Our perception of concepts that have existed since the beginning of time, are changing. These concepts: community, friendship, belonging – are flexing out. In the past, their definition has changed owing to a greater enablement of travel possibilities, but clearly it's the Internet which has become a key proponent of definition change in recent years. Facebook is one obvious example of how our view (and vista) of friends has changed, and for many, expanded.
Caf Fean and Nina Honiball are two creative practitioners at community engagement agency Soundings. They aim to challenge the way in which communities – of all types – function. Their theories of community development maybe relatively new, but the way in which their theories are executed, is through an ancient technique: storytelling.
As our perception of community is changing, it is also fragmenting. Digital connectivity has, according to Fean, "has both enabled some communities to come into being, and separated some others into distinctly different categories - those who do not adopt, those who watch TV, those who catch up with their leisure time online."
Fean makes the point that it's really about a changing literacy, rather than a fundamental change of what community is: "I think that fundamentally we all instinctively know what a community is for us, and seek them out. The interesting thing in my work, is understanding other people's communities, and then suggesting new ones, often based upon people's interests rather than by location."
Introducing complex mechanics into community development, allows for new techniques to be tried out and implemented. Honiball suggests that while crowdsourcing, for example, is an interesting way to develop a certain type of community, it does not necessarily give a community the structure that it needs, or allows for a framework to facilitate consultation with existing communities. "At some stage, you need the expert to step in. As far as consultation is concerned, then no, it doesn't make sense to use crowdsourcing. We could dip into it, but we need to be very clear about what it is that we get from people. I am for it, but it needs to be used in a very sensitive way."