Community-building principles?

Community-building principles?

by David Millar -
Number of replies: 7
Can anyone point me to a checklist of ethical and group principles for setting up a collaborative online community?

I am thinking of setting up a sort of million-man/woman group blog "Voices of Montreal/Voix de Montreal" with multiethnic lifestories, podcasts and music. My concern is that ethnic flame wars can result when people start telling their stories.

Ideally, such principles would not be imposed, but discussed and
freely accepted by all members of the group. Some examples, off the top of my head:
1. Ethics to avoid hate lit: participants should express their lived experiences fully and freely, without censorship. But while they may state what happened to them in detail, an entire ethnic group cannot be accused as perpetrators of a crime. Should links to other (uncontrolled, unreviewed) sites be permitted?
2. Informed consent: anyone interviewed for a life-story will have the right to review the transcript before publication. They will have the purpose and proposed audience of the VOM/VdM site explained to them. The transcript will be in English or French, and the interviewee's will have the right to correct or censor it. We also hope to allow podcasts
of the interview in the original language, with music, if financial resources and/or bandwidth permit -- in order to create a wider audience. The interviewee should carefully consider the effect on their life and family of "going public".
3. Changing the rules: should be done by consensus. Further discussion may be essential when expanding the working group, so that newcomers can 'own' the principles. Should there be some fixed limit on the times when this can be done, and the amount of time that can be spent in discussion? Otherwise, a noisy minority can hijack the group and bring useful work to a halt -- as sometimes happens in NGOs, co-op houses, and women's groups.

Perhaps a secular version of the process used by Quakers?
  • Recognizing that of God in everyone.
  • Affirming the Spirit in oneself and others.
  • ...fostering and preserving opportunities congenial to the Spirit.
  • Living with simplicity...
  • ...striving to deal openly and lovingly with others when conflicts arise.
  • Seeking alternatives to violence in our words and actions.
  • Listening for the truth in the words of others.
  • Speaking the truth as we discern it with cordiality, kindness, and love.
  • Avoiding gossip, talebearing, breaking confidences, or the disparagement of others [while clearly stating one's own aims or experience, one should refrain from comment, denial or direct criticism of what another has said - also a principle of American aboriginal discussion]
  • Resisting temptations to falsehood, coercion, and abuse.
  • Avoiding behavior that supports social ranking.
Other examples:
Are there other similar statements of similar process principles related to access, universality, antiracism?

Some problem areas are signalled in
M. Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule (1983) a Jesuit observes Quaker process,
and in
CitizenSHIFT / Parole citoyenne

Can you give me examples of other problems that consensus failed to resolve?

In reply to David Millar

Re: Community-building principles?

by Jay Cross -
You might check out David Cooperrider's Appreciative Inquiry. He suggests that framing an issue in terms of problem-solving gets things off on the wrong foot. Better to start with strengths (which you might overlook if they weren't part of a solution of the problem.)

Also, Owen Harrison's Open Space Technology. Intended for face-to-face, it's powerful because you're not striving to meet expectations so much as accepting that what ever happens is the best thing that can have happened.

In reply to Jay Cross

Re: Jay's suggestions

by David Millar -
In reply to David Millar

Re: Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

by Nancy Riffer -

Appreciative inquiry has several facets and many applications.  It is being used in development work in poor countries (, education, community development with at-risk youth , and with corporations.  It is an approach to change that is widely applicable. 

Jay talked about it's rejection of problem-solving as an approach to change and it's focus on the positive -- on what is working well in the situation one is interested in seeing change.  E.g., In one of David Cooperrider's workshops I attended, f2f, he told the story of helping his son learn to play soccer.  Like a good soccer Dad, he videoed his son during games.  Then he made a tape of all the things his son had done right and played it back for him.  Not one correction!

Another aspect of AI is the focus on collecting data in the form of stories.  The inquiry usually begins with people paired asking each other questions that have been prepared.  To gain insight into the lifeblood of the group/organization that is changing, questions are asked with stems like "Tell me about a time when . . ."  or "What's an example of a time when .. .?" 

If we wanted to use AI in this group to explore informal learning and build our sense of being a group, we might use questions.  E.g., "Tell me about a time when you got so involved in a situation that it was only afterward that you realized you had been learning a lot."  Follow-up: "Is there a time when you realized a week or two later how much you had learned in some (informal) situation?"

 The forming of the questions is one of the most important aspects of the process -- I am not suggesting we use appreciative inquiry but I think what question(s) you might ask would help others see where the heart of informal learning is for you/us.  I'd be interested in hearing how other people might word a question to elicit a story that would capture the part of informal learning that each of us is most excited about. 

In reply to Nancy Riffer

Re: Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

by Greg Verhappen -
Thanks Nancy!

At a first perusal of your Appreciative Inquiry links, I came away with the following impression.

Appreciative Inquiry is really about an intentional shift towards an intentional attitude of optimism (growth orientation) vs pessimism (limiting orientation).

In reply to Greg Verhappen

Re: Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

by Nancy White -
Yes, that is the intent. The folks at Case Western and other academic research institutions are also now looking into the interrelationship between positive psychology and AI. It appears that there are some brain patterns that reinforce this approach. We can't be "fight of flight" all the times, it seems!
In reply to Greg Verhappen

Re: Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

by Nancy Riffer -

Appreciative Inquiry's (AI) biggest contribution to the field initially was to take a positive approach.  It is based on the idea that we find what we are looking for.  So if we always look to solve problems, we will always find problems.  If we look for the strengths in what we already know how to do (or the life blood of the organization) we will find the areas on  which we can build.

AI was originally an approach to action research based inpart on the belief that we find what we set out to look for.  Thus the focus on the appreciative approach.  As research designed to create change, after gathering data about what is working well, the group works together to envision what could be and to begin to take steps to create that future.  The action steps grow out of the energy of the group -- if no one is inspired to take on one part of the anticipated work, then that part is set aside.  If there isn't energy for it in the group then it is not important now.  This is a very organic process that develops out of the group's enthusiasm with process guidance from the leaders.  This link describes the history of the development of AI in the late 80's.  David Cooperrider has not tried to hold onto AI -- one doesn't have to be certified in it.  He encourages people in his workshops to go forth and try it and continue to research how it works best.  So the links I gave you to AI projects displayed the parts of AI that different leaders had picked up and found useful.

In reply to David Millar

Re: Community-building principles?

by Nancy White -
The suggestions around AI and Open Space remind me that there is no one way to do this, but the key practice you have surfaced David is that the group have some sense of it's agreements and processes. Nothing too heavy - otherwise we don't get anything done.

In one community I worked in, our agreements were very simple:

* assume good intent
* don't assume you understand - ask questions and use inquiry
* you own your own words - take responsibility for clarity and content
* focus on behaviors, not people when raising interaction challenges
* if you aren't having fun or at least one smile while you are online, take a break and go for a walk

Now, in the particular arena you are suggesting in an online context, you might also want to look at Web Labs Small Group Dialog process. What I found useful in their process is the idea of breaking larger groups into smaller groups. Online, it is easier to overcome some of our communications challenges in smaller groups, particularly when there are emotional or difficult issues on the table. WebLabs approach is generally sans facilitator - I think there are times when facilitators can be useful (if they DON'T dominate) and some of the data out of their Listening to the City project supports this. I have to dig up those references. They are not on weblab's site. (For example here:  and here )

  • In the context of informal learning, the question I carry now is how do we keep the value of the informal when we start to use more formalized or structured group processes? What should we be paying attention to?