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Classifying principles for Communities of Practice

January 23, 2013

We started to map community-issues for discovering what associates with networked (or should we call it community scaffolding), since networked is somewhat misleading to look only part of the community examples.

Particularly, in this approach of Learning Layers, it is assumed that knowledge lays distributed (in knowledgeable persons), whereas there is also another kind of tacit knowledge of the decentralized community knowledge (shared repertoire, shared understandings, shared knowledge, ways of becoming) which is not learned directly from persons, but from the whole circumstances by taking part of the process.

“In an analysis of the MATURE people tagging instantiation Cook and Pachler (2012) address this by proposing that in personal learning networks (group or distributed self-regulation) we must look at:

i. building connections (adding new people to the network so that there are resources available when a learning need arises);

ii. maintaining connections (keeping in touch with relevant persons); and

iii. activating connections (with selected persons for the purpose of learning)

iv. aggregated trustworthiness (perceived credibility) = social validation + authority and trustee + profiles

At initial concept-map we imagined just a community of practice to be a suitable concept for our building and healthcare cases.

Next, we started to think that there are differencies between communities of practice and so called knowledge collectivities.

Recently i have read several papers that propose taxonomies for communities of practice or community activities. They assume that communities may be classified into differently behaving systems.  Reading these papers, it appears that our cases may be classified eventually to different types of communities of practice, if we look deeper at the elements of classification.

The classifying principles are of particular interest for Learning Layers since they are associated with learning in the community and being scaffolded in the community:

  • do they have shared values, goals and tasks

Particularly, individuals may require knowledge not to work for shared community goal, or individual is aligned to the perceived community goal. This relates with epistemic distributed cognition and culturally shared distributed cognition.

  • what is knowledge, where it is situated and how it isaccessed

Basically is it assumed that every individual carries specific kind of knowledge in the community (knowledged is distributed), or the community members carry a set of similar shared cognitive communality based knowledge (there is cultural shared part of knowledge, knowledge is decentred).

  • what are the ways of learning in the communities, supporting learning and innovation

Learning by enculturation or learning from a person.

Scaffolding requires that there is a shared understanding of the task/problem/situation in hand among the person who needs help and who scaffolds. This seems to fit both for epistemic distributed cognition (person-to person) but also to decentalized cultural knowledge of the community (person has to accommodate itself to the culture to act right way).

  • what are different ways of sociality and alignment
  • how technology, artifacts and the infrastructures aid communities

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Knowing in action: Beyond communities of practice

A. Amin, J. Roberts / Research Policy 37 (2008) 353–369

It cannot be assumed that knowledge dynamics in situated practice are homogeneous. Based on similarities and differences relating to knowledge dynamics Amin et al. (2008) propose a systematic typology that includes CoPs and other forms of knowing in action.

The typology considers the following aspects (note that i have picked them from text and they were not clearly organized). I have organized these aspects to some extent to make them useful for classifying the focuses of Learning Layers cases. Under each aspect i present a variety of descriptions suitable for this type.

1) What is knowledge

a) associated with dispositional knowledge

  • mastery and knowledge residing in the organisation of community
  • shared tacit understanding of what constitutes the distinctive feel of an artifact
  • practice including implicit relations, tacit conventions, subtle cues, untold rules of thumb, recognisable intuitions, embodied understandings and shared world views
  • embodied know-how
  • (kin)aesthetic awareness

b) Associated with people

  • knowledge of who knows what

c) Associated with semantics

  • knowledge codified to facilitate its transfer
  • the presence of professional standards ensuring the authenticity of knowledge circulating in networks

2) How knowledge is acquired (learned) and used

a) by enculturation

  • learning is explained as participating in a community
  • practice-based learning, practice of certain tasks: apprentices learn to replicate a certain set of tasks within a particular sociocultural and technological setting
  • mastery of both skills and the conventions of a working community
  • learning is explained as a combination of putting codified knowledge into practice
  • much of the codified knowledge can be absorbed through individual academic study, tacit knowledge must be gained through learning by doing
  • through the application of intellectual capacities, a given canon of knowledge and associated practice
  • convincingly projecting declarative knowledge

b) with artifacts

  • the demonstration and imitation of embodied conduct involving (kin)aesthetic dimensions
  • organisational learning occurs through the handing back and forth, and the evaluation
  • knowledge transfer is through verbal and physical communication

c) with/from people (individuals)

  • learning by co-production, with colleagues and clients
  • sharing new methods in the community through the recounting of stories from the field during informal meetings over breakfast and lunch
  • once individuals have mastered a body of professional knowledge, they seem to benefit from knowledge exchanges facilitated by virtual communications with geographically dispersed members of their profession
  • the virtual communicative culture both facilitates often painful and highly personal issues to be revealed, and lubricates learning and new knowledge formation
  • ‘learning by switching’ between teams, agencies, supplier and clients, ‘driven by the canonical compulsion of freshness, mobility, and flexibility’
  • earning to improvise

d) the role of senses

  • the development of kinaesthetic and aesthetic senses, compare the feel of the artefact that they are producing
  • drawing on a range of knowledge from that codified in manuals to the aesthetic knowledge embedded in their mental and physical senses

e) learning time

  • long training histories
  • repeated practice of certain tasks
  • through lengthy periods of training designed to absorb
  • projects are short-lived

f) kind of practice/tasks

  • much of the activity is standardised
  • idiosyncratic claims that require specialist treatment
  • rudimentary rules and procedures, considerable ambiguity and uncertainty
  • the immense scope for fragmentation, misunderstanding and disunity

g) support for learning

- By core members/community

  • under close supervision from core members of the community
  • the co-location of a newcomer with experienced members of a community
  • working in a social context with more experienced co-workers
  • the online discussions, when mediated by an experienced and sensitive manager and when characterised by a ‘netiquette’ of sensitive use of language, can develop a culture of engagement replete with humour, empathy, kindness, tact, and support

- Using artifacts

  • passing artifacts from one person to another, the recipient assesses the work of the previous person, returning it for further work if it ‘does not feel right’.

- From experts

  • certain personality traits such as charisma, authority, empathy, and logical capability, without which
    the trust placed on experts to address complex tasks in collaborative networks would wave

- Formal training

  • training designed to absorb
  • formal training

3) The nature of sociality and social interaction

a) Community/ network centred

  • close communitarian ties
  • strong community ties structured around particular ways of doing things, resulting in cultures of work and professional identity
  • the desire to meet similar minds, learn from others, help others in a common community, maintain a certain ‘craft’ standard.
  • exist as an interorganisational network

b) Person-centred, trust is highlighted!

  • require close proximity and face-to-face interaction
  • a very different kind of sociality, building on affect a commitment at a distance
  • interaction with other professional or non-professional groups
  • knowledge of who knows what in order to be able to access knowledge
  • individuals are often self-centred, there is an absence of strong loyalties to members of the group
  • the high level of independence of individual participants, together with their distributed contact network
  • the collaborations ‘tell more than we can know’
  • collaborations involving experts with substantial egos, experts in epistemic come with considerable
    autonomy and worth linked to their individual skills, experience and reputation
  • recombining existing know-how and is dependent upon intense social ties, common work histories,
    and high levels of trust
  • an interest in joint venture motivated by traits such as inquisitiveness, professional commitment, peer recognition, corporate or ethical responsibility, and career progression

c) Project/artfact/organization centred

  • ties structured more closely around common projects and problem-driven cooperation
  • high-creativity advertising projects are marked by cognitive friction and weak ties held in place by the
    force of professional ethic, peer recognition, calculated loyalty, and project-orientation
  • high levels of inter-personal trust and reciprocity or collaborations are built around strong professional and/or project ties
  • institutional affiliations to gather common purpose
  • forms of affiliation that knit together objects, people, and ways of doing things
  • the role of shared artefacts and technologies in helping a heterogeneously composed design engineering team to produce a working prototype
  • software inventions and screen interfaces might contribute to virtual sociality, when the technology is able to offer clear negotiation pathways, activate stored data, operate in different time spans, and encourage reflexivity

d) Semantic annotation centred

  • considerable alignment such as the codification of tacit knowledge in order to bridge the gap between creativity and tangible innovation – it allows different actors – proximate and distant – to communicate with each other
  • ‘meta-coding’ (e.g. to canonical beliefs and established methodologies) is another mode of alignment, their significance becomes apparent when cognitive distances between knowledge domains cannot be bridged

4) goal for innovation

a) problem or knowledge-centred

  • bring experts together explicitly to develop new knowledge
  • strong loyalties to a shared problem
  • new methods are developed through knowledge in action

b) project-centred, innovation

  • gather around particular projects to break the mould
  • concern with the preservation of skills and with incremental innovation
  • retarding the spread of innovations
  • the protectionist role of professional associations can act as a barrier to radical change
  • not open to substitution or replication by new actors
  • radical innovation
  • the cross-fertilisation of ideas
  • novelty comes from fusing elements not connected before, drawing on heteronymous interactions
    and a degree of willingness to venture into uncharted territory
  • bridging the boundaries between different groups is essential for the efficient exchange of information and for the dissemination of innovation
  • the mobilisation of difference in conditions of uncertainty as a means of generating new interactive knowledge
  • the variety and ambiguity are reconciled has a central bearing on whether the fruits of creative engagement can be harnessed
  • ‘consciously cultivated informality’, formed around pool tables, informal meeting areas, and a surfeit of toys, taken as necessary to unlock collective imagination

5) organization culture

  • whether a community is managed in a decentred or hierarchical manner
  • whether a community is open or closed to the flow of knowledge from other communities and to
    change in general
  • whether knowledge is held in silos or able to move easily around an organisation

Four clear sets with distinctive properties could be identified, as groupings with specific modes of knowing in action:

Task/craft-based community (like in building sites): Firstly, even though elements of knowledge may be codified most knowledge is embedded within individuals and the sociocultural context. Experience, tacit knowing, embodied know-how, continuous learning, and (kin)aesthetic awareness are responsible for a form of unique knowledge that requires special cultivation. The social dynamic sustaining knowledge is characterised by work colleagues sharing a community-specific language (including physical cues), relating stories, building strong ties of reciprocity, trust, and dependence, drawing on facial, tactile, and emotional contact; all of which lead to a high degree of mutuality born out of shared work. The preferred mode of knowledge transfer is through verbal and physical communication. Knowledge is acquired through a period of apprenticeship involving the practice of engagement in a relatively close-knit community which, in the course of time, produces forms of affiliation that knit together objects, people, and ways of doing things. The result is strong community ties structured around particular ways of doing things, resulting in cultures of work and professional identity that can frequently clash with standards elsewhere, even in the same organization. Craft/task-based activities are primarily concerned with replicating and preserving existing knowledge rather than engaging in radical innovation. The innovations are of an incremental nature, but always geared towards the production of a customised product marked by artistic signature and craft awareness of some form. Thus, while craft/task-based activities may be concerned with preserving existing knowledge, this does not in any way mean that they are open to substitution or replication by new actors. Knowing in action within craft/task-based activity occurs within a community organisational dynamic characterised by hierarchy. Communities are open to newcomers as long as they are willing to engage in a period of apprenticeship through which they learn to master the community’s knowledge-base.

Professional community (like in hospitals, healthcare): Four concluding observations can be made about professional communities. The first of these relates to the type of knowledge, including codified, tacit and embodied, which is acquired and disseminated through various forms of interaction. Secondly, social interaction is facilitated through specific uses of language, the use of artefacts, and the demonstration and imitation of embodied conduct involving (kin)aesthetic dimensions. But once individuals have mastered a body of professional practice-based knowledge, they can benefit from knowledge exchanges through virtual communications with geographically dispersed members of their profession. Thirdly, innovation and creativity appear to be stronger where professional communities intersect with related professions. Fourthly, the development of professional knowledge is constrained by the regulatory activities of professional associations.

Epistemic/highly creative community (like in science communities): These are commonly described as epistemic communities, purposefully organised to unleash creative energy around specific exploratory projects and typically involving coalitions of scientists, product developers, academics, visual and performing artists, advertisers, software developers, consultants, media professionals, or designers. The high level of independence of individual participants, together with their distributed contact networks, yield collaborative practices that spill over organisational boundaries. Novelty comes from fusing elements not connected before by mobilisation of difference in conditions of uncertainty as a means of generating new interactive knowledge. There is cognitive distance, improvisation, frequent personnel changes. These are collaborations involving experts with substantial egos, high expectations, frequent turnover, rudimentary rules and procedures, tight deadlines, and considerable ambiguity and uncertainty.Given the immense scope for fragmentation, misunderstanding and disunity, success is far from guaranteed. Four factors appear to be significant in channelling the ambiguities of heterogeneity towards productive creative openings. The first has to do with the link between personality and peer recognition. Experts in epistemic communities come with considerable autonomy and worth linked to their individual skills, experience and reputation. This self-assuredness is held to combine with an interest in joint venture motivated by traits such as inquisitiveness, professional commitment, peer recognition, corporate or ethical responsibility, and career progression. These traits coincide with certain personality traits such as charisma, authority, empathy, and logical capability, without which the trust placed on experts to address complex tasks in collaborative networks would waver. They are not communitarian in nature (dependent upon strong interpersonal ties) but marked by strong loyalties to a shared problem. Organising for slack – factors such as informality, iterative purposefulness, and productive idleness are common to most high creativity groups. Managing dissonance requires considerable alignment in order to bridge the gap between creativity and tangible innovation – this is done by collective commitment to a joint venture, codification of tacit knowledge, meta-coding to bridge cognitive distances across domains. The challenge of alignment is common to this community type because a distinctive feature of such communities is the absence of an obvious social dynamic of cohesion and mutuality.

Virtual community:  Until recently it has been assumed that virtual space cannot be considered as a site of situated practice, generative of knowledge on its own terms. Although, virtual interaction has been seen to enable information exchange, learning, and possibly situated knowing at the interface between face and screen, it has not been considered as an ecology of social knowing in its own right. There are two types of online interaction that merit closer attention as spaces of situated knowing. These are, firstly, innovation-seeking projects that can involve a large number of participants, and secondly, relatively closed interest groups facing specific problems and consciously organised as knowledge communities. Both have the presence of highly motivated experts, problem-orientation, and coming together for the explicit purpose of generating new knowledge. Virtual knowing seems to work best when technological and human intermediaries are available to help cultivate a ‘net’ sociality building on purposefulness, social interaction, and affective commitment. The variety of online communities (in different environments such as chat, social software) has an important bearing on the role of online interaction in knowledge generation. In the majority of cases, conversations circulate rapidly among many participants who barely know each other and who come and go at high frequency, propped up by fairly rudimentary design and data-processing facilities, and minimal attempts to control, channel, and structure the conversations.The new knowledge generation is rare in open access communities, but more common in smaller and more closed groups. People collaborate not only in the expectation of tangible returns (e.g. getting an answer to a technical problem), but also for intangible reasons such as the desire to meet similar minds, learn from others, help others in a common community, maintain a certain ‘craft’ standard. High levels of inter-personal trust and reciprocity or collaborations are built around strong professional and/or project ties. It is a very different kind of sociality, building on affect a commitment at a distance.


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From Shared Databases to Communities of Practice: A Taxonomy of Collaboratories
Nathan Bos, Ann Zimmerman, Judith Olson, Jude Yew, Jason Yerkie, Erik Dahl, Gary Olson
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 2007

Bos et al., 2007 have defined a seven-category taxonomy of collaboratory types, aiming to identify organizational patterns, somewhat similar to design patterns (after Alexander, Ishiwaka, & Silverstein, 1977), which could be used by funders and project managers in designing new collaborations.

Collaboratory definition:

A collaboratory is an organizational entity that spans distance, supports rich and recurring human interaction oriented to a common research area, and fosters contact between researchers who are both known and unknown to each other, and provides access to data sources, artifacts, and tools required to accomplish research tasks.

The seven-category taxonomy of collaboratory types (note that sometimes projects could be given given multiple classifications because they legitimately had multiple goals).

Each collaboratory type may be classified, based on its dominant type of resource and goals and activity (aggregating or co-creating), information (data) and knowledge, tools and infrastructure (technological and organizatory issues)

1. Distributed Research Center functions like a university research center but at a distance. It is an attempt to aggregate scientific talent, effort, and resources beyond the level of individual researchers. These centers are unified by a topic area of interest and joint projects in that area. Most of the communication is human-to-human. Distributed Research Centers also should pay attention to technologies for workplace awareness, which try to approximate the convenience of face-to-face collaboration. Distributed research centers encounter all of the technology issues of other collaboratory types, including standardization of data and providing long-distance technical support. They must gain and maintain participation among diverse contributors, work to standardize protocols over distance, facilitate distributed decision-making, and provide long-distance administrative support. Distributed research centers also must settle questions of cross-institutional intellectual property (IP).

2. Shared Instruments – This type of collaboratory’s main function is to increase access to a scientific instrument.Shared Instrument collaboratories often provide remote access to expensive scientific instruments such as telescopes, which are often supplemented with videoconferencing, chat, electronic lab notebooks, or other communications tools. Shared Instrument collaboratories have often pushed the envelope of synchronous (real-time) communications and remote-access technology. Shared Instrument collaboratories must solve the problem of allocating access.

3. Community Data Systems is an information resource that is created, maintained, or improved by a geographically-distributed community. The information resources are semi-public and of wide interest; a small team of people with an online filespace of team documents would not be considered a Community Data System. Community Data Systems are often on the forefront of data standardization efforts.Large shared datasets can neither be constructed nor used until their user communities commit to formats for both storing and searching data. A second area of advanced technology that often seems to co-evolve with community datasets is modeling and visualization techniques. Modelers find opportunities among these large public datasets to both develop new techniques and make contact with potential users. In addition to figuring out how to motivate contributors, these projects also must develop large-scale decision-making methods. Decisions about data formats and new developments for such community resources must take into account the views of many different stakeholders from many different locations.

4. Open Community Contribution Systems, is an open project that aggregates efforts of many geographically separate individuals toward a common research problem. It differs from a Community Data System in that contributions come in the form of work rather than data. Open systems must address the problem of maintaining quality control among a large and distributed body of contributors. Mistakes in the data are usually caught by repetitive viewing and vetting by knowledgeable readers.

5. Virtual Communities of Practice is a network of individuals who share a research area and communicate about it online. Virtual Communities may share news of professional interest, advice, techniques, or pointers to other resources online. Virtual Communities of Practice are different from Distributed Research Centers in that they are not focused on actually undertaking joint projects. A key technology decision for these projects is whether to emphasize asynchronous technologies such as bulletin boards, or invest time and energy into synchronous events such as online symposia.

6.  Virtual Learning Community – This type of project’s main goal is to increase the knowledge of participants but not necessarily to conduct original research. This is usually formal education, i.e., provided
by a degree-granting institution, but can also be in-service training or professional development. In
currently available software, one often has to choose between software primarily designed for one-to-many broadcasts (e.g., lectures) and those designed to support small groups working in parallel. Key challenges are aligning educational goals and aligning assessments so that learners from multiple sites are having their needs met.

7. Community Infrastructure Projects seek to develop infrastructure to further work in a particular domain. By infrastructure we mean common resources that facilitate science, such as software tools, standardized protocols, new types of scientific instruments, and educational methods. Community Infrastructure Projects are often interdisciplinary, bringing together domain scientists from multiple specialties, private sector contractors, funding officers, and computer scientists. Infrastructure Projects often necessitate development of new field standards for data and data collection protocols, they are also tackling the problem of managing very large datasets, and keeping track of the editing and transformations that have occurred on datasets.

Resources: http://soc.ics.uci.edu/Resources/colisting.php

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New learning network paradigms: Communities of objectives, crowdsourcing, wikis and open source
J. Albors et al. / International Journal of Information Management 28 (2008) 194–202

A taxonomy for virtual collaborative contexts:

Authority/ownership – how recognition is given in the community (ranking, voting, market success)

Diffusion – closed or open channels and networks

Learning – personal, group and community/organization level; cooperation and collaboration; clusters; using repositories

Values – common and shared or not

Collaboration – instant/synchronous, uni/bi/multi-directional

Knowledge access – restricted/free; adsorbing

Benefits – generating new advantages built on others, community membership, awareness, prestige, economic profit, innovative capacity, leadership, competitiveness

Intellectual property – personal authoring/community owned; sharing, changing and marketing licenses

Innovation/business model – closed/protectionist or open, centralized/ networked

Democratization – roles and hierarchies based on authority/ new roles, equal access

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2 comments

  1. […] learning is explained as participating in a community; practice-based learning, practice of certain tasks: apprentices learn to replicate a certain set of tasks within a particular sociocultural and technological setting; mastery of both skills and…  […]


  2. […] lastly I read the Kai’s post about classifying principles for CoPs. Based on her theoretical insights I selected those […]



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