How did you build community around your instance?

Following a question from @konrad in the monthly global meeting - how did you build (/are you building) community around your instance? Let’s document what each instance has tried and share reflections on what worked and what didn’t. As answers come in we will also synthesise to add a section to the Instance Management guide

Instance managers please share your insights!


In Australia we’ve tried different things over the years, so I might remember others at different points! It’s also funny to reflect, because we were at such a different point compared to what’s on offer now - e.g. when we crowdfunded the platform was very much in beta mode, so it was hard to build community around it at that point, compared to what’s possible now. I guess what I’m sharing below is some marketing, some community building. (Having also now had this tab open for 24 hours I think I’ll just keep chipping away at posting rather than aiming to get it all out in one go, so apologies in advance if I trickle in additional replies)

  1. Crowdfunding. We crowdfunded Open Food Network’s launch back in 2013 or so (before my time, so not much info). It built up a community, we had nice launch events, it raised some money, it probably made people feel invested in the idea of us, but it didn’t necessarily translate into people using the platform (in part because it wasn’t that ready to use then)

  2. Social media and newsletters to reach a broad audience

  3. Speaking at events, conferences, giving talks for local government

  4. Publishing research that people in this sector use for grant applications, etc

  5. Creating learning networks - we run shared learning days, webinars, we publish resources to help people run their enterprise, we founded the (now lapsed) Australian Food Hub Network, we host the Fair Food Forum (which isn’t much used any more)

  6. Help people start enterprises through launchpad programs, getting larger grants to administer seed grants which come with mentoring, getting paid by government to build collaborative regional economies, etc.

  7. Have people who know us - we have a fair few staff who are reasonably ‘known’ and trusted in food systems. People call us informally for advice or to advocate to govt etc.

  8. Trusted partnerships, e.g. with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, Organic Regenerative Investment Co-op, Farmer Incubator, etc

  9. We speak directly to our users - we have vey personalised customer support, when we changed our pricing we phoned all of our customers to ask them what they thought we should set the prices for the platform at, when we make a change we try to emphasise that we are humans who are on the same team as them (because it’s true!) etc.

  10. Keep experimenting and piloting new services - e.g. currently piloting a wholesale procurement brokering service and about to pilot a logistics service

All of this has worked pretty well in the state where most of our team are based, but I think it’s really evident that we rely on interpersonal relationships and these aren’t as strong in other states, and as a consequence we don’t have as many users in those regions.

Does that help @konrad or have I misinterpreted the sort of info you were seeking? Happy to elaborate on any that are of interest

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Oh wow @Jen, that’s a lot to process! :smiley: Yes, this is exactly what I was looking for. Thank you so much!

Maybe some other instances would like to share their experiences too.

For us, social media and talking at conferences is definitely on our list. Also we want to cooperate with existing initiatives and with governments to reach more people and receive some funding. So there is a lot to do - we will take it one step after the other. :blush:

A lot of what Jen has written for Aus has been true for OFN UK too. A few bits to add:

In the early days we made contact with a lot of organisations/interest groups which had values and mission in parallel with OFN. These included;

  • organisations supporting farmers and growers such as
    • Land Workers Alliance / Via Campesina
    • Organic Certification bodies
    • Pasture Fed Livestock Association
    • CSA Network
  • community organisations such as
    • Transition Network
    • Incredible Edible

The other tip is to make OFN human! So many people approach OFN as just another software platform - and one which is not easy to fully appreciate quickly because it is so diverse in its application. So we are learning to position OFN not primarily as a software solution. Instead we say something like ‘the Open Food Network is a global community of farmers, growers and community enterprises who are passionate about building short food supply chains and resilient food systems that address the needs of all beings. One of the services provided by this community is a platform co-op providing an open source IT infrastructure enabling new, ethical supply chains’.

There is now enough of this human interest in OFN around the world that you can use to build your national community. Here are some edited clips from the OFN UK showcase at the global gathering


Yes, I agree Nick, the human emphasis incredibly important. Even just down to choices such as the fact that we try to feature faces in our social media rather than food - we’re the platform where you are connecting directly with other humans rather than an instagram-ready food shot

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I’m sorry, I missed responding earlier to this
In Canada - we use many of the strategies that AUS and UK have outlined above
Some of our most successful strategies:

Being part of a national sustainable food research network - this might be unique to us, because I was an academic when we launched OFN. But we have found that academics who work on food sustainability and food justice issues are very interested in OFN, and they often are engaged in community based research - so they have introduced OFN to their communities.

Doing workshop sessions or webinars for organizations that support farmers - especially recently, these groups are trying to help their members (farmers) sort out the farm e-commerce options. We don’t just present on OFN - instead we talk about the questions a farm needs to ask when they are choosing their tech

Conference trade shows (face to face, and now virtual) - gives us an opportunity to show and tell about the platform on the conference floor. One time - I set up a ‘pretend’ food network on OFN, and at the conference wine and cheese reception, guests used their mobile phones to pretend shop.

Cooperatives are often interested in OFN - so we are members of a Local Food and Farming Cooperatives association - we do at least one event/year with them

I think the above has given us a basic low level of ‘buzz’. Usually I now hear “oh, I think I’ve heard about you” (from a farmer or food hub) versus “I’ve never heard about you”) So now we are changing strategy and targetting specific ‘user groups’. 1. CSA farms and offering a kind of special where we’ll set them up and ‘sell their shares’ for them. 2. Cut flower farmers - because 2 of our largest hubs sell cut flowers, and they will be ambassadors for us. 3. farmers markets - because there are so many of them

Our challenge is that there are so many e-commerce and farm-to-fork platform options here. Costs are very very low. We will need 1,000 farm enterprises actively selling to be sustainable at a very basic level.

We would like to try to focus more on food hubs (aggregators) - but they are small in number here. We have talked about a strategy where OFN helps to build new food hubs – ie: help farms meet up with consumers - and form food hubs, buying clubs … but we don’t have the people resources to do this right now.

Totally agree that piloting new ideas and sharing them is useful!!! AND totally agree that we have to keep a human touch to all of this. Its slow, gradual work.

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