Sunday, March 11, 2007

CoP as space rather than a group

Marc Coenders, Maarten de Laat and myself are doing an online course 'facilitating communities of practice' and we are asking the participants to reflect upon what they learned. I'm not sure we are asking them the right questions and I'm thinking that I learned a lot, but that it's not always easy to formulate what you learned.

One of the new things I have learned through the various conversations is that you could see communities of practice as a space, rather than as a (variable) group of people. It's an important one to me, and one of the things that make me think deeper about the relationship between the CoP theory and group dynamics. I have the impression there is not much convergence between the two areas of expertise so far. I think the usefulness may be in knowing about group dynamics in relation to the start up phases (after all, you start with a group of people), during events, and for the core group. In the end, it might be a huge difference to see the CoP as a space where people can find each other, it becomes independent of the people who make up the space. Food for thought!

Another one is how learning moulds relationships, where I assumed relationships preceed learning, in fact, there might be a on-going mutually reinforcing process when people are communicating between learning and the relationship (feeling close, trust, friendship) between people.


hoong said...

If I understand you correctly ... space is where CoP should offer.

Space is like a house, an office, a meeting place. You can have the space, but if there is no people in there, your 'space' would not be beneficial to anyone. In fact it would be wasted 'space'.

I am not an expert in CoP. The problem with CoP concept is, we think we build the 'space', give them all the feathures that anyone could dream of, AND they will come.

NO. They will not come. Of perhaps only a few would. And that is where facilitation become an all-time important issue (Of course there are other important issues such as support from the top, resouces such as time, money, man-hour etc.). I see many think (and that I saw it again recently with a Moodle learning trajector) facilitation is to wait for someone come and ask me a question. NO ... facilitation is to use 'all the faculties you have such as eye(read), ear(listen between lines if it is written), speak (response within very short time frame to questions) etc. etc. etc.

The function and skills of a facilitator is so important that I think the reason why most CoPs, especially those online kind, fail because the role of the facilitator almost, always the assignment of an after-thought.

A good facilitor uses his/her heart and soul to 'stilmulate' the group. That requires plenty of time and energy. That takes a different kind of mentality, devotion, believes ... in the topic and the group. A facilitator has to be interested to keep 'poking fires' to stir up the the interests of the group. In short, a facilitaor is the HEART of the CoP. Not space. A good facilitator would create and expand space.

As usual, and since I am writing in a fly, I might be off-topic :-)!

Joitske said...

Hiya, I agree and I don't agree :). I think the facilitator role is important and I liked what you said in the end, that a good facilitator creates and expands space... Yet, if there is a space, people are connected to, they will also use it. But the connection is important, they need to have some attachment to the space. The space will give them a place to breathe :)/ Maybe this becoming too philosophical ...

hoong said...

For the sake of arguement, let say I have a room. I have chairs, tables, writing materials and other things that meant for a meeting. I invited some people who have some similar background, and then I say to them : go have a meeting. What would the people do next? OR worse what would the people NOT to do next?

albert said...

I have to admit that I'm not an expert on CoP. I have just started to look at them from the perspective of some of the work on global innovation and product development, and virtual teams that I'm currently doing. That's why I find some interesting som of your reflections about space and distance related to CoP.

I was reading a book on global software development a few months ago and I found interesting a point the authors made about the difference between space and place. The idea was that a place is a space to which users assign a shared meaning, with a sense of boundedness and familiarity.

So, using this metaphor, I guess that the construction(?) of a CoP could be viewed as the creation of a place-like experience out of an already existing space (probably a virtual space...)

(I do not have the complete reference to the book handy now, let me know if you're interested on it...)

Joitske said...

Hi Albert, that sounds definitely interesting. Cindy's comments got me thinking about space. We used to talk about 'protected space' which always made a lot of sense to me. Maybe the protected space could be similar to place? I'd be interested in the reference! (You can mail me or post it here)

albert said...

The reference is:

Sahay, Nicholson, and Krishna (2003), Global IT Outsourcing. Software development across borders.. Cambridge University Press

Although the title sounds like one of those recepies book for outsourcing that have become so popular, it is actually, a very well researched book that analyzes the outsourcing/offshoring relationship from different perspectives (identity, knowledge transfer, space vs. place, standardization...) using an ethnographic approach. Chapter 6 focuses on the dialectics of space vs. place