Should we think of our members as citizens?

This quote got me thinking.

I like the idea of citizens rather than just users. Especially as I’m personally viewing community as the ability to create worlds (or lands…ala Rosieland) It feels like there’s more commitment with the angle of responsibility.

Source: Responsible Design for Digital Communities

I’m not quite sure how to explain the difference of getting users versus citizens on board though.


Users are on the periphery (more of an audience) and not necessarily part of the community.

Once users feel more comfortable there may be ways to design activities and invites to become a ‘citizen’.



It’s a very interesting concept but really hard from a logistical point of view. It’s similar to running a collective when you expect members/users to be responsible for something.

I’ve thought about doing this but getting people to commit and then deliver is really tiring and stressful. Not sure but if someone can make this work, it’ll be amazing. Reminds me of Yak Collective.


I also believe this is a very compelling idea.

There are some experimental projects who have been trying to do this like Enspiral, Ouishare or the platform coop movement.

These communities are no longer inviting people to participate in the discussions, improving a product or helping each other, but also to cobudget to decide how the money flows through an organization, or to participate in the governance.

There are also interesting experiments in the world of participatory budgeting and participatory decision-making.

It feels hard to pull off, as we’ve grown used to be consumers instead of citizens, but with enough examples and shared practices I believe it should be doable to do again.

I’m wondering how much these organisations can scale though, but that might not be a problem, as sometimes it makes more sense to keep communities small.

PS: Here are some great resources that I found inspiring:

I’m not sure users have to be responsible for things.

I like comparing things to my local community. I respect it. I keep engaged. I definitely don’t contribute as much as I would like, but I keep an eye on what is out there. In this scenario I want to be seen as a citizen, with my rights and the need to keep informed, but I don’t necessarily want to or am able to contribute (in many different ways).

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Responsibility is a hurdle. :grimacing:

My thinking on the progression:

  • Users = Everyone who shows up
  • Members = Residents with varying levels of activity
  • Contributors = Citizens with consistent activity

Citizenship as an opt-in feels right. Additional responsibilities become a choice. E.g. contributing to a project, volunteering time as a moderator, joining a subgroup with specific obligations, etc…

A few examples there:

Open source software. You can be a community member without additional obligations. But you can also choose to contribute to the project, volunteering your time and skills. That pulls you closer to the project and closer to being a “citizen”.

Gaming guilds. You can be a casual guild/clan member, joining for the banter and social dynamics. You can also choose to be more involved with, say, guild management (officers) or progression (raids/dungeon teams, competitive/ranked play, etc…)

Professional community. Join because it’s a community for your industry, connect with your peers, attend events, etc… and choose to take part in mastermind groups or training & certification programs.

In each case, there’s the base level of membership, with additional layers of commitment for joining certain groups.

Going back to the original point of local communities: I think most people have the mindset of being a resident, rather than being a citizen.

They’ll pay their taxes because they have to, but beyond that, they’re not participating in things like, say, town hall meetings, or (unfortunately) voting in local elections.

Inspired by the Orbit Model (thank you @rosiesherry for your work on that) I admit I wanted to think about the community I work with in more organic terms and I went for a village. I did at talk about my (then very basic) thoughts at Timescale Community day last year, if you can bear the poor presentation on my part, that’s a link to YouTube. :slight_smile:

Since then I’ve developed my thinking on it quite a lot and keep on meaning to write up on it. If it’s something you’re interested in taking in other views about, I’ll kick myself into finishing that write up.

But to answer the question: yes I love the idea. I think of the periphery people as tourists: they visit the motel on the edge of town; maybe they’ll come back maybe not. A good concierge can make all the difference… taking the analogy through the different characters all the way to the representatives of the village. They can represent in all kinds of ways - sports, chess, politics, speaking etc etc - and they are the core to the community.

As I say, my thinking’s moved on since that talk but I still find it a useful way to model my community. And I repeat the hat tip to Orbit which got me thinking this way, albeit wanting to ‘ground’ my own analogies. Hope that makes sense?

BTW couldn’t acccess the link shared in the first post, but would be interested to see.