Is Your User Group a Gated Community?

wall_of_gated_community_plano_texas_near_dallas_photo_by_dean_terry

Recently I was listening to a radio program and they started talking about gated communities, what they were and how they functioned.  While I was listening I started thinking about my user group and asking the question “Has my user group become a gated community?”.  Have you ever gone to a meeting, for anything, and thought that you didn’t fit in or felt like it was going to take a lot of work to be accepted by the group?  You may have just encountered a gated community. 

What is a gated community?

We have all seen them, right?  The big fence surrounding a bunch of usually really expensive houses with only one way in.  Oh, and you have to be invited, on the list, and have to check in with the gate keeper to verify all information before allowed in.

Why would you want to live in a gated community that required all of that?

People want to live in a gated community to feel safe, keep people they don’t want to be around out, and the ones they do want to be around in.  Many gated communities, especially the larger ones, have all the amenities and rarely require residents to leave.  This has become a type of enclave, Seth M. Low, among other anthropologist, has argued that gated communities have an negative affect on the community outside.  I would agree that this does the same for people outside of your user group.

Signs of that your user group might be a gated community

Here are a few items I think might be indications that your group is a gated community.  This is, of course, is my opinion so please take it with a grain of salt.  With this post I hope to start the conversation with the community to better understand and solve this issue.  If you think of any other please let me know.

  • Lots of first time visitors but they don’t seem to come back
  • Same core group of members always show up, seem to hand out after the meeting and rarely is anyone new there
  • Feeling of Elitism
  • Other groups are created on the same or similar topic close by, people that used to come to your group

How to open the gates

I am just starting to think about possible ways to open this up.  We need a way to make first time visitors feel welcome, without it feeling forced.  It must be genuine.

  • Have new/first time visitors introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Have social events, create opportunities for members to meet and socialize outside the regular meeting time and make it open to everyone
  • Have problem solving meeting where everyone gets presenter time to propose an issue they are facing and see if others have the solution
  • Have a fish bowl or open space style meeting
  • Invite new/first time visitors to any social activity after the meeting

Summary

I am sure there are not any user groups or technical community that actively seeks this condition. It can happens slowly over time, especially if you aren’t watching for it.  This condition is also not exclusive to small user groups, it can happen at work, and even in larger national organizations. 

Once the problem has been identified the hard part begins, trying to figure out how to solve it.  Currently I have more questions than answers, and am greatly interested in hearing how you handle this issue in your community.  Please email me at jay@jaysmith.us or post a comment to this blog I would love to hear your input.

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