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Beyond Engaged Community Members…Think Stewardship

Yesterday, I read two blogposts that talked about the importance of engagement in online community.

Patrick O’Keefe’s Be Honest with Your Members about Unreasonable Expectations

Spike Jones’s Participation is Different from Engagement

The content of both posts were rather different, but interestingly enough, each inspired a similar question from me: what, if anything, comes after engagement? It’s generally agreed that participation is a good starting point, but not enough. It’s still a bit too passive when it comes to building a vibrant community. This is why engagement is a much pursued and highly cherished goal. Spike makes an important observation in his post as to the difference between mere participation and engagement:

When you go to your meetings today, you’ll see the difference. It’s between those that are sitting in the meeting – and participating by just showing up – and those that are adding to the conversation because they are engaged. In other words, you can participate without being engaged. Engagement is the step beyond participation.

I’m in complete agreement, but there’s something gnawing at me. Is there another level beyond engagement? Is engagement enough to inspire community members to monitor the site for trolls and inappropriate comments? Is engagement enough to inspire the high level of interaction needed to sustain a community over time?

I’d like to suggest that there is another level beyond engagement. Enter stewardship. Stewardship takes the energy of engagement and adds the commitment of ownership to community. Let’s face it…we care more deeply about things we feel we own. I once wrote a post at Bailey WorkPlay called Nobody Washes a Rental Car. If you can help your community members feel a pride of ownership, they’ll not only be engaged but also provide the kind of stewardship necessary to building a strong, thriving community.

There’s so much more to contemplate and think about on this topic. I anticipate that this post will lead to some more concrete advice for how to cultivate stewardship in your community’s social structures. If you’ve discovered practices, policies, processes that inspire stewardship, what did you do and what did you learn?

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