How to sustain your community?
This is the continuation of part 1: How to start your community. Please give it a read before proceeding to this one to get the context (and some frameworks!)
Good News: So now you have a community out there! Congratulations.
After weeks and weeks of planning and strategic scripting, your idea finally took flight with the first meetup success. The energy is high, several promises and made.
Not-so-good news: Now the real challenge begins. Creativity has its limits and so does your patience.
You start to realize that some of the promises were a bit unrealistic and now you are scratching your head, thinking of ways to rectify the problem while engaging the community.
Let us explore the commonly faced problems, and then ways to mitigate the same.
The unprecedented challenges
Once we get the wheel running, the next objective is to ensure it retains the momentum and travels a long distance. The common problems one might face are:
- Retaining audience
- Progressive learning
- Interesting activities
- Blurry vision and purpose moving forward
These are just a few of the main reasons. It can all be prevented if we were better planned and ready to attend the same. The audience, though may initially seem to be less, will organically grow over time.
Reactive vs Proactive Participation
As mentioned in the predecessor write-up, the success of a community does not (and should not) reside in an individual — because then heroic leadership will fail in succession. In this regard, audience participation mainly depends on an incentive of sorts — from where I come, for most it is a certificate, a guarantee of upliftment etc.
When there is no intrinsic incentive to participate, your members may feel forced into attending the sessions which is when you get a reactive response. The problem may be due to lack of clarity from participants side to be involved for long term reasons, or could be because your activities don’t have much to offer.
Content vs Manage
In such situations, you may find yourself pulled in two directions — either content, or management. On one hand, you need to engage with the core essence of the community — to build applications if technical, or read up on papers if research. On the other hand, one needs to manage the logistics of the club, the outreach etc.
At this juncture, it helps if the role can be internally divided within the team. One of the key reasons for communities to go silent over time is this problem of focus — you might want to work front line but are pulled to manage abstraction.
Metric of Success
As a community core member, it is essential to ask yourselves why does your community matter? What value is it providing to the system? If is it reinventing the wheel but for a niche, well and good. If it is just because of legacy from previous generations and you don’t really feel pulled to the mission, it may be better to let the community die out. More on that in the next post.
Once the purpose is in place, next key question to consider is how you would measure success for your community? What kind of skill development do you see in your members at the end of 1 years worth effort? Is it building atop of previous years works? If all you do is the introductory workshop session each year for a different audience, then they have nothing to look forward to afterwards.
The sustainable framework
The hope of any community is to take pride in better shaping the lives of their members — without its existence, the void would persist. Therefore to sustain your community, think along the following lines:
- What activities to keep? What is their expected outcome?
- How do we sustain this along with our personal agenda’s that may not be aligned with this? Ways to avoid burnout?
- If I was a participant, what would be my personality/interest to be involved beyond the hype and FOMO?
Do not make the mistake of measuring your success in terms of participation (static metric) instead of repeated involvement (dynamic metric).