in some way in a connected and dynamic world.
  2. A community is a group of individuals who share mutual concern for each other’s welfare. When we form a community that grows friendship, we create what we seek, friends who care about the welfare of one another. Strong communities teach members how to succeed in ways they cannot achieve on their own. The education comes from a body of knowledge and wisdom that members cannot access or manage on their own. So, in a strong community, members must know how to access the knowledge held by others. This can be informal (by hanging out with other members) or formal (with personal lessons, classes, or apprenticeships).
  3. Your success in growing  a community will depend on how well you can understand and articulate the following features:
    1. Shared values
    2. Insider understanding
      1. Who am I? How should I act? What do I believe? I call this membership identity.
      2. Ideally, all insiders’ names are known.
    3. Boundary: The line between members and outsiders
      1. This boundary should be more about making the inside space safe for insiders than about keeping outsiders out.
      2. Many leaders confuse self-selection (no invitation necessary) with “everyone belongs.”
      3. Gatekeepers are important for helping visitors across the boundary. They’re the people who can give newcomers access to the community.
    4. Initiation: The activities that mark a new member
      1. An initiation is a kind of ritual, and the best rituals come with symbols and tokens.
      2. We all want to know that we’re truly accepted into the communities we join. An initiation is any activity that’s understood as official recognition and welcome into the community. The initiation helps members understand clearly who’s part of the community. It marks the completed journey over the boundary and into the inner ring.
      3. A personal letter or telephone call that welcomes a new member can be powerful.
      4. They’ll look for something to interpret as an initiation if one isn’t offered. This may be an extemporaneous compliment from a leader, an invitation to teach other insiders, or more intimate invitations away from outer ring activities, such as a private party, an intimate conversation, or an unadvertised gathering.
    5. Rituals: The things we do that have meaning
      1. Invitations resolve the crisis of belonging and as a solution they are so simple as to be almost unbelievable. The invitations can be to social gatherings, insider events, or one-on-one time. When we as leaders extend invitations, two things happen that break down a crisis of belonging. First, when we extend invitations, we establish ourselves as having the power to invite, no matter what formal role or title, if any, we might have.
      2. Strong communities create both formal and informal rituals. There are as many types of ritual as your imagination can conjure up. They often rely on special symbols and are important emotionally. Remember: feeling connected, trusted, appreciated, and welcome is all in the realm of emotion.
    6. Temple: A place set aside to find our community
    7. Stories: What we share that allows others and ourselves to know our values
      1. Among the most important stories are origin stories. By definition, these stories explain how something started, i.e., its origin. There can be different origin stories for different parts of a community. But there must be a single origin story about how the founders were inspired to form the community. The story must include how they learned something new, did something new, and then invited others to join them.
    8. Symbols: The things that represent ideas that are important to us
      1. You’ll have to choose when and what you can offer as tokens to help others remember their belonging, accomplishments, and commitments. Anything can be a token. Pins, scarves, medals, flags, and certificates are commonly used. Even a small rock can make a perfectly good token if presented in a sacred way. The tokens for your community should represent your values.
      2. To use the power of tokens we can use a few simple principles. Intention: Tell the receiver why you’re giving it to her. Symbolism: Tell her what it represents to you.
    9. Inner Rings: A path to growth as we participate.
      1. An exploration zone is important for visitors. This is how we protect insiders while giving outsiders a chance to participate, to learn more about our community, and to decide whether it’s right for them. We can encourage explorers by sharing some specified activities and areas, but not all. These are outer ring activities. Areas reserved for insiders (whether formal or informal) are inner ring.
      2. If you prefer welcoming visitors to all community activities, an inner ring can be designated by privileges (at these same events). This means that members are allowed to do things that visitors are not. These privileges might include the following: Providing opening remarks Inviting guests Scheduling events Reserving space Teaching skills
      3. On our journey, we want to be taught, and we also want to teach. This is why creating opportunities to both mentor and be mentored are powerful.
  4. Features of a sustainable community:
    1. First, there’s a clear group identity with understood boundaries and purpose. Members know who is in or out and why they’re together.
    2. Second, benefits and costs are proportional. Members have a system that rewards contribution. Getting more benefits than others must be earned, or the group will collapse.
    3. Third, decisions are made together. Members make decisions in a way they recognize is fair. This doesn’t necessarily mean by consensus or simply by voting. It does mean that there’s group participation.
    4. Fourth, there’s effective monitoring of violators or free riders. If members don’t trust others to obey the rules, then they’ll lose faith in the community.
    5. Fifth, there are graduated sanctions for those who disrespect community rules. Small violations get small sanctions. Large violations get serious punishment.
    6. Sixth, conflict-resolution mechanisms are inexpensive and easy to access. Conflicts can be handled quickly and in ways that members think is fair.
    7. Seventh, there’s recognition of some sort of rights to organize (for example, by the government). People must be allowed to organize for their own reasons. If they’re forbidden to do so, that limits the third principle (making decisions together).
    8. Eighth, for groups that are parts of bigger groups and networks, there must be coordination for relevant groups. Some activities are best handled in small groups, and some may require the involvement of many people. It’s important that the right-size group—neither too big nor too small—handle whatever is at hand.
  5. Other
    1. His research indicates that “meaningfulness” involves understanding our own lives beyond the present time and place.
    2. Ostrom is a Nobel Prize–winning economist who has identified eight features necessary to maintain a stable community property resource.1 This wisdom applies to many of the communities you’ll grow. While Ostrom’s work overlaps with ideas I have already shared, it focuses more on long-term community management than on creating belonging and is worth exploring further for additional applications.
    3. I have a birthday tradition where I clear my calendar to make sure I do at least two things that day. The first is to write a letter to myself about what’s happened in the past year, how I feel, and what I aspire to do in the future. This causes me to reflect on how I’ve spent my time and who’s been involved. Then I make a list of the people who made a difference to me, and I call them one at a time, right down the list.

What I got out of it

  1. The "structure" and "process" of a healthy community is really helpful to understand. The process from initial contact to inner rings is a valuable insight in terms of helping the members feel increasingly attached and excited about the community