Thoughts on Community Building
By Barry Kort
For the past 18 years, I have been building online educational communities for children and adults.
In this work, I have noticed a 3-layered model, that I call 'Communitas'. In my experience, the most successful online communities are structured according to this model.
The foundation layer of 'Communitas' is Communications Technology. This is the 'soil' out of which everything else emerges. Only about 5% of the population will muster the technical -- and at times arcane -- skills to create and develop the underlying Communications Technology.
The second layer of 'Communitas' is Community Building. This is the social and leadership layer where 90% of the participants spend their time getting to know their colleagues, identifying and understanding goals, missions, and issues of concern to the community, and building trust. If Communications Technology is the 'soil', Community Building is the 'garden'.
Once Community Building has reached a level where there is substantial levels of participation, interaction, and trust, a remarkable third layer emerges. I call this layer 'Communion'. By 'Communion', I mean profoundly transformational relations of People to People and People to Ideas. These are life-changing ideas and interpersonal relationships which fundamentally redirect individuals to focus their time, energy and talent in ways that promote personal and professional growth, clarification of individual and community values, and adoption of meaningful personal and group goals. Communion is the 'fruit' of the 'garden' of Community Building, growing on the 'soil' of Communications Technology.
So, the Communitas Model looks like this:
In my own career, I spent 20 years working the 'soil' of Communications Technology, and about 18 years in the Community Building part of the model. I have to confess that I did not anticipate the Communion aspect, which emerged from Community, because most of the real-world communities of which I have been a member never realized the level of trust required to spawn Communion.
The above Communitas Model was originally presented in December, 1994, at the First Mudshop held at the MIT Endicott House, and was first published on the Internet in June, 1995.