Exploring your community configuration using the house party metaphor

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 – and the accompanying community calls 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. This post is the third in a series of four posts dissecting the house party 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! 

So, thanks to the deployment of some strategic scaffolding, you’ve been able to welcome folks to your house party – and hopefully they’ve navigated from room to room and discovered something that appeals to them, persuading them to return again and again! Now’s a great time to take a step back and consider what the way your house is structured  means for you, your members, and the day-to-day upkeep of your shared space. 

A vector illustration of a cross-section of a two-story house that shows five rooms with different purposes.
Image by pikisuperstar on Freepik

How many rooms do you have, and what’s going on in them? 

In the house party metaphor, rooms can represent a couple of different things. How you decide to use the metaphor is up to you, but here are our suggestions: 

  • Rooms as member types – While your community is bound by a shared purpose or goal, chances are there are sizeable groups of people who do similar work or contribute specific skills. There might be developers, maintainers, and users. Or faculty, post-docs, and early career researchers. Or biologists, physicists, and chemists. 
  • Rooms as special interest groups – This is subtly different from the first option here, and sub-divides your community by member interests. For example, some faculty members, some post-docs, and some early career researchers are particularly interested in exploring open science practices or online tools for collaboration. 
  • Rooms as different community spaces – For some communities, being part of a community offers access to tools or resources within the house. Maybe each of your rooms houses a different software package, or a collection of documents your members need access to from time to time. 
  • Rooms as community projects – And for groups that are particularly interested in producing things – their rooms might be outfitted with the specific hardware and their bookshelves stocked with specific reading matter (e.g, a kitchen with an oven, refrigerator, and a collection of cookbooks is ready for making a meal), so that the people in that room can create something together. 

Regardless of how you decide to use your rooms, taking the time to define them will undoubtedly make you a better host. Afterall, as new members arrive, wouldn’t it be great to suggest a room or two to head to first? 

Connecting your rooms (or not) 

Windows and doors

Depending on how you’ve constructed your house, it’s possible that anyone and everyone can look into your rooms and see what’s going on. But you might have added some blinds in a couple of rooms for privacy, and maybe installed some locks on the doors. These choices have important implications. Here are a couple, but we hope you’ll join next week’s community call to add some more: 

  • All your doors are open, all your windows are unobstructed – That anyone and everyone can access your house is great if you have the resources to safely support them while they’re there. However, do you really want everyone to see all the mess in the kitchen or simply enjoy the food in the dining room? And what about guests who need some quiet time every now and then to stay engaged? 
  • All your doors are locked and the blinds are drawn – Assuming you’ve given the key to the house to a managed list of guests, and you’re not interested in attracting new folks who might be walking by and looking through your windows, this might also be a great option. But, what if someone loses their key, or prefers to move out into the sunlight and engage more freely with others on the street? 
  • Some of the doors are locked, and blinds are installed but rarely used – A combination of the two approaches described above is often the way to go, but that requires intentional consideration of what belongs behind a locked door and what belongs in the sunroom – and making sure guests are in alignment about that. 

Hallways and stairwells/lift shafts

Within your house, guests can move from room to room via hallways and stairs/elevators. In a community, this might represent accessing different channels on your community platforms, or participating in multiple special interest groups. How they get from room to room matters – are all your members able to navigate stairs, for example? Or are the hallways dark? 

As a community manager, how quiet or packed each of your rooms is might be telling you something about how easy they are to find and whether you need to add some signage, switch on some lights, or install an elevator. 

Outcomes and outputs

If your rooms are being used to make things, whether those things are for your guests (e.g., a birthday cake being baked in the kitchen) or for people outside the house (e.g., a community newsletter), you’ll need to think carefully about how you broadcast that those products are ready. Maybe your party is small enough that you can carry the cake into the living room covered in candles (e.g., your post in the community Slack channel will reach everyone), but for a large party it might need to be divided up in the kitchen, with willing volunteers helping you distribute it around the house (e.g., you equip members with slides about the community so that they can share out at large conferences). 

Even if all your doors are locked and the blinds are drawn, yours is not the only house on the block! If the things that are leaving the house (music, enticing smells; aka materials and word of mouth testimonials) are routinely enticing, others in the neighborhood are going to get curious. In the metaphor, your neighbors might represent potential collaborators, funders, or even competitors. Thinking about when and how you might invite them in, or meet in a common space such as the park, can be one step towards building neighborly relationships.

Coming up in our next blog post

In the next blog post in this series, we’ll turn our attention to what happens when the house party goes wrong, and consider the importance of community participation guidelines in setting expectations for what constitutes acceptable behavior in a community. In our opinion, this is where the metaphor becomes really powerful!

Additional reading / Resources

CSCCE Community Profiles – In each of these infographic-style resources, you’ll find descriptions and depictions of different types of community structures – and yes, we can make one for your community, too! Email info@cscce.org if you’re interested in learning more.