As we are working on the next iteration of the Community Canvas, an existential question keeps surfacing: can communities even be planned? My feeling is yes and no 🙂
No, communities can not be planned
- A community is a living being, not a machine that can be drawn up on a piece of paper and then be put together according to the plan. When we use the word “community”, really what we mean is the collective set of relationships and beliefs among a group of people that exists over an extended period of time. The complexity of that is hard to capture and influence in any medium.
- Communities are constantly evolving and the idea that you create a plan once and then “execute” on that doesn’t make sense. And just like startups, the moment you have finished to write the plan, it is probably outdated.
- On all the communities I worked on, the groups never turned out how we had planned it. Far from it.
- The notion of planning invokes the image of a few people at the top deciding everything for the rest of the group. This heavily centralized model is likely not the best approach to get buy-in from the group and creating a collective vision that sticks.
Yes, communities still need a plan
- Only because communities can’t fully be planned, I still believe that communities need a plan, and ideally that plan has a written element to it. I have observed so much confusion in many of the communities I am part of: who are we and what is this all about? Unless there is somewhere an attempt at capturing a collective answer of what this community is, it will be hard to align the different elements in the community.
- Ideally the plan is not set in stone, but ideally revisited and reiterated on on a regular basis (like every 6 months).
- Communities don’t like change and without a plan it’s hard to define a direction for where things should evolve to.
- While the community structure shouldn’t be decided upon only by a few, developing or strengthening a community vision requires leadership. It needs a few people with a mandate from the larger group to lead a process towards that shared outcome. A plan can capture and vocalize what they are proposing to the larger group.
What do you think?