Behavioral Trends Research - What is Community?

PegaSystems sponsored a Bentley University study of how and why people join, participate in, and leave communities. The purpose of the research was to understand behavioral trends in order to help PegaSystems build a developer community that is aligned with human behavior. I synthesized findings from the research to create two deliverables – a journey map of joining/leaving community, and three personas based on distinct behavioral trends. 

Group Interview Sessions

I conducted two interviews with groups of 3-4 tech professionals, including web design, development, and content strategy. Interview activities included answering written questions about community, drawing a map of joining a community, and identifying roles of people common to community by creating collages.

An example of one of the collages is shown below. This participant chose to describe the community of their mixed martial arts gym. This served as a focused way for them to elaborate on the personalities and motivations found in an achievement-based community.

“People at a Mixed Martial Arts gym” with Game of Thrones characters (top to bottom, left to right)

1.     the instructor who actually knows what he’s doing

2.     the guy who thinks he knows what he’s doing but really doesn’t

3.     the guy who thinks he’s nothing special but is really amazing

4.     the token girl who is required to be there but doesn’t want to be

5.     the girl who wants to compete with the boys

6.     the person with bad luck and nothing goes right for them

7.     everyone else. The average. Some good, some bad, some mediocre.

Analysis and Fusion

While conducting interviews I wrote down insights on sticky notes. I also went through every questionnaire, journey map, and collage to write down more insights. I then grouped the insights by similarity and arranged them into patterns such as timelines and affiliations. This allowed me to find three distinct personas based on behavior and create a journey map for the persona most relevant to the customer's needs.


“Career in Progress” – People seeking to gain skills, access a network of professionals, gain respect, and make more money. Difficult to join since the benefits to members can be diluted or devalued if unqualified people can claim them.

“Communal Self-Improvement Seekers” – People seeking to improve their personal life by dedicating themselves to a demanding hobby that will result in increased quality of life and close friendships. Difficult to join because the community revolves around a core of people who know each other and a particular skill very well.

“Safe Place” – People looking for others who share their beliefs. Very welcoming to outsiders since the value of the community increases with more potential connections.

Journey Map

Patterns of the stages of life in a community emerged. The “Career in Progress” path includes:

Discovery: a person identifies a need in their life, discovers a community that may meet that need, learns about it from a distance, and cautiously approaches to become a member

Community acceptance: this is a phase of being in the community, but not yet a full-fledged member

  • Think of it as “sitting on the bench, waiting to be called to play on the field” 
  • The community will define what it means to be “in” and “out,” as well as what it means to be “in” but still “on the bench”
  • The community decides when a person can be moved up to full membership

Active participation: includes leading, evolving, teaching, or just doing the minimum to stay a member in good standing

Leaving: people leave when their interests or beliefs change, they are not getting the benefits they joined for, or they feel unfairly treated

 The study was able to provide insights for PegaSystem’s research questions:

People join a professional community because they believe it will bring them status, respect, connections, skills, and money. If possible, make these benefits clear to people researching the community in the “discovery” phase.

People stay because they see the benefits they feel that they were promised, and are being treated fairly for the work that they do. People may find friendship, but that is by chance and not the reason they join a professional, skill-based community.

New members must learn the rules and path of progression to avoid making embarrassing mistakes. Communities that make a person’s status and the path of progression clear make new members feel comfortable. Communities where anybody can claim to be an expert breed suspicion and mistrust.