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Sara McCombs (they/them)
Sara McCombs (they/them)

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The Requirements of Community

Photo by Elena Kloppenburg on Unsplash

When you talk about requirements in our industry, you are referring to the purpose of a particular piece of software — as a whole or in part — and are explicitly defining the condition or capability needed by a user to solve a problem or achieve an objective. This is a very intentional process.

We recognize the software we create has a significant impact on our users as a whole. We aim to develop and evolve for them. However, when it comes to our community or even our daily meetings, we throw people together and hope for some sort of magic to occur and make it awesome. (It usually doesn’t.)

Community is defined as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” Community, whether big or small, is the bringing together of people for a specific reason and shapes the way we think, feel, and even make sense of our world.

As developers, especially now in our remote gatherings and micro-communities, we find ourselves overloaded with video meetings. We’ve all been in that “meeting that should have been an email” situation. But, as much as we complain about these situations, we tend to keep gathering in the same exact ways. We remain on a sort of autopilot, follow previous meeting formats, hoping that the meeting or conference magic will somehow take care of itself.

When we do seek advice and strive for that community magic, we almost always focus on the mechanics or logistics of a meeting rather than on the human side of things. By doing this, we are translating a human-centered problem into a logistical one, like translating apples into oranges. We might miss the mark even though we’re still “talking fruit.”

We are so tempted to focus on the “stuff” of gathering because we feel that these elements can be best controlled. That’s not exactly wrong. However, it’s not the “stuff” that creates the community magic and allows a community to truly connect.

So, how do we really connect within our communities? What do we need to do?

We need to decide WHY we are really gathering. We need to define our PURPOSE. This is the first requirement of community. Most people skip this step and assume the type of gathering/meeting is its purpose, is its why.

Is the purpose of every weekly staff meeting to be a meeting of staff? Yes, but it is also much more than just that each time. Each week is different, each meeting has its own goals, each meeting an opportunity to grow together… not just repeat the behaviors of the previous week.

When we fail to examine the deep assumptions behind WHY we gather, we end up replicating old forms of gathering in ways that don’t serve our community or us. We miss an opportunity to truly connect and experience that community magic.

Priya Parker in The Art of Gathering said it best,

When people come together without any thought to their purpose, they create gatherings about nothing.

How do we find our purpose? How do we define something worth coming together about?

Think about every meeting and community opportunity as the chance to take a stand about something. Gatherings that please everyone do occur, but rarely are memorable. Communities that are willing to be different and separate from the norm have a chance to really see that magic shine through to create something awesome.

Start with these three characteristics to define that meaningful purpose:

  1. Specificity is a crucial ingredient. The more focused and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself, and the more passion it arouses. Specificity is what allows individuals to see themselves within a community.
  2. Uniqueness. How is this event/conference/meeting unique among the other events/conferences/meetings that you host? Are you simply repeating past meeting formats or are you creating something unique and respectful of the community's time?
  3. Disputable. A good purpose should be disputable and help you make decisions. When inevitable tensions arise — speaker list, venue, duration, meeting days — a disputable purpose should allow you to see clearly through those tough choices. A disputable purpose becomes a decision filter.

In Summary

When we meet and form community, we need to have a purpose to really connect and experience that community magic.

A purpose doesn’t have to be formal, stiff, or self-important. It doesn’t have to be philanthropic or achieve some social good to be meaningful. Having a purpose simply means knowing why you are gathering and intend to take an ordinary moment and make it unforgettable.

Everyone can gather and form community well. It does not rely on you being an extrovert, having specialized training, or even being a great conversationalist. Communities flourish and grow when real thought goes into them, when structure and guidelines are provided, and when the leaders and moderators have the curiosity, willingness, and generosity of spirit to try and make something amazing.

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