Here are eight kinds of work that must be done to kindle meaningful community, with some examples below:
- Nano-research - Continuously watching, listening, asking, feeling
- Inventing - Conceiving settings for learning and connection
- Inviting - Warmly and non-coercively encouraging participation
- Nudging - Reinforcing opportunities - gently, persistingly, personally
- Celebrating - Identifying milestones and acknowledging accomplishments
- Visualizing - Generating lovingkindness through imagination
- Weaving - Networking, good introductions, creative convening
- Living the example - Taking risks so others feel safe to
A community is a fire-hose of information. Continuously observing, listening carefully, asking good questions, and kinesthetically sensing what's going on can help you design better experiences for all.
My tools: flash qual & intercepts, in-depth interviews and dialogue walks, participatory research/co-created insights, ideation workshops, lo-fi prototyping, social media monitoring, journals, surveys, and of course pizza dinners!
(I am a seasoned qualitative researcher and highly resourced focus group moderator/ethnographer able to design and carry out studies with whatever level of rigor is called for.)
Inventing and designing compelling experiences - both recurring rituals and special events that capture the values of the community - provide the field in which relationships can take root. Here are just a few I'm proud to have co-created with my community:
- The Tango Challenge - a 12-week beginner immersion program
- The Oxygen Milonga - a community co-created benefit dance party
- Tango Learning Labs - a peer-to-peer learning event
- The Tango Slumber Party - a weekend retreat for tango dancers
- The Tango Treasure Hunt (only for Tango Challengers!)
- The Birthday Box (only for Oxygen members!)
Participation in community often involves micro-vulnerability, exposure and getting comfortable with tiny risks. Warm, attuned, non-coercive invitations help people feel more comfortable about joining in partnerships, groups, and events.
But watch out! Invitations can easily lose authenticity and meaning, and become just another form of marketing. It's easy for the recipient to tell the difference; as community designers, we need to stay very heart-centered to make each invitation real.
(Sometimes that might mean breaking out the fine stationery and rubber stamps - but sometimes it just means putting that extra bit of thought into a chat!)
I noticed that students put so much effort in but never had the chance for it to be properly acknowledged.
So I created a Graduation Ball ritual, complete with champagne and sparklers, to help students celebrate their first tango milestone.
It has become a kind of official welcoming ceremony for new tango dancers in Los Angeles. On Oxygen Tango's Facebook page you can look at photo albums of past grad balls - there have been over 20!
I choose to purposefully imagine community members experiencing growth and connection, through visualizing and lovingkindness meditation.
Often, the insights that emerge from slowing down and tuning my mind in this way leads me to reach out to community members with encouraging invitations, nudges, or other ideas.
The art of introducing people to one another, convening heterogeneous groups, and connecting people with novel opportunities and resources gives community its texture.
My tools are:
- No-pressure introductions - Inviting people to connect with one another on the basis of something you know they share opens a doorway without pushing anyone through it
- Quantum opportunities - A quantum opportunity lets someone suddenly see themselves in a completely new way. Sharing these broadens each individual's vision.
- Authentic mixers - I'm often asked to facilitate mixer games to set the tone for weekend-long events and I enjoy finding ways to allow people to connect on the basis of real feelings and needs, not just superficially exchange names and "favorite ice creams flavors."
- Dinner parties, carpools, field trips - I often find shared social experiences richer for everyone when the group is diverse! Ages, personalities, backgrounds, occupations, roles -- inclusion of a mix helps weave community.
I believe that we can't design community from afar: we need to live our own dreams through a community in order to free others to risk and do the same.
Diving into challenges like cultivating my own solo practice; learning partnering skills, practicing blogging, and even competing in a Tango Championship (we got 4th place!) have helped me find common ground with community members.