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!