top of page

A platform is not a community

Technology platforms are alluring for the social change sector. From knowledge-sharing hubs to interactive forums, tech promises unlimited potential to enable smart people to achieve great things together. And when you’re tackling complex issues like climate change, social equity, or public health, that can be a real value.

Unfortunately, it’s tough for many organizations to differentiate between the community or movement they aim to build, and the tech platform itself. Leaders adopt an “if we build it, they will come” mindset, with rapid investment in the tech before they’ve addressed critical questions about the purpose, audience, or goals of the community they aim to attract. That leaves many of them struggling to activate the right people toward their goal. Here’s why:

Platforms alone don’t cultivate a community or build movements. Relationships do.

Technology is a tool. For it to work, you have to be clear on what you’re using the tool for. Context Partners has worked on more than a dozen significant technology platforms for clients in the for profit and philanthropic sectors. We also have deep experience in community building—our work draws from how the most effective social movements have built sustained action toward a shared goal, usually without the aid of technology at all.

More than anything, this work has taught the importance of investing in your strategy first—what do you aim to achieve, who do you need with you to achieve it, what do they need from one another to get there? Then we can ask: how can technology deliver what our community needs, at scale? Without investing in such a strategy, you’ll risk burning critical resources creating technology no one may actually need. Meanwhile, the real need remains unaddressed, while relationships critical to your success could become frayed, damaging the very thing the platform was meant to serve.


This article was ghost written for Courtney O'Brien, Senior Design Strategist for Context Partners, and was published in issue three of The Practice Papers, The Trust Issue.


bottom of page