Communities of mechanical engineers, automotive engineers, civil engineers: bridge builders, highway engineers, canal builders, “dirt movers”; architects – high rise and low density residential, hotel and stadium architects, institutional architects designing schools, hospitals, universities and prisons; multi-media designers, animators, games designers, and commercial renderers; mechanical engineers, automotive engineers, shipbuilders, mechanical parts, consumer goods, and parts designers. You name the design profession and there was a tribe for it.
An event might not be a community, but it is an incredible catalyst for community.
In a paper written in 1986 titled “Psychological Sense of Community”, McMillan and Chavez identify four essential aspects of the sense of community and why people join and stay in communities: membership, influence, fulfilment of needs, and emotional connection.
Membership - a feeling that members have of belonging.
In these design tribes, there’s a camaraderie of profession (what they do), a camaraderie of industry (context in which they do it), camaraderie ofproduct (tools they use to do it), a camaraderie of experience - beginner intermediate, advanced, expert (level atwhich they do it), camaraderie of AU attendance (number of times they’ve participated in the past), camaraderie of association (user groups, AUGI members, and so on). There are so many intersections that it’s not surprising that these communities of practice have a feeling of belonging and find so many common purposes.
Influence - a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group.
In these communities of practice, participants are eager to learn, and eager to learn from each other – someone who’s been there done that and really knows your pain. These groups learn from being shown what to do by trainers in formal sessions, but learn much more from each other.
Fulfillment of needs - a shared faith that members needs will be met.
There is a definitel expectation by attendees that their professional learning and networking needs will be met, and will in great measure be met by members of the community. For example, the unconferences (small roundtable discussions of 20 to 24 people) rather than the lectures are proving more popular than formal training sessions. Also the fact that there are so many returning attendees (over 50%) show that needs have been met successfully in the past.
Shared emotional connection - a shared faith in their commitment to be together.
There is a great connection in terms of their shared professional experiences with product, issues with and as managers, different offices, and Autodesk itself. And although there are many different reasons that bring people to Autodesk University, everybody is here for similar reasons: to get better at their jobs and to network professionally. There is also the “shared history” of AU alumns some of who have been coming to this event for 10, 15, or more years.
An event such as Autodesk University serves to begin and extend community in several ways as face-to-face encounters interact with and compound the engagement of attendees online. People who have been in touch online (in forums, on blogs) finally get to meet each other and put a face and a voice to the email handle and the effect is transformative. People who meet for the first time at the event, can prolong that experience online long after the last session bell has sounded and the last beer consumed.
So, events might not be community, but they surely are an incredible stimulus for community.
Have you had similar experiences at other events? Or have you attended or put on events that were a complete wash in terms of community building? And have you figured out why and what you might want to do differently next time?