An online community is a virtual village. It is a group of people, a virtual team who connects online via today’s technologically advanced means and talk about topics that interest the group as whole. They primarily convene by the means of the Internet and those who desire to become a member usually have to sign up to a specific site or application* in order to play an active role in the community. Online communities can function as an information system where individuals can post, comment on discussions, offer their opinion and collaborate. Without at doubt this type of community totally evolved out of Web 2.0’s digitally connective nature. Don’t you think?
Communities of Practice (CoPs)
A Communities of Practice is essentially the key to elevating a business’ performance and is a powerful marketing tool. It involves networks of individuals “who share a concern or a passion for something they do” and who desire to “learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” CoPs are created by people who connect in the process of communal learning and in a shared domain of human endeavor for example, a group of foreigners learning to how to exist in a New Zealand or musicians who are keen on understanding how a new instrument works. However not all communities are CoP, we must remember this as CoP requires a form of intentional learning.
Educational theorist, Etienne Wenger believes that there are three characteristics that are crucial to a CoP to which they also help identify the difference between a community and CoP. He goes as far to say that before a community can even be viewed as a CoP they would need to adhere and display a combination of these three characteristics. Here you have them…
Domain: A CoP is not simply a group of friends but needs to be identified as being a community that has a shared domain of interest. The individuals in the group may not know one other personally but are connected and committed to one another through their mutual field of concern. Within a domain, members value their shared expertise and the ability to learn from one another.
Community: In sustaining their domain, members of a CoP need to come together and interact and learn from one another. Wenger said, “members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other; they care about their standing with each other.” The individuals in the community may not work together on a daily basis however what creates and supports their community is their joint learning and connectivity.
Practice: Those who are in a CoP are otherwise known as practitioners. So a CoP is not solely founded on a shared interest but also a shared practice, where members unite to develop a shared collection of resources such as past encounters, stories, tools and ways of addressing common problems. The exchange of information and shared experiences between practitioners is what undergirds their community.
Domain, community and practice are essential attributes that gives life to a CoP.
According to Wenger a CoP normally involves these kind of activities:
- Problem solving
- Request for information
- Seeking experience
- Reusing assets
- Coordinating and interaction
- Building an argument
- Growing confidence
- Discussing developments
- Documenting projects
- Visiting locations of interest
- Mapping knowledge and identifying gaps
- Creating new ideas
Looking at these activities…are you in CoP? I would have say that they are all really profitable actions because they all either create or sustain knowledge and in my eyes that is a good thing. I believe a society with healthful CoPs is a society full of life and creativity.
In my mind the core difference between an online community and a CoP is the way that they literally converse. You see those who belong to an online community don’t necessarily see each other face to face, whereas members of a CoP usually come together in person. However, as our lecturer David P best explained the “distinction between the terms ‘online communities’ and ‘communities of practice’ has blurred in recent times due in part to the explosion of online communities facilitated by social media technologies.” Technology and interactive platforms like social media applications have really shaken things up and that is why I honestly believe aspects of the CoP are slowly becoming irrelevant as they merge into the online community sphere and embrace more and more of Web 2.0 world. Wouldn’t you guys agree?
Benefits and Limitations
Online Community Benefits
- Gives members the power to disseminated their messages globally and across the Internet
- It is inclusive
- Breeds and encourages acceptance, validation and sense of belonging It Expands Makes room for creativity and collaboration
- Creates and expands conversations
- Empowers all members and supports freedom of speech
Online Community Limitations
- There is a lack of face-to-face contact between members in an online community.
- Members don’t really have an individual or personally identity, therefore it’s difficult for members in an online community to create genuine relationships with others in the group.
- It’s challenging to build strong connections and commitment. With an online community members can miss out on the emotional bond that occurs when interacting in a physical space or when using tangible objects, thus making membership rather casual.
- Allow employees to manage change
- Provides access to new knowledge
- Cultivates trust and a sense of common purpose
- Adds value to professional lives
- Creates knowledge and encourages skill development
- Uses information management to drive strategy
- Disseminate valuable information and transfer best practice
- Initiate new lines of business including new products and services
- Facilitate rapid responses to customer needs and problems
- Decrease the learning curve for new employees
- Help companies recruit and retain talent
- Time Demands and constraints: In order for CoP to be successful and to reap the fruit from their conversations and actions they need time and sustained interaction.
- Organisational Hierarchies: CoP within an organisation may contradict its actual intention to be informal and break down the walls of pride, intellect and power. Scholar Steven Kerno explained, “if the majority of individuals within an organization are more concerned with maintaining and adhering to the organization chart and its hierarchical ordering than with maximizing organizational performance…than the “status quo” will prevail and community of practice efforts are not likely to produce any substantive progress or benefits. Worse, they may be perceived as several previous organizational “fads” that failed to realize their potential.”
- Culture: CoPs are a social design and so they reflect the wider social structures, institutional and national culture that they exist in. The result of this is that CoPs innately generate cultural differences** between organisational CoPs that may hinder their overall effectiveness.
On the whole, the benefits of a CoP truly validate its relevancy to a business strategy. Businesses can integrate and utilise a CoP to elevate their objectives, genuinely connect with their employees and train them in a more transparent manner that generates a healthy environment of sharing and learning information across hierarchal structures.
*Like a video game, blog or their work’s intranet site
**Conformity, individualism, social expectation and interactivity modes
Wenger, E. (2006). Communities of practice: A brief introduction
Kerno, S. (2008). Limitations of communities of practice. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15, 69-77. Retrieved from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:OOmR3-r95CAJ:www.knowledgemobilization.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/8.-Limitations-of-Communities-of-Practice-.pdf+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari
McDermott, R. & Archibald, D. (Mar 2010). Harnessing your staff’s informal networks. Harvard Business Review, 88(3), 82-89.
Mitchell, J., & Wood, S. (2001). Benefits of Communities of Practice. Retrieved from http://www.jma.com.au/upload/pages/communities-of-practice/c-of-p-benefits.pdf?1377489802