22 May The Community Dictionary | Episode 2 – Enable
Welcome to the Community Dictionary. This series of articles will feature the English version of the Italian spoken podcast hosted by Marta Mainieri, and produced by Produzioni Dal Basso.
Enable is a technical term, a technicality, widely used in the world of the platform economy, which literally means “to make someone able to do something.”
It should not be confused with facilitate, which has a narrower meaning and is more related to facilitating the management of a relationship or a process. And by no means should it be confused -as many do- with animate, which has a more dispensing sense and it is linked to the provision of services, and/or the support of animation initiatives.
Enabling, on the other hand, implies a willingness to activate people, to empower them. In the specific context of communities, it means creating the conditions for members to converse, exchange advice, and build relationships.
A change of perspective
This represents a significant shift from the management of traditional products and services. Whether it is a company, a cooperative, an association, an administration, a neighborhood team, or a startup, anyone who truly wants to build community must position themselves as an enabler rather than just a service provider. The primary task will no longer be to sell the product and then manage the customer, but to empower people to participate in co-designing and co-managing the community itself.
This means that the manager’s role extends beyond the conception, production and marketing of products and services, following an inward-leaning life cycle. It now includes creating the context in which the community can thrive and feel secure, stimulating conversations, and above all, implementing a listening process that allows for increasingly tailored solutions to meet the community needs. In this way, the community becomes the organization’s main asset, shifting the focus away from the product or service as it once was. Furthermore, customers, members, and volunteers are no longer passive recipients of messages but active members of a community. This doesn’t mean that products and services are no longer strategic; quite the opposite, they often contribute to the sustainability of the community, but their management becomes subordinate to community management, almost a consequence.
Is this madness?
Not really. In fact, once a community is up and running, it will be the one to suggest the solutions it needs most; participate in the growth of services; promote word-of-mouth, invite others to join, and offer support to fellow members.
It is a beautiful concept, but certainly not easy to implement. Enabling a community requires enacting a cultural change, and undertaking challenges for which we are not always prepared.
Challenges to undertake in order to achieve cultural change
Firstly, because we are still accustomed to working, thinking, designing, managing, and communicating in a top-down manner. We have been shaped by an Aristotelian view of learning and acting that reveals a consequential and providing disposition. For all of us, in fact, it is much easier to organize a meeting than to allow members the freedom to do so; or to propose an offering rather than involving members in its construction.
Consequently, we fear losing control. We have always been accustomed to maintaining control of communication, supply, and quality. Enabling, on the other hand, involves activating relationships between people with the aim of stimulating action, and this inevitably means relinquishing some control. Who ensures, for example, that members know how to convey brand values? Or that they are competent enough to organize a meeting on our behalf? We must trust our “customers” who have become members, and this entails taking risks that can -and must- be mitigated through training and coaching.
However, gaining the knowledge necessary to trust our members is another challenge we face when enabling a community. There is, in fact, still limited awareness of what a community truly is and the steps required to enable and foster its growth. People mistakenly believe that merely opening a social channel, or organizing a series of meetings is enough to develop a community, without realizing that this would be the responsibility of an animator rather than a community manager. There is a lack of understanding about communities, which is one of the reasons why we created this dictionary.
Furthermore, the lack of knowledge also affects the fourth factor that complicates the enabling process. There are still too few studies providing measurement indicators or results on the actual economic value of a community. Further research in this area would undoubtedly contribute to the emergence and growth of communities.
Enable is a verb that carries a powerful innovative charge. It signifies a new way of conducting business, managing government or nonprofit organizations, and engaging with stakeholders. Enabling, however, is not easy; it requires a change in approach that places relationship building at the core of your strategy, rather than solely focusing on product or service development.
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