Community governance is a hot topic, since it is all about how a community organizes itself and deals with a changing make-up and environment. Together with Jaap Wagenvoort, I wrote the paper Conflict Management in an Online Gaming Community, which I presented at the Community Informatics Research Network conference in Prato. Jaap is one of the founders of the GPChampionship.Com community, one of the most successful online racing communities in the world.
We define community governance as the regulation of community behaviour by applying community-defined norms and rules that prescribe what regulation behaviour may, must, or may not be performed by members of the community in their various roles. In our view, community governance consists of three main processes: activity design, which concerns the definition and tuning of the operational processes or workflows of the community (which are enabled by the socio-technical system or STS); change management, which concerns the implementation of changes to this socio-technical system; and conflict management, which consists of the prevention and resolution of conflict. In the paper, we give examples of the three governance processes and their interrelationships.
The focus in our paper was on the conflict management process. All too often, conflict is seen as something bad, which has to be avoided at all cost. However, as we show in this case, conflict is natural and can even strengthen a community, provided that proper governance processes are in place to manage conflict. We found that conflict prevention requires just as much, if not more, attention than the usual conflict resolution approaches. By ensuring that proper activity designs (i.e. clear racing procedures) and change management procedures (i.e. by giving racers plenty of opportunity to get involved in changes to rules or technologies used) are in place, latent conflict can be channeled into constructive instead of destructive behaviours.
Since GPChampionship has been running successfully for years and has hundreds of very active racers, while having had its share of potential and actual conflicts, their governance approach seems robust. It would be interesting to see if their governance model generalizes to other communities. It is very possibly that other types of communities require different governance approaches. What alternative models are there? Which parameters are essential in the selection of the right governance model for a particular virtual community?