How to weave social fabric [Bartlett]

Richard Bartlett’s latest piece:

People, Practices, Place

Combines two of my favorite things: community and operating rhythm.

Being part of the Occupy movement in NZ has been a formative experience for Richard and greatly shaped his professional journey. Among other things, it led him to create Enspiral, one of the most inspiring organizations out there, in my opinion, and one of my regular “go-to”s, whenever I’m looking for a progressive solution to an organizational challenge. While still involved in Ensipral and continuing to make amazing contributions on this domain (like this one), more recently he’s been exploring how to generalize some of the “secret source” of Enspiral under the banner of microsolidarity — a small group of people supporting each other to do more meaningful work.

In essence, it expands and generalizes one of my favorite Enspiral practices: care pods into a broader operating rhythm. Looking at it through the lens of the “community canvas”, it fleshes out a blueprint for the core set of rituals, shared experiences and content that such a community should have.

The Community Canvas framework

I decided to title this post borrowing the more inspirational title of a different post of Richard’s since “People, Practices, Place” seemed way too generic.

Periodic practices

The key design principle here is to focus on a predictable, steady rhythm to minimize the distraction of scheduling.

  • 2 in-person gatherings a year, coinciding with the full moon to build connections and introduce new potential members to the community.
  • 10 video calls on the other full moons where small pods (3–6 people) meet to help each other with their outward-facing work using “case clinic” or peer-coaching methodologies.
  • 12 video calls on new moons for partners (see below) to work on the community — the inward-facing governance and admin work.

The synchronous meetings are used for sense-making and deliberation, while decisions are made asynchronously (using Loomio).

People

There are two membership categories to explicitly acknowledge the all-too-common participation inequality.

  • Partners are members with more commitment to the community and the capacity to do work on the container.
  • Friends get to participate as individuals and not worry too much about the big picture.

Partners choose who to invite as Friends, and their first interaction with the community must be through attending a gathering. Partners can invite Friends to become Partners after they’ve attended their second gathering (or later) and if they’re willing to take on the additional responsibilities. There’s no expectation that all Friends will become Partners eventually and no shame in staying a Friend.

Everyone is part of a Home Group (small pod of 3–6 people), is encouraged to share leads and opportunities of working together, can be in a member of a temporary working group on an internal project, and is expected to make regular financial contributions to support the internal work.

Place

The community should be organized around a physical place to simplify coordination and make it easy to increase the density of relationships.

While the 2 gatherings take place in person, the community engages virtually through an instant messaging platform for informal interactions, an asynchronous discussion platform for long-lasting information (knowledge, decisions, etc.), and a regular newsletter to maintain a consistent baseline of shared context.


I hope the minimalist and holistic nature of this skeletal community comes across clearly. The only thing that I would also want to add as a core component of the community that I’m part of is a care pods-like rhythm for personal development. But that’s certainly not a required component. Just something that I personally long for.

How to weave social fabric [Bartlett]

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