How shall communication within the group be organised so that it supports community-building, trust and connectedness? The constitution and system of organisation are not the only important elements. There is also the question of how meetings and the flow of communication can support community-building.
Meetings are the core element of community-life. They are not only the place where we make decisions, but also spaces for collective communication where we share views, ideas, and projects, participate in co-creative processes. They are spaces for collective learning. Always having the relevant information available is an important principle for a project throughout the process.
One important challenge for communication in a community is well-organised access to information. Minutes of meetings shall be public and easy to access. The community should be informed about topics that are covered in different meetings.
Blessing and the pitfalls of digital information flow: most communities these days have some internal digital information flow. This can be very helpful as long as it doesn’t exclude those community members who don’t prefer to use or own computers. Still, spreading important information via e-mail has become a prevailing practice in many communities.
The blessings of digital information-flow come with some drawbacks as well: emotional discussions in the digital realm can destroy communities. It is important to introduce clear rules about digital discussions. Emotional issues are definitely best dealt with face-to-face. It should be clear that digital media are only to be used to exchange information.
The good-old cork pin-board or a shared notebook, where important community information is shared, can be important analog tools for information flow. The rule to not try to solve emotional issues through written communication applies to pin-boards as well! It is important to make sure that everyone interested can easily access all information relevant for the development of the community.
How to structure organisational meetings to support community-building:
Flow of information is not the only important issue. There are tools that support the organization of governance-meetings in a way that shapes them as a practice of community-building.
- Agreeing on agenda and making sure there is a facilitator for each meeting.
- Having check-in as the first part of the agenda. Check-in can be short but deep emotional sharing where everyone expresses what is important for them at the moment.
- Using a “mindfulness bell”.
If discussions become very emotional, this often means that there is something underneath factual arguments, and is a sign of a potential conflict. It is difficult to deal simultaneously with the emotional side of an issue and to look for agreement on the level of facts. It is therefore important to have a look at the processes that underlie emotional arguments. This can’t usually be done in a general assembly, but the community should create spaces of deep sharing wherein emotional aspects of discussions have a space to be expressed and explored.