The Solution: A Global Network of Smart Communities Implementing Change #54 #cong19


This article explores why a global network of smart communities can transform our world for the better and identifies key attributes of a smart community in the future.

Key Takeaways:

  1. “Smart communities” have the greatest potential for rapid positive change in the world
  2. The community development sector in Ireland is comprised of thousands of groups, people and volunteered hours. Output from the sector can be greatly improved with improvements in efficiency brought about through digitisation
  3. Digitisation and the development of evidence-based approaches to local development will have a transformative change in Ireland and across the world
  4. Smarter communities of the future will use the information to better understand opportunities, make better decisions, improve cross-community collaboration and work in a more efficient and effective manner.

About Pat Kennedy:

Pat is the CEO of an Irish tech company called eTownz. eTownz have spent the past 8 years undertaking research in community development best practices. The company is developing a platform “eTownz Community Council Dashboard” to allow communities to better plan and manage local development activities.

Contacting Pat Kennedy:

You can connect with Pat on LinkedIn, see his work on eTownz or send him an email.

By Pat Kennedy

Our world is facing many economic, social and environmental challenges. Local communities have potentially the power to be the greatest force of change in the world. In order to realise the potential of communities they will need to modernise (and modernise without losing their soul)

Across the world, locals with shared goals, come together and form groups. Together, they utilize their shared skills, energy, resources and free time to change their communities.  This is in reference to all sorts of groups: business groups, sport groups, environmental groups, social support, heritage and arts groups, the list goes on.

The internet as a service has completely transformed most sectors. However the community development sector has not had the same transformative change through dedicated digital services.

So, what would the future look like if the community development sector went through a similar transformation as it has in other sectors? What if we could better quantify community work in your community, county and even country. Quantify all the activities by local group, everything including but not limited to …Tidy Towns, Chambers of Commerce, Men’s Sheds, Coder Dojos, GAA, St Vincent de Paul, Meals on Wheels, Sustainable Energy Communities, the list goes on.

Community activity is vast but largely unaccounted for, some high level figures include:.

  • 18,586 non profit groups in Ireland (mainly community groups)
  • 10,9816 people are employed in the sector (many again community orientated).
  • The “Leader” budget alone for 2014 – 2020 is €250 million along with many other public funding mechanisms.
  • Over 25% of the Irish population volunteer their time with various groups.
  • There are 232 million volunteers hours annually which is equivalent to €2 billion annually (@minimum wage )


There are six areas where dedicated and centralised online community development tools could have a significant impact in the future.

1) Bottom Up Data

Like all sectors, in order to make smarter decisions we need access to up-to-date & relevant data. Smart communities will be equipped with the tools to regularly gather local data. This will include sensors to environmental data but also user information on the projects, tasks and goals of local clubs and groups.

A smart community ecosystem would allow information from these various sources to be made available to community stakeholders allowing greater understanding, improvements in efficiency and better targeting of solutions to specific local goals and challenges.

2) Top-Tier Data

The Open Data movement provides rich and detailed public datasets which can help communities better understand their opportunities and issues. The data is open source and publically available, however it needs to be cleaned, visualised, interpreted and delivered on a very regular basis to those involved in local development, localised unemployment data, weather data, crime stats, housing information. All this made available by public bodies and in the future this will be processed and delivered in a manner which helps local communities grow.

3) Community Engagement, Opinion and Local Governance

Facebook & other social media tools have provided a place where people can discuss local issues online. However, social media has some limitations, mainly because there were not designed as a community development tool. In future, local communities will have discussion tools, voting tools, idea boards among others. Such tools would improve the cross pollination of ideas and help build engagement/participation in local initiatives.

4) Task Management in Local Development

The figures indicate that people want to contribute to their community but how.  Help needs to be flexible and respect the skills and interest of the volunteer. Community groups are always looking for more help however in future they will outline the specific help needed into task management tools. Subsequently, this can be shared among their members and the wider community so that people could be carrying out these tasks whilst on a lunch break, on a bus, or in front of the team.

Task management tools provide continuity between meetings and a clear roadmap on the agenda. It also helps reduce the pressure on the key community stalwarts to do everything. By tracking volunteer hours and contributions, we then can look at rewarding local volunteers in different ways. Examples of this include, time banking so they can exchange services, organize awards ceremonies for helpers and maybe even vouchers for local businesses !

5) Online meetings & training

Not everyone can attend meetings when they are on, they could be away from home or minding the kids. In future community groups will move towards conducting meetings either full or partly online. Consequently, this will open the door for so many more people to contribute to local issues without attending a meeting in person. A simplified means of documenting and distributing meeting notes, project plans and such again helps bring more people into help with local initiatives.

6) Effective & Efficient Knowledge Transfer

Effective and efficient transfer of ideas and expertise among the sector is an essential component of a smart community. Knowledge silos exists across many players in the sector from research institutes, to community groups and funding organisations. In future there will be a system to carefully document and catalogue best practices, case studies and other relevant information in a centralized digital repository. The experts across various sectors can help define best practise and project methodologies to create a collective “know how” which can be accessed by communities across the country and world.

Do You Speak Bell? #53 #cong19


The Curly Organ travels around Ireland communicating with people only through musical sounds.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Everybody has an innate ability to communicate through music.
  2. The connection between people is often deeper when talking is removed.
  3. Participation in this kind of interaction can be at once nerve-wracking, exhilarating, sophisticated, primal and profound.

About Donal McConnon:

T h e C u r l y O r g a n (AKA Donal McConnon) is a special kind of artist/composer/producer who has for one month successfully merged his everyday experiences with record production (4 EPs(2017)), who regularly has conversations with strangers through a non-verbal musical binary (Do You Speak Bell? (2018/2019)) and has developed an all-encompassing live performance making use of hand-drawn visuals and guided meditations.

Contacting Donal McConnon:

You can contact Donal via email or listen to some of his music 

By Donal McConnon

It is true that Ireland is a nation of talkers. The “gift of the gab” is considered the highest virtue and anyone with a talent for storytelling, competitive banter or clever word-play is bound to be very popular indeed. In fact, those who refuse to participate in the never-ending conversation are often accused of being eccentric or anti-social.

If conversation is the number one sport in Ireland, then the Irish pub is the official playing field. However, in any traditional Irish pub, you will find a wonderful opportunity for people who are introverted to participate in the craic and enhance the atmosphere for everyone there. This opportunity is, of course, the traditional Irish music session. Within these sessions, often extremely shy individuals are communicating in ways which most of us, who aren’t familiar with the nuanced vernacular of the tunes, will never fully understand. They are connecting on a level which is beyond language. What’s more, they are accepted and welcomed by the other extroverts in the room for the exotic and emotive vibrance the music adds to their conversations. Unfortunately, however, not everyone has the technical skill to participate in this wonderful tradition of musical conversation. Musicians are often trained from a very young age and those struggling to make a sweet sound on their instrument will only be tolerated for a short time within a session. So what can we do?

One of our primary objectives as language learners is increase our connectivity to a new community and hopefully the wider world. There’s no doubt that gaining an appropriate level of proficiency at speaking a language can open up a vast universe of experiences and insights which would not have been possible if you hadn’t been able to converse with native speakers.

Having said this, I am always fascinated to observe how some students with only a few words of English manage to achieve a higher level of connectivity with their fellow students and their teachers than others who possess an impressively wide vocabulary. Some even manage to cross cultural and linguistic boundaries in bold and creative ways and establish deeper connections than perhaps two native speakers. As an English teacher, it is very necessary that I have a love of language. But I am equally fascinated by effective communication which is non-verbal, or communication which skillfully incorporates a mixture of words, movement and music.

Community – The Essence of the matter! #52 #cong19


I wanted to look at community beyond its governance and architecture. The rational constructs we put around the word focus on things like shared values, shared goals, all rooted in some kind of commonality.  But actually, I think its difference that separates “community” from tribes and families.  I thought about how I experienced it growing up in a smaller rural town.  Yes, there were committees and action groups but they were just the actions and manifestations of a deeper invisible force that unleashes itself when it is needed.  Most of us aren’t actively aware of our ‘community’ until the shit hits the fan or there are jobs to be done.   I referenced the John Donne poem at the end.   No man is an island… All the people make up the community whether we are actively engaged or not.  Small towns are often accused of being gossiping and small minded but I think that’s unfair.  Yes, people do talk about people but its through these stories that we find understanding and compassion.  The alternative is not to know, not to understand, not to care.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Community is an invisible energy force that is the ‘essence’ of the matter from which it is derived – that matter is people.It is activated and unleashed when there is something to be done.
  2. Where Community is strong, everyone matters.Some are more active agents than others but through stories, no one even those at the fringes, is invisible.  Through stories, there is understanding, forgiveness, compassion and inclusion.
  3. All places have ‘community’ but not all places have great community.I think the gap is in the silence.  Community and communication are intrinsically linked.  Where communication of is weak, the essence of community is faint.

About Joan Mulvihill:

Joan Mulvihill – long time member of the Congregation.  Blow-in member of Mullingar community. Sometime joiner of the artist community.  Recent member of Siemens Ireland having joined as Digitalisation Lead in February 2019.   She is as likely to talk to you about poetry and art as she is to talk about technology and society.  She is annoyingly happy right now so you’ve been warned!  For someone who says she’s not a joiner, she seems to find herself in a lot of things!!!

Contacting Joan Mulvihill:

You can follow Joan on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Joan Muvihill

Community exists in places but is not a place.  It manifests itself in actions but is not an action.  It can  come from a tribe of ‘same’ but more often is strengthened by difference.  Community is channelled through friends as well as sometimes enemies.  It is the invisible force that awakens and unleashes itself when it is needed, when something happens, in the face of adversity, when there are jobs to be done.  Is it maybe, the most pure essence of a place?  An essence is the resonant characteristics of the matter from which it is made, the resonance of the emotional, physical and spiritual attributes of that matter. The matter from which the essence ‘community’ is drawn is the people of that place.

People are to others, their stories – the narrated emotional, physical or spiritual attributes of those people as seen and told by others.  The deeper the stories, the stronger the essence.  Stories allow us to see and understand others.

How do I narrate the stories of the ‘different’ people from where I grew up – because some of them were most decidedly ‘different’.

One rode through the town on his bicycle carrying a horse whip.  One endlessly walked the back roads carrying plastic bags of heaven knows what and another dyed her hair with brown shoe polish that made it matted and mauve.  Just in one town, with one street – the one where I grew up.   Yes, they were strange but they weren’t strangers.  Some were not loved by everyone but each was loved by someone once.  In that small town, everyone knew their back story or at least some version of it.  Some sad and tragic, some funny, some dramatic but mostly ending in a compassionate “Shur, God love them..”   I have chosen these three because their stories were as much the source of matter for the essence of our community as anyone else’s and more than that, it made them matter.  Strong ‘community’ includes everyone, even those on the fringes of it.  You see, my earliest experience of community is not of how we were bound together by ‘same’ but rather how our community embraced difference and came from understanding, compassion and inclusivity.

Small town community is commonly portrayed as gossiping stories where small minds talk about people.  Stopping in the shop or nursing pints on the bar; whispering voices talking blow-ins, begrudgers and bullshitters, notions and nonsense. And that’s on a good day! Not much community there you’d say.  But you’d be so wrong because you should see them on a bad day…

On a bad day, high-vis jackets over funeral overcoats stand in the rain directing traffic.  Floating plates of funeral sandwiches, endless pots of tea on china cups are passed rattling on saucers to old and shaking hands.   Strangers wonder where the tea towels are kept and if there is more milk for the jug and sugar for the bowl as they take turns washing up and all the while moving from small talk to great stories. They don’t come for the stories but they are there because of them – the same stories they traded in the shop and over the bar yes, but they are the stories that bind us.

Where stories are strong, community is strong and when the essence of community is unleashed and thickens the air and you can’t help but take it in.  It gives energy to efforts. It soothes old wounds long enough to get jobs done.  It puts old differences into soft focus when you rub it into tired eyes to keep going.   Community has tidied its towns, cleared its roads, shared its fodder, buried its dead, saved hay and saved lives.

No man is an island,

Entire of Itself

Everyman is a piece of the continent

A part of the main,

If a clod be washed away by the sea

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were

As well as if a manor of thy friends;

Or if thine own were,

Any man’s death diminishes me

Because I am involved in Mankind

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls

It tolls for thee.

John Donne, 1624 from Meditation 17.  

We are the matter that from which the essence of a place is derived.  Simply being alive is to be involved in mankind. Some people have just short lives, some spend their lives at the fringes, but community is drawn from everyone of a place and indeed it is often those at the fringes that can need it and feel it most acutely.  I am sure that one day I will find myself on the fringe ‘of the main’ too, inhaling deeply on the last of the essence before the bell tolls….


“If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less”.   Was John Donne talking about Brexit in 1624 too?

It Takes a Village #51 #cong19


Chloe will talk about how her community has shaped who she is today, sometimes quite literally due to geographical location! Chloe will discuss how her rural, agricultural, maritime background influenced her decision to study at Maynooth University and become a professional Community Development and Youth Worker.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Without Community there is no foundation to life.
  2. People are expert in their own lives and the concerns of groups to which they belong both geographical and of interest.
  3. The knowledge that locals have in rural areas needs to be listened to and accepted as part of any planning process by policy makers.
  4. As community workers we strive to increase peoples knowledge to enable them to participate in meaningful decision-making, helping to put the ‘Unity’ in ‘Community’.

About Chloe O'Malley:

Chloe O’Malley is a 20 year old, student from Curradavitt, Louisburgh, Mayo. She was educated at the Holy Family National School Killeen, Sancta Maria College Secondary school in Louisburgh. Through Foroige Chloe achieved 1st Class honours in Youth Leadership and Community Action from NUIG in October 2017. She is currently studying a BA Honours degree in Social Science Community and Youth Work in Maynooth University. Chloe is a Volunteer, Community Activist & Leader, Mentor & Motivator and a passionate young person positively making a difference in County Mayo and further afield. Chloe is involved in the following organisations: Foroige, Mindspace Mayo, Shaping Our Future Together a subgroup of the Tochar Valley Rural Community Network, Louisburgh- Killeen Heritage and is a regular voluntary Community Activist in the Killeen/Louisburgh areas. Through her course in Maynooth University she has experienced work placements with Mayo Sligo Leitrim Education and Training Board, Mayo Children and Young Peoples Services Committee, Youth Action Northern Ireland (Belfast, Derry, Down, Armagh) and is currently in her final year placement delivering community development and youth work with Comhar Caomhan on Inis Oirr of the Aran Islands.
Chloe is interested in social change, empowering youth participation. Chloe has and maintains strong voluntary commitments and a passion to positively impact and develop rural Ireland and further afield. She is passionate about social justice and using tools of engagement from community and youth work approaches to achieve transformative social change. Chloe brings a rural, agricultural, feminist, critical thinking, proactive frame to her work. No stranger to hard work in the past 10 years Chloe has been versatile in her employment roles and gained experience in many local enterprises. Chloe learned valuable events co-ordinating skills through her work in hospitality and knows all too well the power local media, social media and good professional public relations can have on the sales and marketing of in local communities. From her experience growing up in rural Ireland she has developed endurance, drive, team leadership skills, communication, diligence and resilience. Chloe strives to inspire and cultivate creativity. Her main ambitions in life are to showcase gratitude towards society through active leadership in community by volunteering, leading and empowering others to make life a much better place for all.
• Turas na mBan – Celebrating the Journey of Women – Conference speaker 2019
• Mindspace Mayo Youth Panel member (Mental Health) 2016- ongoing
• Clew Bay Young Person of the Year 2017 (Westport Lions Club & The Mayo News)
• 2017 Ambassador for the 280km Charity Fundraiser Cycle for Crumlin Children’s Hospital
• Secretary and Founding member of Shaping Our Future Together – ( subgroup of Tochar Valley Rural Community Network ) 2016 – ongoing
• Louisburgh/ Killeen Heritage website contributor / photographer/ events coordinator / press releases / social media 2012 – ongoing
• Regular Voluntary Community Activist Killeen/Louisburgh
• Among Others EU Intercultural competence training – LEARGAS & Maynooth University 2019
• Louise McDonnell – Facebook/ social media training 2018
• Sancta Maria College Ambassador of the School 2017
• Sancta Maria College Community Person 2015-2016
• Sancta Maria College Mentor 2015- 2016
• Sancta Maria College Best Junior Student 2014- 2015
• Westport Foroige Project and Tusla Family Support Volunteer Summer 2018 (Garda vetted/ Child Protection Training)
• Foróige Leadership for Life Programme 2016-2017
• Representative of Sancta Maria College on Mayo Comhairle na nÓg 2016 – 2017
• Member of Louisburgh Foróige 2012- 2017(Junior Secretary Louisburgh Foróige 2014-15)
• Member of Louisburgh No Name Club 2015-2017
• Mayo Foróige Forum member 2014-2015

Contacting Chloe O'Malley:

You can follow Chloe on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram, or send her an email.

By Chloe O’Malley

I believe that without Community there is no foundation to life. In our areas that we live we would never have locals, we would not do our favourite pastimes or really feel like we are existing without having a sense of belonging. The feeling of belonging is different for everyone and this variety and diversity is what attracts me to work in this area and become a professional Community Worker. When we think of Congregation some of us associate the word with a religious aspect, but I also think of our farm when the sheep don’t be long congregating when a new bale of silage is opened!

My village is rural and remote, growing up on my grandparent’s farm I gained close relationships with family & neighbours which also stretched to the community, shaping who I am today. Our village is so rural we still don’t even have mobile phone signal in 2019! But we don’t let this lack of external connection inhibit our personal connections through congregating to visit or storytelling and no one would ever see you stuck for teabags or fresh hen eggs. I have had the pleasure and freedom to grow up in the safety of a rural, agricultural, maritime community.

People are expert in their own lives and the concerns of groups to which they belong both geographical and of interest. “The first challenge: whose knowledge counts the knowledge that ‘local people’ or ‘community members’ acquire from their lived experience involves an ability to see and understand the nature of connections and interrelationships more clearly than professionals can do working from within the conceptual frameworks of their particular silos or expertise”1. The knowledge that locals have in rural areas needs to be listened to and accepted as part of any planning process by policy makers.

Words have meanings; some words, however, also have a feel. “Community” is one of those words. I connect strongly with the word community, especially coming from a rural background where community is to the fore. “It is like a roof under which we shelter in heavy rain, like a fireplace at which we warm our hands on a frosty day.”2. My ancestors endured hardship and for some emigration, in order to support their families. They never forgot where they came from and kept the connection strong by sending home whatever they could. I often wonder just how different our lives would be had they stayed? I grew up with the excitement of parcels in the post filled with provisions that made a real difference in our lives. Unfortunately, emigration is still a reality today. But you won’t get through customs today with Poitin in a knock holy water bottle or your grandmothers five pound porter cake!

As community workers we strive to increase peoples knowledge to enable them to participate in meaningful decision-making, helping to put the ‘Unity’ in ‘Community’. Community work is about the transition of community from the real to ideal. Starting at: Individual, Personal and Local and moving to: Collective, Political and Global.

The community I come from is a hive of activity with lots of voluntary hard work going on behind the scenes. Many projects & events have successfully happened due to the voluntary work of like minded people coming together working for a common goal & creating a sense of pride in our community. Whether celebrating a sporting win with returning teams welcomed home to bonfires or where traffic management to accommodate a funeral of a difficult tragedy is needed, our community spirit of kindness & support always comes to the fore. “A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm”3. “It takes a village” is a proverb originating from African culture meaning that a child belongs not to one parent or home, an entire community of people must interact with children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment. My own neighbours are the best example of rural Irish villagers. I have been reared by not just a village but an entire community.

1. Participating in development : approaches to indegenous knowledge Paul Sillitoe, Darrell A Posey, John Clammer, Aneesa Kassam, Peter Croal and 8 more Published in 2002 in London by Routledge
2. Bauman, Zygmunt (2001) Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World. Cambridge: Polity Press.
3. Henrik Ibsen (1828- 1906) Major Norwegian playwright of the late 19th Century.

The Power of the Few to Impact the Many #50 #cong19


The Power of the Few to Impact the Many is about celebrating the resilience, ambition and vision of the volunteers in the community that impact the whole community and often generations to come.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. To make things happen, individuals with vision and drive are needed in each community.
  2. Such individuals create impact that can really transform a local community and create an ecosystem for progressive actions to keep taking place.

About Helena Deane:

Helena Deane is the Horizon 2020 Adviser and Project Support Executive at WestBIC, an EU Busines Innovation Centre with HQ in Galway, as well as the Fusion Programe Consultant for Intertrade Ireland and Principal Consultant at Business Connection Ireland based in Cong. Her educational background is in European Business Administration, having graduated First Class in this field from Universities in Cambridge and Berlin. For the last 10 years, Helena has been working with StartUps, SMEs, Universities, ITs and various Public Organisations as a consultant in the areas of R&D and innovation, technology transfer, feasibility analysis, business strategy, planning,

Contacting Helena Deane:

You can connect with Helena on LinkedIn or send her an email

By Helena Deane,

The motivation to write this blog started with a look back, towards all that was achieved in a very small village of Cong, according to the Census of the County Mayo – with the most modest population in the County for those villages recorded.

However, despite this, its community certainly packs a punch. You may say that I am a little biased living here, but it is hard not to be impressed by the drive and ambition of local people, that are keeping the community live and buzzing. I travel very extensively internationally, and one way or another, when I talk to people, they always say that they have heard of Cong, have been there, or wanted to go there. I couldn’t help but be impressed by that. There is a Spanish guy, who – every single time I talk to him tells me just how much he would want to visit, and above all, have a pint in Pat Cohans. He was so obsessive about it, as a joke between us, I created a 3D virtual tour of Cong for him, with a mock-up of a Guinness pint in the pub.

This is a testament to an incredible community here. When I tell people about things happening in Cong – there is so much to tell – from the tourism initiatives such as the Cong Festival, to the Cong Food Village, the Heritage Society, the activities developed around natural resources and beauty – and of course – the Congregation, the list goes on and on. Driven by the community and for the community a community centre was built on the tails of the recession, with numerous challenges and obstacles, a major achievement. More recently, a playground for Cong was opened and the effort didn’t stop there. What is the magic recipe, that makes all this happen? What is the secret sauce?

The answer is the people – very motivated, very driven, very ambitious in what they want to achieve for the local community and, I dare say, visionary. While the number of people in the community is small, and one could say having a small population is a disadvantage, there is serious clout here and what the ‘few’ have achieved certainly impacts the many – the locals, the tourists, the visitors and yes, the County. It is evidence that real impact can be delivered that is felt locally and beyond, by current generations but also the future and this can be achieved in communities that don’t pack huge numbers, showing a small community can punch above its weight. Cong – population of 145.

Fake Community: a Threat to Humanity? #49 #cong19


If you combine ‘Fake News’ and community, you identify a potentially new force of evil – ‘Fake Community’. Is such a thing real? How big a threat is it? What can we do about it?

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. As humans we evolved to share our knowledge with our community.
  2. Fake Community is community hijacked by populism
  3. Fake Community is a coalition of scam artists and the political elites
  4. Fake Community is real and need to act now if we are to defeat it

About Damian Costello:

Damian Costello runs Decode Innovation and specialises in Innovation in Strategy and Innovation Strategies. Damian is passionate about helping Ireland retain and grow its position in the global economy.

Damian has almost 25 years of consulting experience across global multi-nationals to local start-ups in the Medical Device, Pharma, Automotive, Financial Services and ICT sectors. He has delivered successful strategies and breakthrough solutions in Ireland, Europe, North America and Asia.

Contacting Damian Costello:

You can follow Damian on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, send him an email or see Decode Innovation

By Damian Costello,

Take the concept of Fake News and combine it with the power of community and you get a terrifying new weapon that we might call ‘Fake Community’. This is a scary thought because the power of community is deeply bedded in the human psyche. We have evolved to be social animals and as such community is one of our oldest coping mechanisms.

Everything we do, both individually and collectively, is influenced by the animal architecture that our higher brain functions are layered over. Anthropologists tell us that our big breakthrough as a species was not an improved ability to create knowledge, but a unique ability to share it. In his book Give and Take, Adam Grant shows how selfish Medical Students do better in year one of Med School than their more social, cooperative and sometimes distracted peers. By year two they are about level, and after that the ‘givers’ jump ahead, and stay ahead, of the ‘takers’. The perennial challenge for our species is how to balance individual desires with the collective needs of the group. We evolved to use communities to help us balance these sometimes-conflicting needs. What happens then, when the very thing humanity uses to counteract its most self-destructive behaviours is weaponised and used against us. Can we can handle being attacked by a subversion of community? I contend that this is exactly what is happening, and that the biggest threat to a healthy balance between individualism and the collectivism is the emergence of ‘Fake Community’.

Fake Community is what happens when community is hijacked by populism. Donald Trump calls his biggest annoyance ‘Fake News’ because news and its seemingly trivial cousin, celebrity, are his weapons of choice. But his place among the elite, and his paranoia that the forces that brought him to power will eventually turn on him, suggests that his accusation of ‘Fake’ hints at a deeper truth. He may, or may not, have been the architect of his own rise to power, but even the most feeble-minded of puppets gets a glimpse of the craft of the puppet master. Long before he called it out Fake News existed, as illustrated by the 30 years of brainwashing of our British neighbours were exposed to in their tabloid newspapers. Its irresistible power can be seen in the still inconceivable partnership of Thatcher-devastated northern towns and the ‘Thatcher didn’t go far enough’ elites of the ruling Tory Party. One workshop in a UK Car Factory, reportedly had 41 of 42 employees vote for Brexit and within a year all were on notice as the plant’s closure was announced and blamed on Brexit. Those workers were falsely convinced they were part of a community being suppressed by the EU. Fake Community in the UK convinced a majority of ordinary decent turkeys to
enthusiastically vote for Christmas. What did conventional communities do to protect those workers? What could they have done?

Fake Community is nothing new, cults and other nefarious organisations have always prayed on individuals, but their reach was counter-balanced by the other communities that
surrounded their targets. In the early twentieth century Fake Community rallied the masses and used the basest of collective motivations to take over an entire well-educated, civilised continent. We now call them ‘Fascists’ and we can hear echoes of their rhetoric in today’s trans-Atlantic politics. Back then communities would group together to defeat such evil ideologies because the threat was so credible and obvious to them. Today, Fake Community is even more dangerous because in a world of endless digital communication bad actors find it easier to act beyond the gaze of those who would traditionally resist them. Worse still, their digital nature releases Fake Community from geographical constraints. Syria under ISIS is a place that few middle-class western teenagers would enjoy in person, but digital propaganda from Syria could get English born teenagers to go there and marry strangers. This is less likely to happen in a physical community where the presence of such unsavoury characters would surely raise family suspicions much sooner.

When the digital world arrived, ordinary people augmented their communities with websites and later social media. They created new communities among like-minded people at work and at play. The lack of geographical constraint allowed enthusiasts in the most niche of interests to find people to share their passion with. Bridges of mutual respect were built across oceans. I’ll never forget a friend telling me he was bringing his 11-year-old to Manchester for a Minecraft Convention where the boy was looking to meet his best friend for the first time. People looked forward to technologies that would make their online communities almost as good as their real communities. What was missed in this naïve enthusiasm, was how this new power could be misused. People who failed in real world communities because real people could quickly see through them, realised that they could do things online that were impossible for them in the real world. To the faker, online communities were much better than their real-world alternatives and once they found fellow liars among the ranks of the political elite, a hidden but massively influential coalition was formed.

Fake Community uses the power of community to legitimise our lowest individual motivations and amplify our greatest collective excesses. If we are to re-establish a healthy balance, we will need to undermine the power of this emerging force for evil – we will need to create an equally irresistible force for good. Maybe the alternative to Fake Community is authentic community? Maybe the alternative to bad communities are good communities? Maybe the answer is something very different, but if we are to address this issue, we first must acknowledge that Fake Community is a real thing.

Community, Consensus and Theories of Ideas #48 #cong19


If you are building, designing or participating in communities you would do well to make sure you understand how ideas enter and move around any social system, how they shift and change.  Know that we all lie (sometimes) because we are afraid of judgement and isolation. As groups we suffer from being stupider together. The only way we can defend is by driving diversity & openness into the heart of our ideas and our communities. This is a ramble through some interesting ideas in the areas of community, consensus and the theories of ideas in emerging and evolving communities including the Overton window, preference falsification, pluralistic ignorance, heterdoxy, boundary theory and more.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Make sure you understand the range of acceptable ideas in your community
  2. Make sure you understand the range of possible ideas that could exist but aren’t expressed
  3. Try and find the shadow realities that are being created at the edges
  4. Make your community open & make it diverse otherwise BOOOOM!!!!

About Gar Mac Críosta:

Gar Mac Críosta – dad of 4 husband of 1, architect & designer of systems, experimenter, unsuccessful founder, happy human. I’m very certain that I can’t ever be certain about anything and I’m deeply committed to being constantly curious about everything.

Contacting Gar Mac Críosta:

You can follow Gar on Twitter connect with him on LinkedIn, read some smart thoughts on Medium, or browse some of Gar’s presentations.

By Gar Mac Críosta,

WARNING: this will ramble and may not have a point as I struggle to make sense of these thoughts

This is a ramble through some interesting ideas in the areas of community, consensus and the theories of ideas in emerging and evolving communities.

IDEAS: overton window, preference falsification, pluralistic ignorance, heterdoxy, boundary theory

I’m going to jump into each topic and hopefully tie this into something at the end. I’ve been involved in building and developing communities (both practice & interest). As I’ve come to understand more about these concepts it’s given me pause to consider how communities work, how they change and how they can break. The point is that if you are consciously designing a community these aspects are important.

The Overton Window

Communities convene around ideas, the ideas could be explicit in the case of a cause or implicit the desire of people to live in a place e.g. Cong.

  • Communities of interest
  • Communities of practice
  • Communities of belief
  • Communities of necessity
  • Communities of circumstance

Over time the ideas, beliefs and shared values of the community eb & flow. The community allow new ideas in or repel the same ideas based on the prevailing consensus of what’s OK for members of communities to believe. Communities are driven by consensus surrounding the idea, this acts as a binding agent to keep the idea safe and the community together. As the idea evolves so does the community therein lies the challenge if there is no room for challenge the guardians of the idea become the high-priests determining the goodness and suitability of the people in the group. There is nothing to stop the polarisation of that community. Within any community the range of interpretations of that idea can be narrow or broad. The acceptable idea space at any point in time is call the Overton Window it describes the range of beliefs that are acceptable at that point in time.

The Overton Window & Degrees of Acceptability

Overton window

According to Joseph P. Overton, the window contains the range of policies that a politician can recommend without appearing too extreme to gain or keep public office in the current climate of public opinion.

Overton Window CC BY-SA 2.0

If we extend this, the model can be used to explain the evolution of ideas broadly in society and more narrowly in communities. The model is based on the degrees of acceptance of an idea which goes from policy to unthinkable

  • Unthinkable
  • Radical
  • Acceptable
  • Sensible
  • Popular
  • Policy

Every community regardless of the origin has developed a set of views that can be mapped onto a window. The openness of the community usually determines the susceptability and speed of that community to shifting windows of acceptability.

Point 1: Watch the window -opening, closing, shifting

Preference Falsification

This podcast its long but explores the topic in detail

Preference Falsification is an observation that people will often misrepresent their personal views in public. We have all experienced both sides of this, feeling uncomfortable in a public setting about a thought, belief, idea OR being in the company of someone who we may have suspected isn’t being completely honest about their views on a subject. It lays the foundation about why things can change extremely fast and how the Overton Window can shift radically, rapidly and seemingly unexpectedly. Our assumption is that these things move slowly but our experience over the past few years of life is that things change radically all of a sudden. The Overton window sets the framework of acceptable views and if you as a member of a community begin to diverge 1) you assume you are alone and therefore vulnerable and 2) you assume that others will respond negatively to your views.

The public preference set of options will only contain things within the window of acceptability. Members of a community then limit their public preference statements to those that are in the window of acceptability. The tension builds as the friction between public and private grows until BOOOM we get a dramatic shift. Our need for approval and the reinforcing signalling mechanisms as members of the community publically communicate false signals to demonstrate adherence to the norms.

Point 2: Assume that preferences are falsified

Pluralistic Ignorance

Pluralistic ignorance describes what happens in groups where everyone agrees because everyone thinks (incorrectly) that everyone else agrees with a particular view or norm (without anyone ever actually agreeing). It’s the net effect of individual preference falsification on a group or community. This leads to all manner of problems of mindless conformance, individuals feeling alienated, undervalued and misunderstood. Although the group acts as one the links are weakened by the collective as a result of the misalignment of public and priviate. The created imagined reality is made real by the group actions in accordance with the imagined reality.

Point 3: Imagined realities become reality with real consequences

Boundaries, Borders & Openness 

Borders define the outer edge of a community they determine who is in and who is out. The mechanisms to pass the border in either direction can be formal e.g. nomination & acceptance or informal e.g. wealth to purchase in the case of exclusively wealthy communities. Boundaries are the invisible lines we draw, neighbourhood to neighbourhood, or adjacent ideas within an Overton Window. We move freely over and back across boundaries but to move further takes more energy and may result in a stagnation of ideas due to the energy required to traverse multiple boundaries. The openness of the system determines the degree of permeability to new ideas within any community

Point 4: Know where the border is, understand the boundaries and evaluate your openness

So what’s your point

I don’t have any answers is the first thing but I’m interested in building & participating in communities. I’ve experienced the situations created by the theories above and I’ve fallen victim to the consequences. If we know that these things can happen we can begin to apply design to the problem but first bring awareness to communities you participate in.

Point 1: Watch the window -opening, closing, shifting

Point 2: Assume that preferences are falsified

Point 3: Imagined realities become reality with real consequences

Point 4: Know where the border is, understand the boundaries and evaluate your openness

A Hopeful Conclusion — Heterodoxy & Viewpoint Diversity 

If we believe we have all the answers then we are doomed. If we only talk to people who share our views we are doomed. If we can’t have conversations about challenging topics without resorting to name calling we are doomed. Heterdoxy is an antonym for orthodoxy, it’s about inclusivity of a broad range of ideas rather than slavish adherence to a dogma. To foster heterdoxy we need diversity. The Future Togetherness Handbook explains diversity in a really practical way from the perspective of designing communities & human systems.

  1. Diversity of goals and desires
  2. Diversity of identities or backgrounds
  3. Diversity of what’s meaningful to the people in a group

Three Kinds of Diversity

If we limit any of these forms of diversity we are cursed to endure orthodoxy and dogma. We weaken links and we become lessened.

PS I love my annual Pilgrimage to Congregation. Eoin has done an amazing job in creating this unusual experience that embraces heterodoxy & diversity in all it’s forms. 


Artistic Expression in a Digitised Society #47 #cong19


I propose model of creative expression and consider the ways a digitised society redefines the model. It is an attempt to find a language with which to consider what a digitised society is and how the human voice can be heard in it.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. the three elements of artistic expression – creator, medium, audience – do not exist in a digitised society as we currently understand these terms
  2. we continue to rely on these concepts to help us find our place in the world and give voice to it
  3. the ability to express ourselves artistically is essential to personal and social health
  4. a society in which artistic expression is a commodity is less free

About Scott Coombs:

Scott is a business analyst for an Irish-UK IT Consultancy. His job is to write requirements for technology projects. He also started an arts-and-technology initiative called Digital Transformations, using art and philosophy to enquire into the nature of a digitised society.   Scott hopes it will make him fabulously wealthy..

Contacting Scott Coombs:

You can see Scotts work on on Twitter, Facebook, the Digital Transformation Website or send him an email.

By Scott Coombs

Anyone who performs a creative or interpretive act exists mostly in a social setting – mostly, because it is generally accepted that we all have access to some interior personal space that is both unique to us and not directly accessible to others. A person sees, hears, and feels the world around them and reacts in some way that is manifested in the working in some medium, some object we can transform to embody what we want to express. The result of that working then exists outside the person or persons that created it. The intent of that work is then received by someone who didn’t participate in its creation, but the work has meaning to the extent that the recipient reacts to it, drawing on their own experiences.

And of course the creator and the receiver are human beings. And of course the medium has no consciousness or will of its own, and is inert until the creator acts on it and invests his/her vision in it.

And it is unique – the creation of it, its purpose, and the experience – to every person who come into contact with it.
Take the world as we’ve known it, with its creators, its painters, sculptors, writers, playwrights and poets, and on the other side its audiences, its readers, viewers, theatre-goers, and in the middle the work, both the embodiment and the vehicle of what the creator has to say.

Can you think of any part of this world that isn’t being radically transformed by the digital society?

Start with the creators: where is that line between the internal and external?

Take receivers: well, there might not be any in a digital society. We are all “content creators” at some level, and our own interior lives are commodities too.

Finally, the medium: Steve Woodall, a book artist who used the relatively new technology of Xerox photocopiers, once said anything that shortens the distance between the artist and the audience is a good thing. The digital society creates the illusion that this distance has been eliminated. But it isn’t. It shapes you as much as you shape it.

And of course all of them or none of them may be human beings. And these changes are not confined to artists and audiences. They are happening to all of us. The author and philosopher Bill Neblett wrote in Sherlock’s Logic that you can’t say you know what you mean to say if you can’t in fact say it – that thought outside expression can’t be known. Whatever we may think in our heads, it can’t be understood until it gets out of our heads and onto the page, the stage, the codebase, or wherever. In a traditional society, the inarticulate private space is fairly large and largely sacred – it is the source of personal value and dignity and is accepted at least in part as being outside of the public world we try to share with each other. In a digital society that private space is small because so much of it is now public, and what’s left behind is denigrated. And without a private personal unrecorded experience where is the room for history – the telling and retelling of stories, and the truth about human experience that stories can reveal – when experience is equated with the sum total of ones public interactions?

Communication + Unity = Community #46 #cong19


Only by effective, candid communication and collaborative cooperation can we begin to solve local, national and international issues. This starts with conversations in our disappearing communities.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Begin with awareness of oneself
  2. Empathise with local communities
  3. Expand to national communities
  4. Demonstrate good practice with international communities

About Chris Reina:

Chris Reina has been involved in education for the last 17 years and has been a Maker for over 40 years. He has participated in many diverse aspects of the arts, education, industry and enterprise for over 35 years.

As one-third of MakerMeetIE he provides Maker-led, S.T.E.A.M.-based workshops to teachers, students and educators nationwide.

Contacting Chris Reina:

You can follow Chris on Twitter or contact him on email

By Chris Reina

Communication – noun

  1. The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.
  2. The successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings.

Unity – noun

  1. The state of being united or joined as a whole.
  2. The state of forming a complete and harmonious whole, especially in an artistic context.


In society – communication has become the easiest it ever has been on the planet. But what are the things we are saying? At the push of a button, we can speak to someone on the other side of the planet whom we’ve likely never met or may never meet. This power (and make no mistake – it is a power) has grown exponentially since the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.

Alexander Graham Bell introduced the telephone in 1876. Fast forward nearly 100 years – Motorola introduces the first mobile phone in 1973. Fast forward 34 years – Steve Jobs introduces the first iPhone in 2007. Fast forward 12 years to 2019 – today. What communication devices do have in your pocket? How many different ways can you send and receive information? SMS, Viber, WhatsApp, Messenger, FaceTime, Slack, Telegram, Insta, Facebook, Twitter and many more. Power in your pocket.

This rapid growth has tremendous advantages for expansion in business, industry and information systems. Moore’s Law will end around 2025 – manufacturing and industry in technology will begin to evolve and change. This change has already begun with a move towards core values and skills. Unfortunately, this also has the potential to make vague and obscure facts, information and truth more prevalent in society. Where do we turn to?


As our communication skills broaden, so does our access to information – with the result that our world view expands, changes and grows. This allows us to recognise problems and issues on a larger world-wide scale. Climate change, war, corruption, education, consumerism, gender equality, poverty (and more) are all issues that affect every nation on Earth. With communication, we recognise and empathise with these issues almost as soon as they are highlighted.

Knowing more about the world than we ever thought possible makes us a unifying force – even if we don’t always agree on everything! Unity allows us to meet like-minded people and express our viewpoints – and ultimately feel good because we know the issues we care about… other people also empathise with. This makes us all feel less isolated and part of a greater community.

Now look around you. Who is sitting in the same room as you? Who is about to walk in? Who lives next door? What are their names? Could those people be part of a unifying strength? Let’s look back to the Greeks – “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – Aristotle

Uniting as a group gives us strength – and in an era where consumerism is slowing – people are looking once again towards basic skills, dependability, honesty, commitment and of course… Community. Ultimately, communities can be large or small – but they all start with the ability to communicate.


Unity and Communication have the power (in your pocket) to change the world. However, these changes can only be applied and useful after we practice awareness, empathy, diversity and communication with those closest to us including ourselves. The Greek maxims are again useful here – “Know Thyself”.

What Do You Care About….!? #45 #cong19


Communities are great, and I love them usually, but sometimes we need to leave them in order to do what needs to be done.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. We all love a good community
  2. It’s not easy to leave
  3. Leaving one can be exhilarating
  4. Know what it cares about can drive a community

About Paddy Delaney:

I am a reformed Financial Advisor! Now spend my time trying to make a difference to both the Financial Services industry and also to individuals’ financial wellbeing. Do this through coaching, training and the (award winning!) Informed Decisions Blog & Podcast.

Contacting Paddy Delaney:

You can follow Paddy on Twitter or sign up for his blog/podcast.

By Paddy Delaney

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about”

– Margaret Wheatley

I have always loved a good community – I love the social aspect of being part of a community – I feel close, in a really warm and fuzzy way with the other humans in that group. Whether that was playing sports, working fruit & veg markets as a teenager, studying through college, in working life, or coming to Cong every November, I Iove nothing more than being part of a community! For many years I was occasionally told I was naïve, and I hope I am not gone too far the other way, but are communities always a good thing!?

If you asked 100 people what the word community means, fully 90 of them would say things like ‘belonging’, ‘togetherness’, ‘progression’ or some such positively-slanted description. But as sure as God made little apples, there are communities that are doing anything but having a positive influence, and they are equally if not even more resilient than the positive ones!

But what makes a community a community? Either they have a shared interest, or they have shared values. For example, my next door neighbour and I have zero shared values but we have shared interest in stopping the ‘little feckers’ from stealing our wheelie-bins and setting them alight!

Or I might be working in an industry where our shared values are one of hood-winking customers. As a community our value-system might be one of deceit, greed and selfishness. We can dress it up all we like – we can present shiny brochures of smiling couples hand in hand on a beach, but we are really only interested in lining our own purse as thickly as we can, and at the expense of those who trust us.

For a decade I worked in a community that had some of those values. It served a purpose as I learned the ropes for the first few years. I was happy being part of the community – strength in numbers etc. But over time as my confidence grew and I had more awareness of the chasm between my values and those of the broader community, it began to feel a bit off.

There were of course individuals like myself in that community whose own values were at odds with that of the industry. So, it seemed to me that, instead of the community having shared values it had a shared interest in keeping the status-quo, of ensuring that it remained fully self-serving. Don’t get me wrong – the service it does for people can still be significant, but just not nearly as significant as it could be if it were more customer-centric and less self-centric.

The industry that I refer to, unfortunately, is Financial Advice. I still serve clients in that area, but in order to do so in a way that is in line with my values and the interests of my clients I have had to leave that community and create a new way of working which delivers better outcomes for clients.

I have gone from working in a community of several thousand people, to a community of just me, and my growing number of clients. I have had to create a unique proposition in order to work in line with my values. I have to agree with Margaret Wheatley, that there is no power for change greater than a community discovery what it cares about! I am far from the complete article, and I don’t claim to be a vanguard here – I am merely standing on the shoulders of giants.

I can say too that even though I am a tiny community right now I can see that I won’t be alone for long – that others are changing too – and that will be awesome to witness and see the impact it has on consumers. In order to evolve, to improve and to survive we must thing longer-term than ‘the next sale’. I am an unapologetic capitalist of sorts but firmly believe, as business communities we must get back to basics of what and who are we trying to serve or impact in a positive way, apart from our balance sheet!? I’ll leave the final words to Margaret Wheatley, she says it a whole pile better than I can;

“Whether we’re in a small village or a major global corporation, in any country and in any type of work, we are being asked to work faster, more competitively, more selfishly, and to focus only on the short-term. These values cannot lead to anything healthy and sustainable, and they are alarmingly destructive. I believe we must learn quickly now how to work and live together in ways that bring us back to life.”