Building a community playbook part 1: What is it?

In January 2017, we wrapped up the training week for the inaugural class of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort … Continue reading “Building a community playbook part 1: What is it?”

In January 2017, we wrapped up the training week for the inaugural class of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows is made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. As they continue to develop their community engagement skills and apply some of the ideas and strategies from the January training, the Fellows will report back on the Trellis blog, sharing their challenges, discoveries, and insights. Today, CEFP Fellow Stephanie O’Donnell shares the first in a three part recap of a CEFP webinar on community playbooks. 

Posted by Stephanie O’Donnell, Community Manager at, Fauna & Flora International

In the opening training week of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program, The Community Roundtable introduced the “Community Playbook” as a valuable tool for community managers.

A playbook pulls together all the information about your community from the disparate spaces where it’s been living, collates it and presents it in a way that is accessible for a specific audience. A community playbook can also serve to legitimise and build support for the work of your community team.

Over the course of the second half of our fellowship year, the Fellows will be creating playbooks for our own organizations. To help us with this, The Community Roundtable was invited to give an overview of the key components and considerations of playbooks during one of the CEFP monthly webinars. In this post, I’ll recap that introduction, presented by Rachel Happe and Georgina Cannie.

What is a playbook?

At a high level, a playbook is formal documentation. Simply put, a playbook is a document outlining how the community operates and how to engage with it.

If you’re unfamiliar with playbooks, it may help to think of your playbook as a community cookbook. Like a cookbook, a playbook offers you the ingredients, procedures and methods for cooking up a successful community. If you cook up a recipe and serve it to a group of friends who end up hating it, you’re not going to write it down into your personal recipe book to make again. Whereas if you have try a recipe and everyone loves it, then it’s a recipe that will be added to your personal cookbook. This is how a playbook functions: it pulls together community recipes you’ve tried successfully into one central, easy to access space.

Another way to think of your playbook is as an information hub. The playbook is a compilation of documents that have been pulled together from their disparate storage spots in one central place. Some content for your playbook will likely be material you have already developed (particularly if your community has matured into Stage 2 of the Community Lifecycle). Oftentimes a playbook will also point you to where additional information or resources can be found.

The value of a playbook

Simply having a compilation and organisational system of where to find things is valuable for a community and Its community manager(s). However, there are other values that might not be as immediately obvious, but which make a community playbook a great idea for every community.

Consolidation and Streamlining

A playbook will consolidate, standardise and streamline your community practises. Pulling together the standard operating procedures or overall objectives of the community helps you to formalise your activities and objectives. This increases the sustainability of your community, making it stronger and more robust.


A playbook can also add a level of legitimacy to the community work, especially to others outside of the community team by lending professionalism and authority to the work you are doing.

If you’re struggling to help the rest of your organisation understand and respect community work, developing a playbook can help you communicate the purpose and value of the community to key stakeholders. This includes both the executives who have budgetary influence over your community activities and your peers and co-workers.

Activation Spark

While a good playbook can be created with documentation you already have, you may find that as you go through this process of pulling together all of this information, you identify gaps where you need additional content. This exercise can motivate you and your team to create additional resources for your community, which are always a good thing.

Historical Record

As your community grows, the way that you operate it is going to mature as well. The community’s purpose will also mature with the users that engage with it. As community behaviour evolves over time it will be reflected in subsequent versions of your community playbook, which acts as a historical record of your community progression. This record can also inform how you want the community to evolve in the future.

In the next installment in this series, Stephanie will share some Community Playbook case studies and explore different possible audiences.