During my software testing career I've used a context-driven approach: do the best I can with what I've got rather than applying best practices. I accept that different practices will be more successful under different circumstances.
So why do best practices exist? If a majority accepts that an approach, technique or method works more effectively than any other approach, technique or practice then it must be the "best practice"? My spidey senses suggest otherwise.
I'm reminded of this whilst reading People Powered by Jono Bacon, a book recommendation from the awesome Heather Reid – Community Boss at Ministry of Testing. I'm a couple of chapters in and so far it's been super useful.
Jono introduces the Community Belonging Path. A community member moves through various stages to achieve a sense of belonging. As a community member flows through the Community Belonging Path they create social capital – a respect the group has for the individual based on how they engage and an aggregate of their contributions.
How realistic is the Community Belonging Path in real life? Can such a path exist for every member of every community? We are all unique and on our own journeys – we all have our own context – and mapping it out in this way hints at best practice.
So let's test it out and map a couple of my personal community journeys onto the Community Belonging Path.
Journey 1 reflection: Croydon Tech City
I'd just quit my corporate job at eBay to start my own thing and I joined Croydon Tech City. I joined to become part of a tech startup community. My business partner at the time lived in Croydon and he shared good things so of course I wanted in!
I got instant (1) access via an introduction. It became clear how I could (2) contribute: first by sharing stuff related to the community on social media, second having useful conversations about product development and third by running free workshops on Agile & Scrum. I felt a level of confidence and indeed some (3) self-respect as my efforts were appreciated by others in the community.
Yet I'm unsure I ever moved into a state of (4) dignity, which according to Jono's book is described as:
Dignity … gives us pride, peace, social acceptance, and an intrinsic sense of value. It continues to build confidence in ourselves and our capabilities.
As drastic as it sounds I was never entirely at peace or felt socially accepted. Most likely because I wasn't from Croydon and because I struggle with self-doubt. Yet I was welcomed with open arms due to my contributions. I eventually joined the leadership team taking on responsibilities to help organise and run events. Plus I got involved in a startup outreach program to help connect people new to the world of startups and tech.
Did I ever feel my efforts have an (5) impact? Probably to some as every so often I was reminded of the various things I did to help and collaborate with the community. For a short time I did have a sense of (6) belonging yet only when I joined the leadership team – even though I still felt like an imposter!
I guess you could say my social capital grew over time and it was quite the emotional journey. I'm no longer part of the Croydon Tech City community as it no longer officially exists yet I learnt so much about myself, others and the world of community building from this experience.
Journey 2 reflection: Ministry of Testing
The awesome Ministry of Testing is a community of tens of thousands of software testers from around the globe. It thrives and its members are super supportive of each other. My journey here is a bit of a blur, and to cut a long story short, it's possible to map my journey on the Community Building Path.
Like with Croydon Tech City there have been countless times where I've lacked confidence to contribute and didn't have enough self-respect and dignity to feel I could make a difference. Put another way, there have been times I'm just unable to get involved due to life commitments, mental state and energy.
So perhaps the Community Building Path could acknowledge that flow isn't so linear. For example, a member can build up to "dignity" only for something to happen in their life where they have to move back to "access" or "contribute".
Life can get in the way when you're having fun with a community
A good community creates a space to help someone achieve a sense of belonging, whenever that individual is ready. I've seen this time and time again where members of the Ministry of Testing community lift up those who have fallen off the proverbial Community Building Path. And that's a sign of a powerful and kind community.
Models are fallible
Like any model, a model is fallible. Yet a model is useful for reflection, to start conversations and to simplify something complex. And that's why I find the Community Belonging Path useful. I aspire to become an official community manager and I see how this helps me now and how it might help when I join a company.
Models are also fun to mix up and try new things with. So here's an idea inspired by my own experiences and the Community Belonging Path.
The Community Emotion Path
The Community Emotion Path captures how a community member might feel at any stage of their community journey. A member might join the path at any point and equally might fall off or actively choose to step off the path. When off the path they feel lost or choose to look in on their community. A good community helps a member get back on the path on their own terms. The community respects the emotions of their fellow member – and helps them avoid getting caught up in one particular emotion, although this is easier said than done.
A community manager can lead-by-example and demonstrate – alongside active community members, ambassadors and moderators – that its ok to flow through a multitude of emotions like those on the Community Emotion Path. The ambition is to provide an inclusive way for members to actively step on or off the path – with no remorse – using a cadence that works for their individual context.
Once a member feels safe in the knowledge that they can't always be their best – and don't have to be their best – it creates a sense of freedom that may eventually lead to a more active community member.
Talk more on a 1-2-1 basis
Understand an individual's context to get a sense of where they might be on their community journey. Talk more often with your community members on a 1-2-1 basis. Understand their fears and what they are excited about. See where they might be on the Community Emotion Path at this very point in time.
Use this information to inform how you might collaborate and encourage others to do the same. Themes will emerge which can apply to groups of people yet consider we are all individuals, with our own unique context. Individual context is a great reminder of the learning opportunities we have as community builders.
I'm grateful for People Powered. It's sparked something in me and I look forward to reading and reflecting on more chapters.
How about you? Have you used the Community Belonging Path? How much does it map to the context of your community members? What do you think of the Community Emotion Path?
Let me know via Twitter or email:
hello at simontomes dot blog. I'd love to learn from you!