Saturday, September 13, 2008

Defining the domain of a community.

Nancy White has a good blogpost about domain definition. I belief domain defintion is one of many powerful interventions that a coordinator/facilitator or advisor in a community of practice can make. Domain definition or re-definition can help a group to articulate the domain they are interested in and strengthen their focus and become attractive for newcomers. But what is a domain? Is it the same as topic or theme? Nancy provides the definition of Etienne Wenger:

A community of practice is not merely a club of friends or a network of
connections between people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of
interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people. (You could
belong to the same network as someone and never know it.) The domain is not
necessarily something recognized as “expertise” outside the community. A youth
gang may have developed all sorts of ways of dealing with their domain:
surviving on the street and maintaining some kind of identity they can live
with. They value their collective competence and learn from each other, even
though few people outside the group may value or even recognize their

From the definition you can see that a community of practice is a special type of network, one with a focus on its domain. By interacting, the members are forging common ideas and practices around their domain, and may achieve -slowly- innovation. Slowly, because there is a stage whereby the members need time to exchange and establish the common ground and bridge differences. You have to know what exists before you can innovate. What I can add from my experience is that there are no hard rule for domain definition. Yet, it is best if the domain is not so vast, that you start drowning and get too wide a group of interested people. On the other hand, it should not be so narrow that it becomes like a problem. You may have a 'name' and a 'description' for instance the e-collaboration community focusses on 'how to guide the introduction of e-tools into development organisations in a way that it improves collaboration (north-north and south-south) in development cooperation.' Probably 'teleconferences' would have been too narrow a focus and 'using ICTs' too wide a focus - in this particular case.


hoong said...

OK ... you defined your domain. Would that mean you use your domain to ADMIT members?

Secondly, what would you do if your domain no longer fit the needs? With change is the only thing that is constant in our life??


Joitske said...

Hi Cindy, I think the admission doesn't work as an admission, but more as an attraction.. and I fully agree that you need to reformulate your domain now and then. for instance, the ecollaboration people may redefine it now. It could change!