First Birthday Series: Behind the scenes of community programming

For our “First Birthday Series” of blog posts, we are taking some time to reflect on CSCCE’s community of practice, which turned one year old on 21 October 2020. Our first post summarised the community “by the numbers,” and is a fun run-down of just how far we’ve come. In this post, we go a little deeper into the strategy and philosophy behind our programming. This post was jointly authored by Communications Director, Katie Pratt and Center Director, Lou Woodley.

A community of community managers

We are in a unique “meta” position at CSCCE in convening a community of community managers. That means members of our community of practice already know the potential value that’s waiting to be released when people with experience, knowledge, and ideas that are valuable to others in the group are brought together. Part of our job as community managers is to devise programming that supports the realization of that value, and that signposts to members what might be possible together. That’s true for CSCCE staff, as well as for our members as they support their own communities, although what that programming looks like will be specific to each community’s context.

One of the things that we teach (see our Community Participation Model and accompanying guidebook, and our new courses) is the importance of multi-modal programming – to meet members where there are, with multiple options for participation that support different levels of engagement. Sometimes a member might only have time to observe or read, at other times they want to move forward a project by taking on a leadership role in a working group. Devising programming that meets your members’ needs is an ongoing, responsive process, and we’ll outline here some of what we’ve delivered and learned in our first year.

CSCCE programming

i) Regular programming – Community calls and group work

Ever since the community launched in October 2019, we have hosted monthly community calls to offer regular opportunities to discuss key community management topics in real-time – with members of the community presenting their own projects and experiences. In our first year, we heard from 24 speakers representing 25 organizations who covered topics including community champions programs, diversity, equity, and inclusion, creating core values statements, and planning and evaluating successful virtual events.

Open to anyone, these calls are often a “first contact” moment, with first-time attendees regularly requesting to join our community of practice afterwards. They also hold space for thought-provoking discussions, informal professional development, and networking. One way in which we’ve evolved these calls is to add on an extra, optional 30 mins after the presentation and Q&A, for attendees to stay on and discuss more informally and off-the-record, because we found that an hour wasn’t quite long enough.

So how do we decide what to focus on in the community calls? As part of our onboarding of new members, they are invited to complete a very short survey about their interests and how they would like to participate. We presented the first analysis of that data back in January 2020 and revisit it regularly when planning our calls. 

We’ve built out our programming and surrounding infrastructure gradually (you can’t do everything from day one as a community manager!), so we now offer video clips of presentations from our calls on our YouTube channel, and are moving towards putting slides on Zenodo (which involves coordinating with speakers so that we can meaningfully curate the resources). Setting up new processes also comes with the need to consider accompanying communications to set expectations or offer guidance, and we’re constantly reviewing how we can make our decision processes visible. Our policies and guidelines page is one example of that. Another is the decision to introduce quarterly programming update calls to make visible what’s happened and what’s coming – in a forum that allows for discussion and shaping things together. In our first of these calls in September, we used Padlet to take suggestions that have gone on to inform, for example, the creation of new onboarding materials.

Finally, part of our regular programming is convening working groups, in addition to supporting and amplifying the programming from member-led special interest groups. Our staff-convened working groups are intended to offer opportunities for members to work together and contribute to a CSCCE output or resource. Special interest groups, on the other hand, are convened by members, and while we offer support in the form of infrastructure and documentation, programming is at the discretion of each group’s conveners. More on these groups in a future post in this series! 

ii) Supporting and reinforcing communications

Another concept we practice that’s related to multi-modal programming is thinking about communication ecosystems – or how to talk about, synthesize, and curate information about our community content and activities. 

One example of this is the weekly email update that we introduced in March, which goes out to everyone in the CSCCE Slack workspace. This email is a curated run-down of some key conversations from our community of practice with additional links to upcoming calls and other activities. We were motivated to do this because we noticed a subset of members were not visibly contributing in Slack, and we thought that an email roundup might help signpost points of entry (e.g., by highlighting an interesting thread). We also realized that using Slack may not easily integrate into everyone’s day-to-day, so an email digest might offer an ongoing connection to the community. Analysis of the metrics shows that indeed many of the regular readers of this weekly communications are the “dormant” members of the Slack workspace, yet are “engaged” members when given this alternative method to stay up-to-date.

Another way in which we think about how to provide multiple entry points is in the resource pages that we curate. These pages pull together blog posts, materials from our Zenodo library, and other resources into topical pages – making it easy for members and readers to find items of relevance. We’ve chosen to roll out those pages gradually so that we can structure programming around the newest page’s theme, e.g., we published our community profiles, hosted a community call about them, and summarized the project in our monthly newsletter in September.

iii) Responsive, “pop-up” programming

When considering community programming it’s important to be responsive to changing needs – and that may result in “pop-up” programming of limited duration, or that continues to evolve in format as the situations that prompted the need also change. 2020 has been a vivid example of this, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting community managers in a range of ways – from working from home to being tasked with additional coordination roles to support their organizations’ transitions online.

In late Spring and throughout the Summer we hosted weekly social hours, primarily to support everyone’s sudden shift to working from home and adaptation to life during the pandemic. We had many thoughtful, caring, interesting, even inspiring chats in these social hours, and found respite in connection. 

Recently, we instigated a series of virtual tools trials, again to support an emerging need within our community. Many of our members were searching for new ways to host virtual events, or source platforms for hosting virtual conferences and workshops. Our tools trials allow members to come and learn, or share their expertise, and we wrote recaps for our blog so that those who were unable to join could still benefit. We are currently pausing for a couple of months to pivot these trials away from particular platforms and to next focus on event use cases, generating new shared resources in the process. 

So, how are we doing? 

In September, we distributed a short impact survey to understand the range of ways in which being a member of the community has benefited them. Based on a response rate of approximately 15%, we found that:

  • 85% of respondents had participated in conversations that changed their perspective or taught them something new
  • 80% of respondents felt better supported emotionally in their role
  • 80% of respondents had a better understanding of what community management looks like in other organizations
  • 65% of respondents had used CSCCE resources in their organization (including adapting resources)
  • 65% of respondents had meaningfully expanded their professional network
  • 60% of respondents had learned to use a tool or technique they hadn’t used before

Further analysis of the data by length of time that the members had been part of the community showed that for members who’d been part of the community for less than 6 months, use of resources in their organizations jumped to 77%. Members who’d been part of the community for more than 6 months were taking on emergent leadership roles within the CSCCE community, with 86% of respondents gaining authorship credit for contributions made to CSCCE products and 71% sharing their expertise with others in the community in a way that’s helped them build their professional reputation. This again fits with our desire to provide multi-modal programming that serves a range of member needs.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out the survey, which is helping us understand how what we offer is helping you in your role. 

As always, let us know!

If you have any comments of feedback we’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or by emailing us:

Next week…

…we’ll take a closer look at the resources that we’ve created together with community members and unpack the importance of co-creating together in a community of practice.