15 minutes

How is your community? Why, with what and how to measure it

A survey on tools and methods for measuring communities. Not to extract, but to generate value.

Since 2001, Logotel has been designing, stimulating, working WITH and FOR communities. WITH communities, because by acting on them, we can generate a tangible impact on the broader system in which they are located, exploiting what we call community-centred design [see BOX 1] and community psychology [see BOX 2].

FOR communities, because the present and future of organisations is based on, and can no longer ignore, healthy communities with engaged, motivated and satisfied people, ready to offer the best of themselves.

Over the following few pages, we will try to outline several key elements and practical models codified through years of direct experience and study that enable the interpretation of communities.

Let’s start with why measure them

Measuring a community serves primarily, to understand its state of health, to know its intrinsic features and, thus, to make the most of the potential it can express as a whole and through its individual members. Real-time monitoring of the community’s mood and how it varies with changes in the business context (using AI algorithms for sentiment analysis), identifying emerging figures or informal leaders in an organisation, or mapping the quantity, quality and direction of relationships that arise and are sustained in the network [social network analysis] are just a few examples that help us measure a community’s health.

Sense of community index

Of the many indicators relating to measuring the state of the community, the possibility of detecting the Sense of Community, an indicator that can be simplified as the intensity of the connection, the force of attraction that a member feels about the community itself, deserves special mention. The Sense of community Index [see BOX 3] is highly predictive for defining the engagement and commitment of its members and the likelihood that acting on the entire community will influence the behaviour of the participants, triggering social or individual dynamics..

Measuring a community allows you to understand what impact it generates

Second, measuring a community allows us to quantify its extrinsic manifestation, to understand if, how and how much that community is generating a concrete impact in the geographical, organisational, social or political system of reference. Therefore, rather than focusing on a community’s health, the focus is on the results achieved: the impact.

Where the community has sprung up spontaneously, as it often does in contexts where people with relevant interests or characteristics in common come together in groups/communities and does not have a predefined mission, the analysis primarily serves to qualify what kind of impact it is helping to generate. A neighbourhood community in a self-constructed city suburb, whose members live in geographical proximity, could have an impact (not necessarily positive and not necessarily calculated) on the inhabitants’ quality of life and sense of well-being, the safety of the area, the emergence of business activities, the support of the weakest, and the cost of housing and so on.

If the community was created by design or ‘nurtured’ from the outside, in other words, created with clear expectations of results to obtain and has specific resources allocated to support it, the measurement of the impact generated is not only exploratory (an aspect needed to identify unexpected consequences on the reference system) but also targeted and quantitative. A community created and funded to support a brand’s customers will contain by design the areas of impact and obvious objectives (often expressed as OKRs) to be achieved.

Examples may be the spread of a shared corporate culture or the propagation of collaborative behaviour or skills and knowledge within the community of a specific corporate sector, for example, marketing, observable as an increase in relations between colleagues and the generation of cross-departmental innovation and additional business opportunities. All indicators that need monitoring over time.

Measuring communities to guess their development

Among the many other good reasons to measure a community, there is the possibility of gathering valuable evidence to intuit the direction of development that the community is taking (predictive analytics) and, thus, to design how to support or redirect its development. The community of employees in an international brand’s shops generates behavioural and engagement data from its members which, integrated with other data such as sales results or shop and staff performance indicators (business intelligence), allow the identification, and thus timely intervention, on phenomena such as quiet quitting, impending resignations, declining motivation or their desirable positive counterparts and consequent excellence to be valorised.

A similar intersection between the information on the community’s mood or stress state and the findings on impacts on operational effectiveness and efficiency or increased revenues will help us understand when to launch calls to action or engage in targeted training activities or, if it is about individual cases where we perceive a decrease in the level of engagement and participation, to evaluate caring and retention activities.

Demonstrating a community’s return on investment, obtaining data and information to understand evolutionary aspects of the system/organisation/market in which the community originates, and verifying the effectiveness of behavioural change models or targeted impact strategies are just some of the various whys of measuring communities.

What to measure about communities?

From the examples given when discussing why the should measure, communities have such different natures, scopes and identities that it is virtually impossible to devise a measurement and analysis model that is valid for all of them. A tribe within a banking group that becomes a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, the community of HR managers of Italian companies dealing with integrating Diversity, Equity & Inclusion policies, that of the spare parts dealers of an automobile brand or that of the master’s students of one of the most popular European faculties, diverge in their constituent pillars and primary aims to the point of being unable to use the same analysis parameters.

Five indexes to measure key community elements

However, there are broad categories of indicators that we sometimes collect in synthetic indices for convenience. Suitably selected and modelled according to the specific nature of the community, these indicators can guide the choice of analysis tools. On the one hand, for instance, we have the indices that testify to the transactional dynamics, those that make it clear how much and what kind of practical value exchange takes place in communities (impact generated by/for/thanks to each of the stakeholders involved). On the other, we find the relational ones, based on the quantity and quality of the relationships established in a community, irrespective of the practical and operational outcome achieved.

Although we cannot go into the details of each of the following indices in this article, we can say there are five areas of observation and quantification for measuring a community’s key elements:

Impact on Business & Governance Index;

Engagement & Sense of Community Index;

Behavioural Change (Management) Index;

Relational & Social Capital Index;

Social, Environmental, DEI sustainability Index.

Depending on the community analysed, the ‘form’ obtained from a graphic representation of its indices may be significantly different and thus represent a sort of fingerprint, the expression of the collective DNA of that community at that moment.

To evaluate each of the five domains, we must resort to more specific key result measurements, surveys and observations that comprise the elements of the algorithm leading to the quantifiable value of that index. In other words, the business and governance impact index involves evaluating parameters that are directly due to or correlated with the community, including increased revenues, reduced costs, increased operational speed, human capital generation (e.g. knowledge, how-to, up-skilling, reskilling), innovations generated, improved operational processes, digitisation, growth paths, etc.

How to measure a community?

Having explored ‘the why’ and ‘the what’, the age-old question of ‘how’ remains. A necessary premise is to emphasise that it is complicated, if not impossible, to measure something not designed to generate traceable evidence.

Indeed, the starting point for any measurement is to find the data to be analysed, which must not only exist but also be observable. A good design phase cannot leave this point to chance. The next step is to think and design ways of tracking and digitising/quantifying them. At this point, we collect the data in forms that can be analysed using tools, software, and methods appropriate to the data type. From here on, the various branches of data science take over but always guided by common sense and the knowledge of the community of community managers.

The risk is evaluating with inappropriate meters and models some of the most important parameters of a community

Regarding the latter, in the first section of the article, we mentioned some ways of analysing different data relevantly. We must be careful not to fall into the error of evaluating some of the most critical parameters of a community with inappropriate yardsticks and models. Perhaps it is obvious, but we cannot measure the emotional state of the members of a community (usually summarised in score summaries of positivity and charge) with the same numerical units used for a percentage increase in productivity or with economic metrics (euros saved).

Today’s collaboration and social platforms allow the tracking and native analysis of various elements helpful in analysing the state of a community. To take an increasingly popular example, Microsoft’s Viva platform lets us track and return as actionable data a lot of information from the collaborative business context that contributes to at least two of the five indices mentioned above (e.g. the amount and direction of interactions that take place with our colleagues). The diverse nature of the indicators in turn requires appropriately broad multidisciplinary expertise.

It is up to community designers to create systems to generate observable and therefore measurable outputs

For designers or managers of communities using a People & Community centred approach, it may be harder to grasp data that falls withinthe sphere of human physical, mental and psychological interactionsand reactions, which is apparently harder to digitise and quantify.However, the task of the community designer is not only to design interventions andcontexts that help the community flourishbut also to create systems for generatingobservable outputs even in the physical domainof relationships between members,for example, an event, a gathering, a groupmeeting or performing everyday work activities.

Fortunately, the physical experiencesassociated with human beings almost alwaysproduce observable phenomena that are eitherdefinable behaviourally (specific actionsoccurring or not) or are somatised as bodilyexpressions. Both consequences are categorisable,quantifiable and digitisable. Emotionsexpressed by texts posted in a communityor facial expressions underlying specificemotional triggers can now be tracked andclassified by increasingly accessible andpowerful artificial intelligence systems.

Similarly,where technology cannot do it, anotherhuman being can. In a retail context,for example, it is quite usual to think of the behaviour of shop assistants as the subject of observation recorded by mystery shoppers. These data can then be digitised and evaluated to adopt desired behaviours.

Measuring a community also requires creativity and common sense

So, to understand how to measure a community, you may need a certain amount of creativity and common sense. A few years ago, I was inspired by the tracking activity implemented by the Japanese shop manager of a well-known luxury brand who, during visits to shops in Tokyo seeking to come up with an OKR structure to redirect the brand’s performance, merely noted a single value: the number of smiles he saw on the faces of shop assistants and customers. The paradox of the most digitised nation in the world using this expedient for a quick check-up was very sensible and reapplicable in countless other contexts.

In short, how do you measure a community? Gathering information in quantifiable formats, analysing it with the relevant technical tools and theoretical disciplines and processing it with methodologies specifically tailored to the nature of each community. Certainly difficult, but definitely possible!


BOX 1 – Community centered design

A community comprises individuals, but the logic and dynamics of relationship and interaction typical of a social grouping require a design approach that takes a step forward from more classical user-centred design. Always bearing the environmental impact in mind and the community’s social reality and involving the right stakeholders are must haves that stem from placing the community – as a whole – at the centre of attention. We should consider community the primary unit of analysis and the primary target of interventions and initiatives that are inclusive, participatory (at least partially) and culturally acceptable.

A community-centred approach leads to decisions and solutions that may be counterintuitive compared to a user-centred one (it is by no means certain that the best solution for the community is the one best received by the individual participant). Also, in community measurement, the most significant indicators will be those that arise from designs that map, identify and consider the asset, needs, relationships and group dynamics rather than the behaviour of the individual member.

BOX 2 – Community psychology

Instead of focusing on the individual, as in classical psychology, this branch of psychology examines people’s development in relational contexts, society and the interactive environments (organisations, families, etc.) closest to them. Created to improve quality of life through research and collaborative action between people, community psychology offers many insights into community members, organisational models, systems (micro and macro) and how people relate to each other.

BOX 3 – Sense of Community Index

Sense of Community means the sense of belonging, connection and mutual interaction/support between people in a community or, more generally, a group. This is a key element of community psychology and is a highly predictive indicator of active participation, very useful for quantifying the most effective ways of interacting in social contexts and understanding how to evolve communities. The name comes from the famous working paper by David W. McMillan and David M. Chavis, which appeared in 1986 in the Journal of Community Psychology. An initial list (updated in more recent times but consistent with the original) is defined in the article, comprising four key elements: membership, influence, integration & fulfilment of needs, shared emotional connection. They are the domains that define the Sense of Community, whose ‘Index’ is the official tool released by McMillan and Chavis to make its measurement possible.

BOX 4 – Extracting or generating capital? An environmentally sustainable mine

Over the last 20 years, driven by the success of global phenomena such as Facebook, YouTube and various other platforms related to the idea of community, people involved in marketing, communication or sales have fine-tuned metrics and techniques to achieve their business aims.

Social media engagement metrics, building on those of digital marketing and traditional media, have emphasised measuring data as a way to identify how best to maximisethe value extraction from groups of people made accessible by such platforms. Frequency, time spent, topics read, profiling by content, methods and access situations: from these data, we went very quickly to complementary indicators which summarise and define the cost, the possibility of taking part of the value from communities (purchase cost, per click, feedback cost, value of personal data collected, etc.).

The models presented in this article are not only based on how many resources can be extracted from the community’s capital – or should we say from the capital plural – (money, data, time, ideas, attention, trust, information, experiences, etc.) but also, and above all, on how well the community can generate new ones or regenerate stocks from which it was drawn inordinately. The challenge for people involved in communities is to move from considering them as mines to plunder to harness existing economic, social, cultural and human capital to organic situations where this type of value is generated and renewed, placing people in a safe and suitable context to express themselves.

BOX 5 – Community coffers

When we talk about the value of the ‘capital’ that a community can collect or generate, from which it can draw or which it can pour into the system in which it is placed, there are at least four different branches that must be considered.

Economical capital, comprising resources such as money, goods, and tangible assets. It can be invested, collected, increased, and redistributed to achieve community goals.

We can define human capital as the sum of the knowledge, skills, practical and operational abilities of community members. Resources that in a highly developed context in terms of social capital are made easily accessible, shareable and exploitable by the entire community and that increase thanks to to collaboration and opportunities for learning and sharing.

Social capital (term to be considered in its social scientific meaning), comprising relationships, connections, trust and a sense of security affecting members of the community. It is one of the key levers allowing community members to access resources and other types of capital through the community and decide to invest (commitment) in the community.

Cultural capital understood as norms, rules, history, stories, roles, traditions, tastes, values, languages and typical symbolic systems and the community’s owners. It marks the boundaries of community identity and qualifies and diversifies the domain, that is, the key element that members have in common, the reason for coming together.

Article by Daniele Cerra, Partner e (Digital) Innovation Officer Logotel – published on Weconomy 16 – A completely different vision