Measuring the value of online communities and networks for business

This week I presented a research in progress together with Robin Yap at the 8th International Conference on Networked Learning in Maastricht.

So how are you measuring the value of your online communities and networks of practice? This research-in-progress paper will showcase an enhancement of the Wenger, et. al. (2011) model for promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks and the Phillips measurement model linking the value of communities using online social network technologies for performance improvement with business objectives. In our rapidly changing workplace landscape, augmenting formal performance improvement activities are informal learning and coaching incorporating social network technologies to increase involvement, strengthen relationships, and enhance employee development. Two concurrent case studies in Canada and in the Netherlands are currently being conducted to identify the viability of this measurement model in a corporate workplace.

Measuring the value of online communities and networks of practice for business #nlc2012

Yap-Robben (2012) Measuring the Value of Online Communities and Networks of Practice for Business

Promoting and assessing the value of communities

Recently, a wonderfull paper on the value of communities of practice and networks was published. Etienne Wenger, Beverly Trayner and Maarten de Laat provide a conceptual framework that “should make it possible to assess value creation” in communities that are used for social learning activities.

In my experience, there is an emerging call from management and leadership to show results from community and social learning efforts. This framework can provide some guidance in how to show the value of community for the organization and it also gives insight on how to promote the use/ value of a community. In my opinion this paper is a valuable and welcome addition to the literature.

In short, the authors have used the evaluation model of Kirkpatrick as underlying to their framework. Instead of levels, the authors have used 5 “cycles” in their framework:

1. Immediate value: activities and interactions
> What happened and what was my eperience of it?

2. Potential value: Knowledge capital
> The potential of (new) formed knowledge capital in terms of eg. new connections (social capital), new gained resources.

3. Applied value: Changes in practice
> What difference did the participation in a community made to the employees practice. Did they changed the way they do their work?

4. Realized value: Performance improvement
> Did the changes in practice lead to actual improvement of performance?

5. Reframing value: Redefining success
> Did social learning contribute to a redefinition of strategies, goals or values? This can be applied on individual, collective and organizational levels.

In my opinion, the framework could be used for online communities in organizations as well. Would be very interesting to learn from others who have actually applied this model in their organization. I wonder if it would be possible to provide ROI as well.

Maarten, Beverly and Etienne, thanks for your work on this!

Other resources that are helpfull in assessing the value of communities:

Weinbergs ROI model

Social media ROI Pyramid

Productivity in a networked era: Not your father’s ROI

New job at Tulser Business Improvers!

I am excited to announce that I’ll be working with Tulser Business Improvers, beginning at the 1st of march!

Stoas Learning
For 8,5 years I’ve worked at Stoas Learning. This was actually my first real job after graduating from teacher college. During my time at Stoas I’ve finished my masters in Human Resource Development at the University of Twente. Stoas facilitated me a lot in my final thesis project on Net-Generation learners. I’ve started my career at Stoas as a Questionmark Perception trainer/ consultant.  In that role I’ve done some very exciting projects at for example the Dutch Ministry of Defense. I also had put a lot of effort in the design of a tool for 360 degree feedback together with some of our biggest educational clients. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to fully implement due to a long during head concussion. After that I gradually moved away from my Questionmark specialty and got a broader perspective in my learning technology consulting role. I worked with Moodle (LMS), Exact Learning (LCMS). More and more I got the chance to help organizations developing their learning strategy. Social learning, communities of practice and the use of social learning tools to improve knowledge productivity in organizations became a new specialty. I emphasized on the importance of connecting learning solutions with the business and approach learning more strategically.

I’d like to thank Stoas and all my wonderful colleagues overthere for the great times I’ve had there and for all the great things I’ve learned that makes me the consultant I am today.

Tulser Business Improvers
Unfortunately Stoas had to reorganize their organization and my function no longer exists. Therefore I was on the lookout for a new inspiring place to work. I’ve found that place at Tulser Business Improvers. They are located in the beautifull city of Maastricht in the south of The Netherlands.

Tulser is focused on improving organizations and realize measurable results. Their background is in Human Performance Improvement, which makes them unique in The Netherlands. This focus on connecting learning with business results is what attracted me in this company. Their approach is well described in the Dutch book “Kostbaar Misverstand” (Costly misunderstanding), written by Jos Arets and Vivian Heijnen. The book describes some very recognizable misunderstandings about the influence of training on organizational performance. Furthermore it describes how business improvement can be used as a methodology to integrate work and learning and improve business results.

I’ll be working with Tulser as a consultant in various projects in their two “Tulser Factories”. In the Information Factory projects, we will help organizations to work smarter by supporting learning at work and improve knowledge productivty that is relevant to the organization’s performance. These projects are more focused on the learning function of organizations (innovation of L&D), whereas Tulser’s Improvement Factory projects are more broadly oriented at improving business results.

Tulser is a highly innovative organization and is constantly improving their own business as well. One of their latest improvements I’m very excited about is their collaboration with the Internet Time Alliance, with whom they organized a successful conference last December.

Tulser’s combination of learning and business performance consultancy is exactly what I was looking for. I think it will give me lots of opportunities to keep developing myself as a consultant. I’m very excited about working with Tulser and looking forward to my time with them!

Business model generation for communities

This week, John Smith visited The Netherlands. John was on his way to a conference in Saudi-Arabia and wanted to adjust to the time zone (his words :) ). Which is a great thing, so we had some time to spend with him. Sunday we had a great dinner at Marc Coender’s place and monday John, Joitske Hulsebosch and I organized a working session in Wageningen. We wanted to think about possible business models for communities of practice as well as for social learning consultancy.

We used the wonderfull business model framework by Alex Osterwalder. I can highly recommend using this framework if you are thinking about businessmodels, its real easy to use.

http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com

John started with a short introduction to the model and showed us some examples of business models for communities that he had worked with lately (Update 17/12/10: see John’s slides here). Another nice illustrative example is the businessmodel of the FIFA world cup using the business model canvas.

I had printed out the canvas on a big poster size (A0) and a couple of smaller ones (A3). We decided with the group on for what specific community we would like to work out a business model for. Then we split out in 3 break out groups and each group filled in the canvas. We did this in world café style (3 rounds) so one person stayed with the canvas and the others changed groups. After 3 rounds we used the large poster to summerize our findings.

The Osterwalder process worked very enaging and for me it was a very usefull way to also think about the business model of community and not only about the design of the community itself. Very important to create a sustainable community and should be standard practice!

Resources: Links at Diigo #businessmodel | Twitter: #bm4cop | Pictures of the session

Fields of connection

I’ve finished reading a very interesting book “Fields of Connection” by Jan Jacob Stam (i’ve read in Dutch: het verbindende veld). The book is about the practice of systemic work and organizational constellations. In this post I’ll give a brief summary and explore its use for organizational development.

Stam describes three fundamental principles that, when observed,  contribute a healthy and powerful organization (in order of importance):

  • - there needs to be a clear order in the system
  • - there must be a balance in giving and taking
  • - everyone in the system has a right to his or her place

Systemic order
There needs to be a clear order in the system. Everyone needs to know his or her place in the system and clear scope from which they can do their job. A organization with a clear systemic order will be more decisive.

Give and take
Through their work, people give something to a organization and they will get something in return. It is important that everybody can make their personal strenghts, creativity, passion and other talents to use for the organization. This balance can be seen as an exchange between giver and taker. It is not only money that can be given in return (by employer eg.). More and more we witness this in the new economy. For example with Open Source projects (product), or when you talk with someone about your area of expertise (learning).

Right of place
Everyone in the organization has equal rights to belong to the system, this includes a manager as well as the cleaner. Everyone in the organization needs to be seen and acknowledged. The history of the organization is an important aspect in this principle. People or elements that had an important role for the organization in the past need to be seen and acknowledged in order to go forward. This can be a manager who left the organization, or a specific product or service that made a great contribution to the organization’s (past) success.

These three principles contribute to general feeling of well-being in an organization. Together they create “a field of connection”.  Looking at organizations from this systemic perspective can provide a more holistic view and can be of value in personal as well as organizational development.

Constellations
Last week I was fortunate to attend a workshop in family constellations, led by Bibi Schreuder (Dutch Hellinger Institute). A constellation is method that was originally used by Bert Hellinger to get information about the systemic issues in a family. More and more this method is being used in organizations (organizational constellations).  This article by Jan Jacob Stam will give a good introduction in organizational constellations.

Being part of the workshop meant for me that I was asked to represent a part of the system together with other representatives. What happens is amazing and is not yet understood by science. Yet, in my experience it appears that representative intuitively “feel” what happens at a certain place in the system and when those feelings are expressed, they are usually strongly recognized by the client. It is a very strong source of information. I experienced this myself again in last weeks workshop.

Social learning and networking
Part of my what I do is helping organizations in using social learning and social networking approaches to develop their organization. What I often see is that people are reluctant share and learn together. Or that attempts to develop towards a knoweldge sharing culture fails for unknown reasons. Having learned more about the systemic approach I described above makes me eager to explore its use in my consulting activities. The three principles allready helped me in understanding dynamics that exist in communities of practice. I’m wondering if there any others who use this perspective in social learning, it would be great to connect!

Mentorship in CP2 Foundations workshop

Over the past 6 weeks, the Foundations of communities of practice workshop was held in CP-square (CP2). The foundations workshop is led by Etienne Wenger, John Smith and Bronwyn Stuckey. For people that are new to the concept of Communities of Practice, the workshop is an introduction. For people that are more advanced, the workshop provides an opportunity to get into conversation with fellow participants as well as Wenger, Smith and Stuckey.

I’ve participated in the workshop myself in spring this year. This time I was offered the chance to join the workshop as a mentor! This felt to me like a great opportunity to learn from the best about facilitation in CoP’s. My fellow mentors were Jeffrey Keefer, Monique Léger and Paul Lowe.

The workshop (6 weeks) has several activities like weekly calls for the whole group and several forms of discussion in the online environment. There are several spaces for a-synchronous communication. There are discussions set-up around a certain topic that happen in the open space with all participants. There are also places that we call “households”, small groups that provide a more private space to learn and reflect. As a mentor, you bring in your experience from when you were a participant yourself. As a mentor, you also play a role in facilitating the process and keeping everyone engaged. Every household is assigned a mentor, so you specifically build up relations with the people from your household. There is also a private space in the online environment that can only be accessed by the workshop leaders and mentors. At times i’ve found it very useful when i felt uncertain about how to interpret certain dynamics and when i did not know how to react. This helped a lot in learning and reflecting on the facilitation process.

There was also a space where everyone in the workshop could reflect on the process. I’d like to share some insights i gained there.

Skype is very usefull for 1 to 1 conversations

  • Quick text questions are very much needed to instantly support participants who have questions.

Video adds up an amazing amount to the feeling of connectedness

  • We used Adobe Connect one time instead of only a phone conference tool/ Skype voice connection. This was absolutely energizing! It appeared to me that when I was able to see people, it would cost much less energy. This was something I had previously encountered when i had a head-concussion and couldn’t talk on the phone for more then 5 minutes. Using skype video, I could easily talk for 20 minutes. Unfortunately there was a technology gap. Not everyone had access to a webcam and that caused 2 different dynamics in the group. Some people also argued that they were able to pay more attention to the content of the conversation when they could only listen.
  • John Smith had made a introduction video. Watching him talking to you gives a better image than just reading a text post when you have only seen a picture. When my girlfriend watched the video, she said “it is almost like he is sitting right in front of you”!

Language and culture are a challenge

  • The group of participants comes from over the whole world. There were people from the US, Canada, Australia and UK. But also from non English speaking countries like Holland (myself), Austria, Uganda, Peru. When we had our weekly calls (voice) we often encountered English speaking participants (native) speaking too fast, or using words that others did not understand. I’ve noticed it is a challenge for native speakers to speak slowly. We always used the chat functionality to also write down and summarize what has been said. This helped me a lot, also to bring up my own thoughts.
  • Language also appeared to give some issues in a cultural context. Some words/ concepts that were used, appeared not to exist in the same way in other countries!

Facilitation is hard work!

  • Facilitating a social process is hard work. There is a lot of organizing to do and you also need to keep track if everyone is still involved. It is about finding a balance between pushing and letting go. Sometimes, people are just too busy and all you need to do is checking in every once in a while. It is difficult to let go, thats for sure. Connecting with everyone also takes a lot of effort.

I’m very much impressed about the way the workshop leaders have mastered this skill of online process facilitation. There are a lot of small things that make it a success. Thanks to John Smith for inviting me to join as a mentor and providing me this great learning opportunity!

Learning culture and social media

If we talk about learning in organizations, many people will think of courses that are offered by the company’s training department. If we say e-learning, this is often associated with web based training modules. This is what we mostly refer to as “formal learning”. As we all probably (intrinsicly) know, there are more opportunities and places to learn than the formal classroom or web-based courses. What do you do when you are stuck with a problem at work? Do you call the training department for a course, or would you go ask a colleague, see if you can find info on the web? I guess we first go look for other people that can help us with our problem. Many of the tasks at work need some kind of learning to take place in order to get it done. We share our knowledge and expertise every day through conversations of any kind. We are being knowledge productive. We use knowledge to do our work better. And it is clear that this knowledge does not only come from formal courses, but a lot comes from the informal connections and conversations with from within and beyond the borders of your organization.

For some of you, who are in the learning business, this story is probably familiar. But yet, lots of organization still organize their learning through some kind of separate department. These are often called training departments, or corporate academy’s where people are are deciding what courses are needed for that organization. In this culture, managers often go to this department and ask for a training as a solution for their business issues. Willingly, training staff provides a training that seemingly fits the need and all are happy. Charles Jennings has referred to this phenomenon as “the conspiracy of convenience“.

But I can see times are changing! More and more, training departments are changing towards “learning and development” and starting to look at informal or social learning solutions. People from these L&D departments are exploring the possibilities of web 2.0. They want to have social networks, blogs, wiki’s and other tools alike.

The risk of all of this  is that sometimes, focus is too much on the tools instead of the process. Also, there is a tendency to view the social as “good” and formal as “bad”. Etienne Wenger has pointed out the importance of thinking about learning strategically. Learning needs to be connected with the strategic goals of an organization. It needs to contribute to whatever it is the organization wants to reach. That is why I think it is important to view learning in organizations from a more holistic, systemic point of view. This tells us that informal as well as formal learning solutions can have a place as long as they are aligned with the business. Moreover, in order to be successful, the horizontal processes that take place within informal learning needs to get connected with vertical processes within an organization.

Culture
The concept of Culture can help us looking at learning in organizations more holistically. There are various literature available on culture and culture in organizations. One of the clients I work with is IDEAS4, a management consultancy firm specialized in culture. They have (re)directed my attention again to this field and pointed me to studies from Hofstede and Schein. Geert Hofstede describes “the shared meaning of daily praxis” as the core of an organization’s culture (I’ve read the Dutch version, so this is freely translated). This description triggered me in several ways a) it is a shared meaning, so it is negotiated. And b) it is about the daily praxis. So, the core of organizational culture is about what we all think that we are doing here.

Schein needs a little more words: “Culture can be defined as (a) a pattern of basic assumptions, (b) invented, discovered, or developed by a given group, (c) as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, (d) that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore (e) is to be taught to new members as the (f) correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” Schein also adds up with the importance of leadership with strength and clarity of these basic assumptions. This again calls for the alignment of the horizontal with vertical in the organization if we want to go ahead.

Learning Culture
Just recently, Bersin and associates came out with a full report on the importance of Learning culture for an organization. They have taken culture as a concept to describe that learning in organizations is more then just the course catalogue:

“Learning Culture is the collective set of organizational values, conventions, processes and practices that influence and encourage both individuals and the collective organization to continuously increase knowledge, competence and performance.”

I think it is absolutely needed to approach learning in organizations from this holistic perspective. Especially when we want to leverage the use of social media for informal/ networked forms of learning. We can even think of the power that social media can have in changing an organization’s culture. A culture that emphasize the importance of sharing knowledge and making it productive. A cultural that learns from its failures instead of punishing people that make them. What can be other values that are important for such a learning culture?

If we want to move towards a learning culture, we need to involve the system as a whole. It is not only bottom-up or only top-down that will do the job, it requires full system participation. This includes a “systemic shared leadership”. Leadership and management that is able to let go and involve employees in their decisions. Employees taken shared responsibility over the issues they are working with and take actions together to solve them. instead of sitting back and wait for leadership to take action.

Dimensions of a community of practice

In their book “Digital Habitats“, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith bring forward a model of three dimensions of a community of practice. I’ve found these dimensions very usefull in consulting about communities, exploring its value for the organization.

The three dimensions are:

  1. Domain
  2. Community
  3. Practice

(In their book, the authors have put the “practice” dimension at 2nd, but i prefer to talk about community and domain dimension first).

The domain dimension entails the subject of the community, the “domain of interest”. What is actually that the community is about? What are we going to talk about? More important: what are we not going to talk about? Deciding what the domain is of a community is often a proces of negotiation among its (potential) members. Possibly, there are also members leaving the community while its borders become more clear. Yet, this proces will also attract new members joining the community as its value has become visible.

The community dimension is about the people that actually members of the CoP. When talking about this dimension, i like to look at organizations from a networked perspective. It is important to no longer only look at organizations as hierarchy, more as a networks of people. Jon Husband calls this a wirearchy and points to the changes in power and authority. Looking at organizations from a networked perspective often shows you that the manager is no longer the central person, there appear to be other important hubs in the organization. The work of Valdis Krebs also helps a lot in this. These hubs are people that have great influence in the organization for their connections. When starting up communities, these people are really important.

The practice dimension is about “the way we do things”. A really interesting dimension and often also deeply grounded in the “culture” of a community that allready excists for longer time. Do you recognize coming into a new community (work, or city or football team) and really needing time to adapt, learn and understand how these people do their jobs, how they do their trainings. It is about tools, but i think it certainly is also about language and is definately also a dimension that is under negotiation all the time. Reflection is important to also be able to improve the practice of the community.

From all the dimensions above, it is important to realize that they are always subject to change. Forming and facilitating communities of practice is foremost a proces of learning in itself. Communities cannot be fully designed and standardized as products to be implemented. L&D departments need to facilitate a proces of change as they want to use CoPs in their organizations. Its a proces of learning by doing.

Learning Architecture

Yesterday I’ve met with Marc Coenders at the beautifull Media Centre in Hilversum. Marc is also a member of the CPSquare community and his doctoral thesis “Learning Architecture: an exploratory study of space and learning in work settings and close-to-practice learning” is the focus in this week’s “Research and Dissertation Series” of the CPsquare community.

CP2 Research and Dissertation Series
The research series is a regularly recurring activity in the community in which a specific research of one of the members is being topic of discourse for a single week. Research is being shared and in a discussion forum, members are able to ask questions to Marc. The week ends with an synchronous conversation through skype/ webex. John Smith (facilitator of the community) always asks two other members to join the discussion as being session hosts. This time, Christina Merl and I were asked to participate. I must say, it is pretty good technique to get some people joining in the discussion.

Marc’s research on facilitation and space
The main question in his doctoral thesis was: “What is the relationship between space and learning in work settings and how can this relation be influenced and utilized by learning facilitators?”.

While reading the summary of the thesis, i’ve been tweeting some lines. It was very interesting to read about the relationship between space and learning. Marc’s attention was brough to it by people using sentences like “i’m not that far” “i will never reach that point”. Based on a theretical exploration and through 4 case studies, the study presents a model of developmental space. The model consists of 4 dimensions that can help faciliators in understanding and creating spaces for learning.

Marc uses the metaphor of Learning Architecture as a new discipline of facilitation. Learning Architecture is not just the execution or implementation of a prescribed design. It is also a result of a process of negotiation about the meaning of the design. Marc argues in his thesis to view work as learning, focus on cultivating spaces for learning and learning friendships. The learning architect contributes to learning ecologies.

Facilitation has become a way of participating, focussing on questioning ways of working and cherishing what has been accomplished”

Mindmap of NLC 2010

I’m Live mindmapping the Networked Learning Conference. Ur invited to put your insights in here as well!!!

# Update 6th may 2010:
- Mindmap has been freezed after the conference, so it is an artifact for later review.
- I also added my paper based notes
- Here you can download a transcript doc for printing
- Here you can download the twitter transcript for the hashtag #NLC2010