Mar 24 2005

What does it mean?

Published by at 11:23 am under History,Overview

A couple people have asked this question, so here”s a stab at an answer. Actually there are several parts to the answer.

We work like a community of practice. We decided we had to do this study because it was important to us, even if we had no funding and no clear business model when we started. Learning has been a sustaining “by-product” of the project all along. We each come at the technology and related issues from quite different perspectives, have a different network to draw upon, and actually contribute to the conversations in a different way. Having to work mostly at a distance on a project of this scope has pushed us to practice what we”re talking about.

We”ve reached out through our larger community of practice. In the early days of CPsquare, there were several conversations about updating Etienne”s Tech Study; they were definite inspirations as we got going on this project. We have had access to each of the case studies that will be included in the final report because of the larger community of practice on communities of practice. Gaining access to someone”s community and to their thinking about what”s working and what isn”t requires that we have a pretty close relationship with our respondents, so we are fortunate that our community has provided the access we”ve needed. One implication of this somewhat informal approach is that we”ve had to be purposeful about finding as much variance as we can find within our larger community in terms of technology mix, community sponsorship, maturity, leadership, and style.

Seeking a community perspective in each story. The respondents who”ve told us stories about their communities are particularly interested in and sensitive to a range of community & technology issues that we think are very important. As we”ve developed the cases we”ve often interviewed people several times and in some cases interviewed several people from a community. A “community perspective” means both looking for common experience and for diversity in some kind of creative combination. Technologies for communities of practice have to work both for the “old hands” and the “new blood” in a community.

A middle-out perspective on learning, meaning and identity. This means that personal and psychological issues are adjacent to social or commercial issues around a community of practice. All the cases we present show communities that are generating new knowledge, shaping people”s identity, and giving them a new kind of home that”s partly based on distance technologies. Although all the cases we”ve looked at have their ups and downs (and are on some level quite fragile) they are all ongoing communities that transcend any one tool. And it turns out that the domain, practice, and community model that Etienne developed in his ”98 book is quite useful for making sense of what distributed communities of practice do.

Not just stories. This response probably emphasizes the cases in our study more than the other parts of it, because that”s the part of it that we”re all working on at the moment. Describing what “a community perspective” means when it comes to looking at one tool, or describing features in general, or thinking about the future of technologies that are used by communities of practice would be a slightly different slant on the subject.

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