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Communities of practice

Communities of practice

Some feedback on the community

Hey guys,

I do a fair bit of product consulting and open source software development involving Discourse, the open source framework this community is running on. This is me: and I also happened to be an Aussie based in Canberra and have a strong interested in civic technology, so I’m interested in this community! :slight_smile:

I have a few pieces of initial feedback based on my experience working with other online communities of professionals. They’re all things you can tweak just by changing a few settings. All of this is offered in an “open source” spirit :slight_smile: , and I’m happy to expand on any of these points

  • Generally we advise our clients against using the /categories page as their “homepage” unless their community is large and thriving and there is a good case for it. When you first land on a community the biggest question on your mind is not “I want to understand the taxonomy of this website so I can target my engagement”, but rather “Is this place alive / relevant / meaningful?”.

  • Typically having the /latest topics as the landing is the way to go for smaller / newer communities. You can change this by re-arranging the items in the top menu site setting. Essentially, the subject matter taxonomy matters alot less than who is here and how lively it is.

  • Relatedly, you should supress non-discussion categories from the homepage. Currently the /latest topics on this forum are mostly single post topics (i.e. with no replies) from #designsystem. When you see that you think “This is a dead community”, as people aren’t actually discussing things on it. I would suggest you add #designsystem to default categories muted (i.e. the site setting). You should aim to get a “homepage” with a list of lively discussions on it, regardless of the subject matter.

  • (I think) I understand why the name “Cross-Discipline Community of Practice” may have been used for this “meta” category, but it’s a bit of a mouthful and doesn’t really mean anything to someone not already “on the inside”, including relevant professionals who aren’t already members of this community. I would suggest something like “Welcome”, or even just “General”. You need to make it a bit more obvious to the uninitiated.

  • Have an “Introductions” sub-category of your “General” category (i.e. “Cross-Discipline Community of Practice”) where people can introduce themsleves when they come. This makes them feel welcome and lets community regulars point them to things they may be interested in engaging with. It also helps people understand what the demographics of the community are.

  • Don’t add categories until people are actually talking about the subject. For example, while I understand that you want people to talke about AI ethics here, i.e. in #AI-ethics, the reality is that they aren’t currently, and this “empty” category is actually negatively affecting your chances that they will, as an empty category concerning a subject is a social signal to users that this is not where the “real discussion” is happening. You first need to start discussions in this subject area in a category where discussion is already taking place, then create the specific category once you have a few conversations going and move those conversations over to that category. (@MBG)

In general, online communities for professionals are not all that different from other social groups online or offline. A good analogy, and one that Jeff (the founder of Discourse and Stack Overflow) likes to use often, is that of a “Dinner Party”. The way you attract “the right people” to your dinner party is not by calling it “Dinner party for X”, you use social cues such as “Who is coming?”, “How lively is it?” etc.


Hi Angus, this is awesome.

Thank you for taking the time to provide such actionable, logical feedback. Especially pinging me on AI Ethics, which is a new group wanting to shift their in-person to an online space and are setting this up.

I’ll be sure to alert the crowd. Definitely feeling the open source spirit :smiley:

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Great! Happy to help and thanks for the quick response :slight_smile:

Ah that makes some sense if it’s a pre-existing group you’re creating space for. Even then, I’ve found a number of times in the past where I’ve done that, handed it over, said “Go nuts!” and…crickets.

The key is getting over the initial barrier of being the “first to post”. No-one wants to feel like they’re talking into a void, or, conversely, “putting themselves out there”.

I’ve had some sucess with the in-person -> online transition where at an in-person event, or immediately afterwards, you continue the discussion online on topics that were discussed in person and you invite specific people who were involved in those discussions using the “Invite to topic” feature of Discourse. This lets people immediately respond to something even without a pre-existing account.

That initial cross-over phase can be a lot of “manual” work encouraging specific individuals to get involved. But if you succeed in getting the right people on board it can form the seed of a great community.

Just one other random thought and I’ll leave you alone :sweat_smile:

It’d be great to get some cross-pollination with the Code for Australia community here, which is essentially a pre-existing community of people at the intersection of industry and government. They have an active Slack, but lack a forum, so there could be a natural fit (as Slack (realtime / shortform) and Discourse (async / longform) can work well together). You could perhaps work with their community manager to develop an “overlap” category with things like event discussions.

Their community skews to the younger / more junior end of the industry, but is still squarely a “professional” community. They run various programs with different state government departments, typically “placement” programs. The discussion within their Slack and at their events is focused on the practical aspects of Civic technology. They discuss similar subjects to those on this forum.

My impression (rightly or wrongly) is that this community is largely for government employees and the odd consultant, however it has some aspirations toward broader industry and community engagement. Getting some real industry cross-pollination through the medium of an organisation like CFA that already sits at that intersection could be interesting if done in the right way.

To put it really crudely (and I’m sorry in advance, but I think the “impression” matters a bit) it feels a little bit like this forum is for the “old folks” in Civic Tech and something like the CFA slack is for the “cool kids”. While it is somewhat natural for industry communities to break down along those lines, online communities can often traverse those boundaries in a mutually beneficial way if managed properly.

Anyway, I’m sure there are many cross-currents and behind-the-scenes reasons for things being the way they are, just thought I’d mention it just-in-case :slight_smile:

(to be clear I’m not affiliated with Code For Australia)


Apologies on the belated reply, thank you Angus for sharing your honest feedback. We are all about putting the needs of the people in our communities first so I encourage yourself (and others) to keep sharing their ideas for improvement. Thanks again :smile: