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On Deepening Community Engagement

While each project and each leadership team is different, some tendencies appear in the ways in which open project leads approach or return to community engagement. In the first cohort of the Digital Infrastructure Incubator (2021-2022), we collected some of these observations in the following list. We're sharing them thinking that it might help project leads feel less alone as they carry out the work of scoping and intervening to build out community. Be sure to check out the Community Engagement Bibliography for more readings and resources for open source community engagement.

1. Community engagement is often presumed to be a synchronous activity. Ideas about the time it takes to build and engage community are very much influenced by the limited amount of time leads feel like they have for it.

2. A primary blocker to actively engaging other contributors is guilt and shame. Guilt about taking up too much of others’ time and shame about not executing an imagined outreach, in a specific way.

3. Technologists’ ideas about what a “people person” is and self-consciousness about not being one are also often voiced as early blockers.

4. The work of building community is conceived of as time-consuming, inefficient, reactive, and uncreative. It is not understood as active or productive.

5. Recognizing these common affective responses can be helpful to normalize and make uninteresting team leaders’ individual responses. It can help teams remember these responses perhaps don't make them unique or special (they may not be uniquely blocked); in many ways these are socialized, cultural attitudes towards what has historically been feminized labor.

6. Very specific goals for meetings can help address the felt obstacles and build reasonable expectations for sustainability, design, impact. Priya Parker's The Art of Gathering, especially chapter 1, Is a useful re-introduction to specific goals for synchronous time.

7. It is necessary to be specific about who you are trying to include. You cannot effectively be accessible to everyone.

8. It can be helpful to consider pedagogical models when structuring sessions with newcomers and to consider sessions in sequences (ie recognizing that one gathering cannot do everything).

One such model is ADIDS: