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

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The Requirements of Community, Pt 2 - Who & Where

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Continuing through Priya Parker's "The Art of Gathering" and relating it to the software industry has us talking about the next two requirements of community, the 'who' and the 'where.'

Who is Your Community

In building diverse and inclusive communities, our first thoughts are to invite everyone — the more, the merrier — which is a noble sentiment of sorts, a goal to be admired. However, keeping the community open to everyone actually works against the first requirement of community — gathering with a purpose.

Turning people away is never a comfortable situation. We simply don't want to offend or be rude. But we often fail to remind ourselves that exclusion protects the community and the people within it. When we start to gather with a clear and defined purpose, we need to exclude with a clear and defined purpose as well. Thoughtful and considered exclusion is integral to fight over-inclusion, a sign that you've lost your community's WHY and shows a general lack of commitment to your purpose and community members.

"If everyone is invited, no one is invited. By closing the door, you create the room."

The crux of excluding thoughtfully and intentionally is having the courage to keep away your "Bobs," a character that Priya describes as someone that every group and community has. That thoughtful, perfectly pleasant individual that doesn't actively sabotage your community — Is just there with no passion for the purpose. We have all met — or even been — a Bob.

However, the problem with Bob is that while they aren't supporting your community's purpose, they ARE detracting from it, even passively. Once within the community, our natural desire to welcome and include Bob will become a burden for all who undertake the task.

Good exclusion leads to greater diversity.

Saying that exclusion leads to diversity kinda seems like an oxymoron, but I promise it isn't. Exclusion, when thoughtful and intentional, allows the variety within a community to grow and prosper. Intentional exclusion consciously creates spaces where diversity grows, increases, and builds meaningful relationships among its members. With more generic types of communities, over-inclusion create shallow connections simply because there are so many different things through which people could connect. It becomes near impossible to meaningfully pursue any of them or create a genuine community around all of them. Excluding thoughtfully allows us to focus on a very specific and possibly under-explored relationship as the foundation for community and the direction that drives its members.

See a real-world thoughtful exclusion community in the Judson Manor and Cleveland Institute of Music collaboration.

Where is Your Community

In creating community, one must think about the WHERE. Often, a venue is selected for only logistical reasons — cost, size, etc. — but this allows logistics to override purpose. Choosing a venue that serves the community purpose is most important, but often never considered.

Whether we realize it or not, venues come with scripts and cause us to act or behave in specific ways. We carry ourselves and speak formally in a courtroom while we are much more relaxed on a friend's deck. We must ask ourselves, does the venue unintentionally restrict conversation and connection, or does it permit the sense of relaxation and freedom that is part of the community purpose. Your venue should reflect and support your community's purpose, not detract as we bring different sides of ourselves to whatever venue we visit.

A good WHERE doesn't mean going somewhere special.

Having a venue that embodies your community's purpose doesn't require going anywhere special. Sometimes just reconfiguring the existing room or creating a private channel in a company's online communication tool is enough. Creating this purposeful venue using existing spaces — physical or digital — creates a space that brings a person's whole body into the experience. It creates something new without those unwritten scripts that previously governed our behaviors. It wakes people up from the autopilot of their usual routines.

In Summary

  • WHO and WHERE are the second and third requirements of community. Both support the first requirement PURPOSE.
  • Inviting everyone into community invites no one.
  • Watch out for the "Bobs" in your community. They mean well but won't have any passion for the purpose.
  • Exclusion allows community to connect on deeper levels and sets a foundation for community magic to grow.
  • People are affected by their environment, community venues should be selected with that in mind.
  • Reconfiguring existing spaces can override the unwritten scripts we follow there.

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