01 03 cp_technology_survey_v3

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  • 1. Supporting communities of practicea survey of communiity-oriiented technollogiiesa survey of commun ty-or ented techno og esHow to make sense of this emerging market understand the potential of technologyand set up a community platformEtienne WengerResearch and Consulting Draft Version 1.3 March 2001

2. A shareware reportA shareware report Because of the time-sensitive nature of the information contained in this report, I have decided to self- publish it on a shareware basis. Feel free to forward, photocopy, or otherwise distribute this report, but always include this page andmention that it is shareware. If you receive a copy and find it useful, please go to my website to make your payment. The price for this report is: Individuals: $20.00 Institutions: $100.00 To make a payment by credit card or order a copy, go to http://www.ewenger.com/tech You can also send a check to:Etienne WengerPO Box 810North San Juan, CA 95960 Send comments and corrections to: etienne@ewenger.com Thank you. P.S. The following people and institutions are welcome to use this report free of charge: Employees of the US Federal Government, who can request copies from Wendy Stoner(wendy.stoner@gsa.gov) of the General Services Administration Members of CPsquare, our practitioner consortium on communities of practice s Many thanks to Shereen Remez, Wendy Stoner, and Jon Desenberg of the General Services Administration of the US Government for their sponsorship of the early phases of this project.Version 1.3iMarch, 2001 3. Tablle of contentsTab e of contentsExecutive summary 1I. Communities of practice 2II. The market of community-oriented technologies 5Communities of practice and technology: typical facilities 5The broader market: a chart 8Knowledge portals: the knowledge worker desktop 11 sTeam work: online project spaces 15Community management: website communities 18On-line conversations: discussion groups 23Synchronous interactions: on-line meeting spaces 28On-line instruction: community-oriented e-learning spaces 32Knowledge exchange: access to expertise 35Knowledge repositories: documenting practice 39Combining dimensions: convergence in the market 43III. Understanding the role of technology 45IV. Development and evaluation strategies 60Additional resources 65Version 1.3iiMarch, 2001 4. Executiive summaryExecut ve summaryThis report is intended as a guide for selecting and3. What are the characteristics of communities ofassembling a technological platform to support practice that lend themselves to support bycommunities of practice across a large organization. Totechnology?this end, the report addresses four questions: Technology platform are often described in terms1. What makes communities of practice different from of features, but in order to really evaluate garden-variety online communities?candidates for a technology platform, it is useful to start with the success factors of communities of Every group that shares interest on a website ispractice that can be affected by technology. The called a community today, but communities ofthird section of this report provides a table of practice are a specific kind of community. They are thirteen such factors with examples of how a focused on a domain of knowledge and over timetechnology platform can affect the success of a accumulate expertise in this domain. They develop community in each area. their shared practice by interacting around problems, solutions, and insights, and building a4. How to use the answer to these questions to develop a common store of knowledge.strategy for building a platform for communities of practice?2. What categories of community-oriented products exist and what are they trying to accomplish? Most of the product categories can be a starting point for building a general platform. In fact, this The ideal system at the right price does not existanalysis of the field suggests a strategy for yet, though a few come really close. But there areapproach the task. Decide what kinds of activities eight neighboring categories of products that haveare most important for your communities. Select a something to contribute and include goodproduct in that area, and expand it with elements candidates to start with. Analyzing these categoriesfrom the other categories. of products yields not only a scan of products, but also a way of understanding the various aspects of a knowledge strategy based on communities of practice..Version 1.3 1March, 2001 5. II.. Communiitiies of practiiceCommun t es of pract ceThe word community has become immensely popular. AsMembership therefore implies a minimum level ofa result, a large number of groups are called communities, knowledge of that domain a shared competence thateven though they display very different characteristics. distinguishes members from other people. (You couldAmong online designers and facilitators, just about everybelong to the same network as someone and nevergroup that interacts around a topic is called a community. know it.) The domain is not necessarily somethingIn particular, discussion groups are usually calledrecognized as expertise outside the community. Acommunities. youth gang may have developed all sorts of ways of dealing with their domain: surviving on the street andCommunities of practice can take very different shapes.maintaining some kind of identity they can live with.They can vary along a number of dimensions. They can betight-knit and small or loosely connected and large. But2. The community: In pursuing their interest in theirthey all share a few characteristics. The term "communitydomain, members engage in joint activities andof practice" is of relatively recent coinage, but thediscussions, help each other, and share information.phenomenon it refers to is age-old and social scientists That is how they form a community around theirhave talked about it under various guises. In a nutshell, adomain and build relationships. Having the same job orcommunity of practice is a group of people who share anthe same title does not make for a community ofinterest in a domain of human endeavor and engage in a practice unless members interact and learn together.process of collective learning that creates bonds betweenThe claims processors in a large insurance company orthem: a tribe, a garage band, a group of engineers working the students in American high schools may have muchon similar problems. in common, but unless they interact, they do not form a community of practice. The Impressionists, forNot everything called a community is a community ofinstance, used to meet in cafes and studios to discusspractice. A neighborhood for instance, is often called a the style of painting they were inventing together.community, but is usually not a community of practice. These interactions were essential to making them aThree characteristics are crucial: community of practice even though they usually painted alone.1. The domain: Since a community of practice is focused on a domain of shared interest, it is not merely a club3. The practice: A community of practice is not merely a of friends or a network of connections between people.community of interest--people who like certain kindsVersion 1.3 2March, 2001 6. of movies, for instance. Members of a community of practice develop a shared repertoire of resources: Business organizations. The concept has been adopted experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressingmost readily by people in business because of the recurring problems in short a shared practice. This increasing need to focus explicitly on knowledge (Wenger, takes time. A good conversation with a stranger on anMcDermott, and Snyder, 2001). Initial efforts had focused airplane may give you all sorts of interesting insights, on information systems with disappointing results. but it does not in itself make for a community ofCommunities of practice provided a new approach, practice. The development of a shared practice may befocused on the social structures that could best assume more or less self-conscious. The windshield wipers ownership for complex and dynamic knowledge with community of practice at an auto mamufacturer makessubstantial tacit components. A number of characteristics a concerted effort to collect and document the tricksmake communities of practice a natural fit. and lessons they have learned into a knowledge base. Unlike training or research departments, they are not By contrast, nurses who meet regularly for lunch in aseparate units. Rather they pervade the organization, hospital cafeteria may not realize that their lunchsince people belong to communities of practice at the discussions are one of their main sources of knowledge same time as they belong to their business units or about how to care for patients, even though in the teams. course of all these conversations, they have developed Communities of practice address the informal and tacit a set of stories and cases that become a sharedaspects of knowledge creation and sharing, as well as repertoire for them to think about and discuss new the more explicit aspects. cases. They allow a much closer connection between learningand doing, while still providing structures whereWe all belong to communities of practice. They have beenlearning can accumulate.around for as long as human beings have learned together. In a time of globalization and disaggregation, theyAt home, at work, at school, in our hobbies, we belong to create connections among people across institutionalseveral communities of practice at any given time. And theboundaries and potentially across the globe.communities of practice to which we belong change overFrom this perspective, the knowledge of an organizationthe course of our lives. In fact, communities of practice are lives in a constellation of communities of practice eacheverywhere. taking care of a specific aspect of the competence that theorganization needs. However, the very characteristics