Community manager journal club recap: Fostering a sense of belonging

Posted by Gabrielle Rabinowitz, Community Manager at Trellis

"Passt 2" by Willi Heidelbach, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Passt 2” by Willi Heidelbach, licensed under CC BY 2.0

We’ve recently started a monthly community management journal club at AAAS. In our first two meetings, we’ve focused on two questions at the heart of community building: “What makes a group of people a community?” and “How do these communities vary?” The readings for these meetings included an excerpt from Jono Bacon’s The Art of Community and a blog post by Lou Woodley, Considering Community: What types of community are there?

One theme that emerged from our discussions was the importance of belonging. Read on for different interpretations of this value and how to foster it in your community.


“If there is no belonging, there is no community.”

 This quote comes from the opening chapter of Jono Bacon’s The Art of Community. In that chapter, Jono describes the strong sense of identity felt by the members of the Linux/Open Source community in the early 2000s. He writes,

“The reason why Ben was so involved in LugRadio, why Neil ran the Linux User Group meeting, and why thousands of other community members around the world get together, comes down to one simple word: belonging (The Art of Community, Pg. 4).

In our first meeting we put aside our community manager roles for a moment and talked about our experiences as members of communities. We noticed a common thread of belonging that united groups as varied as blog comment sections, childhood after-school groups, and college majors. But what made these communities stand out? Why did we belong?


“Putting people together in one space isn’t enough.”

Jono believes that community members’ sense of belonging comes from the exchange of social capital: “the collective family of positive interactions between two or more people” (Pg. 6). When we discussed this in the first journal club meeting, I was reminded of a presentation at CMX Summit East, a community management conference I attended (and blogged about) in May.

The speaker was Poppy Liu, theater artist and co-founder of the co-living startup Pure House. In her talk, Poppy took a holistic and values-focused approach to community building, reminding us that “people are craving community and connection”. She made the important point that we can’t just put people together in one space and expect them to become a community. The shared values of safety, trust, accountability, and gratitude are essential to nourish a sense of belonging.


What does belonging look like in different communities?

The final reading for our first two journal clubs was a blog post by Trellis Community Engagement Director, Lou Woodley. She laid out several different types of communities, including communities of interest, practice, inquiry, action, and place.

We pondered how “belonging” might look different in each type of community. Lou asks in her post,

“Do communities of circumstance and communities of action result in more sharing of personal information because members are particularly emotionally invested in the outcomes of the community’s activities? And does this sharing of personal information then result in an increased sense of belonging?

According to Poppy Liu, the emotional openness required to put yourself on the line for a cause or open up about a personal issue is crucial for fostering belonging in a community. On the other hand, the communities of interest, practice, or place that Lou identified run the risk of simply “putting people together in one space”.

In light of this discussion, we noted that we as community managers can model the integrity, transparency, and gratitude that we want to see reflected in our communities. We each reflected on our roles and the ways we could put some of these values into play.


Have you considered ways to create a sense of belonging in your community? What type of community is it and what are the values that make it special?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *