How to create likeable communities

Read a real estate brochure and likeable communities are the ones with solid house prices, great returns and are walking distance to fantastic schools. These things influence our choices, but not as much as we’ve been led to believe.

What makes us feel happy, safe, welcome and connected to a community is less about the architecture or the infrastructure and more about the people and how useful we feel.

Indeed, you can transform communities through attitude, creativity, placemaking and peoplepower. And you can do this on street level and online without huge budgets or bureaucracy.

Here’s how you can create likeable communities to live, work and play in.

Look for shared values

Likeable communities reflect the shared values we hold dear. Our values are what draws us towards causes, neighbourhoods, groups of people, activities, natural environments and interests. Values encourage pride in who we are, what we do and where we inhabit within identity, and physical and digital spaces.

What we hold dear doesn’t have to be complex or life-altering. It may simply be a love of nature, a desire to preserve history, a cluster of creative practitioners in the same suburb, a common goal or cause or a shared pastime that brings people together.

If you can identify the things that matter to a group of people, you can begin to foster community.

Have a vision for your community

Likeability is about meeting the needs of the community as well as holding a hopeful, optimistic view of the future. All likeable communities enjoy a shared vision for the future. There is belief, a desire to make change, and a can-do attitude.

Often, grassroots communities come together to solve a problem.

For example, in the community-building I have worked on, it has been as simple as:

“I’m sick of the racism directed towards my suburb”My Redfern Rocks community social media campaign to highlight positive elements about living in Redfern and the people who live there

“I want to end the isolation in self-employment and remind freelancers stress has a productivity cost”Freelance Jungle grassroots online and offline community and education project

“We want to replace lawns with food people can grow together and share with our neighbours” – Transition Bondi

“I’d like an excuse to meet my new neighbours by sharing common interests- and save money on books!”Windang street library  

It doesn’t have to be difficult or intricate to be effective. It simply needs to be something matters to you and your community.

a street library built into a fence in Windang as part of likeable communities initiativesA community might have a series of problems it faces. This is especially true if it’s a group that has been overlooked for funding and support previously. Always make sure you are seeking to solve one problem at the outset. Even though you may have a bunch of really relevant and useful ideas. You have to be able to start somewhere and work towards fixing more issues as you grow your experience, knowledge, numbers and capacity.

Values-based thinking can help here, too, as multiple problems may look different but share a common cause or singular attitude.

Make sure you hear from a variety of people

When you’re starting up the design process of any kind of community, accessibility and diversity will determine your success.

If you have people who all act the same, look the same and want the same things, you’re not really creating a community. It’s closer to a tribe or even a cult. A community has difference as part of the fabric that makes it strong. It’s that rub of difference, the little bit of grit and the places in the margins that the strength and uniqueness of a community comes from.

Creating likeable communities means utilising a few different means to get buy in. That means reaching outside who you desire to join your community and meeting people on their level.

It also means using different platforms and forms and promotion to get the word out.

Many communities, especially creative, location-based or interest-based communities, fail to reach their potential by making assumptions about who the community is for and enacting these assumptions in the recruitment processes.

For example, common issues that deter other voices within a community setting include:

  • Including narrow definitions of what it means to qualify for membership within that community in the outreach process
  • Only using one kind of process to design and speak to members of the community and failing to gain input outside that process
  • Using marketing and tools for outreach that don’t appeal across age groups, race, gender, sexuality or are not disability inclusive
  • Handpicking community members based on pre-existing relationships without any processes to broaden the input

Diversity of person, lifestyle, outlook and opinion is what creates likeable communities. Why? Because it means you’re not falling into the trap of creating a community built on assumption, exclusion and bias.

If you are bringing people together for an event, supply a survey ahead of time that runs days after the event finishes. If you are utilising online groups, setup questions to gain feedback or use poll features on social media to hear more insights and feedback from individuals. Look for ways to increase your reach and gain a variety of opinions.

Remember: you can always build project phases to help meet the needs of all the voices. But you cannot often go back to ask for help if you’ve left people out at the start.

Action driven over process driven

You want people to engage quickly and get involved. While there are some fantastic methodologies out there like agile, co-creation principles, unconferencing, hack-a-thons and more, the main thing to remember is you want action. You have to make it easy to inspire people to participate.

There’s a ratio that people don’t often realise works which is for every hour you spend in a meeting or in planning and process, you better get two of actionable work.

Many likeable communities drown in bureaucracy.

This is especially true when you have the following problematic symptoms:

  • A lot of planning and paperwork with no real action to show for it
  • Long and repetitive meetings that are ultimately talk fests
  • People hung up on delegation who don’t get their own hands dirty
  • People critiquing other people’s action and approaches without contributing labour
  • Leadership coming from a single source, creating a bottleneck when it comes to action
  • Leaders failing to use what is built. Lead by example and walk the walk!

It’s no accident that likeable communities often sprout from low-budget, high labour beginnings. It’s because the more action your community leadership and members take, the more you inspire others to follow suit. Always make sure that you measure the output of individual community members, especially those who want specific roles, against how much they contribute to the community in practical, actionable and labour-related terms.

The ability to pivot

The first online dating experience wasn’t created with that intention in mind. The Canadian company that developed the first dating product started off as a classifieds service. You could record a message for a gardener, to sell your boat or to let your neighbours know you had a garage sale on the weekend.

After six months, the only category that was generating interest and money was the personals section. The company wisely got rid of the other categories, rebranded and expanded their dating to include everything from friendship to long term relationships, dating and casual sex.

And voila, the first dating community was born.

Even the best plan for creating likeable communities requires the ability to pivot. With research, you may be able to identify a need or space in the market. But it is not until you start to see people playing, experimenting and interacting in any form of community environment that you can see what it is that your community offers.

That’s why it’s really important not to go too hard initially into creating massive brands, huge marketing campaigns, stockpiles of content or loads of assumptions.

Great communities learn by doing. How you can incorporate this learning into the community creation process is to:

  • Organise smaller tests of community events, topics and content
  • Get to know the technology you use on a user level so you can help your community members use it
  • Challenge yourself to do as much as you can for free
  • Don’t aim to be perfect. Fail early and often
  • Moderate well and be visible doing it

The more flexible your budget, technology and abilities are when it comes to following what you learn as you create community, the more successful it will be.

Create a strong focus and prepare in stages

There’s a careful balance you need to maintain when creating likeable communities. You have to excite people enough to inspire contribution and word of mouth. You also have to provide leadership, behaviour guidelines and constraints to keep them on track. And there has to be space for input and individuality to help foster a sense of ownership.

Balancing that comes with how you stage a project.

Designing likeable communities often means getting every single idea out on paper. Then looking at each idea in terms of:

  1. The impact it can make
  2. How it solves the problems you face
  3. Who it serves within the community
  4. What it sets up for future.

This is why priorities are important.

Using a model like agile, you can grab all the user stories and ideas. You can then apply a model like MSCW (Moscow without the o’s) which stands for:

  • Must do this
  • Should to this
  • Could do this
  • Would do this but probably wont

That way, you can identify what priorities are essential to the creation of your community.

You can use other forms of priority such as traffic light (red, yellow, green) or very high, high, medium, low.

Be pragmatic and be OK with making difficult choices.

When you create a community, you can’t be all things to all people initially. Working out the focus on the first instance and then how to progressively open it up to more ideas and more community members should be your goal.

Stop waiting and start doing

Likeable communities don’t come from someone else. They come from you! They come from you deciding you care enough to offer other people a wonderful experience, a place to go, and a new way to connect. And with online platforms and social media, you have a unique ability to create a community that reflects your values and makes you feel connected to the people around you.

Communities can span all kinds of age groups, locations, activities, schools of thought, spiritual beliefs, shared causes, acts of rebellion, creative ideas, lifestyle activities and more.

Don’t wait for government or outside bodies to be the change you want to see in your neighbourhood. Let’s work together to create likeable communities today!


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