Road to European GDG Leads Summit – Creating community personas

Community Personas

Once decided the main purpose of our European GDG Leads Summit, it was time to find content and activities to fulfill it. For an event hosting hundreds of attendees, from all over Europe, with very different backgrounds, the key to be successful is to find a content proposal able to satisfy different people needs and expectations. In this post, I’ll explain why and how we created community personas, and how we used them to orient activity idealization.

(This post is part of a series about the European GDG Leads Summit organization. Partially to give to GDG leads some behind-the-scenes of the event, partially to share with other community managers lessons learned, partially for personal fun)

Why community personas

It’s impossible to build such tailored content (or activity) proposal without knowing exactly for whom it is being crafted. Personas are fictional characters, created in order to represent the different user types that consume a service. In our case, summit attendees. If the purpose is the North Star, community personas are the compass to check if decisions taken are pointing to that star.

Create community personas

We started defining macro-groups of attendees. We brainstormed in a small circle of colleagues, all working every day with communities, focusing on real people we had in our mind. We found common traits and differences among them, and then we decided what criteria to adopt to clustered them. We felt right in going for experience and objectives at the summit. And then we created a high level descriptions for each group, gave them names and voilà, we obtained our first personas draft. It was fun.
Initially, we had 5 different personas.
Then, we shared these personas with another group of colleagues, asking for their feedback. If the descriptions were clear, if the grouping was meaningful and if we were leaving behind something. Thanks to these feedback, we cut one of the personas, obtaining this final list:

  • The rookie community leader: Enthusiast to be for the first time at GDG leads summit, representing a small-mid size community, very eager to learn new stuff.
  • The knowledge hunter: She comes with a clear idea about the desidered summit outcomes, carefully cherry-picking the agenda topics, with the will and the experience, to speak loudly during common sessions.
  • The community professor: Experienced GDG leads summit attendee, prefers unstructured networking moments to sessions, to confront with the others. Knows Google history better than some Googlers. Lot of experience with the community management.
  • The casual summit attendee: She’s at the summit because it was cool to apply.

More details on these personas here.

Match personas with attendees

If creating personas is an art, matching them with event attendees is close to black magic. It generally boils down to two main approaches: ask people directly where they think they fit better, or infer personas from information on the people.

We went with the latter. We drafted a specific set of survey questions, and asked them as part of the event registration form. Every reply contributed with a specific weight to the different personas. For example, a reply “Just started (less than 1 year)” to the question “What’s your experience as a community leader” contributes with 20 points to the “The rookie community leader“, with 10 points to the “The knowledge hunter” personas, etc. Once added up contributions from all the questions, the highest scored personas was the one better describing the attendee.

Easy, right? In theory, because in practice finding the right balance in the weights of the different contributions wasn’t immediate, and in the same small circle mentioned above, we tested different approaches, using some leads we knew the most as “test cases”. Once we found a decent contribution matrix (the complete version in the personas doc) was time to apply it to all the summit attendees.

Match personas with the attendees, at scale

If the manual assignations of personas works for testing, doing it manually for 400+ people was not a viable solution. So, resurrecting my dev skills (dev once, dev forever), I collected people survey results on a Google Sheets, opened the Script Editor and coded a custom function. It takes as input questions replies, assigns the different contributions to the different personas, and return the personas with the highest score. Here the gist with the code.
(Please don’t judge me for having used Apps Script. Practical sense here was the main driver)

Once collected personas for all attendees (a simple copy-paste of the row with the formula to the other rows), I finally obtained the distribution of the personas of the summit attendees.

Once again, feedback are important, so we asked to the extended team to double check if personas seemed appropriate for the community leads they knew. With my big surprise, they mostly were!

Good. So we finally had the estimated personas distribution for the summit. (~350 attendees registered so far):

If you’re one of the summit attendees, where do you think you are? Let me know, and I’ll be happy to tell you if your judgement aligns with our system (and rest assured your judgement will always win)

Apply personas to summit organization.

Time to make these personas useful. We used them to understand if, in every content segment, we had proposals targeting all the personas.

For example, we arranged the 4 parallel tracks with sessions from the community with content for the different personas in every time slot.
Or, given the high number of Community rookies, we organized a specific activity to help newcomers to start their communities. And much more!

Road to European GDG Leads Summit – Setting the purpose

GDG Summit Purposes

If you know me, you know I love to start with why. In addition, as Priya Parker wrote in her book “The art of Gathering“, “by having a clearly identified purpose for the event, participants will have more chances to actually connect, and not be disappointed”. So, once our European DevRel team decided this year to shift from several regional GDG Leads summit, to a European-wide summit for 500+ attendees, we set down together, to define the main purpose of the summit, the North Start that would have influenced all the other event-related decisions. How we made it is the topic of this post.

(This post is part of a series about the European GDG Leads Summit organization. Partially to give to GDG leads some behind-the-scenes of the event, partially to share with other community managers lessons learned, partially for personal fun)

Get inspiration from the past

To warm-up our brains and create a common ground for follow-up discussion among the 12+ people in the team, we started with a retrospective exercise. We looked at the regional summits we run in the last two years, wearing two hats: one that considered attendees feelings and emotions (community is all about emotions), their comments and their feedback; another that considered our goals and impressions as organizers. We used the Start / Stop / Continue model, adding a fourth “Best” element to it. And this was the result.

Start / Stop / Keep doing / Best of past regional GDG Leads Summits

An incredibly dense wall of insights! We briefly discussed the points and, unsurprisingly, the ones that emerged more often were about knowledge and experience sharing, the sense of community, networking activities, training on community-related topics, feedback and discussions, intimate conversations, fun together. We also smiled a lot at your past, because was full of great and heartwarming memories.

We added into the mix the results of the interviews we did during Google I/O to several community leads there, asking them the most valuable activity they wanted to have during a GDG Leads Summit.

Identify the core summit purpose

With all these information in mind, we started to think, individually, about a desired purpose for the summit. With these key characteristics:

• Represents the sweet spot between what attendees want and enjoy, and the event organizers goals, with a slight preference for the attendees side.
Tangible and inspirational at the same time. Able to leave a feeling in between “we made it” and “there is still road ahead”. The “we made it” to positively justify the time spent, the “there is still road ahead” so attendees feel it’s already time for another summit, to continue the journey together.
• Offers a high level narrative that could be addressed during different events, using different angles and themes, but still part of the same, consistent, story.

And we put ideas together, obtaining another “surface” full of great insights:

GDG Summit Purposes

That flip chart fed an intense follow-up discussion that, after setting priorities, voting the different proposals and adding other elements into play, left us in agreement about the following GDG Summit purpose:

Empower GDG Leads connecting them and with them at a personal level, fostering a European identity and celebrating their successes, while providing tools to growth in their community manager role.

Skills and tooling, identity, connections, appreciation. Four areas we’ll work on to draft the agenda!

Stay tuned for the next post on the European GDG Leads Summit!

The Community Canvas for GDG

GDG Community Canvas

When a community movement is worldwide spread, like Google Developers Group is, maintain a good balance between a common identity and local differences is essential keep the “sense of belonging” among the chapter leads, while leaving them the freedom to be successful interpreting the local context. But what defines that common identity? I created a GDG Community Canvas to explore and understand that.

The Community Canvas by Fabian Pfortmüller is, for a community, what the Business Model Canvas is for a company. While the latter is a visual chart with elements describing a firm’s or product’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances (Wikipedia), the former is a framework to describe the underlying structure of a community, focussed on 3 main section: Identity, Experience and Structure. More info in the Community Canvas site, alongside with very useful guidebooks to understand each section and questions to drive its creation.

The process

Similar to the Community Commitment Curve exercise, I’ve asked to 70+ GDG leads to create their own Community Canvas, to check if a common picture about what a GDG is would have emerged and, if yes, what it would have been. In short: yes, there is one, and it’s very well defined!

We did the exercise during the annual community summits and, because defining the whole canvas could be overwhelming, we used a short version of it, called the Community Canvas MVC (Minimum Viable Community), still by Fabian, and working only on the “Identity” part, the most useful to provide an answer to my assumption.

The benefits of running such exercise in person with the community leads were multiple: first, it was an introspective journey they took, together, to better understand the reasons they do what they do. Gather around the same table younger and more experienced leads, to share and reflect about one passion that connected them all (they were there because they all run a GDG), fostered a stronger Sense of Community. Finally, it wasn’t Google telling them what a GDGs should be, they told each other, and based on their experiences.

We used simple design thinking techniques to co-create the GDG Community Canvas: first, we invited the leads to reflect about one of the element of the identity section, individually. Then, in group of four, they shared their learnings and discussed. Finally, they wrote down the main points on a template I provided them, to group all the thoughts emerged. We iterated for each of the identity section element: purpose, audience, values, goals. Finally, I went thru the findings, doing a little bit of summarizing. The whole exercise, in total, took a couple of hours.

The result

The follow maps describe what a Google Developer Group should be, and I pretty much agree with it.

Purpose: GDGs exist because they are local platforms for peer-to-peer sharing and learning of tech knowledge, expertise and ideas, for everyone and without discrimination. They create a space to socialise and get together with likeminded people interested in tech, enabling personal and career growth. They also aim to increase diversity in tech, creating a welcoming and safe environment. All with fun.

Audience: GDGs are for tech professionals with different level of expertise, interested in learning and sharing about Google technologies, and in giving back to the community. They’re also open to students, tech entrepreneurs and, in general, to all the people working with developers and / or with a technical background or passion about technologies. They host audiences of different ages and people close in terms of geographic location. They also welcome people interested in diversity and inclusion topics in the tech ecosystem.

Values: the most recurring values of GDG communities are about a social, technological and cultural inclusiveness, a continuous learning attitude of the members paired with a love for new technologies and a culture of sharing, a desire for personal growth, all enclosed in mutual respect and support. Diversity is present in many dimensions, from members background to knowledge level, including reasons to be part of the community to technologies, all to create a psychologically safe environment for everyone.
I particularly liked one of the point made: “learn, earn, serve”.

Goals: most common success factors for GDGs are the positive feedback from satisfied community members about the activity organized, the ability to share in an efficient and effective way knowledge and positive values of the community, being recognized as a valuable community and the reference point for Google technologies in the local ecosystem. Also the “creation factor” was mentioned: in term of new projects and ideas, community contribution to technologies: bugs, pull requests, feedback, etc. Success is also defined by more diversity in the event attendees, in term of gender and cultural background.
One group mentioned the increase of Community ROI, seen as Return of Interest, in term of more attendees to the events, more retention among attendees and more bonding capital among members.

Here the detailed results.

Next steps

It would be great to run the GDG Community Canvas exercise across different cultures, as my cohort was mostly from Europe. I suspect main points will be the same, with some interesting secondary differences. In addition, I left to the leads the pleasure of filling the other two sections (Experience and Structure) once home, with the rest of their community core groups, but it would have been interesting to go thru the whole canvas together. Nevertheless, several told me they’ve done, and it was very useful to better shape and share their idea of community and align their minds.

And you, GDG member or lead reading this article, do you find yourself and your community in this canvas? Please let me know, as I’m interested in every single feedback!