Encouraging robust discussions and community links

A really fantastic forthright discussion I observed on a members-only email list got me thinking… I can't go into specifics but the discussion cleared up a few misconceptions some people in a town had about a certain big new development. Various persons weighed in support of the misconceptions but people with the authority and knowledge to know otherwise presented the 'truth' as they saw it.

Everyone came away knowing more about the facts and how other people perceive the issue. I think also a few were motivated to do more with the issue. It was an all round great e-democracy use of email.

Following on from another discussion I had this morning about forming geographical hubs of specialist firms, my brain got thinking on how to create the strong links which allow for robust, honest discussions between people. Often, in the UK at least, we're a bit too polite and reserved to really get to know each other without help.

I think people need to be given permission to embrace their community. Looking back at successes including that email discussion I described above), really great communities (in meat or virtual space) have in my experience formed out of agreed values and goals.

Not only by agreeing the values do we give ourselves permission but we have to make the goals explicit and public (to the community members at least). This may all sound so obvious to many but it's so easy to forget the basics. St Benedict knew what he was doing when he wrote down his Rule for monastic life – by clarifying how the community would operate in a fairly non-prescriptive way, he enabled communities founded on the rule to perpetuate for centuries.

For most e-democracy purposes a complete book is a touch too much, but explicit values on a single page will do, like those clever folks at e-democracy.org do