Communities of Practice face challenges in learning together, with or without technology. Our selection of tools should ideally be in harmony with the dynamics of the community so that technology can help us to address those challenges. This page summarizes a way to articulate those dynamics so that we can see better where there is a fit or a mismatch with the technology configuration.
[Note this discussion is still in progress. Please see further notes under the "Discussion" tab]
Three Dimensions of Community Life
The following dimensions enable us to articulate some of the fundamental tensions within a healthy community which also affect the fit between the community and tools that it uses. Each community will find its own balance along each axis. Your technology configuration will contribute to the balance and any change may introduce an imbalance. If the community leadership wants to deliberately change the balance in order to improve the health of the community on a given dimension then the solution may include a change in the tools (or the way they are used) to better support that dimension of community life.
This approach is described more fully in Chapter 5 of "Digital Habitats".
RHYTHM (synchronous <--> asynchronous) : How community members “meet”
Being a community requires sustained mutual engagement over time. Learning together, developing a shared practice, takes more than just a transient conversation. Yet we are often far apart in time and space. The diversity of our experience and context is a source of richness for learning together – perhaps the very reason we want to interact with each other. Technology enables us to be together in different ways but also creates its own stresses.
What are the sources of togetherness and separation for your community and is the rhythm optimal?
INTERACTIONS (participation <--> reification) : How we make meaning
Meaningful learning together requires both discussion and documentation. Through conversation among community members we share ideas and make new discoveries. But such learning tends to shallow and quickly forgotten with limited impact. The process of making our shared learning tangible (“reification”) deepens our understanding and makes it more accessible to others. Yet simply distributing documents without associated discussion limits shared learning by taking away the opportunity to negotiate the meaning of what is being shared.
What kind of “knowledge assets” need to be produced by your community and how can this be integrated into forms of participation to generate meaningful learning experiences?
IDENTITIES (individuals < -- > groups) : Coping with diversity
Community members have different needs, aspirations and identity – yet we also come together to learn together. Learning together often leads to disagreement and the realization that we see the world very differently. Disagreements and diversity are both a challenge and a resource for a community. Each participant in the community is already part of many other communities with varying levels of engagement in each. Communities cannot expect to have the undivided attention of every member at all times and individuals must deal with the increasing volume and complexity of their participation in multiple communities. We have to find meaningful participation in all these relationships while preserving a sense of our own identity across contexts.
How much conformity of participation and tool use does your community want and how flexible does it need to be to accommodate individual choices and multi-membership?