Guida introduttiva al Community design: cos’è e come applicarlo

Community Design, an introductory guide. What is it and how to apply it?

“So… what do you do?”

Almost every time I get this question, my legs start shaking. It would be great if I could just say, “I’m a doctor”, “professor”, “judge”, or “lawyer”, so that everyone could say “Oh, OK” and move on. Instead, I can’t help but answer “I do community design”… and so the ordeal begins. Most people pale at the sound of these words; others look at me quizzically; some say they understand when they don’t (maybe they’re afraid of offending me), and I almost always have to step in to take them out of their embarrassment. So I sigh and begin The Explanation (which, over time, I have refined, proceeding by degrees of depth that I gradually address depending on the grimaces: smiling, I move on; bored – I cut it short).

Since I just posted a job offer for a community designer, to which many have applied without really knowing what it is, I decided to put The Explanation in writing to serve as a brief introductory guide to community design. I hope that it will also be useful for prospective collaborators, clients, curious people, friends, and strangers.

What is community design? For whom? For what?

The first part of The Explanation is a brief introduction: I founded a small company called Collaboriamo that helps businesses, non-profit organizations, and governments to grow their communities, that is, develop and enhance relationships with and among their collaborators, customers, partners, or citizens.

These first words are usually followed by an awkward silence, so I add almost immediately, “I’ll try to explain it better.” Thus I tell them that Collaboriamo is about community design, that we have devised an approach, a method, and tools meant not to design relationships (you cannot design them) but to set the context for relationships between people to rise and grow. Understanding that this definition won’t clarify but frighten my audience, I then continue to say, “Let me explain it with an example.” Some approval nods follow, implying “There you go.”

Where does community design apply?

On a general basis, we typically have two types of clients: “traditional” businesses (profit or non-profit, large and small) and start-ups (although scale-ups would be the right word).

Community design for traditional companies

This first group experiments with communities as complementary tools to traditional services or processes. I bring up the name of Unipol, which recently launched an internal community aimed at increasing employee engagement; or Enel, which instead has developed them to aggregate advanced technology collaborators to foster collaboration and cross-functionality; or, finally, Leroy Merlin, which has been working for some time to turn its customers into community members.

Community design for start-ups

Another type of our customers would be those companies for which the community lies at the core of their business, companies that wouldn’t have a sense of existence without communities behind them (if I detect anyone showing interest, I may also presumptuously add that I even wrote a book on that). For instance, Airbnb (and here the underdog usually relaxes and begins to understand). With Airbnb, I explain, we are conducting a training path for their super users – those within the community who are most active. Another client of ours, Tulou, proposes a new model of living that is based on community. For them, we designed the whole community strategy: from identity and services to the governance model.

I could go on and on with examples, but I usually stop to see if there are any questions. In fact, at this point, some people pretend to understand and change the subject; on the contrary, others get excited and ask about what our consulting actually consists of.

How to apply Community Design: what does community design consulting consist of?


Based on our experience, we have assessed that clients usually ask for three types of community design interventions:

1. Help to launch a community from scratch because they don’t know where to start.

2. Help in making their community work as they envisioned it.

3. Help in structuring their community so that they can manage it in the best possible way.


Launching a community from scratch

Those who want to launch a community need to figure out whether the conditions are in place to create it. The first step is usually to do some research: qualitative interviews with management and potential community members; quantitative interviews; benchmarking; and data analysis. From that research, a scenario is created that defines the value proposition of the community, the profiles of the members in it, and its narrative.

Understanding why the community is not working and stimulating engagement

It often happens that a community  is launched but does not get the desired response. This can be due to a number of reasons that we try to explore. Sometimes, an initial assessment phase is put in place that involves interviews, analysis of conversations, analysis of interaction channels, content strategy, and governance. This phase helps understand where the problem lies and how to locate it in our framework.There may, in fact, be an identity-related problem: members may not be clear that they are in a community, they may not know what they can do together, they may not know what a community is. There may be a problem related to engagement: the content, for example, may not be useful to the people who are supposed to be part of the community and may not even be too engaging. There may be problems related to governance: the community manager may not know what he or she is supposed to do, or there may be just one community manager to serve the whole community. It could be a lack of a support team that believes in the project and helps define strategies, or the absence of a super user engagement plan (most people won’t even know what a super user is). Finally, there may be no investment plan, which is required to provide the community with the time needed to grow and experiment.

Growing an already thriving community

Those who have a thriving community, on the other hand, often find themselves in the “happy” situation where they do not know how to manage it or how to grow it in a structured way that is in line with their business prospects. In this case, our action is often more focused on governance, on creating models to identify super users and to make them actively contribute to community growth. Activities would range from developing a growth plan for the super users (who are they? what activities do I entrust them with?), a recruiting plan (where do I find them? how do I recognize them? how do I engage them?), and a rewards plan (if they become active, how do I reward them for their work?).

Training on communities

Finally, sometimes we are asked to step in to do training, and here again, there can be different needs. Some companies ask for an educational path to support their dedicated team, while others want to train super users specifically to support growth.

At the end of all The Explanation, there are those who yawn and those who get electrified. As always, I never seem to find a middle ground. To the yawning ones, I apologize for going on too long, and to the excited ones, I refer them to our website to check out our training courses. And if you’ve had the patience to make it this far, most probably you will find it interesting.


Translated from Italian by Ignacio Sanz.