I had unsubscribed from the yahoo group on communities of practice as I was ploughing through my mails rather than happy to read them (not the best mode for learning). But now I have worked out an aggregating system that works for me with google personalised pages as my RSS reader. An interesting alternative for personalised pages (thanks to Chris Addison) is netvibes where you can add more options like flickr photo streams. I have added the yahoo group to my personalised pages, so it pops up and I found Rosanna Tarsiero posting a link to an article on A facilitation task taxonomy for communities of practice by Halbana Tarmizi and Gert-Jan de Vreede (sounds Dutch).
It talks about the role of the facilitator of a CoP which is key to the effective establishment and sustainment of communities of practice. The facilitator role is crucial in making a case for the CoP, finding common topics for members, securing trust of shared information and lowering barriers among members to involve in knowledge sharing activities. Inspired by the facilitator role description work by Group Support Systems (GSS) (is this the same as Group Decision-making Support Systems?) they come up with 33 CoP facilitation tasks. They can be subdivided into two main categories: internal and external.
* Information source, providing information to CoP's members
* Inspirator, encouraging members to be active
* Guide, including all tasks that focus on assisting and advising the CoP and its members
* Information source, providing information about the CoP to the outside world
* Public Relations manager, representing the interests of the CoP to the outside world
* Investigator, all tasks concerning searching for and collecting useful information for the CoP and its members.
I think it's good to focus on the facilitator tasks, as it may be underestimated. As a facilitator you may use it as a quick guide to see where you could shift some of the emphasis. Unfortunately the paper does not talk about distributed leadership.
For the first time, I'm now gaining experiences as a facilitator for a CoP on e-collaboration, co-facilitating. I have been a member of a corporate CoP, and external consultant, so it's great to gain practical experiences with this role.
Our recent experience is that we are making a 'phone round' to all participants to find out what occupies them in e-collaboration, what interests them and how they want to continue with the group. It is extremely energizing for us and people we talk to. It's revealing to see some people are gaining valuable experiences and are eager to share/learn together. Some people don't want to participate actively but want to watch to see what's developing so that at some point they may link back to the process. I think it helps to be a practitioner yourself, so that you recognise the issues and are able to relate it to some of your own experiences. I'm convinced that without this facilitator role and the vision to facilitate a more continuous learning process, the process would have stopped at some point in time. So you can't talk about a completely 'organic process', yet you can be conscious about not 'pushing' things too hard. For instance, it was an important indication for us that conversations continued online after the November event, without facilitation. So the art of the facilitator is somehow finding the balance between proposing actions in a inspiring way and providing space to see what emerges (and have an ear/eye for what's happening between members invisible to the online space as there are lots of other links!)