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Community: It's What We Are
2004, Q4 (July 05, 2007)
By Andrea L. Ames, STC President and Associate Fellow, Silicon Valley Chapter

Editor’s Note: The following article originally appeared in the December 2004 edition of Intercom.

Andrea Ames
Andrea Ames
Little in the STC transformation effort has inspired more ire, fear, confusion, hope, excitement, and joy than the idea of communities. Given the wildly varied reactions to the community focus of the transformation, let's start with a brief definition and then move to a wider exploration of the concept of community.

In The Psychological Sense of Community: Prospects for a Community Psychology (San Francisco, Jossey-Bass 1974), Samuel B. Sarason describes three major characteristics of a community:
  • Community members perceive themselves as similar to others in the community.
  • Members of a community recognize a mutual interdependence.
  • Members feel that they are part of a larger structure that is both stable and dependable.

This is a wonderful description of STC's networking and interaction — in other words, community. For years, STC members have said in surveys that activities such as these are one of the main reasons they belong to STC. Thus the transformation's focus on communities is crucial to ensuring the Society delivers member value.

Traditionally, STC members have thought of chapters as their communities. Over time, and with the flourishing of virtual communities as a result of technology, special interest groups (SIGs, formerly known as professional interest committees or PICs) have become supremely viable — and for many members, preferred — venues for finding depth of practice and community. Student members feel a sense of community across institutions without a formally named type of community. And STC leaders find value in the STC leadership community, another not-yet named type of community.

Many types of nontraditional communities (not chapters or SIGs) have formed within our organization, and there will be many more to come that we haven't yet imagined. Whenever members perceive a similarity to one another, they form a community.

Transforming STC's Communities

We already have communities — what needs to change?

Members claim that community is one of the main reasons they are members of STC, but new memberships are declining. There are changes that we can make in every aspect of the Society to address this problem, including improvements to the ways we define and demonstrate the value of our communities, the way the Society supports those communities, and the consistency of members' experience across communities.

By asking existing communities to recharter, we ensure that they are able to express their value to potential members. Our new membership model provides members with more flexibility as well as the responsibility of making choices between communities. Communities that have value, and that express and demonstrate this value, will acquire members as people join STC or renew. Community leaders have a responsibility to their prospective (and current) members to think consciously about the value they provide to ensure that their community consistently meets members' needs.

High-Performance Communities

The flexible membership model gives Society and community leaders a mechanism for planning for and responding to changes in the industry and in our members' needs. As we gain a better understanding of those needs and improve our plans, excellent communities will become leaders and proponents of change — change that can drive our industry to offer more rewarding employment opportunities in which we are more highly valued.

Our industry is large and interdependent, providing continuing opportunity for these high-performance communities to lead the industry. To accomplish the goals of the transformation effort, however, our communities need Society support. Today, geographically based communities (chapters) are funded and supported very differently than practice-based communities (SIGs).

And other kinds of communities may not be formally named, funded, or supported at all. By developing and implementing a consistent community model — including criteria for formation and dissolution, funding support, administrative and other infrastructure support, recognition programs, and governance and representation — we offer all communities an equal opportunity to flourish and provide the values that members seek. The Society then becomes the stable and dependable structure within which communities and members can not only feel supported but also thrive.

Next Month

Our ability to successfully implement a consistent community model is dependent on yet another transformation initiative: governance. With Society elections taking place January through April, we will start off the New Year with a discussion about transforming our governance.

Andrea L. Ames can be reached at pres at stc dot org. End of article.

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