In the third of our Ask the Experts series, we chat to Richard Lumb, CEO and Founder of Front Line Genomics.

Tell us a bit about your professional community and why you run it?

Our community includes people from industry, academia, healthcare, technology and investment sectors who are working in, or interested in, genomics and related technologies. We run it to service our social mission: to deliver the benefits of genomics to patients faster. In order to help make that happen, it’s important for us to be able to trigger and support discussions within the field. We also want to inspire people on the fringes of the field to get more involved, so that - again - patients ultimately benefit.

How do you combine face-to-face with digital in your community? How has this changed over time?

We run face-to-face meetings through our Festivals, Special Interest Groups, and - more recently - traditional conferences. We support each of those physical events with a variety of digital products, varying from reports, event apps and/or the facilitation of questions and capturing of discussions at events. We find that our digital products work best when they support physical interactions, and vice versa. This has not really changed over time, but we sense an opportunity to create a more accessible digital platform to enable discussions and exchanges of useful intelligence within our community.

What tools or platforms do you use to engage with your community digitally? How have these changed over time?

Our website, an on-site app, and our reports (presented digitally via our website). We also run webinars. We use Slido at events, which has been received incredibly well, in order to create a meritocracy around the best questions asked from our audiences, and also as fantastic research in it’s own right.

What metrics or approaches do you use to gauge how well your community is working?

We don’t, and we should.

What do you think are the hallmarks of a successful professional community?

  1. A committed facilitator who is willing to continually kick-start conversations/dialogue.
  2. A highly active core-group of early users, who are respected within their community.
  3. The opportunity to have both public and private conversations with a high level of privacy/security.
  4. Where the community is deriving value that they could not get from another platform/product.
  5. Where the topic/field/industry itself is vibrant and interesting, with lots of new challenges to address - challenges that are inspiring and/or meaningful, not draining.
  6. Where there is a clear purpose/’why’

How important is it for a community to have some kind of host or leader to be successful?

It helps. It’s not vital if the core early members are highly active, but it helps massively.

Are there any professional communities outside yours that you admire (if so, why)?

No. Ignorance on my part, but I’m not aware of a single professional community that I see done well. Away from professional communities, I think pockets of Reddit serve communities bordering on professional extremely well, although I also recognize that parts of that platform are highly destructive and toxic.

How do you personally research and learn about making your community the best it can be?

I learn from people like Ashley when I occasionally get to speak. I also listen to our own community, and their aspirations. Although I think we could do a much better job of serving them, hence our interest in Guild.

Contrary to widespread perceptions, physical engagement is getting increasingly (not less) important. However, expectations from events that deliver such engagements are increasing, and rightly so.