Friday, February 02, 2007

Community of practice variety from a complexity perspective

There's an interesting article by Shawn Callahan (of anecdote) and Patricia Milne on variety from a complexity perspective. It dates a few years ago and was published here:

Callahan, S. D. and P. Milne (2004). ActKM: Variety in a Community of Practice from a Complexity Perspective. Human Perspectives in the Internet Society: Culture, Psychology and Gender. K. Morgan, J. Sanchez, C. A. Brebbia and A. Voiskounsky, WIT Press.

Finally an article talking about interventions for communities of practice from an advisory perspective! They call the advisor who tries to influence the functioning of a CoP a 'designer'.

"A set of mechanisms is explored to understand how a designer might influence variety in a community of practice. Four mechanisms are addressed:

  1. The process of copying strategies and types
  2. Copying with error
  3. Recombination of ideas
  4. Role of the physical environment"
When they talk about variety, they refer to what I would call diversity, the opposite of homogeneous CoPs (homogeneous in terms of topics, people, knowledge areas the members bring along, etc). Variety is important for the liveliveness of a CoP. Variety is important too, to drive creativity and innovation. Too much variety though may be hard to deal with, as it can lead to conflicts. Consequently, there are times when diversity should be encouraged and other times when it should not. (all this my interpretation). The article helps to explore when and how to encourage diversity. Like, when to encourage new people to join? When to stimulate people from a certain different background to become actively part of the core group. The articles gives some ideas on how to stimulate diversity; eg. in the physical environment by stimulating various ways of communication. Some members may be attracted to online discussions, whereas others prefer face-to-face. Ensuring variety in ways of communication in a CoP helps to stimulate variety in ideas.

From the article: "Community designers should remain mindful of variety, and, if appropriate, should use the mechanisms described above to influence it. (...) Interventions can be applied by an external force or by an internal force within the community. "

I think an external advisor/designer can see much clearer than an internal person when variety within a community of practice is flawed and hampering innovation within that community. That could be a very important role external advisors can play in a community of practice development process.


Dorine Ruter said...

Hi Joitske,

"an external advisor/designer can see much clearer than an internal person when variety within a community of practice is flawed and hampering innovation"

Are you thinking about external advisor to the community or to the facilitators? Could you share some of you ideas about that?

When you and Sibrenne invited John Smith to talk about the ecollaboration community, I was happy you organized a session for facilitators AND community members as well. It helped me look at the potential of our community and what my role could be as a member in that community. Not sure if that is only because of my interest in community facilitation, or that it worked the same for other members as well (did you ask? )


Joitske said...

hi, yes, that's a good example. John was the complete external (or outside) advisors. Interesting to get a real outsiders view on the community. When you are really in it, you don't see things (only from your perspective). But the external person may work with various community members indeed!

We never really asked whether peopple appreciated but Sibrenne and I had the impression that it was quite beneficial, and that it made people to think more consciously about their role indeed.