One of my favorite ways to build community is by telling stories, especially by interviewing members so they tell their stories in an interesting way.
Starting out, I like to choose at least three and no more than five questions, and end by asking the most open-ended question: “What else?” Over time, as the members begin to read each other’s stories, the community begins to “open up,” and I like to make the interviews more elaborate.
Here are two short interviews from this year at Portland Oregon’s longest-running coworking space, souk, with Mike Thelin and Jennifer Costello, and here’s a more complex interview from 2007 with Sanford Dickert, a founder of CooperBricolage, the predecessor to NYC’s coworking space New Work City.
Sanford taught me the importance of visual layout with these interviews: notice the photo placement and whitespace around each photo, and the bold and italicized interviewer questions.
The format of these questions came naturally to me (my first interview was in elementary school, when I interviewed my dad and grandma for a “family history” class project). In the years since then, I’ve been most influenced by Roger Dunbar‘s management class at NYU’s Stern School of Business, where we practiced J.P. Spradley’s “The Ethnographic Interview” (definitely recommended reading), and by practice doing thousands of interviews (not all for community building).