Megacommunities, by Mark Gerencser, et al. (a book review with key points posted by Mark Smith)

The problems facing the world are so large that no one sector–business, government or non-profit–can solve the problems by themselves. According to the authors, what is needed is a megacommunity.

A megacommunity is a public sphere in which organizations from three sectors–business, government and non-profits–deliberately join together around compelling issues of mutual importance, following a set of practices and principles that make it easier for them to achieve results without sacrificing their individual goals. The megacommunity is an alliance of organizations, not individuals. In a healthy megacommunity, the three sectors maintain balance by “pushing” and “pulling” at each other according to their respective forms of influence. Order comes out of balancing this dynamic tension. In contrast to public-private partnerships, megacommunities bring civil society (NGO, church, non-profit, etc.) into the equation.

The megacommunity recognizes the kind of legitimacy that civil society represents. The civil sector brings accountability, insight into how to get things done locally, sensitivity to how the issues at play might affect individuals and the environment, and credibility in arenas in which business and government fall short.

Megacommunities do not thrive on chaos with no clear leadership. They thrive on alignment and optimization. In the initial stages in particular, the network needs some person, group or sector to precipitate alignment and catalyze latent energies. This will generally take the form of some “initiator” (or group of initiators) doing something explicit to put the elements in place. But the initiator must be prepared to cede this central/initial leadership role as the megacommunity coalesces and grows, or they may be seen as co-opting local and other interests. No one possesses the title of “CEO of the megacommunity.” The initiators need to believe that the alliance of organizations is the best way to solve the problem. Initiators should come from organizations that value innovation.

To achieve a successful megacommunity, on of the most fundamental habits to change is the habit of “maximizing” benefits. Megacommunity members must learn to “optimize” instead. Maximizing refers to a primary focus on the immediate benefits to your own local domain–either your own organization, our own geographic region, or your own function–whether or not that leads to benefits for the whole. Optimizing refers to the recognition and actualization of benefits to the larger system as a whole.

Those involved in the megacommunity must appreciate the importance of building network capital (that is, the value of investment in relationships and connections). An overlapping vital interest makes the features of convergence all the more real. Convergence is the commitment to mutual action that all members must work toward.

The purpose of megacommunity meetings is two-fold. First, to move toward a common goal (action). The megacommunity will have to demonstrate quick wins for its stakeholders. The second purpose of meetings is to educate the participants, to demonstrate continued and increasing competence and skills. The core group’s task at hand is design; the the design of a solution per se, but the design of forums, practices, prototypes, and experiments through which a solution will emerge. In every one of the participating organizations, there will be many sub-teams with multiple professional background; teams working on marketing, logistics, production, training, communication, legal, medical, engineering, financial, IT, etc.

Megacommunities don’t exist to admire a problem. They are there to take action.

Roles in a megacommunity include:

  • Initiator. As a navigator, you keep the group on track, moving forward on an emerging path.
  • Program managers who oversee particular projects;
  • Media directors, who design, write, and manage the web site through which the megacommunity communicates with others;
  • Media liasons, who maintain connection with journalists, editors, broadcasters, and other media professionals
  • Subject matter experts, responsible for keeping the other participants informed about technical, scientific, or other specialized areas of interest.
  • Megacommunity leadership. The big shift is from “command and control” to “coaching and persuading.” In a megacommunity, the touch is lighter. It is a guiding touch, on that lets constituents self-discover. Along with communication skills–and not unconnected to them–megacommunity leadership requires a certain amount of technological competence.
  • Enablers. Some call them coaches, counselors, advisors. they are exceptionally unusual characters that are often invisible. You never read about them. You never see them in th organization chart. They’re very crucial facilitators of leadership effectiveness in new complex, cohesive communities.

In no way should involvement in the megacommunity be perceived as pro bono work, since megacommunity actions directly affect the success of each member organization. In fact, given the importance of any megacommunity’s central issue, it is likely that a participating organization has already committed time and resources to solving that issue. Megacommunity involvement may simply represent a reorienting of this effort, to better effect.

Four approaches that the authors have found highly effective:

  1. Develop a Meeting schedule. Frequent contact is key to the operation of the megacommunity.
  2. Employ Strategic Simulations. Strategic simulations can be spectacularly effective in uncovering complementing capabilities.
  3. Develop targeted forums. Large, cross-sector meetings and conferences can also be an effective means of relationship-building in the early stages.
  4. Prototype teams. A megacommunity may involve dozens, even hundreds of people working toward a mutual goal. It may be easier to divide them into cross-sector, cross-organization teams where they can identify and focus on nested projects and subtasks. Regard each of these subtasks as an experiment, or if you prefer, a prototype.

Utilize IT systems to foster communication. Consider using a social networking utility to post all sorts of information relevant to the megacommunity’s purpose. Contents could include contact information, dashboard tools, regularly updated progress reports, and strategic plans. Reporting, in fact, is a key element of monitoring in the megacommunity. The systems could also include shared databases, shared workspaces, and media plans. A good networking tool can provide an accurate picture of how a specific hub is functioning in a megacommunity. New media tools such as websites, wikis, blogs, video blogs, texting, etc. should be utilized.

Some megacommunities have even launched their own magazine.

The bywords of a megacommunity are: communicate, negotiate, act, and learn (then begin the learning cycle again).

Leadership. Each member organization must offer someone who has the authority to commit resources. Leaders can involve the megacommunity in an effort to co-create solutions. To be sure, it takes more skill and time to develop a solution this way; it involves genuine interest in the ideas and approaches that other people have to suggest. It probably involves synthesizing or combining those solutions in novel ways, making the final result more valuable than the sum of the parts. Megacommunity leaders know that pre-set answers are not going to cut it. They are accustomed to thoughtful trial-and-error. And they embrace the pragmatic and new solutions that few others can see.

Bottom line: The authors believe that the concept of megacommunity will have a profound effect on the way we see, and function in, the new world. As part of a megacommunity, all three sectors–government, business and the civil society–are in excellent position to have a real and lasting effect on large and complex problems.


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