Saturday, February 11, 2006

Communities of practice: domain definition in corporate and inter-organizational communities

Anecdote blogged about Will the community of practice get started? A test and the effect of titles talking about the definition of the knowledge domain of a community of practice.

One pragraphe: I now have a simple test to gauge whether a community of practice might form. When someone says, “I would like to start a community of practice.” I ask, “Can you describe the potential members by completing the following sentence? I am a …..” If they can fill in the blank in a way that people can passionately identify with the descriptor then there is a chance a community might emerge.

I commented that it seems there is a difference between a corporate CoP and large, public, inter-organisational CoP in the sense that their domain definition seems wider.

I would like to share Shawn's answer on my own blog: I think you are right Joitske. The ActKM (a public CoP) was named with a scope covering all of knowledge management. There have been a number of times when we think that the scope should be narrower but such a move would significantly fracture the group. In ActKM's case the scope has emerged from the conversations. For example, you are unlikely to see a deeply technical discussion on ActKM but you will find many theoretical discussions on ways to view the discipline. The discussion act as an attractor for certain people and a repellent for others. It's for this reason why I think you can't be too rigid with defining the scope. It will adapt with the needs and interests of the members.
Another way to look at the scope is to think about the level of abstraction occuring in the discussion. If the discussion is too detailed for the audience the audience will get bored and leave. If the discussion is too high-level and assumes everyone knows the jargon and acroymns the audience is unable to understand and will leave. Like the three bears the level of abstraction in the discussion has to be just right.

Though the knowledge domain of a community may change over time, it seems that the initial name is important for including/excluding people. For instance, the name e-collaboration for the development sector is vast enough to cover a wide range of experiment with collaboration at a distance, but specific enough for certain practitioners to identify with the domain.

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