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A Vision for Connection Communities
What distinguishes a Connection Community from “just” a community?
professional life I’ve found great value in being an active part of
communities that share my challenges, interests and aspirations.
Many of them are known by their acronyms (e.g. ASHRAE, ESD, IEEE, ASAE
…) and all of them provide opportunities for education, service, and
networking. They typically deliver those benefits through
conferences, publications, standards activities and trade shows while
largely working independently of each other. In my opinion, this
approach to professional community is outdated. We need to move
on. With the growth of social media and a corresponding change in
our collective expectations around personal interactions, significant
changes are coming that will transform professional communities into
what we will call for this column, “Connection Communities.” So
what distinguishes a Connection Community from “just” a
community? I think there are at least three facets to consider.
First, in my
experience, communication in professional communities is largely
unidirectional … from the association office out to members via
publications, emails, etc. While there is member-to-member
communication at conferences and in association committees, it impacts
a limited number of members. In a Connection Community, on the
other hand, I would expect to see more direct communication among a
larger percentage of the members. The good news is that I’m
beginning to see that happen already through community-sponsored forums
as well as special interest groups in more generic forums such as Yahoo
and LinkedIn. These forums result in broader member participation
and much more member-driven (and member-relevant)
characteristic of traditional professional communities is that they
tend to be rather closed, almost a world unto themselves. They
create specialized language to describe their domain and often progress
their agenda with little regard for (and often little knowledge of) the
agendas of complementary professional communities. In fact, they often
focus unduly on competing with adjacent communities for members and
influence. A Connection Community will recognize that many
members are naturally a part of multiple communities and will seek ways
to amplify the value of that fact, rather than minimize (or ignore)
it. I envision this will go beyond the kind of inter-organization
liaison agreements that are typical today and move into some form of
inter-organizational direct member interaction. This will enrich
the entire community and provide a more integrated experience for
members who span communities.
A third facet of
answering the question, “What distinguishes a Connection Community from
“just” a community?” is related to membership. The membership
boundaries of traditional communities are well-defined with clear
member identification and extended membership terms (generally a year
or more). I would like to think the walls of Connected
Communities can be more porous than traditional professional
communities. Connected Community membership ought to ascribe to
participation rather than “joining” and the term of membership ought to
be driven by continued benefit rather than bylaws. This will
result in a more flexible definition of “member” and thus increase the
opportunities for membership benefits to accrue to a broader group of
The evolution of traditional professional communities into true Connection Communities will radically transform the experience of “belonging.” It will also create new challenges and opportunities for the people who choose to lead such communities and the staff that aspires to support them.
In this column we have just scratched the surface of a vision for Connected Communities. It’s a broad topic that’s worthy of deeper discussion, especially seeing as how ubiquitous social media is enabling more connection options than ever before. Join me and others at the AHR show in January as we continue to explore the meaning and implications of Connection Communities.
As always, the views expressed in this column are mine and do not necessarily reflect the position of BACnet International, Philips Teletrol, ASHRAE, or any other organization. If you want to send comments to me directly, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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