What makes a great community?

Stan Garfield
5 min readDec 23, 2018

Originally answered Aug 12, 2017

Great Communities of Practice have:

  1. A compelling topic: The members and potential members must be passionate about the subject for collaboration, and it must be relevant to their work.
  2. A critical mass of members: You usually need at least 100 members, with 200 being a better target. See this related discussion thread.
  3. A committed leader: The community leader should know the subject, have energy for stimulating collaboration, have sufficient time to devote to leadership, and then regularly spend time increasing membership, lining up speakers, hosting calls and meetings, asking and answering questions, and posting information which is useful to the members.
  4. Regular events: Conference calls or in-person meetings
  5. Active online discussions: Regular posts, multiple replies, and no unanswered questions

From Community Goals and Measurements here are indicators of success:

  1. Regular posts and replies in the online threaded discussions
  2. All questions are answered within 24 hours
  3. At least one communication from community leadership to members each month
  4. The number of members increases over time
  5. A regular conference call, webinar, or face-to-face meeting is held

The community has a practical and positive community culture:

  1. Moderated with a light touch using proven practices
  2. There is diversity in the membership and in those who post
  3. Members must be admitted, but most are admitted if they appear to practice or have a sincere interest in the community topic
  4. Most types of posts are allowed within a few common-sense limits
  5. Focus on what is valuable to the members, e.g., job search, job openings, links to articles and posts relevant to the community topic, queries, and requests for help
  6. There may be quiet periods followed by spurts of activity
  7. The volume of posts is just about right — not so many as to overwhelm, and not so few to appear that the community is dead
  8. Queries and requests for help usually receive prompt, helpful replies from multiple members
  9. The tone is civil, friendly, and supportive
  10. New members feel welcome and are able to post without negative consequences

From the Communities Manifesto:

There are five elements that communities need: Subject, Members, Interaction, Leaders, Enthusiasm (SMILE):

  1. Subject: A specialty to learn and/or collaborate about
  2. Members: People interested in the subject
  3. Interaction: Meetings, calls, and discussions
  4. Leaders: People passionate about the subject who are dedicated to creating, building, moderating, and sustaining a community, while serving the needs of the community members
  5. Enthusiasm: Motivation to engage and spend time collaborating and/or learning about the subject

From the Level 5 description in the self-assessment tool developed with the UK’s National Health Service by Chris Collison:

1. Purpose and direction: The CoP continually reviews its strategic focus, spawning additional groups to cover specific topics or actions as appropriate. Members share the same ambition for the CoP; they fully buy-into the strategy and plans for the CoP and are personally committed to its future. External drivers and influences on the CoP are fully understood.

2. Governance and Structure: Membership coverage is complete, providing well-balanced representation. Diversity and cultural/regional differences are well handled. Governance is fully effective, demonstrating a genuine strategic interest in the success of the CoP. Sponsors are proactive advocates who champion the cause and promote successes externally.

3. Leadership and Facilitation:

  • Leadership is shared seamlessly between several members, who have time and support to carry out the role effectively.
  • There is good understanding of dynamic social processes (e.g. bridges and brokers, connectors and mavens.) and how to facilitate the CoP to get the best from these. There is a virtuous circle of credibility and confidence in the CoP to respond and deliver.

4. Knowledge Capture and Reuse:

  • Members bring new insights, analysis, and content for inclusion as a matter of course. Discussions are regularly distilled into valued knowledge assets. They become essential reading for all members, and may spawn other products, guides and checklists for wider use.
  • Mechanisms for capturing and sharing are well established, including live and virtual events.

5. Integrity and Vitality:

  • High levels of trust and mutual respect enable passionate discussions. People are able to discuss their feelings.
  • Conflict is handled professionally, openly, and positively.
  • People honor commitments to participate and deliver.
  • Good range of contributions and unsolicited offers. Members regularly interact on a peer-to-peer basis is well as with the CoP as a whole. Where appropriate, interaction extends well beyond the boundaries (e.g., suppliers, partners, other CoPs).

6. Learning and Improvement:

  • The CoP regularly engages in formal and informal learning, (e.g. guest speakers, internal and external benchmarking, project reviews and visits) with strong participation.
  • The CoP models reflective practice and seeks ways to improve its effectiveness through evaluation and feedback.
  • Members openly share their learning from failures as well as successes.

7. Impact and Value:

  • The CoP is acknowledged by members and stakeholders alike for its impact.
  • Members are proud of their accomplishments together and tell stories of measurable impact and innovation.
  • The CoP reviews the impact is it having in order to understand and repeat its successes.
  • Specific external stakeholders and influencers are targeted with impact stories.

8. Sustainability and Renewal:

  • The CoP is not reliant on a specific individual to maintain momentum.
  • Multiple channels (e.g. voice, data, email, webcast) are used innovatively.
  • Dialogue is rich and varied, incorporating personal exchanges and business focus.
  • There is an agreed strategy for growth, funding and recruitment of new members.

What makes a great community leader?

Community leaders should Schedule, Host, Answer, Post, Expand (SHAPE):

  1. Schedule: Line up speakers and set up events
  2. Host: Initiate and run conference calls, webinars, and face-to-face meetings
  3. Answer: Ensure that questions in the threaded discussion board receive replies, that discussions are relevant, and that behavior is appropriate
  4. Post: Share information which is useful to the members by posting to the community site, threaded discussion board, blog, and/or newsletter
  5. Expand: Attract new members, content contributions, and threaded discussion board posts

What makes a great community member?

Community members should Subscribe, Post, Attend, Contribute, Engage (SPACE):

  1. Subscribe: Get email alerts, RSS feeds, or mobile notifications and regularly read a threaded discussion board/group
  2. Post: Start a new thread or reply in a threaded discussion board/group
  3. Attend: Participate in community events
  4. Contribute: Submit content to the community newsletter, blog, wiki, or site
  5. Engage: Ask or answer a question, make a comment, or give a presentation

Use the SAFARIS acronym to remember what to do:

  • Share a link, tip, trick, or insight
  • Ask a question to collaborate with others
  • Find a resource, person, or site
  • Answer someone’s question
  • Recognize a colleague’s contribution or achievement
  • Inform about what you are working on, where you are, or where you will be
  • Suggest an idea and solicit input using a poll



Stan Garfield

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/