This post was originally posted on the Minds On Design Lab Blog

A common mistake many organizations make is in thinking the following formula is how online communities work:

Technology = Engagement


The reality is the formula looks more like this:

Common Interests + Right Design & Technology
+ Engagement Opportunities = Communities of Engagement

The role of technology should always be as a tool to support your community and not become the focus of it. For this reason it can be helpful to approach community building efforts with engagement as the foundation of your strategy.


A Framework for Engagement
A few years ago the good folks at Groundwire developed the original framework for the Engagement Pyramid to support environmental organizations working in the area of civic engagement. However, the principles and ideas behind building progressively deeper engagement is applicable across contexts.


While there is a lot to be gained by digger deeper into this model the base elements of it includes the following:

  • There should be a wide range of ways and opportunities for people to engage. Meet them where they are
  • It is a progression, it is not typical for someone to jump from observing to owning
  • The vertical orientation is intentional. As the intensity of engagement increase the number of people at that level decreases. Deeper engagement is more closely tied to impact than raw numbers
  • As people move up the pyramid so do the opportunities to connect to offline activities


Jumping In
Understanding, incorporating and implementing new frameworks in any meaningful way will take time. However, there are three things you can do now to begin applying these ideas to your own efforts.


  • Identify what activities exist at each of these levels for your particular campaign/strategy
  • Identify ways to clearly communicate the How & Why for opportunities at each level
  • Assess who in your community might be representative of each level


Let us know how it goes, what sort of questions you run into and insights you learn along the way.

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