Published by Angus on 13 Jul 2009 at 07:37 am
If your community is going to be around for more than a year you need to start thinking about governance. Governance is not about managing the day-to-day of a community but rather providing guidance over purpose and goals, much like a board does for a well run non-profit organization. Ignore governance and over time members will feel that their voices are not being heard and they will vote with their feet and leave.
To paraphrase Patti Anklam, all communities have some form of governance, sometimes it’s explicit and sometime assumed, embodied in a matriarch or patriarch, hub, convener, guru, director, committee, or officers. Governance also changes over time to meet new circumstances and need generally becoming more formalized as a function of the number of members, the amount of funding, and length of time. But it’s important to make a distinction between governance and community management. Too heavy an operational hand from a ‘steering’ committee, and the community leaders and members will mutiny!
Peter Plastrik and Madeleliene Taylor in their great study Net Gains suggest there are three basic elements of governance: who decides, what is decided, and how it is decided. Here is more of what they said:
Who Decides: Which community members has governing authority and which don’t? Are these people appointed, elected, or self-selected? Do you have to have demonstrated some level of commitment to the community, or have some particular qualification before you will be considered?
What is Decided: Depending on the needs of the community and its culture this could be only a few things or a longer list. Some things to consider are:
- Purpose of the community – mission, vision, operating principles
- Objectives and goals
- Values and beliefs of the community
- Membership arrangements
- Responsibilities of members
- Plans of the community
- Distribution of resources
How Decisions are Made:
- By imposition – conditions set by others such as the community manager or a funder.
- By community – i.e. consensus of the members of the governing body discuss, deliberate and decide and only move forward when there is unanimity.
- By democracy – i.e. majority vote of members of the governing body. Be aware that this can alienate community members if note handled tactfully.
- By ‘emergence’ – i.e. actions of members as long as they don’t negatively affect the existing work of the community. Let decisions emerge as the aggregate actions taken by the members who are most excited about doing something.
WiserEarth is itself grappling with these choices. Our Advisory Board is emerging to reflect the structure, stakeholders and style of our community. The long term vision is a group of representative drawn from our Editors group (i.e. our community moderators), our International Affinity Partners (i.e. organizations that take on management of WiserEarth in a different language), our funders, our Founder, Paul Hawken, and our Executive Director, Peggy Duvette.
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