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Jun 26, 2018 | 5 min read


Transforming an ecosystem into a community in three steps

Arthur Massonneau

Senior Change Maker

If I were a biologist, I would say that you need two things to create an ecosystem: An environment (the “biotope”) and living beings to populate it (a “biocenosis”).

In a corporate space, an ecosystem is often associated with the term “community”, because people gathered in a single place will necessarily start to forge links. However, simply sharing a location is not enough. It takes effort to design and promote a community.

Given how organizations now develop, both physical and virtual  ecosystems are getting bigger and bigger. Three key drivers determine why people congregate the way they do:

  • Minimize costs associated with structuring and travel. For instance, for the past ten or more years, major French and international groups have tended to set up “campuses” over multiple hectares of land, rather than creating multi-site head offices.
  • Increase your international standing. The world’s biggest startup incubator, Station F, is a good example of this, as its size gives it an automatic legitimacy when it comes to discussing entrepreneurial issues.
  • Consider the idea that the more people you have in a single location, the more interactions there will be.

With this as our context, transforming ecosystems into communities appears to be becoming increasingly difficult – but, when this is done properly, it also offers ever-greater opportunities. 

Why would you want to create a community?

Creating a community can be valuable on three levels:

  1. It generates value that can be useful in and of itself, or for the individuals who make up the community. This happens when a community is based in interests shared by all members.
  2. The community then creates value for others through collective action, allowing projects to form which are only feasible because of the links that now exist between members.
  3. A community can help with the management and use of shared assets owned by the ecosystem to which it belongs. This phenomenon was described by Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009, in Governing the Commons. In this work, she explains how groups of people form when natural resources with no single owner need to be managed. When conceptualized in this way, this form of community is perhaps the only one which does not require any legislation around or privatization of resources. This makes it clear why it can be beneficial to create communities: Doing so is a way of ensuring both the management of resources and value-creation.

Finally, when we think about communities of local authorities in France, for instance, or the Burning Man Festival, we can spot ways in which value has been created for the good of the community itself (through dialogue about best practice and shared passions); and for others (via large-scale projects, such as infrastructure for local authorities or festival activities for Burning Man). Add to this the value created in terms of the management of shared assets, with both instances entailing development and respect for existing spaces.

How can we create communities?

Naturally, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for creating community, but there are three fundamental principles.

Set a shared direction and make the journey together

As I mentioned previously, to create a community we need to do two things: Design it and promote it. The design here refers first and foremost to a genuine shared objective. By this, I really mean an objective – not a pretext. Even if you manage to draw in participants with the promise of a fabulous buffet, your community of people over 6 feet tall is unlikely to stick it out after the first meeting.

A shared objective has to be strong enough for each community member to feel that they are contributing to a project that is bigger than him or herself. The community also needs to be rooted in shared values. Out of these, a shared identity can emerge, along with markers that help members spot each other. Anonymous, for example, are united by shared values, a Guy Fawkes mask emblem and, most importantly, the shared goal of making the world wide web a space for genuine freedom of expression.

A community works well when these parameters are strong enough for people to be able to rally around them, without them becoming repressively homogenizing. It is too great an ask to have to renounce your own personality in order to belong to a community, and it will put off potential members who might otherwise join a movement.

Once a shared direction has been set, collective action can be planned. 

Providing resources

The etymological root of the word that describes community’s central idea – collaboration – is the Latin “cum” + “laborare”, which literally mean “make an effort together”, or in modern parlance, “work together”. To do this, community members need a shared language and, crucially, resources for exchanging information or even co-creating projects.

In real terms, this means a location, technology and/or time for meetings where information can be swapped and, most importantly, projects can be shared and co-designed. Again, developers are some of the best equipped communities in this regard, using tools such as GitHub which allows every user to put programming code online, work in groups on a single project and then make it available as an open-source resource to millions of other coders who access the platform.

In other words, you need to find tools that your audience can comfortably use in order to collaborate. Whenever possible, you should keep using resources that are already in place, so that you do not have to contend with any reluctance to change and you keep to a minimum the timeframe for adaptations.


Give people a reason to stay!

Lastly, remember that a community is built up over the long term. To capitalize on members’ hard-won experience and encourage them to stay with you, it is vital that you ensure they get something out of their commitment, no matter how long they have been a part of the group. While new members might be won over by the promise of learning new things, it is important you put in place durable systems to ensure long-standing members stay loyal.

There are two key ways of retaining members. First, teach them things they will not learn anywhere else; and, second, give them the recognition they deserve for their commitment.

Both of these dynamics are in operation in the intrapreneurs’ community we promote for one of our customers in the transport industry. Participants benefit from support and long-term coaching as they launch their projects (i.e.: they receive teaching) and, whenever a promotional operation is to be rolled out, several of their suggested projects are selected by in-house sponsors so that they can be made a reality (i.e.: they are rewarded for their commitment). To keep participants involved in periods when no promotions are active, we offer them the chance to become ambassadors or even coaches for new members – again, their input is being recognized.

If you do this, you can make your community grow and reach new heights of effectiveness by transforming each member into a potential channel for expansion. When members are proud to be a part of a community, they are infinitely more effective at promoting it and recruiting others.

Would you like to transform your ecosystem into a community?

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