Introducing the house party as a metaphor for exploring community management 

Over the coming months we’ll be exploring a number of metaphors about community management that can support conversations about specific concepts and common challenges in a creative and free-flowing manner.

You can read more about the series in our overview post. For each metaphor, there will be a blog post describing the metaphor and several additional posts applying it to specific scenarios.

In this blog post, we’ll review the components of the house party metaphor, and then on Thursday we’ll be back with a look at the importance of community scaffolding. Next week, you can expect two more posts that go deep into the metaphor. 

We hope you’ll join us on Wednesday, 22 November at 11am EST / 4pm UTC when we’ll be discussing the house party metaphor on our monthly community call! 

We often use the metaphor of a house party to explain community management and to work through some of the challenges in a relatable way. In our 2022 guidebook on creating community scaffolding, we described it like this: 

You, the community manager, are hosting a house party (aka supporting members on your community platform). It is your job to ensure that all of the guests at the party enjoy themselves – in a way that is inclusive, safe, and respects the neighbors! This starts with the invitation (onboarding), which should be clear and engaging and include information about expectations and norms (community participation guidelines). You may also require an RSVP to your invite that includes learning more about your invitees’ needs (onboarding survey). 

At your party, you might welcome your guests at the door and introduce them to others (onboarding and initial welcome) or you might ask other guests to take turns in doing this. Later, you might invite your guests to take part in a game or to play their favorite song (programming), which helps them get to know one another and start identifying shared interests. You will probably also offer refreshments and mingle with your guests yourself (informal coffee chats). And after your party ends, you might check in with your guests about whether they had fun or not (a community survey). 

Reference: Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement. (2022) The CSCCE Community Participation Model – Scaffolding to lower barriers to participation in STEM communities. Woodley, Pratt, and Santistevan doi: 10.5281/zenodo.6078934

The house party metaphor is particularly useful for thinking through the role of scaffolding, as we did in the guidebook, describing the configuration of your community (ie, what rooms it contains), and what happens when something goes awry and you have to respond to a challenging situation. 

An illustration of a house party, featuring four guests dancing, drinking, and eating.
Image by Freepik

Metaphor components

The house

The house represents the space in which your community convenes. For some communities, it’s obvious what the house represents – an online platform, for example, or a university department. For others, it’s a little more amorphous, with the house representing a collection of social media channels plus an in-person conference. 

Features of the house that might relate to how you think about community:

  • Owned, rented, or a cooperative – who owns your community space? Is it something administered by a larger organization with the community manager a property manager of sorts, bridging between members (fee-paying tenants) and the “owner”? Or perhaps the community is more distributed and co-owned by all members. 
  • Windows and doors – how open is your community? Can people “see in” and observe what’s happening inside? Are the doors unlocked or left ajar so that new members can easily enter or is some kind of key required – whether that’s paying a fee, earning keys to different rooms, or showing some kind of ID? 
  • Utilities – what services are needed to keep your community up and running? How are these paid for and who is responsible for managing them? What happens when those services e.g., social media accounts, change their terms?
  • Location – how easy is it for people to find your community? Is it located near other related communities on the same street? Does it have any adjoining buildings? What is your relationship with the neighbors like?

The rooms

A house often has multiple rooms, each with a distinct purpose. For example, the kitchen is where you prepare food, or the bedroom is where you sleep. But sometimes you don’t eat in the dining room, you take your dinner onto the couch so you can read or watch TV. And maybe at different times of year, you spend more time outside. 

Features of rooms that might relate to how you think about community:

  • Walls and doors – are all areas of your community open to everyone? If not, how do you decide who gets a key? E.g., do maintainers go through training before they are able to access the “heating, electrics, and water supply” of your community?
  • Furniture and appliances – how does the functionality of your community spaces impact what happens there? Are you providing appealing decor (pinning posts, having a consistent style, designing for accessibility)?
  • Eavesdropping – how do you share what’s happening in different parts of your community with your broader membership (if at all)? If you miss the cool conversation happening in the kitchen, how might you hear about it in the living room? And what about the hallways, staircases, and other spaces that connect various parts of your house? How do you support members in moving from those interstitial spaces (such as newsfeeds in an online community) into a room where they feel like they belong (e.g., by joining a working group or task force)?

The party

You have a house, with several rooms, to which you invite your guests. The party is the programming that facilitates connections between members. It might be the same every day, it might change with the seasons or to coincide with other events happening in the neighborhood, or you might run a combination of events and activities. 

Features of parties that might relate to how you think about community:

  • Invitations and introductions – who is in your community, or who do you want to connect your existing members with as you grow?
  • Different things to do – is your programming multi-modal? Can attendees choose between getting something to eat (CONVEY/CONSUME), making a meal together (CONTRIBUTE), playing a game (COLLABORATE), or planning a future activity (CO-CREATE)? Are you offering different ways for your guests to interact or participate? [See the CSCCE Community Participation Model for more details about these various modes of participation.]
  • Etiquette and norms – how do your members know the expected behaviors in your community? And do they know what to do if someone does something wrong? Is this shared with the initial invitation – and/or reinforced when they show up?
  • Endings/outcomes – while your community is unlikely to “end,” what will come out of your programming and convening? Are there publications or reports about what the community is doing? Do you send around thank you notes to guests for their contributions to the party? 

The host

It is rare for a party to just happen, and the same is true of communities. In this metaphor, the role of the host is generally played by the community manager, who may also be supported by other members of staff or community volunteers. 

Features of hosts that might relate to how you think about community:

  • Knowledgeable about their guests – do you know who your members are? Can you make introductions when they arrive or highlight  relevant programming happening in the different rooms?
  • Listen and learn – do your community members have adequate avenues for providing feedback? And when they do send you feedback, can you act on it?
  • Create a welcoming environment – are you clearing away empty glasses and plates (dealing with spam and inappropriate content), are all of your rooms accessible to all guests? How are you checking whether refreshments need refilling (replying to unanswered discussion threads, starting new conversations and making further introductions)?
  • Mediate conflict – how will you moderate disagreements or transgressions?

Coming up in our next blog post

On Thursday, we’ll continue our exploration of the house party metaphor for community management with a look at scaffolding: The supportive information, activities, and processes that, a bit like scaffolding on a house, help a community grow and thrive but ultimately could be removed and the community could standalone.