Monday, May 26, 2008

Bridging and bonding in communities of practice

I read in the newspaper that ethnically mixed neighbourhoods have lower levels of trust in general. This was already proven by a research by Putnam in 2007. Dronkers and Lancee repeated the research in the Netherlands and reached the same conclusion. BUT the inter-ethnical level of trust in heterogeneous neighbourhoods is higher than in the others. Which is kind-of logical: when you meet people from other ethnic groups you are likely to see that they can be kind and friendly too. In the homogeneous neighbourhoods, the social trust is higher, but the image of different ethnic groups can be very negative.


It sounds like a description of my old and new neighbourhood! I moved last year from a homogeneous village to a mix area of the Hague.


What really triggered me to blog about it was the coining of two terms: bonding social capital and bridging social capital. I recently attended a ecollaboration meeting where the people with developer skills were in the lead because of the topic chosen for the meeting: open source. As non-developer I could see how interesting it was for them to connect. On the other hand, if you don't pay attention, you get a reinforcing loop towards the developers side of the domain of ecollaboration. It was suddenly very obvious to me that the role of a facilitator of a community of multidisciplinary practice includes balancing the bonding and bridging social capital. Try to make sure that there is enough space for bonding between the disciplines, but include sufficient bridging capital. That sounds quite abstract, but I think it means being aware of the member who play a bridging role and enabling them to continue to play the bridging role. At times this may not need any intervention, at times, this may need some attention.

Secondly, since we facilitated the community of practice with a group of four non-developers, it might have been easy to overlook the needs of developers to connect and discuss at their level of interest. So whenever possible, try to have a balanced core group too.

5 comments:

mgloerich said...

I know you know Etienne Wengers' work on Communities of Practice and he says something along those lines as well. I couldn't help to look it up, it's on page 75 of his 1998 book (CoP, learning, meaning and identity), section 'diversity and partiality'.

"Indeed, what makes engagement in practice possible and productive is as much a matter of diversity as it is a matter of homogeneity."

I think this aspect of a CoP, or a community in general, is much overlooked. There are heaps of niche-fora but the really succesfull ones have at least the door opened for non-insiders or people who don't have the same background as the (wrongly) expected coregroup.

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Thanks for this! I have the book and am checking it now. I must say I agree with the fact that it is overlooked in CoP experiences, but I don't see it working for the Alinsu claims processors. I'd say innovation gets seriously stalled there because of lack of diversity...

hoong said...

Numbers.

If you, a facilitator, wishing to have a good session, think of numbers. What do you want to achieve? Suddenly bringing in a 'large' group of outsiders would create a 'communication' problem. A 'language' mix-match. Take the example of your more recent ecollaboration meeting. The non-developer is out-numbered, therefore the conversation became lop-sided.

The same could apply to immigration. IF there is an influx of a large group of immigrants (diffierent ethnic), the 'original' group would feel threaten etc. The new comers would feel unwelcome etc and therefore would be even more inclined to stick together etc. etc. Hence communications issues would slowly build up ....

The same story can apply to any situation that involve mixing groups whether is about ethnics, CoP, homogenous group with different professional or earning power or wealth ...

For me it was also interesting to observe the organization I once worked for went for a shopping spree and made acquisition of smaller companies etc. Because the acquisitions were so frequent and the amount was large (in number of companies as well as employees came with the acquisition), plus other reasons, the whole organization just became one huge mess of mis-communication. And I still have this image of overfed and bad digestions. Small meals and frequently.

THINK numbers. Think digestion. I hope what I wrote here is not too abstract.

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Hi Cindy, I think this is right on! numbers and digestion are important. but the 'absorption' capacity is not carved in stone!

hoong said...

That is true ... 'absorption capacity' is not carved in stone. Therefore it is even more vital, that is if you are looking for reasonable success of whatever you intend to achieve, SCREEN and SELECT the right mixtures.

I think I have mentioned this .. screen and select ... many times before. It is just basic everyday learning practice. IMHO. For example if I to have a class or get-together for a session on advanced Moodle, I would not be that smart to have 80% beginners. Definitely would be 'indigestion' for the 80% beginners, AND worse of all the 20% advanced users would go home HUNGRY.

And one can apply the same logic to almost anything we do. It does not have to limit to just learning. If we take a little bit more time in planning, in getting the right mixtures, ABSORPTION capacity would be a lot more sensible. Valuable time and resources spent are well rewarded.