Social learning spaces – and how community managers help make room for uncertainty

In the fellowship program that I run for scientific community managers we often refer to how a community manager needs to “create the space” for productive interactions to occur between community members. Other variants of the phrase that I’ve heard or used are “creating the container”, “tilling the soil” or “holding the crucible” in which the alchemy of new knowledge generation happens. But what does this somewhat cryptic phrase “creating the space” actually mean? We’re not literally talking about moving chairs out of the way or building a box big enough to hold people in, are we?

Diving lessons – how do we hold uncertainty together in a learning space? Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/seattlemunicipalarchives/2650415742/in/photostream/

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Navigating knowledge landscapes – the role of community managers as guides

In July, I participated in an inspiring 4-day retreat led by Bev Trayner and Etienne Wenger – social learning theorists and consultants who have written extensively about communities of practice and how cultivation of knowledge is a group-mediated activity. Each morning at the retreat we explored their current thinking about social learning, enjoying much time for discussion of the ideas as a group. One model that particularly resonated with me was that of the knowledge landscape.

In this metaphor, communities of practice can be imagined as hills or mountains of expertise within a landscape. The mountains can vary in height, depending on the amount of knowledge contained, and the slope of the mountain indicates the gradient of learning or the curriculum that a new member of the community would need to follow in order to progress up the mountain to expert level. A steep slope indicates that it’s harder to master the knowledge in that community, whereas a more gentle gradient allows for working more leisurely within the learner’s comfort zone.

How steep is the learning curve in your community of practice?
Image credit: author’s own

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Community Manager musings: Four reasons coordinators of communities of practice can fail

Community manager musings is a series of occasional posts looking at the roles and skills of community managers – usually within science. 

“Gah! It’s all Greek to me!” One form of failure in building a community of practice comes from lack of domain expertise.
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/

Nurturing and growing a successful community of practice is a delicate balance of activities where the intention is to create a vibrant group of members interested in honing their craft in a particular domain that they share.

Communities can fail for any of a number of reasons – but in communities of practice Wenger et al., mention four key causes that are due specifically to how the community manager’s role is carried out.

  1. Time
  2. Balance between public and private spaces
  3. Pro-active networking
  4. Technical / domain knowledge

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Community orientations and technology – what features does your online community need?

Recently, I’ve been exploring “Digital Habitats” by Wenger, White and Smith, which talks about the role of technology stewards in selecting, implementing and encouraging adoption of online tools and community platforms. Tech stewards sound like a very specific type of community manager.

Use this wheel to mark out the importance of the 9 different orientations to your community.
Image credit: http://technologyforcommunities.com/2010/07/putting-our-diagrams-to-work/

The book has lots of practical advice about the use of technology by communities of practice. While the overall menu of different tools and features that are available to a community may be large, typically members will not need them all because their community will be focused on only a few activities. The authors call these different types of group needs “orientations” and list out nine of them.

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Considering Community: Communities of practice and double-knit knowledge organisations

Social in silico includes a series of occasional posts focused on community management tips and related information. I’m tagging these Considering Community and you can find all the posts in the series here

Previously on this blog, I’ve reflected on the different types of community that I’ve observed within science and specifically in the first cohort of the community engagement fellowship program that I run at AAAS. I identified four initial broad types of scientific communities – from professional associations to communities of practice. I’m currently delving deeper into communities of practice and am enjoying reading “Cultivating communities of practice” by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott and William M. Snyder.

Today’s post looks at what it means to be a double-knit knowledge organisation – and how we integrate learnings from communities of practice into our day-to-day work.

When asked if her organisation was taking a double-knit approach to knowledge management, Jane replied “I’m a frayed knot.”
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/heartbrainscourage/25126915686/

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Considering Community: Communities of practice as vital tools for knowledge management

Social in silico includes a series of occasional posts focused on community management tips and related information. I’m tagging these Considering Community and you can find all the posts in the series here

Previously on this blog, I’ve reflected on the different types of community that I’ve observed within science and specifically in the first cohort of the community engagement fellowship program that I run at AAAS. I identified four initial broad types of scientific communities – from professional associations to communities of practice. I’m currently delving deeper into communities of practice and am enjoying reading “Cultivating communities of practice” by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott and William M. Snyder.

Communities of practice and coffee – breaking down those silos one latte at a time…
Image credit: author’s own

What’s a community of practice – and what does it have to do with knowledge management?

A community of practice is a group of people who gather to learn more about a topic together and in doing so deepen their knowledge and expertise. The group may not have a specifically defined goal, but rather meet regularly to continually refine what they know about a subject. As such, communities of practice are key to knowledge management.

Wenger et al list 5 ways in which communities of practice are key to how we manage knowledge:

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Considering Community: What types of community are there? (Science edition – part three)

In one of my early Considering Community posts I outlined several broad types of community – from communities of interest to communities of circumstance – and I mused on whether the different types might use online tools distinctly.

In reflecting recently on the different communities represented in the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program that I run, I realised that it’s time to dive a little deeper on this topic – considering some of the different configurations of community specifically within science. 

In this first post on the topic, I discussed professional societies for scientists and what I call infrastructure or “halo” organisations. In part two I considered research collaborations. In part three I’m going to discuss communities of practice.

Learning together – a key element of a community of practice.
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/deankts/14070816410/

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