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Comunidades, English, Gestión e innovación

Leaderless communities?

One of the key tenets of the Macuarium community management philosophy is that a community with a focal point (i.e. some sort of persistent leadership) gets more things done and is a more effective learning and sharing platform. So, to an extent, we try to manage them so that three things coincide:

  • The informal network. That “focus” needs to be someone who can both reach and be reached from the furthest parts of the CoP’s underlying network.
  • The able collaborator. That is, someone who has the time and abilities to actually push through projects, events and content.
  • The moderator. That humble housekeeping role (in our model) that makes sure there’s not too many duplicate threads, good manners are observed, new threads are opened (or kicked to) the proper forum, and tries to give an answer when able. This person answers directly to the admins, channels community needs and admin policies to both sides of the chain.

In most forums within our system, we’ve managed it. It’s the usual design. But…

At the same time, a couple of forums have spawned communities that are different. Lack of leadership material has forced us to simply provide them with some high-level content leadership, some low-level moderation housekeeping… and nothing else. And they have thrived: the number of members, posts, conversations are huge, and the user satisfaction too. Population is not stable, and no serious leadership has emerged. And since they were in domains that we don’t hold as “core”, we sort of didn’t mind much about those headless communities. The situation dragged on.

Now, however, we have a different sort of problem. There is a core community within the system that is a chronic issue-generator. The reason is clear enough: it is not indeed a natural sub-community. Parts of it are indeed a technical community of practice, but there is an enormously potent social element that refuses to be channeled along with the rest of the larger community’s social movements. As someone put it, the practice of that forum is “a social sport”.

So, nowadays we have a slightly rudderless community in our midst. Of course, most system moderators are members and it is a highly socialized community, so behaviour is very good, athmosphere is perfect, and what’s better – content generation has not slackened at all. But there is no official “focus”: the moderators are getting burnt fast and the last of them are merely ceremonial leaders, doing housekeeping, some content fishing and little less.

The other day we had a conversation among the moderation team. Some favour reform, to increase the technical, learning side. Some don’t want to touch it, and are indeed more than a bit satisfied with the situation. The reason?

This leaderless community is in fact very well imbricated with the larger system. It collaborates at event and content level. It works at generating and improving practice (although content quality is a bit spoiled by an overload of kindness). It attracts relevant talent.

So how much of a problem is the fact that, lacking a rudder (in the form of an active, respected appointed moderator) it becomes increasingly difficult to shift “soft” forum behaviour? Or is it the other way round – was the moderator burnout due to the behaviour resistance of the forum in the face of admin intructions to change the handling of social elements? We can (and do) enforce the general rules without problem: what we can’t enforce is change.

Well, if nothing else, we’ll learn something useful from this :-). Out there in the wild, most communities are not as tightly integrated as we build them. Most moderators find themselves closer to this situation than to our usual one… and that’s without looking at the Digg uprising :-).

Update: How would that fit with Nancy’s types of facilitation :-).


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