Tag Archive for 'communities of practice'

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

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.


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 to buy ativan online

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

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!

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”

Communities of Practice Foundations #cp2

Last week I’ve started to participate in a course on the foundations of Communities of Practice. This foundations workshop as it is called is facilitated by the CP Square community with among others John Smith and Etienne Wenger. I’m doing the course together with my colleague Stanley Portier and i think it is a great opportunity to get emerged in the concept for 6 weeks and to learn a lot about theory as well as practice. Above all i think it is great to have the opportunity to connect with the founder of the concept – Etienne Wenger – and to get more involved in the community/ field of community of practice research and practice.  For research, as I will be going to the Aalborg conference on Networked Learning. For practice, as i see major opportunities in consulting on communities of practice to leverage the use of social technology for knowledge productivity in organizations.

Personal Knowledge Management

Lilia Efimova has done her Phd on the blogging practices of knowledge workers. As part of that, she has developed a framework for knowledge work. See the picture below.

Yesterday (thursday 12 feb) I spoke a little at a CSTD workshop in Ontario (Canada) on the topic of personal knowledge management. Robin Yap invited me and Jeffrey Keefer for a short intermezzo via webcam (we used Adobe Connect). The question Robin asked me was: how do you make use of web technologies to get from idea to a blogpost?

I have found Lilia’s model very useful. I explained how I came to the idea of the concept of “serendipty” and how i used webtools to explore this further. The steps i showed in the workshop are summarized in the presentation below. Many thanks to Robin for inviting me and Jeffrey to participate in this workshop, it was a great experience.Using Web Tools For Personal Knowledge Management

View more presentations from joostrobben.

CP Square: the community of practice about communities of practice

After being “a friend” and lurking for a while, i became a full (paying) member of the CP Square (CP2) community. CP Square is a community of practice about communities of practice.

Ever since i started my studies in HRD i’m interested in social forms of learning, communities of practice are one of them. Especially with the growing attention towards the use of networked technologies like elgg, mahara, twitter and yammer for facilitating learning processes i felt the need to emerge myself deeper in the theory of community of practice (CoP). My customers at Stoas Learning, often come to me from a technological perspective. They ask what the technology could do and how they could use it in their organization. For social technologies like elgg to work in an organization, i believe you need to look beyond the technology and develop a clear concept of the organization’s knowledge processes and how you would think the technology could support those processes. I believe that if we are talking about social learning processes, the theory of communities of practice could often help us to gain insight how these processes work. Thats the reason why i’m expanding my professional services towards consulting on CoP in relation to the use of technolgies. I became a member of CP2 to further develop myself in these practices and moreover to become part of a network of people who already have long years of experience in this field beyond using any technology.

So far it resulted already in a great (Skype) meeting with John Smith, co-author of the book“Digital Habitats”.  Today i’ve met with Joitske Hulsebosch, she’s a Dutch consultant in this field and an active member of CP2. I’m looking forward to all other learning experiences that are yet to come!

New paper on leveraging social learning technologies

Over the last time, I’ve been working on the startup of a new research project. I’m doing this together with Robin Yap from Toronto, Canada. We’ve met two years ago during an AHRD conference in Oxford and stayed in touch ever since (off course through the use of web technologies).

The research we are working on concerns the issues that we have encountered as (organizational) learning consultants which is the often technology centered focus during implementations of social web technologies. Our aim with this study is to develop a model that could assist in determining how social learning technologies in the workplace can be leveraged to engage, build relationships, and enhance the learning of individuals in corporate environments.

Last week we have finished our first draft of a paper which is submitted as a proposal to the Networked Learning conference in Aalborg next year. From the literature review, we have noticed the importance of trust for leveraging social learning. The model we propose in this paper explores trust as a foundation for the development of social capital in organization and explored how HRD can contribute to that with the use of webtechnologies.

We would appreciate your feedback on this research in progress.

Download the paper: A model for leveraging social learning technologies in corporate environments

Cloudworks from a CoP perspective

Yesterday i attended the virtual fieldtrip from the CP Square community which was on the Cloudworks initiative.  Grainne Conole, as “expedition leader” gave us a tour around the isle of cloudworks. Yeah, really tropical :) , as Cloudworks was described as:

“an island for sharing, discussing & finding learning and teaching ideas and designs.”

The sharing of teaching ideas and designs is the site’s strategy, therefore the site functions as a big hub of lots of emergent CoP’s evolving around the shared interest in teaching and learning design. I wondered if the technology would also be interesting to be used in other contexts.

So, what are the clouds being used for?

- Events: conferences and workshops

- Discussion: flash debates, hot topic that are people interested in in debating

- Eliciting expertise and open reviews

- Aggregating resources

As an example of a cloud being used for events or workshops, you can have a look at the cloud made for the fieldtrip. I like the way these sites are being set up. You might want to compare the concept with a wiki, in a sense that it is easy to start a topic and add your content. Yet, clouds have added value in their social approach around this content. You can discuss the content, add stuff or activities to it. The link section suggests that it is also a way to organize content. That is the part that i love the most. I truly believe that knowledge is always embedded in its social context. People that are familiar with the subject know what content is of value for it. For the visitor this information now presented in its context. I wonder how the content management is being handled, is there one big repository?

For this example of the cloud being used for announcing and discussing events, i would have expected some sort of “i attend” functionality so you can see who is going to be there.

A use of clouds that has become very popular according to Grainne, are the so called “flash debates” (see example). This is the use of a cloud for discussing a topic. Looks real similar to a discussion board or blog posting to me. But i guess the difference is that clouds are sort of part of the network, its centralized and the cloud is presented as a social object within the network. This brings me to a great quote from Jyri Engeström, which was presented as the theoretical background for the design of the site.

“Social networking makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people (Engeström, 2005)”

So, concluding, the Cloudworks initiative looks real interesting. I can see its possibilities for use in organizations for sharing, discussing and finding ideas and content in a general (KM) perspective. At Stoas, we have done something similar using Sakai and its sites. We use it for projects and to discuss specific topics. From first sight the cloudworks seem to make more specific use of web 2.0 services like eg Twitter and all is presented from a social networking perspective. I would love to experience the actual use of cloudworks for facilitating CoP’s and the flow of knowledge in organizations. I wonder if the technology will become available as open source software, this will make it possible to add designs to the system and to install it behind firewalls (still a big thing for corporate organizations).