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Network Membership Update

“What does it mean to be a member of the ALC Network?”*

This question has been following me a lot for the past few years. In the past 13 months, I’ve given it a bunch of intentional thought–often aloud and in dialogue with others similarly exploring it–and I’ve reached enough clarity that I finally edited the “membership” pages and form on the ALC Network website this week. Here’s where I’m at (and notes on the edits):

We become members of communities when we show up and contribute. I grew up in a steel town watching “moms’ clubs,” church consortiums, local farmers, and neighbors on various streets practicing community…all of which convinced me that “community” is something one practices–like love or facilitation–and that takes a combination of time and care to grow. People join our local ALC community this way, but paying $95 for access to an online community feels slightly different.

Growing up in community also taught me that sharing resources, including information, empowers us to hold and grow each other better. I felt this spending summers at the local library as a kid, and it showed up again in college when I studied museum politics (like…who got access when, and to what, decided by whom?) All this feels particularly important in this “knowledge economy” age…so it’s important to me that we’re not relating to ALC Membership as giving fees to some invisible gatekeepers for access to the wealth of knowledge they control.

This invites a separate inquiry about how to be responsible while being transparent: sharing generously, protecting folks’ privacy, and giving credit where it’s due…all at once.

Membership, though. Right now, it’s whatever we make of it. The ALC Network’s main functions are currently to facilitate connection between ALCs and the dissemination of resources about our work. I see that changing in the next few years–what we needed in our first five years will not be what we need in the next ten. Presently, though, the Network’s main source of revenue is membership fees and its main expenses are related to running our online communication platforms. So “membership” currently involves a pretty tidy exchange (that isn’t *quite* sufficient to fund Network endeavors yet, but we’re working on that).

“Members” contribute a fee annually to enable the Network to keep communication channels up and open. With those channels, they get access to resources–documents, other facilitators, call invitations, chances to collaborate on projects that shape how this movement grows–though the extent to which they use this access (and contribute back to the community’s wealth) is up to them. Lots of our resources are open-source, and most of us are Google-able, so a non-member *could* find most of the information that members get tidily packaged on their own. There’s nothing keeping someone from looking through the 40+ ALC websites and social media accounts for photos of our whiteboard notes or contact info for different facilitators. Knowing that, for me, shifts the dynamic from paying a gatekeeper to see hoarded treasures to chipping in to keep the local library (which we co-steward and staff) open.

***There’s politics of language, translation, and internet access to dance with in that metaphor, but knowing we’re already working on those topics as a five-year-old organization gives me hope we’ll make reasonable progress in this next season of our growth.***

I said “community” in the parentheses above, after just starting this whole thing by saying signing up for ALC Membership feels different than becoming a community member. There’s certainly a community of the folks who make up the ALC network…it’s more that, in my experience, “joining” a community doesn’t immediately confer recognition of membership. That takes people getting to know you…it takes relationship. So those just signing up for Membership–like those enrolling or volunteering at an ALC–get an introduction, and then the more organic process of relationship-building and getting engaged with the community begins. You follow?

All that to talk about some quick website updates…

Our Membership process online wasn’t super clear before, but it was oriented towards organizations, specifically schools and start-up groups. Once an organization signed up for membership, they’re trusted to decide which team members to pull into the network conversation. They may add all staff and a founding parent to Slack. They may add one facilitator to Slack and another to Drive. Whatever…we trust them to determine who their community caretakers are and what will be most supportive to them. There’s conduct agreements, for sure, but essentially if a community says ‘yes, this person’ then those of us in the wider community start by trusting that.

We’re keeping most of this process unchanged, though planning to replace the “we request an additional $10 for every 10 kids over 20 you enroll” thing with transparent data about Network revenue-expenses and a “donate to our 501c3 here” button. The major difference is a response to requests for individuals who want to get involved with the ALC Network but don’t want to do so as representatives of their projects or schools. New to the membership page is a separate rate and benefits list that lets individuals join us…and a bonus is that while planning this we gratefully received a donation from one of our earliest ALC students of two logos for use by members who aren’t ALCs.

Long hours of conversation have gone into the question of ALC Membership, and I’m sure they’ll continue to do so as our growth challenges us to keep growing our processes and procedures. In the meantime, I’m really excited about this step and eager to see what new dimensions to the question it brings up.

*Are you a total newbie to ALC-land? That’s cool. Know that we–all of us active community members across the world–ARE the ALC network. We’re the ecosystem, the organism, the movement…whatever you want to call it. What I’m mostly talking about here is the US-based 501c3 nonprofit that’s behind agilelearningcenters.org and many of the communication channels facilitators depend heavily on to connect with staff at other schools when they want to seek or offer support. I tend to write “ALC Network” when talking about this entity as something distinct from our more organic network. Cool? Cool.

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