Refresh Aberdeen one year on

I’ve been thinking a lot about community recently. About a year ago I returned from Build ‘11 with an urge to reboot the web community in Aberdeen. Bringing Refresh to Aberdeen seemed like a worthy goal for 2012. A few conversations and a bit of web design later we had a small team and a plan in place.

We announced Refresh in January, and have held a number of great events through the year. We’ve got a second Code Retreat coming up in December, and some exciting work in progress on the 2013 version of Refresh. Currently I’m knee deep in the new website build.


At the Northern Lights conf I was reminded of the 90-9-1 rule. In essence this states that 1% of a community make things happen, 9% contribute to those things occasionally, and 90% observe / consume.

To improve the activity of a community the 1% should focus on bringing some of the 9% into the 1% fold. This increases the amount of energy being spent making things happen – with clear benefits to the community as a whole.

One of the challenges with Refresh has been in quantifying the extent of the community. Judging by the number of people who turn up for our events the community likely numbers around 150. Judging by the numbers following Refresh on Twitter / Facebook the number is closer to 300. I suspect the real number is higher.

So how am I defining ‘the community’?. Who is Refresh for?

Refresh Manifesto

The Refreshing Cities movement has a very clear set of objectives. From the Refreshing Cities website:

Refresh is a community of designers and developers working to refresh the creative, technical, and professional culture of New Media endeavors in their areas. Promoting design, technology, usability, and standards.

The Refresh Manifesto

  • Let’s gather great minds
  • Let’s share all of our knowledge
  • Let’s all grow and learn
  • Let’s promote local talent
  • Let’s be more than we think can be
  • Let’s make our cities better

So, it’s people working in or interested in digital, creative, web. It’s ambitious, aiming to elevate the individual and the community. It’s opinionated, aiming to promote growth, learning and standards.

It feels like more than 300 people in the city probably care about this stuff.

Increase participation?

Firstly, should we be trying to increase participation? I think we should. There is an argument that you shouldn’t persuade people to take part – that if the passion is there then they will come forward.

I don’t buy this.

Exclusivity has a price, and the price is exclusion. Events like Refresh should offer a low barrier to entry to avoid exclusion. A very low barrier to entry. Our events are free, they are usually central, and usually unticketed. The only exception so far has been the coderetreat – because these have been oversubscribed and it would be impractical to try and accomodate unknown numbers. But you can’t force people to take part. You can only present the material.

Increase activities

Rather than focus on increasing the numbers in the broad community – we should focus on enabling the 9% to join the 1%. Anyone in the 9% with an idea should have an easy route to propose the idea, and get the wider community behind them to make it happen.

This route is available today, and it’s simple. Talk to me. Talk to me, or to Ian, or to Kevin. Post something on the Facebook. Tweet @refreshaberdeen. Let us know and we’ll help. Seriously. We love this stuff. Even stupid ideas – especially stupid ideas.

So that’s my focus for the year ahead with Refresh – help folk do stuff – to broaden and improve the Refresh Aberdeen calendar. Forget about numbers, focus on activities. If the activities and content are strong, people will join the 90, the 9 and the 1 percent.

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