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What defines an effective community member in the 21st century?

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Natalia Kucirkova is senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research concerns innovative ways of supporting shared book reading and the role of personalisation in early years. She is particularly interested in fostering children’s trans-media experiences and identity growth. Natalia’s research inspired the development of the Our Story tablet/smartphone app and has been published in a variety of outlets . She has been commended for her engagement with teachers and parents at a national and international level.

Before the advent of social media, community engagement typically involved meetings and conversations in meetings, conferences, summits and rendezvous. Now much community activity happens online and there is considerable academic and practical effort to foster children’s effective understanding and safe and active involvement in online environments. Community engagement in the 21st century is therefore about being able to effectively engage with others in both online and offline spaces.

What many forget, however, is the transferability of skills between the online and offline spaces and fostering children’s ability to be able to effectively navigate at the intersection of the two. A perennial challenge that educators contemplate is thus: what are the transferable skills children need to navigate within and across both spaces?

There is a lot of advice out there for regarding how to be an effective community leader (mostly written by current or past successful community leaders) and community manager. But the majority of us are not leaders or managers-we are community members. If we all strive to be valuable community members, then it will be easier also for those who lead and manage us. So what characterises a valuable community member?

1, S/he is versatile, ie able to adapt to various circumstances and apply knowledge or willingness to learn about various techniques, a variety of approaches and platforms. Today, knowledge sharing happens not only through face-to-face conversations and print books, it happens a lot in online spaces supported by formal and informal learning platforms as well as professional knowledge community platforms, such as for example, WSIS KC.

2, S/he is empathetic. As Lynne Cameron, Professor Emeritus at the Open University writes, empathy is moving into the experience of another and the best way to foster empathy is to remove any barriers distancing people. In both online and offline spaces, there are various blocks preventing people from building dialogue, for instance lack of attention to what is being said, negative judgments, filtering what is being said only through one’s own reference point or lack of time.

3, S/he is a doer. Popular community events such as Burning Man rely on the notion active engagement in the community. They are accompanied by mottos such as’ You're here to build a community that needs you and relies on you.’ In other words, they expect active community members who do not rely on someone else to act. The community is you and you are the community. This stance implies active engagement.

4, S/he is an aggregator.  In their book Collective Genius Linda Hill and colleagues describe  that “the slices of genius” are in each of us and the trick is to join them up into innovative solutions that represent the collective genius. In other words, for innovation to happen, it is essential to collect and creatively assemble knowledge, skills and experiences stemming from a community. We all know that Isaac Newton saw further because he stood on the shoulders of giants and successful communities foster this attitude in their members.

5, S/he is a T-shaped individual, someone who has a deep disciplinary knowledge in at least one area but also an understandings of the wider systems and networks.  Importantly, as the horizontal stroke of the T indicates, a T-shaped person is able to collaborate and engage in a wide range of activities within a community.

How do you foster these skills in your community (classroom, family, town) and what other key characteristics do you think we need for 21st century community members? Please add your comments below.

Community is a broad term, it can be used as a noun on its own or as adjective with various other terms, including community projects, community leaders, community action, community games.  Let us turn community into a verb so that it becomes a lived practice in any space.








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