The Reciprocity Ring is a structured activity that has been used in group settings (originally within corporations) to prompt giving behaviors, tapping into the collective’s potential for generosity and social support. I proposed and facilitated a Reciprocity Ring event for Rhizome Connect, a virtual social and scholarly event for BTS fans that took place August 7 – 16, 2020.
In proposing an activity to take place during this conference, I especially considered the goals of the event and some likely needs within the attendee community. Rhizome Connect specified five guiding principles for their event, two of which stood out to me: Personal Development and Connection. “Connect” was, of course, also in the event name itself. I wanted to add to the mix of opportunities for connection that the conference was already offering by taking a different approach to this goal.
There was also the larger context of this event: we were in the middle of the pandemic. The goal of “connection” was all the more critical considering that we had all been in isolation for months, with no end in sight. We all need social connection even under the best of circumstances, but I asked myself: is there a particular kind of connection that people especially need now, that would be appropriate to foster in this context?
It was at this point in my ideation that I remembered a unique activity I had participated in during my years working for the Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania: the Reciprocity Ring.
The Reciprocity Ring has been used in group settings (originally within corporations) to prompt giving behaviors, tapping into the collective’s potential for generosity and social support. I was introduced to the Reciprocity Ring by Adam Grant, who facilitated an in-person version of this activity for MAPP students during one of his guest lectures.
It occurred to me that the attendees of Rhizome Connect might be struggling with any manner of difficulties, especially in light of the pandemic. Broadly speaking, ARMY is a caring group of people (for instance, there is a culture of contributing to charitable and social causes). I believe that this caring attitude is also related to the values expressed by the members of BTS and the messages conveyed through their music and art. The Reciprocity Ring provides a structure and an opportunity for people to ask for help with something, when in most contexts it is awkward or even embarrassing to do so. By creating a safe space to solicit help, you also give others in the group the opportunity to be generous, which in itself is emotionally rewarding.
I had never seen this activity run virtually before. So, I invented a procedure to facilitate the Reciprocity Ring within the Rhizome Connect Discord server, asynchronously to accommodate attendees in any time zone.
I drafted a plan for introducing this activity to attendees and collecting sign ups. I reasoned that since the Reciprocity Ring requires time, attention, vulnerability, and of course reciprocity, it would only work well if the group was fully committed to the activity. Creating a private Discord channel that would only be accessible to those who signed up ensured that I could create this kind of safe and dedicated space within the very active, at times overwhelming server of hundreds.
I also thought it was important for the activity to be time-bound. Though I wanted all time zones to be able to participate, I also wanted attendees to feel that others were being responsive in a timely way. I decided upon a 24-hour time frame for the entire activity—both asking and offering.
Throughout the activity, I particularly leaned on the phrase “You Never Walk Alone,” a reference to both a BTS song and album title. This succinctly conveyed the type of connection I wanted to foster through the Reciprocity Ring, while also invoking relevant themes from BTS’ music as well as the common ground that all participants shared (their identity as ARMY).
Thirty-eight attendees signed up, and nearly everyone participated fully.
The Reciprocity Ring was extremely well-received, with many people commenting on how much they liked the idea as they posted their asks. Out of 27 participants who filled out the general attendee survey for Rhizome Connect, 19 were “very satisfied” with the Reciprocity Ring, and 0 were somewhat or very dissatisfied.
One participant left this comment in one of the Rhizome Connect’s public channels:
“No joke, this is truly one of the best things I took part in this year, and I am so thankful for it…”
See also: my “virtual booth” (short paper) presented at Rhizome Connect on BTS and positive psychology
A general overview of the original Reciprocity Ring activity can be found in:
Grant, A. (2013). Give and take: Why helping others drives our success. Penguin Books.