Interior of the library at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Russell Square, London.
The library at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornborough Street, Russell Square, London. © Historic England DP138894.
The library at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornborough Street, Russell Square, London. © Historic England DP138894.

Joining and Managing Digital Communities and Online Groups

Digital Communities and Online groups (sometimes called forums, discussion lists or communities of practice) are a good way to stay up to date, share your expertise, seek help, find new opportunities and make professional contacts. Historic England supports a range of online communities of practice as a tool for sharing knowledge and finding connections in the heritage sector. Explore the communities we support, as well as tools for managing your own online community.

The Online Heritage Community Directory

This is a comprehensive list of useful online communities of practice in the heritage sector, available to all. It includes digital communities and online groups from a range of familiar online platforms. There are many specialist groups, so you are likely to find a group of interest to you.

Consult the Online Heritage Community Directory

Note that groups listed in the directory are in most cases not managed by Historic England and we are not responsible for the content posted on them by others.

Do you know of a digital community or online group that you would like to see added to the Online Heritage Community Directory? Contact us using the email provided below with the details.

Which digital communities and online groups should I join?

The best digital communities and online groups are managed by facilitators and are used for planned discussions, or interviews with leading figures, or question and answer sessions.

Look for communities and groups with relevant up-to-date content, and active members. Sometimes a personal recommendation is the best guide, otherwise, look for groups where:

  • You can see that discussions are ongoing, and members are active.
  • You can choose to receive updates, alerts or digests of activity, so that you don't have to receive a copy of every post made to a group, but can keep in touch with what is going on.
  • You can look back through previous discussions and they are easy to find through an archive or search feature.
  • You can share files or links to useful content with your peers.
  • It has online member profiles so that you can see who is contributing and you can build your own online reputation.
  • Regular posts of useful sector news and new knowledge.
  • A helpful and supportive tone is used in posts made.

How to join a group

In most cases, you need to register and provide an email address to view and participate in groups. You may need to provide information about yourself or your work which will be available for other members of the group to see. If you are concerned about this, check if there is a privacy policy.

Most groups are open to all to join. Some limit membership or ask for a reason why you want to join. This is usually straightforward and is a sign that the discussions in that group may be particularly relevant and useful. Most group facilitators welcome new members, in particular, if you are willing to contribute your own experience or to ask questions.

Most are free to join, but you may find that some digital communities and online groups charge a joining fee or annual charge. This can range widely, depending on the organisation running the community or group and the support and resources provided within it.

Haven’t found what you are looking for?

Still not found an online community or group suited to your needs? You might want to explore these options:

  • Sign up to Heritage Workspace - Become a part of the heritage sector’s largest community platform. Connect, participate, and collaborate with professionals and enthusiasts alike.
  • Login to JISCMail - One of the longest-running email discussion platforms, JISCMail is a great place to find groups, particularly from academia. Stay up to date with sector news and receive first-hand support.
  • Join LinkedIn - A reputable and well-known social media platform, but also very useful for online groups. Fill out your profile, make connections and get to know others in various sectors.

Support for running an online community: the online communities review toolkit

If you run an online community or group, and you want to plan for how it could grow or become more effective, this toolkit will guide you through the process of running an in-depth review. Using a combination of self-assessments, surveys and questionnaires, you will be able to review your community’s performance, impact and make a plan for the future.

The toolkit has been developed for the heritage sector but is suitable for use with online communities in a wide range of other sectors.

Access the documents in the toolkit

The document below gives an overview of a practical community of practice review toolkit for those managing such groups.

The tool kit will:

  • enable them to measure and review their own communities
  • help them understand the value their communities bring to their members to their organisations and to the sector
  • provide them with a way to further improve the engagement with online
    communities within the heritage sector.

Download the introduction

This guide is designed to help you understand how to use the toolkit effectively to review a community. The toolkit contains templates and guidelines that will help you collect and analyse data to better understand the community that is being reviewed.

Download the step-by-step-guide

Guidance and templates to help you find out more about your community of practice's background and purpose.

Download the community background questionnaire

The facilitators' kick-off meeting provides a valuable opportunity to get to know each other, explain the process and the activities that will be taking place and also to run through the 'T1 - community background questionnaire' in more detail.

Download T2 Kick-off meeting

In this section you will find two Community Member Survey Communication Templates and one Community Member Survey Template. These templates are built to allow community members the opportunity to share their experiences of being a member, to find out about what they value from their membership and what could be improved.

Download T3 member survey template

The community and community manager self-assessments section is broken down into three parts:

  • Community MOT template. This template is used to assess the community’s current performance.
  • Community manager benchmark. This template looks at key aspects of community management.
  • Community manager time spent. This template examines the amount of time a community manager spends looking after their community.

These are to be sent to the community managers after the kick-off meeting and should be completed before the action planning meeting.

Download T4: Self assessment templates

The Enhancing Communities Workshop section is the final part of the review and brings together all the research from the community background questionnaire, community member survey, community MOT, community manager benchmark and community manager time spent, to help design an outline of future activities for the community.

Download T5 enhancing communities workshop

This template gives you a structure to draw together your review findings.

Download T6: Final report template

For further support with online communities contact:

Online Communities