From The Art Of Community by O'Reilly (http://www.artofcommunityonline.org) by Jono Bacon
Designing Your Community
Unfortunately, many community leaders consider strategy as an afterthought: they think of it as a nod toward the bureaucrats, not as something that actually helps their community grow. This view is misplaced because leaders can maintain the flexibility they need while producing plans that can help structure and enable the community.
When your community kicks off, you’ll be way ahead if you can get down on paper its primary purpose and core goals. To do this you need 1 tablespoon of aims, a mission statement, 1 cup of objectives and goals, bake for 45 minutes, and allow to cool. The result: a strategic plan.
To get started, you first need to answer some simple yet broad questions. Write down a single detailed sentence or a collection of single words that answers the following:
- What is the mission?
- We want to understand our primary mission—the bright, shiny prize for which we encourage and inspire our community. What is this eventual outcome that we lust for? Is it a software release, political change, to help a demographic of people, or to produce something?
- What are the opportunities and areas of collaboration?
- We want to explore how our community can work together to create and achieve things. What are these areas? How can we work together in different ways?
- What are the skills required?
- We want to identify what skills we need in our community so we can later establish teams to house these skills. What are these skills?
These simple questions are the foundation of a more detailed set of objectives.
Now spend some time thinking carefully about how you distill your answer to the “MISSION.” This single sentence communicates all the key aims of the project:
- The kind of tool we wish to produce
- The primary functions of the tool
- The principles of the project
- The scope of its approach
Distilling the broad goals of the project into a single sentence helps you to understand what you really want to achieve. It also gives you a great summary of the project that you can share within minutes: this is called the elevator pitch and is useful for attracting new contributors and spreading the word about your community.
The “OPPORTUNITIES” answer is the area in which you should identify all the exciting opportunities that are possible if you achieve your goals with the community. Producing revolutionary software? Changing the quality of life for homeless people in your neighborhood? Furthering a particular skill? Helping kids to eat healthy foods? Whatever your dreams, these should be the most important and inspiring opportunities that you are seeking. Remember, we are looking for high-level, essential goals here.
The “AREAS OF COLLABORATION” answer is where you can note the areas in which the community can work together on a task. This could include writing documentation, organizing events, advocacy, writing software, etc. Some tasks in the project cannot or will not be collaborative (for example, administering the infrastructure facilities for the community); you obviously should not include these.
The “SKILLS REQUIRED” part is where you should note the skills that are required to make your mission a reality. What types of skills are needed to achieve those goals? Scribble down the full range of skills that you will need. This explicit statement will be handy later when attracting contributors.
Baking in Openness
Always remember that, when building your community, transparency and openness are critical considerations. Few open volunteer communities succeed without transparent methods and approaches. As such, you should be open and inclusive with your community as you develop your strategy.
There are many approaches to building a strategic document in an open and inclusive way, but here is my recommended approach:
- Have a central place in which the strategic documentation is developed. I recommend a
website or wiki. Ensure that everyone in your community has access to this location.
- As you work through the concepts in this chapter, engage in public discussions with your
community to make decisions. This could happen in face-to-face meetings or in online mediums, such as mailing lists and forums. Gather this feedback and use it as a basis for additions to the plan.
- Regularly update the documentation and solicit feedback from the wider community on
your changes. This approach ensures that you develop your strategic plan in an open and transparent manner, and that the plan reflects the perspectives and desires of your community. The key is regularity of communication and feedback, and a central document that brings it all together. If you approach your strategy in this manner, your community will feel open and accessible.
One difficult aspect of this process is when people disagree on direction. You may get some people who believe that Approach A makes sense and some who feel that Approach B is more appropriate. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this problem.