Community Social Networking Should be Human Networking

Social networking was once seen as a game-changer, and indeed it was, though not necessarily exactly as it was first envisioned.

Networking, as a social function, is still potentially a game-changer, though not necessarily how you might think.

Communication needs are always changing, propelled by social changes: the young are leaving Facebook for Snapchat and TikTok, and most everyone, regardless of online use, is a bit cranky – too much physical social isolation.

We now have a few generations raised on video games, Netflix, as well as social networking.

As usual, some of us are wondering, what’s next? A metaverse? Quick trips to outer space?

Facebook’s initial focus was on a community of sorts.

Their 2021 Investor Relations reads: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” 

Certainly, online social networking can lead to some community functions, if connecting is followed by people actually meeting in person.

Still, online social networking is not social community.

Online social networks are a system design, one that, ironically, excludes people from the functions of networking.

That is, the network process is machine driven.

People that are a network is an entirely different form of connecting.

“Social networking” is not the same as people who are networking.

As we’ve all heard, today’s online social networking is a benefit and a curse : it enables connecting but also helps separate people into isolated groups.

You may receive some benefit, but you’re dealing with networking that is neither truly social nor is it a living functioning community.

According Merriam-Webster, the number 1 definition of social network is “a network of individuals (such as friends, acquaintances, and coworkers) connected by interpersonal relationships.”

Number 2 is “an online service or site through which people create and maintain interpersonal relationships.”

Number 2 is a tool to achieve number 1.

Or should be.

Community networking now seems a choice between online “social” connecting, and whatever ways you have of connecting in your local community.

What are the possibilities for individuals to meet and work together in order to better face a changing future?

Good question.

The functions of networking and community have been studied extensively.

Columbia University’s Teachers College for example – their Dynamic Network Lab’s mission is to “use social network, motivation, and decision science to positively impact individuals, groups, and organizations.”

And businesses: a few are even named just that – Community.

They promote community awareness and connectivity: community as a technology-enabled process.

There are communities of businesses, and businesses that promote communities of businesses.

What’s motivating this?

Some of the more obvious things – pandemics aside – social isolation, economic disparity, the effects of climate change, resource depletion, peak oil, robotization, aging populations, deforestation and desertification, artificial intelligence.

There are businesses based on providing comprehensive listings – directories – displaying almost anything a local community has to offer.

Simon Solutions is one, declaring that it will produce “a more networked, collaborative, and comprehensive approach to transforming lives and communities.”

They make directory listings of services for villages, towns, or cities.

Stillwater, Oklahoma, population 50,000, is one example of this online networking.

Stillwater actually has several listings: a public library with a links page of local services, a city government with their links, and a Simon Solutions directory.

Together, the Stillwater listings represent a comprehensive resource, and yet all of this misses the point – the bigger picture – when they focus on online listings rather than on the people they’re trying to serve.

Government departments, the public library and nonprofit agencies, should be networked in ways that encourage everyone to know each other.

Communities can benefit from two forms of networking: one of local government departments, the other of nonprofit services.

Of all the resources a community has, these two entities – government departments, and nonprofit services – have the greatest potential to affect people. 

Presenting two programs – that utilize existing resources, simply networked to improve community health and wellbeing.

Community Risk Management

Local government should network their departments to enhance their decision-making functions.

In business and technology, problem solving is sometimes referred to as risk management, decisions based on the assessment of gains and losses.

Should a town invest in electric school buses or diesel?

Can we make a busy intersection safer for school children crossing?

There are countless issues that require assessing potential gains and losses; community risk management is a structured way of managing the pieces or factors that make up an issue.

And using a group comprised of department representatives of local government to comment on these factors.

Simply put, this group is a network, a collaborative way of coming up with the best solutions – the most gain for the least loss – and documenting the steps.

This does not require adding anything to local government – no new FTEs, no consultants, nothing – it just requires collaboration between existing departments, all departments.

Clarity and transparency.

For risk management to function on a community level, it requires representatives from every department to meet and discuss the merits of a proposal, following a formal process that includes assessing all factors involved in an issue.

This is the formal practice of risk management, on a community level.

Here is a resource to help explain how that is done: CommunityRiskManagement.org

Library Community Network

Public libraries used to be a major source of something called reference, as in the reference librarian. 

Public libraries are still a pillar of resources and of local personal interaction, they just have not considered what is surrounding them. 

The public library represents the cultural center of many communities, and as such, is the best choice to network local resources, those provided by nonprofit organizations.

The reference librarian should be at the very center of community life.

 

It all begins with a directory of locally available services and activities offered by nonprofit organizations.

A directory is only a lead-in, directing the way to network services and relationships – between nonprofits serving the local community, the library, and everyone in the community.

To make the point rather dramatically, it’s like the Knight in Bergman’s movie – The Seventh Seal – public libraries are in a “chess game with death.”

It’s not just libraries that are in trouble, communities are too in dealing with social, economic, and in some cases, political issues.

And personal isolation.

A Library Community Network is killing two birds with one stone: libraries can become more relevant, and community awareness and access to local resources can improve.

 

 

 

 

Notice the difference between these two photos?

One represents connecting to resources, the other, connecting as a resource.
Granted the first picture – computers in an empty room – was taken in a library near closing time, but the point is – technology is a tool, while human interaction is not just a tool, but the desired end-result.

A goal of technology should be to connect people; the reference librarian’s job should be to facilitate that.

Today, the reference librarian should have a new purpose: to make locally available resources more visible, and to develop relationships between nonprofit organizations, the public library, and the community.

Here is a resource to help explain how that is done: LibraryCommunityNetwork.org

No one likes directory listings or government hearings.

On their own, lists and directories are boring. 

No one in government is wishing they could attend more meetings.

(And probably few people actually enjoy reading books on community development.)

Living networks are relationships, in this case, facilitated by a simple plan.

It is people who are directly involved with connecting  – networking – between the community and the resources already available to the community.

Person-to-person networking in community is actually quite common: most activity-oriented organizations have members and networks, nonprofit services have their networks of contacts and associated organizations as does the chamber of commerce, religious groups and social clubs have networks, the local public library often maintain lists of local services and activities and may offer displays and space for cultural presentations, and local government websites often display links to necessary services.

As simple as this actually is to implement, it may not so easy to grasp – because it is a different way of viewing community networking.

It’s a change in perspective: you don’t know what’s missing if you’ve never had it to begin with.

Interpersonal plus in-person = community.

Some of the greatest ideas – simplify your life? scale down? buy less? reuse? lose weight? – require only that we do something. And maybe we will, or perhaps not.

Certain community development programs (and consultants) will take the worry out of procrastination – they will bring resources and management to your community, show you the way and do much of the work for you.

There are issues that require outside help, and there are situations where local works better, because: community residents know their history, individual personalities, and available resources, better than anyone can from outside.

The two programs mentioned here require that someone take the initiative to set things in motion: for risk management, it could be a Trustee or Mayor; for the library nonprofit network, it should be the library director.

Both programs will require time and patience to set up. And both will likely change over time, as part of a learning curve and due to unique local characteristics.

Make use of the reference links here and contact me with any questions or comments.

Thank you.
Alan Pakaln, Jan. 2022