McDermott and Archibald Publish a New Study on Health and Impact of Communities of Practice

From 2 of the leading researchers and writers on Communities of Practice comes this new study that studies the health and impact of online communities.

I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on this research! Until then, here are a few blurbs from their article:

Though in-house networks of experts—or “communities of practice”—were once entirely unofficial, today they are increasingly integrated into companies’ formal management structures.

Today they’re an actively managed part of the organization, with specific goals, explicit accountability, and clear executive oversight. To get experts to dedicate time to them, companies have to make sure that communities contribute meaningfully to the organization and operate efficiently.

We’ve observed this shift in our consulting work and in our research.

To examine the health and impact of communities, we did a quantitative study of 52 communities in 10 industries, and a qualitative assessment of more than 140 communities in a dozen organizations, consisting of interviews with support staff, leaders, community members, and senior management.

Reference:

The UK Offers a Free Communities of Practice Platform for Local Governement Collaboration and Innovation

Communities of practice for local government is a website that supports collaboration across local government and the public sector in the United Kingdom.

From the About section of the site:

This is a freely accessible resource that enables like-minded people to form online communities of practice, which are supported by collaboration tools that encourage knowledge sharing and learning from each others experiences.

Connect to Collaborate to Innovate

This is a community platform supporting professional social networks across local government and the public sector. It provides a secure environment for knowledge development and sharing through online communities of practice.

What will I find?

Networking across local government

Reference:

Distinguishing a Community of Practice from a Team or a Network

Lilia Efimova’s diagram clearly illustrates how a Community of practice distinguishes itself from a work team in that it goes beyond the structured boundaries of the team to seek out others with a common class of problems. That said, it is still semi-structured in that it is not driven by a common pursuit of solutions.

Efimova's team, community and network communication diagram

Team communication is heavily shaped by the shared goals and agreed communication formats/processes. It’s very much about getting things done together and strong ties that needed for it.

Communication in communities is a bit further from actual work, but still has lots of connection with it (e.g. Q&A mode, where one uses an opportunity of being together with other experts to ask for solutions for a problem). It’s usually a mix of stronger and weaker ties that help to open up and share local practices. There is enough commonality and trust to hold people together and enough diversity to support learning.

Network communication is more opportunity-based and informal. There is not much in terms of shared goals and recurrent conversations, the ties are weak or latent. However, there is enough connectivity and opportunities to communicate that result in cross-fertilisation and emergent ideas and practices.

Reference:

How Are You Stimulating the Flow of High-Quality Contributions?

Dr. Jacques Bughin of McKinsey & Company throws a question to how are organizations stimulating an influx of content. My own response to this question is the following.

One of the keys to pulling content from readers and turning them into participants is by asking relevant questions. For example, this particular blog post ends with a call for opinions. This is just one strategy used for stimulating contributions.

In a qualitative analysis that I did of 5 bloggers in the field of training and development, one of the things that I ascertained was that when bloggers asked questions to their readers, this stimulated discussion.

Another stimulator that I have come to find in my research on communities of practice (focus of doctoral research) is that one of the ways to increase participation in to offer up a problem that requires resolution to a community of experts and let them “hash it out” so to speak. It is amazing to see lively discussion being captured in a thread and see new perspectives emerge through discussion.

In learning environments, creating activities in discussion forums such as case study analysis, is a great way to pull in information.

Since Conversation Theory (see Gordon Pask) is core interest of mine, I have been researching exactly this question for a few years. At the moment, I am administering a booming prototype for a community of practice in the Aviation Industry.

The key is letting the participant know that their contribution is of value and has the potential to advance thought and/or practice.

Early analyses of user participation pointed to the importance of building large communities, creating effective incentives for participation and implementing more flexible forms of organization. Looking back a few years later, the good news is that active participation continues to spread. The bad news is that harnessing participation is more difficult than we thought. Stimulating a continuous flow of high-quality contributions should be the focus of companies that want to take advantage of user participation.

A few years have passed since those observations. Looking back, what can we infer from them?

Reference:

The Challenge of Keeping Up with Research when Immersed in Practice

Though I haven’t had the opportunity to read the research study, based on these reported findings, I can formulate an argument for research into practice type learning activities and communities of practice. The reality is that practionners in all fields are having a hard time staying abreast of new research developments and professional development and training needs to start looking at this issue in a new light.

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg and the University of Borås in Sweden have looked at how professionals in different occupational groups seek and use information and keep updated after finishing their education. The results show that teachers seek information they can use in their own teaching and that librarians focus on helping library users find information, while nurses just don’t have the time.

The study report goes on to explain how keeping up with professional development is difficult to live up to:

While the interviewed nurses were in fact told that they should keep up with current research as professionals, they said that this is easier said than done. Nursing education is about producing texts while the nursing profession is about attending to patients. The time it takes to keep updated on nursing science research is simply not available, making such practice uncommon.

Reference:

How Social Media, Organizational Dynamics and Social Change will Shape Communities of Practice over The Next 10 Years

Social Media has changes many things, including the way experts envisage online communities of practice. The following is Cormac Heron’s account of leading author and expert Richard McDermott’s reflections on how Communities of Practice have evolved and where they are headed.

Richard McDermott was there to give a bit of his background in personal and professional experiences of the last 20 years. 10 years ago they thought that these were the main characteristics of online communities:

  • Informal
  • Voluntary
  • Independent of an organisation
  • Some face-to-face occurrences
  • Passionate Leader
  • Supported
  • Light-handed management

But on revisiting them consequently the following were thought to be more relevant:

  • Goals were set out
  • Governance
  • Reporting to the highest level
  • Integrated into organisation
  • Passionate Leadership
  • Part of the actual job description

According to Heron, Richard then ended his keynote by hitting them all with this stonker:

How will the emergence of new social media, current organisational dynamics and social change shape the role and impact of communities over the next 10 years.

Reference:

A Qualitative Study of Five Authors of Five Blogs on Training and Development

A qualitative study of five authors of five blogs on training and development is my thesis which was defended on August 26 2008 and submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Arts (Educational Technology), Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Abstract

This study analyzed what it means to be a blogger in the field of training and development—an edublogger—as well as the credibility of blogs intended for the training community. The specific research questions were posed from the insider’s or emic perspective. The objective of this study was to attempt to paint a portrait of an edublogger and uncover areas for further research.

A phenomenological qualitative research design methodology was used in an attempt to observe the connections between edubloggers and their readers, which is in harmony of the spirit of the blogs as well as to understand the essence of experiences in the blogosphere. A grounded theory was constructed from a cross-case analysis—case studies were developed using interview transcripts of the 5 bloggers and artefact analysis of each of their blogs over a 4-month period—with the intention of identifying key phenomena.

Common themes related to the edubloggers’ motivations, writing style, community building and other general practices were uncovered as. In addition, a substantial set of emerging questions specifically relating to readership and the qualitative assessment of blog content were noted.

Update March 1, 2010: My thesis has been published into a book entitlted Edublogging: A Qualitative Study of Training and Development Bloggers

You Just Might Digg This!

What makes a blogger credible? What gives them authority? How do we measure their success?

In a blog post entitled Blog Metrics: Six Recommendations For Measuring Your Success, Avinash Kaushik, a Web Analytics Practitioner, writes about 6 ways to measure the impact of your blog. In summary, they are:

  1. Raw Author Contribution
  2. Holistic Audience Growth
  3. Conversation Rate
  4. “Citations” / “Ripple Index”
  5. Cost
  6. Benefit (ROI: Return on Investment)

His post is actual a very informative read. The approaches he discusses are however purely quantitative, except for a certain degree of qualitative metrics that might be included in the ROI analysis. He addresses non-traditional or unquantifiable values, which is similar to what I discussed in my blog post on consultants 2.0.

Digg.com
Digg.com

However, Tools that gather opinions on the quality of content have been emerging on the Web. An example of such a tool is Digg, a social media application that enables Internet readers to share the content they discover from anywhere on the Web with others. The way Digg works is that readers submit or “Digg” their appreciation of a Web resource. Other members of the Digg community will have access to the review and will either ignore it or “Digg” it themselves. When a resource receives a substantial amount of “Diggs”, it gets promoted to front page status. Digg explains its vision in the “about” section on the Digg Website:

And it doesn’t stop there. Because Digg is all about sharing and discovery, there’s a conversation that happens around the content. We’re here to promote that conversation and provide tools for our community to discuss the topics that they’re passionate about. By looking at information through the lens of the collective community on Digg, you’ll always find something interesting and unique. We’re committed to giving every piece of content on the web an equal shot at being the next big thing.

It would be interesting to find out how will tools like Digg affect the way content will be perceived on the Web? Even if the tools for critical analysis are available, will readers have the necessary critical analysis and thinking skills to utilize them properly?

I recently defended my thesis in which I analyzed what it means to be a blogger in the field of training and development—an edublogger—as well as the credibility of blogs intended for the training community. The specific research questions were posed from the insider’s or emic perspective.

The objective of this study was to attempt to paint a portrait of an edublogger and uncover areas for further research. This is one of those areas.

Informally, I’d find it very helpful to have your opinions now. What is your take on the potential of such tools? How does it relate to the raison d’être of blogging?

References:

Leveraging Technology to Turn Virtual Organization into Vehicles of Collaboration

I love social media and online collaborative tools. I truly see the potential in it. The thing is, though I see the potential, I don’t think it’s being leveraged not nearly as much as it can be. And why? Perhaps because it’s relatively new and we are still experimenting with it.

Interestingly enough, I came across the following report from the workshops on Building Effective Virtual Organizations: Beyond Being There: A Blueprint for Advancing the Design, Development, and Evaluation of Virtual Organizations [PDF 3.3 MB]. The researchers identified many of the components, characteristics, practices, and transformative impact of effective Virtual Organizations as well as topics for future research that will inform the ongoing design, development, and analysis. So what is a Virtual Organization, or VO? According to the researchers:

A virtual organization (VO) is a group of individuals whose members and resources may be dispersed geographically and institutionally, yet who function as a coherent unit through the use ofcyberinfrastructure (CI).

I their report, the researchers discuss a “new technology continuum” they have observed in which, at one end, there is a grid to coordinate resource-sharing and problem-solving whereas on the other, there is a much more informal emerging set of technologies that are highly influenced by the gamut of popular social media tools such as Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Second Life, and so on which have changed how individuals congregate, collaborate, and communicate. The thing is, that at this end of the spectrum:

VOs may be more like “containers” rather than “vehicles” of collaboration in that they are not necessarily driven by common goals or comparable inputs. Nevertheless, VOs of this type may accumulate the results of many seemingly uncoordinated individual actions, creating a whole that becomes an integrated collection.

So how do we turn VOs into “vehicles” of collaboration? Part of it is harnessing and leveraging the technology and aligning it with processes, procedures and needs. But what else?

I’m quite interested in VOs, as I work in one. I’d say we’re leveraging quite a bit, but every day we face new hurdles and have to come up with solutions. Sometimes however, I feel we are so much in the trenches we need to take a step back and assess. If we were to building a model for VOs, what would need to be addressed?

Reference:

Virtual Communities of Practice: Enabling Peer-based Distance Learning

I presented on the subject of Virtual Communities of Practice: Enabling Peer-based Distance Learning at the Canadian Association for Distance Education (CADE) conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Presentation Summary

Virtual communities of practice are environments in which individuals with similar interests can learn from one another at a distance. Learners in this case are not limited to their local peers but are able to interact and learn from those who have similar experiences elsewhere. This type of virtual community requires design and planning in order to ensure that communication flows between its participants.

Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) define a community of practice as “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis”.