Community events: dinner parties and rock concerts

A month ago I facilitated the fourth of six workshops I’m doing for a client on (online) communities of practice. The topic was “community heartbeats,” with a focus on the role of events as heartbeats. Of course, I tried to pack too much into an hour and one topic we never got to was thinking about the strategic differences of small, intimate events (a.k.a. the dinner party) and big, elaborate events (a.k.a. the rock concert). I promised to blog something as follow up because I have been thinking about some heuristics around how to decide what kind of event is useful at any particular time in a community’s life, particularly communities of practice. So here are a few thoughts, along with a question for you: what kind of events (online and offline) have been particularly useful and generative for your communities (of practice or whatever!)


Small Events – “Dinner Parties” – Connection

You know those intimate gatherings, 4, 6 or 8 people, a well planned menu, attention to atmosphere and, most importantly, thinking about the chemistry between people. When friends introduce friends, connections can be activated in a flash. We walk in the room strangers, we walk out as friends, telling stories.

When our community goal is to create critical connections, small events can be the most effective way to “close triangles” between people. The intimacy creates context. Of course, good food and wine help too. But one things of a four way Skype call as a virtual small event, we can still bring that kind of care. How we introduce people, what the invitation looks like … more than “I want you two to meet.” Plant the seeds of possibility in the invitation by sharing what the individuals have in common. Come with a great question to start the conversation. And with online events – more than with F2F events – consider some follow up contact. The “magic” sometimes takes more than one virtual contact.


Medium Events – “Workshops” – Action

Medium sized events are the workhorses of communities.  This is where the action happens. Groups of 7 – 50 (often broken into subgroups) are the places to get things done: focused learning, team work, thinking together, tackling tough problems or opportunities and planning. Online or F2F, we can think about workshops, planning meetings, consultations and other gatherings, all time delimited and focused. This is a key to the productivity. They can’t be too long or too broad.

A distinction that I think IS worth making here is that it is too easy to make these into content delivery events, moving participants to the role of audience rather than community members. There are some great resources for rethinking HOW we do these, such as Liberating Structures, GroupWorks Deck, World Cafe and Open Space — all of which focus on participant ownership and engagement of the interaction. If I could make one strong recommendation about these “medium” events, it would be to move straight content delivery into videos and save the “face time ” (online or F2F) for designs that fully engage everyone.

IMG_0403Big Events – “Rock Concerts” – Community Identity

There is something about a “happening.” The crush of the crowd. The energy that groups of over 150 generate. It is often far less about the community’s domain or content, and more a statement of identity of the group. In full force, our parties rock our organizations. In full force, we may influence in a way that is actually larger than our numbers when they are dispersed across the organization. We create presence. We celebrate. We see both what we have in common and how we are different — both very powerful community aspects. Our “rock concerts” should not be everyday affairs. Once a year, or even less , can create the feeling both for the community, and it’s visibility to the wider organization or world.

What did I miss? Misinterpret?



Useful Books on Online Community Building – Update

In 2010 I did a short post on useful books on building online community. While Useful Books on Online Community Building was pretty lame, there is now a great Google Doc maintained by the folks who participate in the Community Manager Twitter Chat that is really great. Check it out here (and add to it!).



Building a Virtual Tour of Online Communities

This is the second post about touring existing online communities as a learning journey for those building or sustaining their own communities. (Part 1 is here.) This one is about the nuts and bolts of doing a live tour of online communities. The first post laid out purpose, identification of potential communities to tour, and criteria for review and evaluation. So now lets talk about HOW to run the tour. This is nuts and bolts time!


  1. Pick your web touring technology. For this sort of event, I like to have a tool with fairly easy screen sharing and a shared chat room for note taking. I use a white board or slides to share the initial overview and questions.
  2. Set the date. Let your “tourists” know date, time and any technical requirement. This may mean needing to be online, have a headset/mic or an appropriate telephone dial in option.Confirm your communities. Get permissions as appropriate if you plan to use your personal log in to tour any private communities!
  3. Set up a URL list that can work both within your web technology and on a separate web page as back up. Plan a SHORT intro narrative to each community. Decide what pages you will visit and why. See the first post!  I like to throw the URLs and short descriptions on to a Google doc and share it with the tourists in advance.
  4. Test your URLs within the web meeting tool. Should they be links? Preloaded? Do you need username/password to log on to any private sites?
  5. As backup, grab a basic set of screen shots of each community in case your web touring technology fails. Yes, it happens! Always have a plan B.
  6. If you have a co-facilitator, define each of your roles.
    • It is often useful to have one person help folks if they have any technical needs, while the other runs the tour.
  7. Consider how you want to capture questions as you go — sometimes you will need to research and come back later with answers.  Encourage the tourists to take notes if that fits your culture!
  8. Send an email with the login information and any preparation you would like the tourists to do. I often send a short piece on community PURPOSE and some of the questions I mentioned in the  first post.

Running the event

  1. Log in early and make sure everything is working. Have an email prepped to resend in case anyone contacts you saying “I lost the url/login/etc.
  2. If you decided to preload URLs on separate whiteboards, etc, get that all set up. Set up any polls or questions on other white board pages or have them handy to cut/paste in.
  3. If you are recording the tour, don’t forget to hit the old “record” button once you start.
  4. When you start with your participants, give an overview of the tour process. It might go something like this:
    • We are going to look at X different communities today. I’m going to use the screen sharing tool (or whatever you plan) so I’ll be “driving” the tour, but please, if you see something you’d like me to click on, let me know. There is a slight lag with the screen sharing so speak up as soon as you can!
    • I want to review a couple of questions we should keep in mind as we tour (then I review the questions.)
    • Encourage shared note taking (I often use the chat room in the webinar tool).
    • Do you have any questions? (Answer them..)
    • Start…
    • Pause often for questions, observations.
  5. Between communities, do a quick recap asking for observations and answers to questions. Sometimes it is worth going deeper and seeing fewer communities…
  6. Leave at least 25% of the time at the end for reflection and next steps.

Follow Up

  1. If you are recording the event, capture the recording and share the URL.
  2. Clean up and share any collective notes taken during the event.

Do you have any other suggestions or ideas? Resource pointers? Please, chime in!

Strategic Communities of Practice for The Nature Conservancy

strategicCopsI had the great pleasure of leading a webinar yesterday with The Nature Conservancy on Strategic Communities of Practice. We focused on gaining some shared sense of what we mean by “communities of practice,” a framework fo looking at them strategically, some of the basic roles involved in communities and a quick peek at evaluation options.

There was some lively interaction in the chat. Many of these folks work in parts of the world where web based online interaction is not so great, so a wonderful thread on mobile-device-supports for communities emerged. If you know of any great examples, please share. ( I just found this one with a quick search and also suggested looking at I think some of the Twitter chats could serve as a model for a mobile-based distributed conversation by a community as well! Here are some examples in education.)

In addition, the good folks at TNC said I could share the webinar recording. I’m not sure if you can bear 90 minutes of recording, but just in case, here is the link. I’ve put the slides below as well, but as usual, they don’t make a ton of sense without the narrative. Thanks to Olivia, Nicole and Gillian at TNC for being such fabulous hosts and webinar facilitators!

via Strategic Communities of Practice.

Communities in Classrooms at UBATIC+

[Edited Nov10 to note that at the bottom of the post, I’ve uploaded a PDF of the Google Translated version of the web discussion. I so appreciated the spirit of this conversation, even though we were working across languages with machine translation.]

This week there is what looks to be (using Google Translate) a great online conference called UBATIC+, a virtual gathering about ICTs and teaching in higher education hosted by the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was great to be asked to offer a short (14 minute) contribution which Silvia Andreoli has captioned in Spanish. I’m impressed — I’m not always so easy to follow!

via NANCY WHITE – YouTube.

I’m trying to follow along as best I can — my video and discussion launches Friday and I wanted to have some context for the conversation. And to get used to Google translate’s view of ICTs in higher ed! 🙂 Language always presents such an interesting barrier. I don’t speak Spanish, but because of my Portuguese, I can decode some things. But I still find it incredibly tiring. It is important to remember this feeling — at a gut level — because so often I’m the one talking a mile a minute in English to people who are trying to think through two or three languages!

Updated: Here is a quick PDF of the web conversation. UBATICDiscussions