While earning my graduate degree in Social Journalism in New York City back in 2016, I had the unique opportunity to essentially pick whatever community I wanted to serve as part of my year-long thesis project. As part of only the second cohort for this newly invented journalism degree, Social Journalism had special emphasis on teaching students the importance of community engagement - truly listening, building relationships, and producing tangible impact in the communities they serve.
At that point in my life, nearly everything I did on a daily basis involved clicking a button on my iPhone. In some instances I would be quickly Googling a subject overheard on the subway as I was having food delivered to my tiny apartment (that I shared with three roommates in Harlem), while also listening to a murder mystery podcast and sending Slack messages to my classmates about a tricky assignment due later that day. And in the same breath, I would glance over and see an elderly woman - perhaps in her early 80's - reading a book and observing the people in the subway, no smart device in sight.
It quickly dawned on me in that moment that there was a need for intergenerational connection and knowledge sharing between communities who are well versed with technology and communities who are not. Not only could older generations benefit from understanding technology and connecting with others, but younger generations could also soak in the wisdom and advice shared from those with a bit more life experience. This sparked the beginning of my work building a community focused entirely on two-way knowledge sharing in the form of weekly in-person events throughout New York City where senior citizens and young professionals would gather over bagels and coffee to exchange information.
While building this community, I felt the power that comes from allowing individuals to not only learn something new, but to share what they know with others. I'd overhear a young professional going over the latest feature updates for a product while a senior citizen would be sharing advice on how to approach a particular job interview or situation with friends/family. Book clubs were formed, lunch dates were scheduled, and suddenly I was receiving photos of young professionals and seniors taking walks together in Central Park and extending their time learning from each other outside of our regularly scheduled events. My heart was bursting with community pride.
While most of you are focused on fostering communities online and not in-person (especially these days), there is certainly something to be said for creating space for folks in your community to directly learn from one another, whether that thing they're learning is actually what brought them to your community or not.
A few ways you can make this happen in your communities (if you're not doing so already):
- In your onboarding flow, try to create opportunities where you can collect information about the different skills members have in your community, as well as areas members would to grow in. Gathering this information early on not only allows you to create a more intentional community, but it also demonstrates to your members that you value what they know and how they'd like to grow/benefit from your community.
- If you don't include those questions outlined above in your onboarding, consider posing questions from time to time that focus on skill sharing ("What can you teach?" and "What do you want to learn?"). Track the responses and find ways to intentionally connect members who can learn from one another.
- Dedicate a channel in your community to knowledge sharing. Give members the space to share information and collaborate in ways that are intentional.
- Frequently invite community members to host AMAs that focus on their area of expertise.
- Create space (online or offline) for members to gather and share knowledge, whether that's hosting events for people who want to talk through a particular subject or even creating programming for a calendar week that covers specific topics that have been brought up within the community.
There are lots of other ways outside of what I shared where you can create this two-way knowledge exchange, but once that knowledge has been shared try to make it evergreen and available for folks to reference again and again.