Excerpts from Chapter 1 of The Art of Community, by Jono Bacon. Note from the author: When I started work on The Art of Community I was really keen that it should be a body of work that all communities have access to. My passion behind the book was to provide a solid guide to building, energizing and enabling pro-active, productive and enjoyable communities. I wanted to write a book that covered the major areas of community leadership, distilling a set of best practices and experiences, and illustrated by countless stories, anecdotes and tales.
But to give this book real value, I was keen to ensure the book could be freely accessed and shared. I wanted to not only break down the financial barrier to the information, but also enable communities to share it to have the content be as useful as possible in the scenarios, opportunities and problems that face them. To make this happen O’Reilly needed to be on board to allow the book to be freely copied and shared, in an era in which these very freedoms threaten the publishing world.
But they came through. Thanks to the incredible support of Andy Oram, my founding editor for the book, O’Reilly were hugely supportive of the project and our desire to break down these barriers.
Today I am pleased to announce the general availability of The Art Of Community under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.
A sense of belonging is what keeps people in communities. This belonging is the goal of community building. The hallmark of a strong community is when its members feel that they belong.
Belonging is our goal. It is that nine-letter word that you should write out in large letters and stick on your office wall. It is that word that should be at the forefront of your inspiration behind building strong community. If there is no belonging, there is no community.
Belonging is the measure of a strong social economy. This economy’s currency is not the money that you find in your wallet or down the back of your couch, but is social capital.
The first known use of the term “social capital” (referred to in Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community [Simon & Schuster]) was by L. J. Hanifan, a school supervisor in rural Virginia. Hanifan described social capital as “those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely goodwill, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit….”
For an economy and community to be successful, the participants need to believe in it. If no one believes in the community that brings them together, it fails.
For an economy to work, every participant needs to believe in the economy. Belief is a critical component in how any group of people or animals functions. This can be belief in God, belief in values, or belief in a new future. Whatever the core belief is, the economy and the community can be successful only if everyone has faith in it.
Like any other economy, a social economy is a collection of processes that describe how something works and is shared between those who participate.
An economy is a set of shared concepts and processes that grow and change in an effort to generate a form of capital. In a financial economy, participants put goods and services on the market to generate financial capital. The processes and techniques they use include measuring sales, strategic marketing, enabling ease of access, and so forth. A social economy is the same thing—but we are the product, and the capital is respect and trust. The processes and techniques here are different—open communications mediums, easy access to tools, etc.—but the basic principles are the same.
These processes, and the generation of social capital, which in turn generates belonging, needs to be effectively communicated.
An economy is like a flowing river: it never stops, and the flow is critical to its success. Economies never stand still. Every day they change, adjusting to stimuli in the world that affects them. At the heart of how this movement works is communication.
The Basis of Communication
Peter Block, a consultant on learning, makes an important foundational observation about communication in a social economy: “community is fundamentally an interdependent human system given form by the conversation it holds with itself.” When I first heard that quote, I realized that the mechanism behind communication in a community is stories.
Stories are a medium in which we keep the river flowing. They are the vessels in which we not only express ideas (“I was taking the subway to work one day, and I saw this lady on there reading the paper, and it made me think xyz”), but also how we learn from past experiences (“There was one time when I saw David do xyz and I knew I had to adjust how I myself handle those situations in the future”). Furthermore, when the characters in the stories are people in a community, the stories are self-referencing and give the community a sense of reporting. Communities really feel like communities when there is a news wire, be it formalized or through the grapevine.
Not all stories are cut from the same cloth, though. Communities tend to exchange two very different kinds of story: tales and fables.
Tales are told for entertainment value and to share experiences. They are individual units of experience that are shared between people, and their primary value is in communicating a given person’s experience and adding to the listener’s repertoire of stories and experiences.
Fables are different. Fables are stories designed to illustrate an underlying message. The vast majority of us are exposed to fables as children, and these stories are passed down from generation to generation, each one extolling a moral message to the youth of the day.
To be continued.
This book is free, but you should buy it if you could. From the author: While the book is ready to download right now, the book is available to buy in print, on Kindle, and other electronic book formats and I would like to encourage you to buy a printed copy of the book for a few reasons: Firstly, buying a copy sends a tremendous message to O’Reilly that they should continue to publish books (a) about community and (b) under a Creative Commons license. Secondly, it will encourage O’Reilly to invest in a second edition of the book down the line, which will in turn mean that communities around the world will have a refreshed and updated edition that is available to them. Thirdly, aside from the voting-with-your-feet side of things, it is just a really nice book to own in print. It is really well made, looks stunning and feels great to curl up with in a coffee shop or on the couch.