Monday, June 10, 2013

How do we know our work is worthwhile?

I'm going through a critical reflective phase with CoCreate at the moment.  It's making me wonder how we really know whether we're doing anything meaningful.  Though that's not a quandary unique to CoCreate.

In a way, I have no doubt that it's a good thing.  Michael Kubler and I edited a video yesterday from footage of the April CoCreate Adelaide event.  (Video below.)  There was some pretty inspiring content in there, and some of it was a pretty convincing demonstration that we were doing something that was valuable for people.

But I still really, really struggle to put my finger on how we provide value, and what we should focus on as we grow - not only with CoCreate Adelaide, but the CoCreate movement as a whole.

At our last CoCreate Adelaide community session we discussed what we're about, what we do, and our indicators of success.  Or as I like to put these last ones - the things that let us know we're winning.  The indicators we came up with were a pretty good spread I think

  • people having positive experiences and coming back
  • event attendance increases
  • number of connections made
  • visible action happening as a result - people starting projects, getting involved in others projects, or getting supported with their own

But for the last couple of weeks I've still sat uneasy with this - with our understanding of whether we are doing something meaningful.  Let alone whether it's the meaningful work we could be doing!

I think the startup approach is very helpful here, with its relentless focus on understanding the 'user', their needs, and the value proposition as an offer to fulfill those needs.  It's something I bring in to all my community activity - cultivating community should only be pursued on the basis of the unmet needs of members, not on the ideas of the 'community builder' about what the community should look like.  So this has been churning around in the back of my head.
  • Who are our members?
  • What are their needs?
  • What energy is there in our community, and in the broader population, that we are offering an outlet for?

The startup philosophy basically stops at the point where your users are willing to part money for your offering.  That's your sign that you're providing them value.  But you can't apply that with communities in quite the same way, and at any rate I find it a deeply unconvincing way to establish that you're creating value.  (That's a debate for another day. Grrr fallacy of homo economicus! *shakes fist*)

Flicking through images from our CoCreate video about what was meaningful to people, two types of value came through.  First, people have a positive experience and they are happy.  That's fine, but it's not particularly exciting or meaningful by itself - especially because it's so transient.  Second, we enable a positive transformation in people's lives.

All of the other things we talked about that were good for people essentially boil down to this second point - we provide something that changes people's lives for the better.  That's why it is valuable to make connections, and it's what happens when people are supported to do meaningful projects.  Yes the projects themselves might achieve good things, but from the perspective of our own members, it's the transformation in their own lives that is really the end point.

It feels like such an elementary, important discovery.  The question at the heart of whether we are doing something meaningful:

What transformations are we really enabling in people's lives?

I don't pretend to have any good answers for this yet, but I think having a good question is a pretty good start.