Community Governance Structures
In this article, we will provide answers for the following questions: What defines an effective governance structure? Who gets to make what decisions and what does the process look like? Which position functions how and who reports to who? Additionally, we will provide you with example governance models which you can modify and implement in your server as well as ideas on how to empower your community into participating in these structures.
What is Community Governance?
“Governance” - The way that organizations or countries are managed at the highest level.
“Governance System” - Composed of the server’s mission, vision, and values.
To provide the best atmosphere for both the community and your moderators your moderation team needs to be structured appropriately. There is no single correct structure that applies for communities, and it may be necessary to change models over time. The way your community is structured is determined by what it needs. Without a suitable governance structure to your moderation team there can be confusion between staff, inconsistencies, overlaps, and gaps that make themselves apparent once the system is put under any strain.
Developing Effective Structures
Attributes and Components
Most servers on Discord function more effectively when certain standards are met. Each standard is essential for effective leadership, organization and growth. If one of these standards are not met, then you may run the risk of the other areas of the server degrading in quality. This degradation will influence the service, sustainability, and community of your server. In this chapter, we will focus on the vital key aspects with a closer look at the decision making process. The most important qualities to maintain are:
Structure: A good and easily understood structure is the first step towards an efficient team. It improves clarity, coordination and overall accessibility for everyone involved. It should establish a general design of responsibilities for operations, control, and reporting structures.
The reporting structure refers to the chain of command so to speak, i.e. it defines who reports to whom. Ensure that the design is easily understood by staff and potential external partners. It should include functions of the staff roles and position to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Knowledge and Skills: Your moderators should be both knowledgeable on the technical aspects of moderation as well as possess the proper skills to moderate effectively and efficiently within the structure of your team.
Staff Accountability: Accountability ensures that the actions that people in power in your server (your staff/mods) are held responsible for the actions that they take.
Risk Management: Risk management does not necessarily mean risk avoidance. Every server will have to make hard decisions for the sake of maintaining order and increasing participation. You need to know what impact your potential decisions will make on the community as a whole. Finding a balance between taking risks that can disrupt a server and taking risks that are necessary for the server’s betterment and having a team that is well versed in that makes your community all that more stable and capable.
When it comes to effective governance structures, it is important to create a process that facilitates decision making. In every aspect of your community, decision making plays a major role. Setting long-term goals and deciding how to advertise the community can be part of that strategy. You also have to think operationally; what punishment is appropriate when a user misbehaves? Decision making is not a static process: it constantly evolves as your community does, it should change to your community’s needs.
A major decision you have to make is how much influence your community members will have and how this affects your governance structure. For example: will members of your community be able to vote for moderator positions? Do you want a community vote on major changes to the server? In most communities there will be a feedback or suggestions channel in which members of the community can influence your decision making process by presenting ideas and proposing changes.
The same question should be asked for your moderators. What influence do they have on your decision making process? Are moderators part of decisions regarding major server changes? Do you have guidelines in place for moderators that determine the length of punishments, or is that decision left up to each moderator? Do you take a proactive approach to get feedback from your moderators, or do you wait passively for suggestions to come in?
Due to how Discord is set up, there will always be a single owner in charge, but other members of your staff can be responsible for different types of decisions. When you want to implement a change or when you open up suggestions, you have to clearly define how decisions will be made. Here are some options to consider:
Voting: You could opt to go the democratic route when making decisions. This can either be a public vote where members are involved or the vote could be amongst members of your staff. You can decide whether or not the vote should be a majority or unanimous decision. You should also be clear if, when, and why someone, such as the server owner, can veto a decision if you choose voting as your decision making process.
Compromising: You can also choose to look for a compromise among members of your staff or the community. In this instance, you question the decision itself and change it until everyone is satisfied with the outcome. A compromise might result in decisions you initially did not think of, but can also take longer.
Deciding: You could simply make decisions as the server owner and present them as changes rather than something up for discussion. In this case, you eliminate influence from other members of the community, but decisions are made much faster.
Ranking: When multiple options are present, those could be ranked based on different factors such as pros and cons. Ranking can be more insightful than a simple vote, which will result in a better understanding of different opinions.
Consensus: When nobody objects to a suggestion, you could make a decision based on consensus.
Experience: Some members of your community or staff might be highly skilled in a certain area and you could ask them to make a decision based on their experience. This could be the case in decisions about new features of a bot you are using. Someone experienced in programming might be more aware of the limitations of Discord.
Decision making is a vital part of your community as it affects both your governance as well as your vision of the community as a whole. Having good decision making processes in place ensures a better structure for your community and staff. It translates into better understanding of responsibilities, it improves ownership of the community, and further clarifies your governance structure.
Horizontal vs. Vertical Hierarchy
A community’s structure can be generally divided in a horizontal and vertical hierarchy. Most communities choose a vertical approach in which they define different roles by assigning them specific tasks. Classically speaking, this will be your owner, admins and moderators, but of course this might be different depending on your community’s needs.
Some communities opt for a more horizontal approach; different members of the staff or community are responsible and accountable for different areas and tasks. Of course, you do not have to choose between either and they can coexist. Keep in mind that you will always have a server owner so every server will have a vertical hierarchy to this extent.
Each community will have a different structure. Some communities have major involvement of members of the community, while others are strictly run by a single person. Most communities however have a structure of the owner, admins and moderators. The owner is tasked with strategic decisions in regards to the community and the team. They formulate the vision of the community, set long-term goals, define roles and values and so on. Admins will be in charge of the moderation team, onboard new moderators, handle appeals, manage channels and handle moderator complaints. Moderators will be handling the day-to-day tasks. This is a vertical approach in which each position is higher or lower in a formal hierarchy.
A horizontal structure consists of tasks or responsibilities shared between members of your staff. Moderators could be responsible for different channels rather than the server as a whole, or some could be tasked to deal with ban appeals while others might be more community-oriented and focus on feedback channels.
Both systems can coexist and have their own value. In a vertical system, everyone has a clear role with tasks, where the horizontal system introduces more ownership and responsibilities to the team. Members of the team will be more accountable for their responsibilities than in a vertical system. Ownership within a horizontal system translates to being more involved in the server’s mission, vision and values as members of your team will be directly responsible for areas that have an impact on those.
Comparing Exemplary Structures
As mentioned before, when creating a governance structure for your Discord there really isn’t a one size fits all layout. One key aspect of a working governance structure is that it is settled in that it is stable, but also fluid in that it is flexible. There will be the need for constant adjustments and improvements over time, so try to let go of “old systems” and focus on what benefits your Discord server the most.
Our first example will be a typical pyramid, mainly vertically focused governance, which would normally look like this:
- At the very top, you have one or very few people who are in charge of everything (this could be the server owner, CEO, or similar). Having a few people at the top will make it easier to aim straight for the goal of the server without much discussion or distraction in the higher ranks.
- Following them there will be administrators or some sort of management - usually, they will be in charge of back-end work and they will report to the highest role.
- Right below them will be senior or head moderators who handle a variety of tasks, ranging from promoting/demoting moderators, introducing new moderators or handling ban appeals. They will also be the connecting link between higher staff and moderators - the latter take care of the well being of the server for the public eye.
Having such a settled, structured system will be good for both the server and the staff team. Everyone knows who they report to, and everyone knows their responsibilities and reach. The struggle of a pyramid system comes when staff members feel like they are not valued enough or disapprove of promotions to higher ranks. It can be a source of tension between staff, and higher staff have the potential to become disconnected from the rest of the server.
A way to prevent those problems can be done by introducing a fluid, more horizontally structured hierarchy to the previous system. Fluid being that your government is flexible and allows change when necessary.The drawbacks of too much fluidity could be that it’s easy to lose sight of who does what and who is responsible for what, so make sure that you have properly defined the place and responsibilities of the roles you introduce.
Feedback and Suggestions
Along with the previously mentioned components and attributes including the community in your governance mechanics can turn out to be quite fruitful in improving said community. Many server owners and higher staff still have the mindset of “keep everything private, hold the server at bay, control and command”, which means that they act on the server’s behalf without having an actual connection to the community. Getting feedback from your members can combat that.
Receiving feedback can be done through multiple ways, as shown below:
The easiest way of empowering the community to participate can be done through public channels such as a #feedback or #suggestion channel. It is the most straightforward way to get feedback of both positive and negative nature from users and get inspired by any new ideas they might propose. Introduce a responsible staff team that answers and discusses the feedback and suggestions with both users and the rest of staff if there is any useful advice. This team should be focusing on making sure that all of the relevant information is disseminated in an appropriate way as to avoid any confusion or incomplete assumptions made on the uninformed community’s behalf.
As an alternative to using channels in the server itself, you can implement a feedback system by using the ModMail bot. It will allow you to group selected members that can respond while everyone else can see it. Staff can then address the ticket in a closed environment without discussing it in front of the public eye or running the risk of it getting lost in the staff channel. Additionally, it will be easier to contact higher staff and ask for their opinions and finally, it will be easier to archive.
If you want to extend the community influence beyond your Discord server, you can use Social Media that represents your server or community on popular platforms like Twitter, Reddit or similar. That, and e-governance have proven themselves as useful tools for creating increased transparency and filtering useful feedback.
Sometimes you may want to have feedback from people that aren’t part of the staff team, but you also don’t want to solicit it from the whole server just yet. You may want to instead, start with asking for feedback from more influential members or highly visible and active members of your server. They may vary from stakeholders to staff from other communities to the most prolific members in your server. The latter will be especially important if your staff team is missing a connection to the active Discord community while they’re working on running the server from behind the scenes. Occasionally staff might think their plans will be an improvement for the server and community, but the community itself may not agree.
To include active and sociable members in your governance, you can give them a special role which can be called something along the lines of “Community Guides”. They won’t quite have the power that normal moderators do - optionally they will have ‘manage messages’ or similar low-level discord permissions - but their main use will be to give feedback on the community’s behalf. They will be the needed link between staff, especially community management, and the Discord users.
While these users don’t need to know everything that’s going on under the hood, you should at least involve them in changes that will impact their and the rest of the community’s experience on the Discord server. That includes things like changes/addition of roles or channels, community events, and other things along those lines. While the staff decisions hold priority, you should not disregard the community guides’ opinions. They may contradict your original plans and vision, but you should weigh how valuable their knowledge is against how badly you want to implement something and see if you can reach a compromise should that contradiction exist.
Make sure that your selected influential members are trustworthy and don’t leak any information. They should only receive feedback from the public community when they are asked to and they should not assume that they are staff. Nonetheless, their input and time and efforts should be properly acknowledged and appreciated- they, like you, just want to make the community you share a better place.
Having a well organised and structured governance is the key to a successful server and content staff team. The most crucial components to every working server is communication.If your staff team feels like they are at a crossroads or cannot find the obvious solution to a problem on the server, consider seeking out experienced outsiders or the community itself. Even though you may have the best intentions at heart when making decisions for your server, leaning on your carefully crafted community governance structure can open your eyes to solutions that may not have crossed your mind. While not every mentioned feature has to be part of your server, we hope that these guidelines give you an idea of what your server could implement.