The community is spiky

The community is spiky. It is pointy. It has sharp edges. On your very first amble into the community, you may well fall on one. You know this. I know this. But when we’re talking to everyone else (like, say, a potential external partner), isn’t it best we avoid mentioning this little fact?

Depends what your aim is. If you want your community to be genuinely welcoming, then you should try and reduce the spikiness. Pretty much the only way to do this that I can think of is by social (peer) pressure. Get respected people to visibly correct/reprimand other respected people who are too spiky. Make one of your communities’ most important tenets be “We are welcoming to newcomers”. This is likely to be slow going.

If your aim is to reduce friction in communication between the external partner and the community, you have a couple of options.

1): Get understanding people like yourself to mediate the entire communication.

This could be tough going. You must actually mediate the community’s spikiness. If you ignore it, it may not reach the external partner, but it is still likely to backfire.

2): Create a “safe space” in your community where the external partner acts.

Difficult and slow. You do get a chance to teach the external partner what it is like working with an open community, which may or may not be something they are actually interested in doing. May be better at building trust than the mediation method.

3): Just get the external partner to do whatever will suit your community, and let the community choose whether or not to engage with it.

Not what you’d really call a partnership, but almost friction-free.

Whatever you do, don’t kid yourself that everyone in the community is wired up with “The Mission”. An appeal to reason won’t produce good manners. Don’t kid yourself that the community’s reaction is entirely predictable.

26 July, 2009 •

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