October 2012
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A Vision for Connection Communities

What distinguishes a Connection Community from “just” a community? 

Andy McMillanAndy McMillan
President and GM
Philips Teletrol
President
BACnet International
Contributing Editor


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Throughout my 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  In my opinion, this approach to professional community is outdated.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.

Communications

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) content.   

Awareness

A second 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.

Membership

CatNet SystemsA 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 people.

Summary

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 andysview@arborcoast.com.


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