:::> The Knowledge Manifesto
:::> How To Help - Tutorials
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Actions to cultivate a successful community of practice
What makes a community of practice succeed depends on the purpose and objective of the community as well as
the interests and resources of the members of that community. Wenger identified seven actions that could
be taken in order to cultivate communities of practice:
- Design the community to evolve naturally - Because the nature of a Community of Practice is dynamic,
in that the interests, goals, and members are subject to change, CoP forums should be designed to
support shifts in focus.
- Create opportunities for open dialog within and with outside perspectives - While the members and their
knowledge are the CoP's most valuable resource, it is also beneficial to look outside of the CoP to
understand the different possibilities for achieving their learning goals.
- Welcome and allow different levels of participation - Wenger identifies 3 main levels of participation.
1) The core group who participate intensely in the community through discussions and projects. This group
typically takes on leadership roles in guiding the group 2) The active group who attend and participate
regularly, but not to the level of the leaders. 3) The peripheral group who, while they are passive
participants in the community, still learn from their level of involvement. Wenger notes the third group
typically represents the majority of the community.
- Develop both public and private community spaces - While CoP's typically operate in public spaces where
all members share, discuss and explore ideas, they should also offer private exchanges. Different members
of the CoP could coordinate relationships among members and resources in an individualized
approach based on specific needs.
- Focus on the value of the community - CoP's should create opportunities for participants to explicitly
discuss the value and productivity of their participation in the group.
- Combine familiarity and excitement - CoP's should offer the expected learning opportunities as part of
their structure, and opportunities for members to shape their learning experience together by
brainstorming and examining the conventional and radical wisdom related to their topic.
- Find and nurture a regular rhythm for the community - CoP's should coordinate a thriving cycle of
activities and events that allow for the members to regularly meet, reflect, and evolve. The rhythm,
or pace, should maintain an anticipated level of engagement to sustain the vibrancy of the community,
yet not be so fast-paced that it becomes unwieldy and overwhelming in its intensity. (Wenger, McDermott & Snyder 2002)
A person is motivated to contribute valuable information to the group in the expectation that one will
receive useful help and information in return. Indeed, there is evidence that active participants in online
communities get more responses faster to questions than unknown participants (Kollock 1999, p. 178).
Recognition is important to online contributors such that, in general, individuals want recognition for
their contributions. Some have called this Egoboo. Kollock outlines the importance of reputation online:
“Rheingold (1993) in his discussion of the WELL (an early online community) lists the desire for prestige as
one of the key motivations of individuals’ contributions to the group. To the extent this is the concern of an
individual, contributions will likely be increased to the degree that the contribution is visible to the
community as a whole and to the extent there is some recognition of the person’s contributions. … the
powerful effects of seemingly trivial markers of recognition (e.g. being designated as an “official helper”)
has been commented on in a number of online communities…”
One of the key ingredients of encouraging a reputation is to allow contributors to be known or not to be
anonymous. The following example, from Meyers (1989) study of the computer underground illustrates the
power of reputation. When involved in illegal activities, computer hackers must protect their personal
identities with pseudonyms. If hackers use the same nicknames repeatedly, this can help the authorities
to trace them. Nevertheless, hackers are reluctant to change their pseudonyms regularly because the status
associated with a particular nickname would be lost.
On the importance of online identity: Profiles and reputation are clearly evident in online communities
today. Amazon.com is a case in point, as all contributors are allowed to create profiles about themselves
and as their contributions are measured by the community, their reputation increases. Myspace.com encourages
elaborate profiles for members where they can share all kinds of information about themselves including
what music they like, their heroes, etc. In addition to this, many communities give incentives for
contributing. For example, many forums award Members points for posting. Members can spend these points
in a virtual store. eBay is an example of an online community where reputation is very important because it
is used to measure the trustworthiness of someone you potentially will do business with. With eBay, you
have the opportunity to rate your experience with someone and they, likewise, can rate you. This has an
effect on the reputation score. The participants may therefore be encouraged to manage their
online identity in order to make a good impression on the other members of the community.
Sense of efficacy
Individuals may contribute valuable information because the act results in a sense of efficacy, that is,
a sense that they have had some effect on this environment. There is well-developed research literature that
has shown how important a sense of efficacy is (e.g. Bandura 1995), and making regular and high quality
contributions to the group can help individuals believe that they have an impact on the group and support
their own self-image as an efficacious person.
Sense of community
People, in general, are fairly social beings and it is motivating to many people to receive direct responses
to their contributions. Most online communities enable this by allowing people to reply back to contributions
(i.e. many Blogs allow comments from readers, one can reply back to forum posts, etc.). Again, using
Amazon.com as an example, other users can rate whether one's product review was helpful or not.
Granted, there is some overlap between increasing reputation and gaining a sense of community. However,
it seems safe to say that there are some overlapping areas between all four motivators.