In recent months, I’ve written and talked quite a lot about why cultural institutions in the future will have a different relationship with their audience, and how I believe they can and have to find a new role in the cities and societies they’re part of. In this new role they work with communities to achieve socially recognised goals, often in new and innovative ways.
What I haven’t necessarily written about recently is how to work with creative communities to achieve your goals.
Earlier this month I ran an intensive two-day workshop with a group of highly-talented young professionals at the Strelka Institute in Moscow. The workshop forced me to think again about many of the processes I take for granted in my work with organisations and their communities.
First, what is a creative community (as opposed to just any community, or for instance the use of target audiences in an organisation)? Collaboratively, after discussing moments where we felt part of a community and careful scoping of the subject, we defined a creative community as (abridged):
“A group of people with shared characteristics unified by a common idea or problem to solve, who come together to act, create and share.”
What sets a creative community apart from other communities, or target audiences, is their need ‘to act, create and share’. In the workshop, this greatly helped us to figure out which communities were meaningful to work with in our organisations, and which less so. Harry Potter fans? No. Harry Potter fanfic writers? Yes!
The relationship between an organisation and a creative community is established by the ‘shared characteristics’, and the ‘common idea or problem to solve’. These have to align between the creative community and the organisation. An organisation that tries to engage groups with which it has nothing in common, will have a hard time building the trust needed to create and be creative together. Likewise, an organisation that tries to work with any group and adjusts its values accordingly, risks losing its focus on its own goals.
Working with creative communities then boils down to identifying groups of people with whom your organisation shares characteristics and objectives, and then developing a relationship of trust that ultimately leads to achieving (your) (socially recognised) goals.
In the workshop, we used elements of the Digital Engagement Framework and older work on audience engagement, as well as a variety of models and ladders of participation as our framework to design the processes needed to build relationships and trust. I don’t think it really matters which model you use, as long as you carefully design for relationship development and are persistent and consistent in your execution.
For each of the participants’ cases, which they brought to the workshop, we looked at those parts of their existing communities that could be considered creative, i.e. acting, creating and sharing. Consequently, we looked for commonalities between the characteristics, ideas and challenges of these groups, and those of the organisation. Finally, each participant used their own combination of tools to develop processes for relationship development and trust building. Ultimately, they set individual commitments to make this happen in their organisations.
Throughout the workshop, we used Cards for Culture to estimate the impact of working with creative communities on the overall strategy of organisations, and played a few rounds of Pitch Perfect (one of the games you can play with Cards for Culture) to perfect ideas and strategies.
In any and all of my workshops, as well as whenever I start a new community-driven project, such as now the organisation of a completely co-created festival, the task of working with creative communities at first seems daunting to participants and me. And rightfully so. It is not easy to design and predict the behaviour of large groups of people, and make their efforts align yours. A focus on groups that already like to create, act and share, and on the characteristics and objectives you share with them, however, is a great starting point.
At the end of the workshop we had not only discussed and explored the concept of creative communities, but also built a new one (or couple) ourselves. This was one of my secret objectives for the two days, and the ultimate proof that anyone can work with creative communities, with a bit of help from the outside.
All photos by Dmitry Smirnov / Strelka Institute.