I spent yesterday and part of today at Recent Changes Camp, which is an unconference about wikis.
Part of how an unconference works is that the participants are encouraged to bring topics they’d like to present on or discuss. So when it came time to put topics on the schedule, I did two: “Building Diverse Communities”, which I combined with Dawn Foster‘s community building discussion, and a photography thing that didn’t attract any participants (oh well).Some really interesting thoughts on communities, openness, and access came up in the session with Dawn. One was the idea of having a formal process to guide newcomers, either by assigning community greeters, building an intro tutorial to walk people through the basic steps needed to participate (Second Life was given as an example here), or creating some other process to welcome people and help them get involved.
We talked a bit about hooks, about entry-level activities that get people interested or demonstrate that this is something individuals can become a part of. Afterward, I started thinking about how to recognize participation a multi-level process.
Here’s an example:
|Organization||Free Geek||Personal Telco||OPB||Linux (or other open source project||Wikipedia|
|Level One||donating old computer equipment||accessing a wifi node||listening to a radio program||using Linux on a computer||anonymously editing a spelling error on a page|
|Level Two||volunteering to sort recyclable donations||installing a wifi access point at home or work||donating during the pledge drive||reporting a bug||adding content as a registered user|
|Level Three||building computers for others||helping maintain the network and access points||volunteering to answer phones during a pledge drive||contributing a patch||helping moderate discussions about content and editing|
…and so on.
The table format suggests that it’s a linear process, but there could easily be all sorts of activities at each level. What I like is that it recognizes that even casual participants are still part of the community, and that not everyone will want to be on the leadership committee or learn to program for the Linux kernel. These different levels of involvement are natural and healthy.
If a community wants to continue to grow or even just stay alive, it needs to have opportunities for a variety of people to get involved. How broad of a group you want to target will depend on the community or project, but I don’t think you can succeed in the long run without some diversity, and the ability to accommodate individual time commitments and levels of interest.
I think the discussion tapped into a lot of things people were already thinking about, because we went at least half an hour beyond our scheduled time slot. There were many other interesting ideas from the participants, and you can find detailed notes on the RCC wiki.