Dawn Foster of Fast Wonder Consulting recently posted a really useful, practical discussion of different types of structures for corporate communities. She puts corporate communities into three categories: emergent, highly structured, and adaptive.
- Emergent Approach: Community has little or no structure at launch, and a structure emerges over time
- Highly Structured Approach: Communities have a detailed, thought-through taxonomy at time of launch
- Adaptive Approach: The community launches with a few very broad categories, from which structure emerges and develops over time
Dawn advocates the Adaptive approach in most cases as being the most flexible and easiest to implement. I wholeheartedly agree, and will chime in with a few supporting observations.
I've seen plenty of examples of communities that launched with a high degree of structure. Many of them worked...after a fashion. But these "communities" usually are really publishing tools where a few people post things and everyone else consumes. (I've seen this a lot in professional services firms, which tend to have large knowledge management or practice staffs whose very job it is to post industry updates, pitch packs, methodologies, etc.) This isn't necessarily a bad use of the tools; many companies are much happier on a collaboration platform than on a larger, more expensive, and less user-friendly Content Management System. But it's not exactly community.
I've also seen examples of successful communities following the emergent approach, but this tends to work best with very small groups (e.g., under 30 or 40 people), and where there's extremely strong momentum going into the project.
With respect to the Adaptive approach, I think it's very important to pick the right types of categories. Because of Wikipedia, many people think "structure" has to be something encyclopedic like industries, geographies, market segments, etc. But what I'm seeing in the field is that a structure is often most effective when it guides a user as to the types of actions or activities the tool supports. In that spirit, here are some structural categories worth considering:
- Instead of email
- Meeting notes
- Big wacky ideas
- Overheard from customers
- Questions and Answers
- Reusable documents
- Company processes
What other categories have you seen work well? I'm curious to hear!