Thursday, November 09, 2006

Communities of practice: two disastrous approaches

Dave Snowden wrote on his own blog about communities of practice. He writes about the dilemma that communities of practice are self-organising versus whether you can direct communities of practice.

The two disastrous approaches he sees are:

"1 - Creating an organisational template for communities of practice, with a full roll out plan, dedicated staff etc. etc. This is the classic engineering approach which assumes that there must be a top down, designable RIGHT answer.
In practice different communities work in different ways and in different ways at different times. A list serve may be good enough, maybe Grove or similar to get started. A point may arise where you need a taxonomy, formal roles, start up
processes etc. but that is expensive and requires a lot of energy to give it any chance of working. Better to create the right ecology in which different types of collaboration can take place, and then consolidate successful experiments when (and only if) they or the organisation can benefit from formalism.

2 - Taking a paternalistic (or maternalistic approach) in which people are held to be children or kids needing help or assistance. This to my mind often goes with consultants to take up therapeutic techniches (in narrative Appreciative Inquiry is one) and move them sideways into organisations. Such approaches were designed for situations where the Therapist takes a dominant role (which is why some consultants like them) and assumes that the recipients are in need of therapy. Most of the time they are not - its the management and consultants who need it not their subjects/victims."

I agree that both approaches are disastrous. There is definitely a balance you have to find between designing events and linking people and trying to find initiatives that emerge 'naturally'. So you have to build in flexibility in how you are going to proceed. The paternalistic approach probably works nowhere working with adults on the long run (at least not in international development settings). In the short run though, it may seem to work well.


Bill Scott said...

I have never responded to a post from a group like this one before.(I have a "Google Alert" set up to tell me whenever there is a post on Appreciative Inquiry made on the web.) However, the inaccuracy in this post begs for correction.

If I read Joitske Hulsebosch correctly, the argument is that consultants using Appreciative Inquiry take a "dominant" position. Again, if I understand the post correctly, nothing could be further from the truth.

As a consultant and practitioner who uses AI extensively in his work, I can tell you that AI is the most client-focused model I know. The clients and the consultant co-create the design and implementation of any AI process. *And* any AI practitioner will tell you, the philosophy and process of AI is most effective when full systems are involved, participate and take ownership of the process. The role of the consultant(s) is to facilitate the process.

To say that Appreciative Inquiry is driven by a dominant consultant and management team is inaccurate and misleading.

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Hiya, I don't know where you got the impression that this post is about appreciative inquiry! Because it is not. I never said that appreciative inquiry is driven by a dominant consultant! Please point out where you are seeing this phrased and sorry for the confusion...

Bill Scott said...

Hello there,

OK. Take a look at this passage, which is cut and pasted from your original post: "This to my mind often goes with consultants to take up therapeutic techniches (in narrative Appreciative Inquiry is one) and move them sideways into organisations."

I clearly see the words "Appreciative Inquiry" inthis passage.

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Hi Bill, oeps, you are right there. I copied this from Dave Snowden (hope I made that clear) because of the main text, indicating that paternalistic approaches for communities of practice don't work (and I think they never work). I didn't pay much attention to the words between the brackets, because I don't understand what he means. So maybe you'd rather complain on his blog But thanks, I think I do have to pay more attention to what I copy :)

Dave Snowden said...

Hi Bill, this is Dave Snowden

Joitske is right to say that he was talking about CoP and not AI.

In the original post I used AI as an example of a technique that has moved sideways from a therpeutic environment. You can ignore the example if you want and the point that Joitske amplified is then valid.

However I think that AI is a good example. I have a deep concern about all such techniques, but in the case of AI I have an especial concern that it priviledges a certain type of story (positive). Given that negative stories are critical to human learning this is inauthentic to the human condition at best, manipulative at worst. In any event because the facilitator is restricting the types of story that can be told they are de facto dominant whatever their intent.

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Thanks a lot for explaining that! And I have the same reservation about AI. On the other hand, in development work, there has been so much focus on 'problem trees' etc. that a little more focus on the other side doesn't do harm at times. And I don't think it's paternalistic, because it's still taking an inquiry approach.

Dave Snowden said...

Not 100% sure I agree. The focus on negativity in development is true and switching away from that is a good idea. I would prefer a modified form of most significant change to achieve the same result. When we get to learning then free flow of all stories is critical so MSC and AI both have limitations at that point.

I think the key thing is to shift away from the story to gathering anecdotes or story fragments in the field without facilitation and then sensing or seeing patterns in the way that people who create that material index it.

I think I had better blog about this sometime soon! For the moment I think I would say that whatever the short term attractiveness of AI and however honest the facilitator, it is flawed other than as a short term therapeutic technique (in which context, and the context from which it came and for which it was developed, it is excellent)

Bill Scott said...

Hi Dave (and Joitske),

I do hear what you are saying and I reiterate that I disagree with your position.

While AI and narrative therapy are based in the theory of social constructionism, AI has not moved sideways from a therapeutic environment.

David Cooperrider, the originator of AI, clearly intended AI (and designed it for that matter) to be used in organizations. Therefore, I'm not certain how it can be perceived as "being moved sideways into organizations."

As for the issue of AI not being "authentic" -- the issues, in my opinion, are far too complex to give justice to them in this space. Suffice it to say, that we will have to agree to disagree.