Getting a handle on community

Community builds trust

Cite as “Caron, B (2015) Getting a Handle on Community, retrieved [date] .”

The role of community may be the most important; least understood aspect of developing and sustaining knowledge sharing activities. It would not be an understatement to claim that knowledge sharing rests as much on community as it does on technology. To understand why this is so, it is important to understand that community is two things at the same time: community represents a social container, it describes the cohort, defines the membership for a group. Community also describes a quality of interaction within this group, a shared sense of belonging and trust. The amount of community in a group determines the level at which individuals will voluntarily support the goals of the group.

This second sense of the term “community” is what people are talking about when they propose to “build community”. Building more community into an organization or group gives each member a greater stake in the collective goal.

To makes things clear, let’s agree on terminology for the following section. The term “community” will be used to describe the social container and “community-sense” to describe the quality of shared belonging and trust within the group. A community is a group where the members share community-sense. A “weak” community is a community where the community-sense is low and a “strong” community is one where community-sense is high.

Community Sense

“Community-sense” is also a term used in social psychology (McMillan and Chaves 1986; Chipeur and Pretty 1999). Community-sense is what Wenger calls the “community element” of a community of practice (Wenger et al 2002). On the sociology side, community-sense also implies membership and consequent obligations, practical and moral. Community-sense provides the impetus for the informal community sanctions that help prevent “free-riders” from benefiting from the work of the community (Thompson 1993).

Community-sense is the engine for social capital (Putnam 2000), for shared trust (Fukuyama 1995), shared identity (Marcus 1992), shared intimacy (e.g., friendship) (Giddens 1991), and reputation (Rheingold 2002). On a grander scale, Anderson (1983) uses an “imagined” community to describe national societies, while the Drucker Foundation (Hesselbein, et al, 1998) posits that community-sense is the answer to many current social problems. Caron (2003) also notes that communities may not be universally positive in their social consequences (remember Jonestown and Pleasantville). 

There is also a growing literature on community (Koh, et al 2002, Smith and Kollock 1999), and community-sense (Blanchard and Marcus 2002) for virtual organizations, online networks (Cosley et al 2005, Butler et al 2007), and weblogs (Broß, Sack and Meinel 2007). Most of these apply some aspect of knowledge management (Finholt, Sproull and Keisler 2002) or social science (e.g., motivation research (Cosley 2005), emotions (Tanner 2005)).

References and Further Readings

Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Blanchard, A.L. and M. L. Markus. 2002. Sense of Virtual Community – Maintaining the Experience of Belonging. In Proceedings of the 35th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Brown, J. S. and P. Duguid. 1991. Organizational knowledge and communities of practice. Organization Science. Vol. 2, No. 1. February. pp. 40-57.

Broß, Justis, Harold Sack, and Christof Meinel. 2007. Encouraging Participation in Virtual Communities: The “IT-summit-blog” Case. eSociety.

Butler, Brian, Lee Sproull, Sara Kiesler, Robert Kraut. 2007. Community Effort in Online Groups: Who Does the Work and Why? In Leadership at a Distance: Research in Technologically- Supported Work. Suzanne P. Weisband, ed. Psychology Press.

Caron, Bruce. 2003. Community, Democracy and Performance: The Urban Practice of Kyoto’s Higashi-Kujo Madang. Santa Barbara: The New Media Studio.
Available online at

Caron, Bruce. 2005. “Ethnic Cultural Theme Parks in China and Japan: Toward an Anthropology of Intentional Tradition.” in Tourism as a Complex Phenomenon. [総合的現象としての観光] Nobukiyo Eguchi, ed. Kyoto: Koyoshobo

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi. 1991. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Collins.

Chipuer, H. M., & Pretty, G. M. H. 1999. “A review of the Sense of Community Index: Current uses, factor structure, reliability, and further development.” Journal of Community Psychology, 27(6), 643-658.

Cohen, A. P. 1985. The Sybolic Construction of Community. Chichester, Sussex: Ellis Horwood Ltd.

Cosley, Dan. 2005. “Mining Social Theory to Build Member-Maintained Communities.” AAAI.

Cosley Dan, Dan Frankowski, Sara Kiesler, Loren Terveen, John Riedl. 2005. How Oversight Improves Member-Maintained Communities. Proceedings of the CHI.

Galegher, Jolene, Lee Sproull, and Sara Kiesler. 1998. Legitimacy, authority and community in electronic support groups. Written Communication, 15, 493-530.

Hesselbein, Frances, Marshall Goldsmith, Richard Bechard, and Richard F. Schubert. 1998. The Community of the Future. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Hildreth, Paul and Chris Kimble. 2004. Knowledge Networks: Innovation through Communities of Practice. London: Hershey; Idea Group Inc.

Finholt, Thomas A., Lee Sproull, and Sara Keisler. 2002. Outsiders on the Inside: Sharing know- how across time and space. In Distributed Work. Pamala J. Hinds and Sara Keisler. eds. Boston: MIT Press.

Giamatti, A. Bartlett. 1989. Take Time for Paradise: Americans and their Games. New York: Summit Books.


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