Testing the Community Power Compass

A year or so after first writing about the Community Power Compass, I was invited by Val Elefante to deliver a seminar on it for The Metagovernance Project this week.

Metagov (for short) is an interdisciplinary research collective looking at standards and infrastructure for digital self governance. The video of the seminar will be up at some point, but I wanted to capture a few notes and thoughts whilst they were fresh.

Firstly, I’d put together the canvas below. I’ve also added an updated version of the compass below it, in case you’ve not read the previous posts. This could act as a prompt sheet if needed to consider deeper questions, though that’s not what we did in the seminar.

Community Power Compass Canvas
Community Power Compass

Then I set up a board on Miro with a set of blank canvases, plus an explanatory example.

The community I’d used for this example was radardao.xyz, which describes itself as follows: “RADAR is a decentralised global collective of 300+ researchers, early adopters and innovators accelerating better futures. We discover and validate emerging trends powered by collective intelligence.”

There are all sorts of interesting facets to the way it presents itself as a community that made it a good example to use, added to which I’ve used the compass previously to quickly examine it before with friends. I shan’t go into that here though, as the point is to capture what emerged from others in the session.

After running through the example, participants then started working on their own boards to think about a community they were part of, or perhaps one they wanted to research more about before joining.

I find it useful to distinguish between two facets of a community; how it actually works, and how it presents itself as working.

With the nature of digital communities nowadays, this is particularly interesting; they can be fairly complex in the machinations, and so a simplified version is presented to the world as an invitation to join. However, this simplified version can fail to capture the nuance, expectations, requirements and rights of being part of that community, and can often raise more questions than it answers.

With that in mind, my three main takeaways from the latter discussion in the seminar are:

1. The compass can be a tool for reflection

It was interesting to hear how people were using the compass to think about communities they were involved in, and start to realise how (in places) they knew comparatively little about aspects of them. Just having the space laid out seemed to encourage deeper research too, as people looked for answers to things they hadn’t previously considered.

2. Opportunity for comparisons across communities

As we started hearing about how different communities worked (for example, in how transparent debate and decisions spaces were on a platform like Discord), as a group we could start noting points for comparison. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that, at sufficient scale, by mapping a number of communities in the same way you could start to develop both ‘best practice’ guidance for particular sections (controls and freedoms). Additionally, the idea of archetypes emerged. Might there be communities with specific balances between the three controls and three freedoms, who can act as an example to follow?

3. It could hold an ongoing research enquiry

I have a phrase I sometimes use for ongoing online whiteboard sessions; continual partial workshopping. In watching the boards fill up yesterday in a fairly compressed period of time, I realised that setting them up this way for a longer period of time (a week, a month?) could be a good way to capture ongoing notes for a series of communities at once, or even just one person’s experiences over time with a community


What’s next, then?

I’m interested in continuing to experiment and refine the process; perhaps running a half day or day workshop on specific existing communities, or look at how you might use the Community Power Compass as a starting point in designing a new one.

Do get in touch if you have an idea where we could do this, or are just interested in learning more about the approach.