Saturday, November 1, 2008

A new community paradigm -- Applying the Elicitive Model

The ultimate goal of any community manager is to maintain a healthy, engaged community of people who are willing to work with other members and employees to define their own needs while contributing to the success of the website and the greater community. The bedrock of this strategy is the Elicitive Model, an approach expanded upon by my team over the past decade. An elicitive style of management relies upon communally held knowledge as the basis for conflict resolution between individuals, groups, and communities. It vests the members in the process and fosters belonging and self direction. The continued success of this design should be readily apparent in community metrics. These elements include
  • sheer traffic and activity volume,
  • monetized value per capita,
  • consistency of traffic and activity over time (a crucial measure)
  • incidence of violations and recidivism,
  • rates of time spent on site
  • return rates,
  • user retention and;
  • user attitudes towards the hosting company.

The success of the elicitive model rests on three major suppositions

  • While a populations' behavioral norms and activities may not be externally mandated or forcibly controlled, healthy behavioral patterns may be elicited through predictive planning.
  • Individuals within the population may not be compelled, but may be induced toward voluntary cooperation with group norms by other members and involved staff.
  • The growth, stability and sustainability of the community requires tactical predictive management entirely separate from the force of charismatic personality.

Elicitive management firmly places the responsibility for actions and reactions within the hands of the community and its individual players but does not abandon the community to its own devices. Instead this management approach holds itself responsible for maintaining the community's capacity for continued independent growth and life. The elicitive model requires management to stand on the fringes of the community, an integral, integrated part of the community itself, but at the same time sufficiently separate and distant to enable understanding of the big picture. Thus, proficient management fulfills a complicated dual role as both an internal support and external irritant.

As Lederach (1995) discusses in his book Preparing for Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures, there are four functional elements needed to engage and precipitate beneficial change within a community. That these ideas are applicable, with slight modifications, to the online world is no surprise and in fact they form the most efficacious approach to management and sustainability.

  1. Community members are a key resource, not simply recipients of corporate actions
  2. Community knowledge is an invaluable facet of discovering what is needed and how to implement change. At times, disruption acts as a positive catalyst for needed changes.
  3. Using local resources (the members) as the cornerstone for building community fosters self-sufficiency and sustainability.
  4. Empowerment is crucial and it emerges when members are encouraged to participate in identifying issues and crafting appropriate solutions.

This is not to suggest that online communities do best with no governance. The strongest online communities are the result of active, engaged management and a well defined set of policies. In many forums members act as model citizens by encouraging others to follow the prevalent culture. The success of the elicitive approach is best exemplified when members act to correct inappropriate behaviors by explaining the rules, reporting policy violations or by directing questions and complaints to the appropriate channels. Other examples may include the way members organize responses to crises or prompt staff to think about something in a new way. The successful forum proliferates across the member to member areas and is manifested by the ability of all participants to understand that the common ground forms the underpinnings of a flourishing society.

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