Launching a New Community as a New Community Manager

This past year, Ellen Bechtol launched a brand new community as a brand new community manager. In this guest post she reflects on how that went.

This past year, I had the opportunity and privilege to launch a brand new community as a brand new community manager. And I think it went reasonably well! Here’s why:

Joining a Community of Practice

The Multimessenger Diversity Network (MDN) is a community of representatives from multimessenger astrophysics research collaborations focused on increasing diversity in the field. As a community of practice (CoP), the MDN is “a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner). I find it fitting that to run a CoP I joined a CoP for community managers, the Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP) and subsequent CSCCE CoP. Within weeks of starting in my new role as a community manager, I applied to the CEFP with a strong sense that being part of it would be crucial to successfully launching the MDN. After all, I was stepping into a new role for a new community and was feeling rather lost as to where to begin. Although much of the content from the early CEFP trainings felt out of scope for the MDN, connecting with other community managers (CMs) and getting introduced to the foundations of community management from the perspective of mature communities was unbelievably helpful. Even more helpful were continued interactions, online and at subsequent trainings, with other Fellows. The collective resource of experiences from so many CMs in so many different types of organizations has been most valuable.

Engaged and committed community members

The credit for the accomplishments of the MDN this last year really goes to the community members. The MDN is currently comprisesd of 16 members, overwhelmingly working in academia as professors or on large research projects. This means that all members of the MDN were at least 150% overcommitted prior to joining the community, yet they all joined with enthusiasm and a strong commitment to improving equity, diversity, and inclusion in the field of multimessenger astronomy. It is an honor to work with such dedicated individuals and without them the network would surely be far behind where it is. One aspect of launching the MDN that I found especially interesting and daunting was that as a community we needed to quickly progress to a level of “maturity” in order to have meaningful conversations and make progress towards broadening participation. In the first CEFP training, we learned about the stages of community development – from conveying information to members to collaborating or co-creating (model coming to the CSCCE website). The MDN members proved ready to jump right in to “collaborate” when, at our first in person meeting, we had a long and deep conversation about the definition of “broadening participation in STEM.” And “collaborate” turned to “co-create” when MDN members suggested that we collectively write and submit a white paper about the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion in large astrophysics research collaborations to the Astro2020 Decadal Survey (a process used to set 10-year priorities for the fields of astronomy and astrophysics).

Room to grow

A third aspect that I think led to success this last year was having room and flexibility to grow a community from the ground up. In the funding proposal the basic idea of the community was laid out, but the “how-to” was largely unstated and left up to me. And thankfully I had a CoP to lean on and an engaged membership to help me figure out what the MDN would look like initially and how it would evolve. Dedicated funding to manage the MDN meant dedicated time to figure things out. It also provided real urgency to start a community as soon as possible which I believe was helpful and has allowed the MDN and our activities to evolve in a more organic and less prescribed way. I won’t lie – there were often times when I longed for more direction or a how-to manual – but now that I’m a year in, I think there has been just the right balance of direction, funding, and time. Looking at the year ahead, I am excited for the growth and continued activity of the MDN.

Are you launching a new community or revitalizing an old one? What keys to success are you finding along the way?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ellen Bechtol is the part time community manager for the Multimessenger Diversity Network (MDN), which is part of a larger National Science Foundation INCLUDES award focused on broadening participation in multimessenger astronomy. The MDN, established at the end of 2018, is a community of representatives from multimessenger astronomy research collaborations focused on increasing diversity in the field. The MDN shares knowledge, experiences, and training and develops resources and practices around broadening participation.

Resources

You can find more CSCCE-curated resources on hiring / becoming a scientific community manager here.

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