I have found four conditions which need to be in place for communities to be productive. I called these
Simplicity (a coherent and simple way to engage),
Narrative (an underpinning story for people to align to),
Tasks (a clear set of tasks which participants can measure against their self image) and
Love (the willingness to commit to making others stronger).
These elements encourage emergence but are better designed. In many ways this explains the need for the famous “benevolent dictators” we have come to identify with emergent systems.
IMO, community-building often focuses on conditions 1&4, especially in knowledge management efforts. Addressing these topics seems to attract membership, but this tactic only meets some of a community’s needs. Without the structure and content provided by conditions 2&3, communities are only coherent and useful for those most interested in conversation and networking.
In my experience, very interesting conversations spring up in “Simplicity” and “Love”-centric communities. However, there are so many stories being told that it is hard to pick a single thread and follow it through to closure. Without an over-arching “Narrative” that values the “Task” work — something like ”Community X’s mission is to create a knowledge sharing network and promote re-use of recommended practices in strategic topics A, B, and C” — the community becomes all talk, no deliverables.