Amy Sample Ward has a wonderful opinion blog in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on how community building is more like gardening than landscaping. I think she captures succintly in this timely garden metaphor the art of community building and something I had been musing on recently as I watched the first, one and only tomato growing in my city garden.
"The Gardener creates an ecosystem open to change, available to new groups, and full of fresh opportunities to emerge naturally. The approach is focused on organic collaboration and growth for the entire community. The gardener is simply there to help, cultivate, and clear the weeds if/when they poke up.
The Landscaper creates an ecosystem that matches a preconceived design or pattern. The approach is focused on executing a preconceived environment, regardless of how natural or organic it may be for the larger area. The landscaper is there to ensure that everything stays just as planned.
The first question I always ask myself when considering a new tool or functionality online, a new project or campaign, or even new partnerships or members is: “Is this something the Community wants or something I want?” It doesn’t matter what I want, really. It matters what the Community wants. And how do you know if or what they are interested in? ASK!"
If I might add to the metaphor something I have been reflecting on as I have been checking my tomato every few days and noticing, with delight, it growing slowly in size and beginning to change color as it ripens. Gardening (and community building) invite you to pay attention to and celebrate small incremental changes. Over time these small changes add up to the whole complex and fascinating environment of a garden -- or a community.
P.S. Thank you to Lisa Colton of DarimOnline for sharing this with me.