Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Culture and stereotypes

Cartoon via handvest van de aarde
At the site of project implicit you can do tests about your prejudices conderining fat people, gender stereotypes or ethnicity ( in Dutch, the english version is here). I did the alcohol test and have a slight preference for alcohol over non-alcoholic drinks. I also did the Martha Stewart versus Oprah Winfrey test and have a slight preference for Martha too. (I do dislike Oprah Winfrey even explicitly).

It is tested by your reactions to combining alcoholic drinks (or Oprah Winfrey) with either positive or negative terms. When you associate terms, your reaction is faster. I was quite convinced that it was easier to combine alcohol with negative terms, but apparently I was faster with positive terms. I'm just reading though that heavy drinkers have negative associations (phew!)

From the site: 'A stereotype is a belief that members of a group generally possess some characteristic (for example, the belief that women are typically nurturing). An implicit stereotype is a stereotype that is powerful enough to operate without conscious control. Example: Try answering this question: Is John Walters the name of a famous person? If you suspect yes, and especially if you were more likely to think yes than if the question had been about Jane Walters, you might be indirectly expressing a stereotype that associates the category of male (more than that of female) with fame-deserving achievement. And this may be the case even if there is famous female with a similar sounding last name (e.g., Barbara Walters). This type of judgment was used in one of the first experimental studies of implicit stereotypes (Banaji and Greenwald, 1995; Banaji, Hardin, & Rothman, 1994).

Technology: gathering on 'online kennisdelen' organised by oneworld

Last week, I was invited by One world the Netherlands to do a presentation about online knowledge sharing jointly with Julie Ferguson from HIVOS. We were asked to look at tools, experiences within development cooperation and some do's and don'ts.

You can find our slides in Dutch here. I did not manage to embed them in my blog. As you can see in the second picture, only few people raised their hands when asked whether they could explain terms like 'web2.0' or 'blogs' or 'podcasting'. I was surprised about the low numbers, and almost suspect they did know about them, but were scared to be asked to explain it.

At the end I realized that most of the people were communications people with a task related to their organisation's website, looking for tools to integrate in their websites. Which is different from the way I mostly look at some of these tools, as supporting (small) groups in their communication and learning efforts.

One world will make a report available here where you can also find reports of previous gatherings. Of course in such a meeting, you only cratch the surface of a lot of topics and experiences.

In the end, I realized the value of the e-collaboration community of practice, which brings a wide range of people interested in this topic together for a longer period of time. Because of the longer attachment to one domain and with a (growing) group, we are able create more exchanges which build on each other.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The blog birthday

Photo by Thom Watson

One year (and four days) ago I started this blog with this blogpost... A nice moment to list all my previous blogposts about blogging:

  1. How to read blogs
  2. What is a blog?
  3. Blogging communities
  4. blogging ripples
  5. Knowing the number of subscribers to your blog
  6. Blogging popular amongst Arab women
  7. David Maister on blogging
  8. Using mobile phone and SMS to blog
  9. Some blogging reflections
  10. Blog mentoring projects
  11. Blogging and development
  12. My pathway into blogging
  13. How to start blogging
  14. Iraqi bloggers

Britt Bravo started a nice, practical blog Basic blogging for women (with lots of tips for men as well :)

Now, one year, 4 days, 240 posts, 57 blogs on my blogroll and over 90 subscribers and 6,600 views later, I'm very happy that I started blogging and don't think it will be easy to stop. It has focused my readings and stimulated me to interview people, plus it's a place to write down my own experiences. I guess I imagined the blog to be more factual than it is now. Gruadually I've include some of my personal experiences which make me think of aspects related to communities of practice. It's become a great archive for myself. If I had blogged since I learned how to write, it would be a documentation of my thinking too. On the other hand, there are many interesting experiences and discussions which I don't blog, mostly for privacy reasons.

Thursday someone asked me whether I have children, so I responded, yes and a job and we were joking about the rest of the list (a car? a dog?). Next time, I should probably summarize my life by saying I have a job, two children and a blog.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Communities of practice: comm.unities.of.prac.tice 2.0

Martin Kloos wrote his thesis for the University of Amsterdam on communities of practice 2.0. It's written in English, so if you are interested, you can download it and read it too. I think it's brilliant that I can be in touch with research results through blogs! Martin studied the effects of weblogs, wikis and social bookmarking on communities of practice, as part of his thesis for Business Informations Studies. Students were experimenting with blogs, wikis and social bookmarking and he interviewed them individually and did focus group interviews. The setting in which the tools were used were small familiar groups and all were master students, using the tools in an educational setting. He analysed what the tools influence is on mutuality, competence and continuity in the community of practice. And secondly, at orientation, reflection and exploration. There is a table at page 108 which summarizes these results.

It is interesting that though the tools are 'public' tools, and have potentially boundary crossing potential (to draw in other people with different ideas) no outsider jointed the conversations on the blog during the course. The blog was very successful in influencing the face-to-face discussions. People who were less assertive in class felt they got a voice on the blog, leading to an increased willingness to join the conversation. It was also seen as a source of inspiration. It was experiences that knowing what other colleagues read, what they share through their bookmarks can enhance the feeling of engagement. Finally wikis created a form of accountability for both process and product, whereas the meta content of a wiki provides insights into the composition, objectives and development of a community.

Very interesting are the conclusions, one interviewee wonders what triggers the enthusiasm of users when it comes to web2.0 software. He/or she believes: " it has to do with personal values. The essence is that we are all trapped in a system of top-down corporations and so forth. I believe that we are slowly crossing a line where larger groups of people want different things." They talked about at length about the acceptance of open source values and principles, as openly sharing information and collaboration as the key to success.

Participants classified the main functions and feel of the tools and what kind of processes within a community of practice they can support. Blogs are characterized in terms of reflection. Social bookmarking more in terms of exploration, and wikis support varying levels of participation. Blogs and wikis support engagement more than social bookmarking and stimulate orientation and reflection. Wikis and social bookmarking offer facilitaties that better support the work of alignment than blogs.

This research again highlights that people determine the use of the tools. Example is the fact that the blog did not have any boundary function, as a result of barriers created by the group. A blog can work as a boundary crossing tool, but probably only works when the blogger is a broker him/herself (and has people from various communities of practice reading the blog). It is not an 'embedded' feature of the blog.

In this case master students were testing all these tools in a course setting. Ofcourse you may look at the class as a community of practice, but it is a very specific situation with members in the same age group, not resembling other (corporate, inter-organisational) CoPs with members of a wide range of ages.

The tools did energize and stimulate different conversations and engagement. I think it is important to know the ins- and outs of the various tools as a facilitator, plus the group process, so that you know how to stimulate certain processes by introducing tools that energize the group.

One common feature of all web2.0 tools is that they leave visible traces, and hence make it easier to document or analyse what's been happening, as compared to informal, face-to-face interactions. So it could make result measurement of communities of practice much easier!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Technology: slide show by Nancy White

After reading a post from Tony Karrer talking about the fact that powerpoint slides without the presentation will not easily make sense to anyone. He confesses he is too impatient to sit through an audio presentation. I can watch vodcasts, but have problems with audio too. My thoughts just wander off. I'll do a test by downloading and listening in the train tomorrow.

Then I found this slide setfrom Nancy White which she shared on her Australian blog. I really liked the visual and condensed presentation. I especially liked slide 7 which talks about the different uses of communication technologies by different age groups, distinguishing it groups by 10 years age difference. Probably because that links very closely with my recent discovery that people of 18 have again a different use from people who are 28. (I assumed they were all the same user type). I was also inspired because I just made a slide presentation, not half as nice as this one. Next time, I'll try and use more pictures too. So slides can make sense I guess, but maybe only if they link very closely with your own line of thoughts or questions and when they are very visual and clear. By the way, Nancy used slideshare a place where you can find millions of slides.

Practical examples: the ICT4D trainers meeting in pictures

The ICT4D trainers community meeting in Zambia that I blogged about in my previous post, this time some impression by means of pictures (provided by Saskia Harmsen).

Monday, October 23, 2006

Practical examples: the community of practice of ICT4D trainers

IICD in collaboration with its Itrainonline partners did a community readiness assessment for ICT4D trainers. In July, a first meeting was organized for a group of interested trainers in Zambia. My colleague, Saskia Harmsen, was one of the organisers. She answered the question:
What advice would you give to someone who was going to organise a first community of practice meeting?

Her response is, organise for getting to know eachother by means of storytelling exercises and facilitate peer assists in small groups. This can set the scene for what can be done with the community of practice in terms of knowledge sharing. The trainers really appreciated this 'facilitated' approach rather than a train-the-trainer approach.

A challenge is how to translate the practice-based experiences and make it available to others who were not present at the event. In this case, people were asked to write summaries in a wiki, but felt that limited the free-flowing knowledge sharing process.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Technology...never fails

This week was 'herfstvakantie' (autumn holidays) at school, and I took my kids swimming. The pool has access gates which you can only enter by scanning with a bracelet (that you get instead of a ticket).

Unfortunately the access gate reported that I had no access (whereas I had already scanned my children, so they were already in). When I asked at the ticketing office (upstairs) they said that I had scanned it twice. That would be surprising as I have used the bracelets for years going for swimming lessons. But I said 'sorry!' and they reloaded the bracelet for me and it worked!

I had forgotten about it, when I exited my children after swimming and I got stuck myself in the swimming pool area because the same thing happened at the gate. This time it said, 'error, please contact staff'. No staff around and staff in the pool did not want to help. So I squeezed myself with another person through the gate. I could have thrown the useless bracelet, but thought I'd be helpful and notify the people at the ticketing office, explaining that there was a problem with this bracelet. But they said that I made a mistake, I had not scanned the bracelet well enough while entering.... And after my response that there is no reason to get angry.... :).

But why do I blog this story while talking about technology in relation to communities of practice? I think what we can learn from this is that as a technologist or online facilitator you should never assume that technology works and that people are making a mistake. So you have to be patient and prepared to find out what doesn't work and why it doesn't work. This can be dull and time-consuming, but is a necessary part of the job. Secondly, if you have support systems ('call staff'), you have to make sure they work ('there is staff around').

Technology: Sil and continuous partial attention

Photo by John Smith

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Culture: Dealing with differences

I read Dealing with differences by Nico Vink, who looks at communication as scanning of social spaces and positions, rather than exchange of information.

One of the questions of the book is: Does globalization lead to homogenisation of cultures? Nico Vink challenges the existing crucial role of national cultures against the context of globalization. Cultural fields are introduced as a new context for intercultural communications. "Fields are distinct, smaller social spaces, When a person wants to participate in a field, he/she should learn the values and practices, the rules and the language of the field." Fields may become trans-cultural bypassing national borders and cultures. Globalizations is not leading to homogenization of cultures but to exchange and hybridisation. So where do we currently find the cultural differences? Between rich and poor, differences remain large, as well as between believers and secular people. Miscommunication ocurs also in our own society.

He provides some vivid examples of cultural fields, like rock music. Rock music knows many forms, it is a mix of local styles with international musical idioms, originating in the Anglo-Saxon world. Rock music is an important way to emphasize local identity, and in many places local varieties of the international rock-idiom can be found. There is some influence of local music on the global field too, the question is how and how much? The chinese rock musician Cui Jian is quoted when he says: 'Rock is worldwide. During the festival of Roskilde in Denmark I was the only Chinese, but I felt like at home. Yet there is a difference. I think in Chinese, I feel Chinese, I use Chinese images.

Intercultural communication competences listed by Vink:
* Insights into the general communication process and awareness of our own strong and weak points
* Basic attitude of curiosity in people who are different
* Social skills; social poistions in cultures are very different
* Patience; changing habits is a long process

The book did not have real eye-openers for me. By reading this book, I start to think more strongly about the importance of organisational cultures, and communities of practice as places where a certain 'culture' is cultivated. Will organisations become more important than nations in shaping ways people interact? And what will be the role of communities of practice? And how 'deep' does organizational culture impact on individuals? I have the impression I act slightly differently in different organisations because you are stimulated by your colleagues and managers to act in a certain manner. But I have my own core values and interests I take with me. When people start to identify with inter-organisational communities of practice, how does that influence the way they act within their own organisations, and will they start to influence the culture in their own organisation? (that influence will probably be much larger when managers are part of communities of practice).

I also wonder whether the way Vink uses field is similar to the use of domain with the communities of practice theory?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Technology: how to read blogs?

At the launch of the group blog on e-collaboration we got the request for a basic introduction to blog reading for people new to blogs. Together with Dorine Ruter, we worked on a writely document and I was able to post the document directly to my blog. This is a more technical introduction, the 'why to read blogs' should probably follow later! So here we go:

How to read blogs?

There are various ways to read a webblog ('blog') that you think is of interest to you. The main choice you have to make is whether you want to visit the blog every now and then, or that you want to be up to date with every new post on that blog.

1. You want to read the blog every now and then

The following are ways to remember the blogsite online; (of course another option is to write down the link in your agenda or wherever is handy for you...):

  • * You can add the link to your Favorites / Bookmarks in your internet browser;
  • * You can use the History of your internet browser. This will only work if you are visiting the blog regularly. In that case the blog address will appear in your recently visited web addresses. If you don't visit it for a long period, the history of your browser may no longer remember the URL (=the weblink)
  • * You can tag it with an online social bookmarking tool, like e.g. del.icio.us (http://del.icio.us). To find the blog, you have to make sure that you use a tag that helps you to find the blog whenever you want to read it. This has the advantage that you can find it on any computer with an internet connection. The other advantage of using a social bookmarking tool is that others may find the blog of your interest through the tags you use. A more elaborate explanation of del.icio.us can be found at:
    • http://del.icio.us/help - Some basic information;
    • ottergroup - A screencast on how to use del.icio.us to store and share weblinks.
      * If you have a blog yourself, you can add blogs to your blogroll on the sidebar. Then you may click on them every now and then.

2. You want to read the blog systematically and you want to track any new post

There are various options again if you don't want to miss any new post on the blog. Almost all blogs have an RSS feed system and if you 'catch' those feeds with a RSS feed reader you will know whenever something new has been written. A lot of blogs have a 'subcribe by email' function. You may have to find out what works for you.


You can use the subscribe by e-mail function which looks like the following and can be found at the right side of the blog (sometimes on the left-hand side). The only thing you have to do is enter your e-mail address and hit the 'subscribe me!' button. You will receive every new post in your e-mail inbox.

Powered by FeedBlitz
If your favorite blog does not have this option, you may ask the owner(s) to add this function! Alternatively you can create an account at e.g. Feedblitz and add a new feed yourself by entering the blog address.


A program known as a RSS feed reader or aggregator (the names RSS reader and RSS aggregator are both used) can check a blog on behalf of a user and will display any new blogposts that it finds. You can use any RSS reader. An RSS reader can be used not only to stay up-to-date with blogs, but with any other website that has an RSS feed. You can recognise the RSS feed on a blog for example by these signs:

There are lots of RSS readers; some allow you to read whole news items through the reader, others show the first lines and you can click on the item to read the full article online:

More on RSS reader, what it is and how to use it for non-profits can be found here: http://www.missionmovers.org/overview.pdf

Learning 2.0 tip of the week has a series of very clear podcasts on aggregators http://learning2.0.ottergroup.com/blog/Podcasts

Or you can use an aggregator specialized in blogs. Here you can subscribe to the blogs you like to read and it will indicate which blogs have new blogposts. You will also be able to read them without going to the actual blog itself.

Personalised home pages

Personalised home pages are a special type of RSS reader which offer RSS aggregating functions too. The home page will open every time when you start your internet browser (eg. Firefox or Internet Explorer). In one glance you can see the new headlines of services you are subscribed to (see picture). You can add blogs to your personalised home pages too, discussion groups with RSS feeds or the weather forecast. You will see the headlines of new blogposts and can click on them if you want to read them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Technology: what is a blog?

( Cartoon from

I've had to explain various times what a blog is. So I liked the blogpost by Jack Vinson on how to explain blogs and RSS. Jack writes: 'Blogs are places where you can read the regular writings of friends, colleagues, clients or industry experts. You'll find a variety of writing styles, from journalistic to informal. The articles tend to be less formal than journalistic or academic writing, and you will find writers who post things every day and those who post weekly. The ideas for articles frequently come from articles that have been posted elsewhere on blogs (such as this one), or in the newspaper or in current events. Articles range from a few sentences to lengthy discussions, though most tend to be shorter.

I used to explain that a blog is an online diary format, with archives, resorting to explaining the technical features, and I do forget to mention the RSS aspect, which goes with blogs. But of course what would be much more interesting to explain is the blogging culture and subcultures (blogosphere), which consists of the habits of people blogging. Bloggers have gotten used to using the technical format for certain purposes like emphasizing links (blogs function often as infomediary places), making their thoughts explicit, commenting on blogposts etc. This allows people to stay in touch with each other's ideas and occupations and enables a wider group of people to stay in touch with ideas, activities, readings, etc.. It's like the informal talk to your colleagues in the corridor, but made accessible to a much larger group. The blog rhythm (daily, weekly) makes for very dynamic, easy to read and 'here and now' content, personally I hardly go through the archives of blogs I know.

A little later Jack pointed to a blog which consists of only pdf files. I think that's just a different means of using a blog, but may be an odd one out in terms of the predominant 'blogosphere' culture. I think travel or baby blogs written for friends maybe another means of using the format, and may have its own subculture.

Anecdote then started to collect stories about the most significant change that blogging made:

  1. Describe a story that epitomises the most significant change that has resulted from your blogging .
  2. Why was this story significant for you?

The now 17 responses are interesting and show a wide variety, from reading and writing more consciously, via power over your own virtual identity, providing an uncensored platform and seeing intimate opinions, to invitation to speak at conferences and making friends or deepening friendships. So next time when I'll explain what a blog is, I'll be much more careful in stressing these kinds of aspects of blogging!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Technology: gaming communities

I had a very rich conversation in Utrecht with Marinka Copier who works at the University there as a game-researcher. She has a keen interest in communities of practice too. Her interest in games has grown from entertainment role-playing (and the effect on learning). Her Phd research follows an ethnographic approach so she is doing lots of gaming and observes how the gaming communities function and develop. She has also done research for the University of Maastrict on games that olders gamers play. Marinka shared some interesting observations, like the observation that there is a gap in the age group of 40-50, but that there exists a group of people above the age of 60 who is really involved in gaming. And that this somehow a taboo; illustrated by the story that she went with an elder gamer to a shop to buy a game and the salesperson said: "I assume this is for your grandchild?" Another observation was that a lot of the younger gamers don't use e-mail but rely fully on MSN, so she had to change her habits too. (interestingly I assumed there is somehow an online generation 'younger than me= younger than 40', but apparently you may be able to distinguish important sub-groups with different habits, like the 30s and 20s and younger.)

One of the topics we discussed in-depth is what is it that online interaction can add to learning repertoires?. We both agreed that learning processes are central, and online tools should help to support learning processes rather than using tools because it is 'cheap' or 'time saving' (as for newcomers it is often not time-saving!). I think online interactions have the potential to stimulate creativity, to push people outside their confort zones; to add a new layer of learning possibilities. It pushes you out of your routines, which in itself is an experiences. But ofcourse the type of online experience matters. I was quite intrigued by the gaming stories and how people learn intercultural skills amongst others. Some gamers do not realize that they learn, but say that they learned English, made friends in other countries and may even visit them in those countries too. In some games, it is a chance to experiment with different behaviours, it can hence stimulate phantasy and imagination and open up new ways of acting for people. But not all games have that automatically. She had the impression for instance that second life stimulates more a replication of real face-to-face life.

Another central question was also: how do people learn and get excited about new online technologies (eg. how are you introduced into gaming?); often this works via a strong interest, or via a peer group or network you belong to. You might learn how to use skype because your aunt has migrated to New Zealand.... And how does this translate in use of technologies within organisations? What determines how organisations use technologies and how does this support (or frustrate) their work processes? It does not seem there is abundant literature and research on this topic. My hypothesis would be that it depends a lot on the management team's capacities to see and stimulate the potential use of new technologies. We came back to one of the things we also discussed last week, that use of technologies is not something which is easily discussed at the workplace, so that colleague learn across generations. Developments like the energy put into blogs, wikis, social networking tools, videos, show that people do like to express themselves and their ideas via the web. A lot of energy which has in many cases no directly relation to the work people do in organisations.

Again, we agreed though, that it is not about using the latest tools, but about being able to communicate and work effectively. How can organisations leverage the energy displayed by individual bloggers or vodcasters? I'm so curious how the generational gap work out in the workplace in terms of use of technology, so any articles or pointers to resources welcome!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Knowledge management: Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

With such a name, you have to be creative yourself probably... I enjoyed reading this book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In English it is called Creativity. Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. It's easy to read and become very practical in the end.

I was actually drawn to the concept of communities of practice in 2002/2003, when I was a member of a community of practice of organizational development advisors of SNV in West Africa. I thought it was a real creative space within the organisation. Since then, I have been interested in the topic of communities of practice, probably most for their potential to stimulate creativity. Mihaly C. has interviewed more than 90 highly creative, older people; his definition is different from the usual casual use of the word creativity though; often used to talk about a person with lots of new ideas. He talks about creativity as a process which changes a symbolic (cultural) field, like a tradition. In order to be able to do so, you have to know the field very well. So many of the people he interviewed are actually Nobel Price winners.

To be able to make a creative contribution, you need creative personalities, but that's not enough. Creative personalities need to invest in knowing one field thoroughly. And they need to link up with other people who know the field to determine what a really creative contribution or innovation is. Friendship and encounters with thought leaders are very important for creative people because they offer a platform to talk about their own work, offer a competitive culture which stimulated people to get the best out of themselves, offer constructive critism and opportunities and information for career paths. I can see an analogy to the function of a community of practice that goes through a phase of mapping its domain before it can move towards real innovation. And communities of practice can connect people to though leaders too.

The interviewed creative people have very different lives, but Mihaly is able to detect 10 elements in common; all are two extreme poles that creative people know how to combine much better than others:
  1. lots of energy while being calm and quiet at the same time
  2. smart but naief
  3. disciplined yet playful
  4. with a sense of reality but lots of imagination
  5. both intro and extrovert
  6. modest and proud,
  7. psychologically androgyn
  8. conservative and irreverent
  9. objective yet engaged
  10. and finally their sensitivity leads to more pain but also pleasure.

Rewards, intrinsic and extrinsic help to stimulate creativity. Money for materials or travels can help, recognition is nice (expecially for people who are insecure or work in isolated ways). Intrinsic motivation is the flow created by working on difficult problems, but this intrinsic motivation can also be fustrated by bureacratic work environments, too much pressure etc. Though a creative person may concur resistance, rewards and the right environment may stimulate it.

Practical suggestions are formulated towards the end, 'borrowing' from creative people's lives to make your own life more creative eg.

  1. Be curious by looking more thoroughly at things that surprise you, trying to surprise others, writing down what surprised you, doing something with the things that surprise you.
  2. Bring flow into your daily life by starting the day with a clear goal, having fun, doing more complex things.
  3. Become a strong person by working with schemes, reserving time for reflection and relaxation, form your space (house, office) wirting down what you like and dislike to do, and the next step doing more of what you like and less of what you dislike.
  4. Personal characteristics; develop what's missing, alternate between being outward and inward looking, aim for complexity
  5. Applying creative energy by finding a way to express your emotions, looking at a problem from various angles, think about the consequences and implement solutions.
  6. Think divergently by producing more and more different ideas, illogical ideas too.
  7. And finally choose a field you want to explore.

We just had a scenario thinking exercise in IICD, facilitated by Alain Wouters of Whole Systems; which was also a very creative process. I do like facilitation methods which stimulate creative thinking, and they seem to work through some of the same principles like be curious, divergent thinking, looking at problems from various angles, etc.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Culture: Borat in Kazachstan

Though the government of Kazachstan is not happy about it, Borat, the movie is coming soon. I think Borat is really funny.
Once, I watched Hakim perform. He said humour is very important for intercultural communication. (it is a pity he is a mime-player, his sense of humour while talking is great).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Technology: Nancy White on blogging communities

It's fun to see all the Nancy Whites when you use google images. Very different people, all called Nancy White. But I guess this is the right picture of the Nancy White who wrote an interesting piece on the Knowledge Tree called blogs and community- launching a new paradigm for online community?

In it she distinguishes 3 types of blogging communities:
1. The single blog/blogger centric community with the power vested in the central blogger.
2. The Central connecting topic community which is a community that arises between blogs linked by a common passion or topic.
3. The boundaried communities like myspaces or multiply where members register and join and are offered the chance to create a blog.

I'm particularly happy with the distinction between 1 and 2 versus 3, because I think that it is a completely different use of the medium blog, to use it within a boundaried community. A blog in itself is a very simplistic software with not too special features, but it is the use that people make of it that makes a difference. I have the impression boundaried communities blog are more often used for friendship blogs than professional blogs, and may be more within the paradigm of the bulletin board systems. As distinguished from the 'blogosphere' with it own culture of linking and hyperlinking. But, as Nancy states, the three forms are to show the extremes, and in reality there are hybrid forms.

What she does not talk about in this article, but what really interests me, is the story the other way around; how do existing communities of practice stimulate blogging and how does blogging or blogs change the community of practice? I think it is true that communities may be formed around blogs, but I think there is often a step before the blogging community where people have connected through other ways (conferences, face-to-face events, online courses, etc). How do blogs enhance the permeability of the community of practice? In this video Nancy White talks about blogs as perfect tools for crossing boundaries between communities. For instance, the people in Ghana with whom I work may read my blog, as may the people in CPsquare, colleagues from IICD, etc.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Practical examples: a one-year old community of practice

The e-collaboration community of practice, a group of people working for development organisations in the Netherlands (which started a blog on its domain here) is almost one year old and the 'facilitators' decided to ask an external person, John Smith, to look back and help to design the next steps. I co-facilitate the group of behalf of IICD with Sibrenne Wagenaar from PSO. We wanted the exercise to function as an exchange between members of the group rather than having a formal external evalution, so John had about 5 teleconferences with small groups of people, and we had a face-to-face session yesterday. I was a little hesitant to ask people to talk about the group at a meta-level (talking more about the process of group development, rather than about a content topic). In general, I had been hesitant to use the name community of practice for the group too, because in a way even after a full year, it feels we are just at the beginning.

Without posting all the minutes, I think this blog is a good place to share my reflections about this whole exercise.

1. I think the exercise in itself was powerful to strengthen the group, by calling it a community of practice outloud. One person said she now realizes that she is part of this community of practice. Having an outsider name the dilemmas the CoP is facing is also a very good intervention in itself, when it is not named, the group can not work with the dilemmas as a group. I'm thinking that could be stronger function for us, as leaders of this community of practice in future too.

2. It was funny to see how people have different interpretations of the history. My history starts where I joined the process, but there were other interactions before I joined, and I assumed that my co-facilitator Sibrenne was part of the initial stages, but she wasn't either. Though I'm a big advocate of building on what has happened rather than starting new things from scratch, I see how easy it is to ignore processes that are important but which you were not part of.

3. Though the set-up of the exercise did not allow us to look at the value created by the community of practice (a big worry for me), I learned to look at value simply by 'voting with their feet'. The fact that people show up at meetings and that the group is growing is also an indication of value created. How to articulate this value to the organisations is another question though.

4. John mentioned the word 'shoptalk' a lot. As important for learning within a community of practice. Though I have an idea of what this means, I forgot to ask what exactly he means by this, but it did make a lot of sense to the group. We also talked about the important of creating both private and public spaces. This exercise is a nice example of that for myself; though it was good to have the face-to-face meeting, I feel I learned most from the preparatory teleconference where we discussed the evolution of our domain, and the talks afterwards where Sibrenne and I had the chance to ask all our questions about community leadership. Our exchange about 'removing' skype contacts, dealing with overload of contacts and other skype conventions in the bus is a good example of this kind of talk too I think.

5. Co-facilitating this group has been very important. Not only in sharing the burden of 'work' and being there when the other is on holidays or travelling, but also to be less lonely and have someone to share your observations and dilemmas.

Though we have a private, password-protected wiki for reflections, I'm first blogging this. Half a year ago, it would have been the other way around. That means my level of comfort with blogging my own learning process has increased tremendously! (beyond embarassment :))