Community Strategy Design

I was first introduced to the concept of a design process in my sophomore year of college. I was taking a sculpture class and we were preparing to start on our self-portrait busts. Our professor had us read “The Universal Traveler” by Koberg & Bagnell, follow the process they describe in the book, and keep a journal during every step in the process.

At the time, the class universally hated doing this. We were supposed to be creating, not journaling!

Cut to today and The Universal Traveler remains one of my favorite books. The book is a guide to creative problem-solving — it doesn’t give prescriptive solutions, but rather, gives you the tools to get to creative solutions.

My career path has been very different than the majority of any designers or online community leaders I know. I graduated with a Fine Arts degree in Design and was an industrial designer for the first 4 years after graduating from college before switching to the then-nascent space of the internet. I became an accidental community designer when I became employee #24 at TechRepublic in 1999 and helped launch the community, working on everything from site architecture, feature requirements, UX design, and user research.

Throughout my career, I’ve essentially held the threads of design, strategy, and community in my hands and woven them into any role I’ve held. I’m grateful I can continue to grow and develop my practice with Structure3C today.

Why all the design process backstory here?

I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve left design — both the creative design of communities, as well as the role of design as a central activity in communities — largely to the side when thinking about online community strategy. Everywhere and all the time? Of course not — but more often than not.

Instead of creativity: Defaults

We’ve become accustomed to the default experience imposed on us by mass social media. We’ve accepted the homogenized default features of our community platforms, the default advice we receive about developing communities, and the default practices of community management.

There is so much unrealized value for communities and so many unrealized possibilities. And we are in a unique period to push back on and move beyond “defaults”. The dominance of mass social media platforms is waning, we’ve just witnessed the first simultaneous mass-adoption of digital collaboration tools (thanks to Covid), and people are hungry for connection both in-person and online.

A process based on creativity, not efficiency

I want to propose a process for community strategy design. This is inspired in no small part by the design process outlined in The Universal Traveler and approaches to systems design, like John Tillman Lyle’s “Regenerative Design.” At a summary level, the stages in the process are:

  1. Commitment: Agreeing to support the process with sufficient attention, resources, and time
  2. Research: Gathering enough information to frame a problem statement
  3. Definition: Articulating purpose and identifying the key opportunities and problems
  4. Exploration: Explore a range of options for achieving objectives or realizing stated intentions
  5. Selection: Choosing the path forward
  6. Implementation & Operations: Put the plan into action
  7. Evaluation: Review of process and outcomes compared with value created; cycle feedback into next iteration

In the document and tools (link below with a short registration) I offer a detailed overview of the community strategy design process to help you and your community stakeholders develop (or refresh) a strategic design for community development. The document contains an overview of the process, strategy templates, MURAL boards to facilitate working sessions, and a tool to estimate effort and help prioritize programs.

DOWNLOAD: Community Strategy Design Process & Toolkit

My hope is that the process helps you open the aperture of your thinking in order to view the full range of possibilities available to you and your community — to challenge “default thinking” and create something truly novel, mutually valuable, and sustainably connected.

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