How can we make co-creation in community less exhausting?

This is a topic I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of years and I highlight it as a result of Fabian’s recent blog post how can we make co-creation in community less exhausting:

I don’t know about you, but I find co-design of community awesome and often absolutely exhausting . It’s crucial that we — as a community — come into conversation and shape the group together. But there is a balance to be found. Often these processes can go on forever . They suck up all the energy out of the room. In an effort to be inclusive, we keep circling and circling about the same issues. And at the end we end up exhausted, often with a result nobody is too excited about and we’re just glad the process is over. It feels like we are draining the enthusiasm of some key members and I’m not sure if this is a smart trade-off in the long run.

The more I think about it, the more I feel community is not focused enough on solving for the problems and needs that people have.

For example, if we keep circling around the same issues (and not making progress) then we are clearly not focusing in on and tuning into community discovery.

Good communities not only tune in with care and precision to the needs of their people, they also then seek ways to solve those needs.

Some of it is co-creation. However, I think increasingly we should also view it as the communities investing resources into solving their problems for them.

This also means it only makes to treat community as a product and as a business. And when we treat a community like this, it means that we can invest back into the community and stop expecting everyone to contributing their time for free.

Free work is probably one of the biggest things that contributes to exhaustion.

So a quick shortlist (including the points in the above article) of how we can make community less exhausting:

  1. We shouldn’t assume that everyone wants to or should co-create
  2. With a clear invitation we set expectations what it means to be part of the co-creation process
  3. Co-creation still needs leadership
  4. We are clear what the ultimate decision making process will be
  5. Understand that businesses need resources
  6. Treat communities as products
  7. Focus in on community driven business/financial stability
  8. Don’t expect people to work for free
  9. Make real progress

What else?

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I think this is a great list of (possible) guidelines. I’d also add that the details of some of those things matter. In particular I think the decision making process(es) and expectations around those can be a major source of time and energy sink.

Where possible I think incorporating two key tenets can be very powerful, as long as you can get a majority of people onboard.

First, be experimental if possible, and be explicit about this frame. This can help people feel less concern about getting everything right immediately, the first time around. If there is a shared understanding that decisions lead to experiments, which have built-in evaluation and criteria for evolution as-needed, then a community can become a bit more agile and less invested in the immediate result, in a healthy way. This is not always possible, some decisions are a lot harder to “try out and then change later” (choice of platform is, sadly, one of those; it’s possible to switch, but a lot of work, and has other costs). But where possible it’s a good expectation to set clearly.

Second, in creating and communicating the decision making process, try to incorporate some kind of time or process-based “out” for stalemates, indecision, etc. Make it fair, egalitarian, and apply it consistently. For example “We’ll have 1 week of discussion on collective decisions after which a vote will be held and the majority option will be tried”, or “We’ll take feedback until at least 10% of the active membership has commented or reacted, as defined by the platform’s internal metrics.”, etc. Basically some measure you can use and all agree on that sets a reasonable limit on how long and how much debate can go on. There might still be intractable issues, and for those you might need hierarchical decision-making structures, tie-breakers, etc. But setting basic, reasonable limits ahead of time can be very helpful. And this also goes hand-in-hand with the first point, because the explicitly experimental frame can help lower the stakes if one person or part of the community doesn’t get their preference this time.

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