Thursday, February 14, 2008

Transformation of communities of practice

This is the young swan swimming in the waters near our house (there is a lot of water in our area, something which made a Malian friend exclaim that this is a very dangerous place!). The swan is slowly transforming from a grey into a white swan. I'm interested in the transformation phase in communities of practice. The first reason is that I looked around for materials about transformation/transition for a Dutch course, and couldn't find any good materials. Most materials deal with the start-up phase of communities of practice. A second reason for my interest in the topic is that I have handed over the facilitation of the ecollaboration community to another team, at the same time as my co-facilitator Sibrenne Wagenaar. That made me wonder whether a shift in facilitatorship would automatically mean a transformation? And what are conditions for a smooth, positive transformation?

I posted a question in the com-prac yahoo group. Besides replies, I got a pointer to the book Net Work by Patti Anklam, which I just finished reading. The book deals with various networks, and hence with a wider topic than communities of practice. I found it quite useful to look at communities as networks, as that is what they are in the basis.

Patti Anklam makes a distinction between planned triggers, discovered triggers, dynamic triggers and asymmetric triggers for change in a network. Whether planned or emergent, a resilient network will be able to manage the context of transformation by leveraging its core strength. So it depends on each network, whether it can deal with change. This necessary resilience can be built by:

  • Commitment to a common purpose, but that purpose is also subject to reflection and generative dialogue
  • A structure that is appropriate to its purpose and monitored
  • Support for energetic and trusted interactions
  • Clarity about stakeholders, investments and outcomes

Changes within a network can involve the structure, style or value-creating processes (finding the right balance between tangible and intangible exchanges) of the network.

Many replies came from Miguel Cornejo, in one case an ex-leader/moderator became a common user of the online community. He disagreed with changes in public. I take this as an important lesson that former leaders should welcome changes and not stick to the past. In another situation, they took care to do induction of a new team one by one, to allow for a gentle transition and this worked. John Smith thought that it's important to keep two out of three elements stable. (the elements being community, domain, practice). So when you change leadership you try to keep community practice and topics the same.

A quote of Miguel I liked: " But always, a moderator/facilitator/convenor lends part of his/her character to the way the community does things. They make part of the CoP "personality"so when they depart it's bound to affect the CoP, in bigger or smaller things, sooner or later."

Miguel got inspired to write a blogpost with a metaphore with sandcastles, you are encouraged to check it out here. Any fixed structure that doesn't evolve with its environment gets washed away. Communities too, need continuous tending and rebuilding.

When I look at the ecollaboration community, it continues to flourish and grow, and we are comfortable with smaller changes that are underway. So it has withstood the test of being resilient enough to manage this transition. Though it took a bit of letting go to step out of the facilitator role, it is very rewarding to see it continue like this.


Neli Maria Mengalli said...


Your problem question is very important. In my practice I can say that the point of change is the human. In a scheme aboit it in: (it's in Portuguese Language), is quite close to that found in the book Cultivating Communities of Practice, Wenger. Consider merging, expansion, mature, full activity and dispersion.

All the best,

Joitske said...

Hi Neli, thanks for your comment. You say: the point of change is the human.. do you mean that when a few people change roles, and a large group remains, the community will be able to handle it?

Neli Maria Mengalli said...


Those specialists are responsible for the base community, including the educational curriculum and the design. Before entering people, the professionals responsible for design education must be well planned: a mission, goals, evaluations, environment, ... Experts responsible for the formation of the core are the work of training and relevance of talent in the core peripheral. Next to these experts, a picture emerges of specialist training and evaluation of networks. We can not think of communities excluded from searches. Thus, in the educational design, the designer has the primary role in working with spaces, interfaces and tools for quantitative data and relevant information. Scalebility is important too! I have written (in Portuguese) about methods which include the writings of Vygotsky, Bakhtin, and Freire, ... It’s preliminary study…

Unknown said...

Hi Joitske,
CoPs change all the time, some faster and some slower. One of the essential elements of a vibrant community is thought leadership. If the CoP doesn't advance its practice then it gets stale, and the conversation gets stale and the community disipates.

Ecological metaphors are a pretty good way to convey this message.

Joitske said...

Hi Paul, I think thought leadership is very important indeed. But how to recognise that the innovative edge of a CoP stagnates? I guess it is important to try and draw in new thought leaders.