Monday, April 14, 2014

Virtual Community of Practice Conundrum

-- T L D R ----------------

What do you need to consider when building a Community of Practice (CoP) that spans organizational boundaries where client confidentiality needs to be honored. There are a plethora of things to be considered when building an online (virtual) community of practice, these include; the team and the contexts' relationship with openness, the memberships ability to be self-determined, how online communication will be broadened and followed, and how the internet is the platform.


How does a Community of Practice (CoP) steward itself across organizational boundaries? What are the requirements and restraints to successfully build a CoP when openness and confidentiality are in conflict with one another? What technology platforms support a closed virtual learning community but can integrate with a busy and confidential work-schedule? Can you leverage all the innovative social media technologies, which can be very well applied to learning (CoP), from a closed virtual community? This series of blog posts sets out to answer many of the questions... but first,

Some background
I've been building Communities of Practice (CoP) for over 10 years. It started during my M.Ed where I was bringing together 15 years of professional technology experience with 10 years of college level teaching and online learning. I now see my skills and knowledge being well applied with building large complex information technology systems and being a seasoned educational technologist. I also believe it is important to provide some of my personal background, beliefs, and experience on the subject of CoP. What I believe is particularly relevant to this post is my time spent with both open projects and corporate enterprise projects. These projects include; Mozilla, Mediawiki, WikiEducator, Wikiversity, P2Pu, Bowen eGovernment, UNESCO, Open Data, CLEBC, ICBC, Commonwealth of Learning, and other smaller projects. This experience has exposed me to open democracies, open spaces, open communities, open boards of directors, open, open, open. Where the sharing of information is crazy transparent and all meetings are open to everyone. This experience has also exposed me to large enterprises; closed, locked-down, proprietary, and obfuscated information exchanges. Having other people filter information is the standard practice in many of these other closed type organizations. My work has occurred at the extremes of both of these types of organizations, but also, much of my work has happened in the middle ground. From all this it is my belief that open communication is better than the alternative; particularly, when wanting to encourage learning or when building a community of practice. It is best to let employees be their own filters of information, and exchanging information helps everyone learn. The current and emerging pedagogical approaches also supports openness vs. closed. I believe it is important for learners working within a CoP to be able to reach out to the larger community and draw in resources from these other external communities.

Some history (or key technologies)
What do I consider the key information technologies and attributes of learning communities that have emerged over the last 20 years and have the biggest impact on virtual and online learning communities of practice?
  • Communities of Practice - obviously the work of √Čtienne Wenger is big here. The idea that "most learning does not take place with the master, it takes place among the apprentices" IMO is important to building a virtual learning community.
  • Open Approaches - Open Space, Open Leadership, Open Data, Open Etc... In my opinion, and experience, openness is very important to learning and in successfully building a community of practice. New people, new opinions, ongoing mentorship and peer learning needs to be refreshed. Without openness it becomes closed and stagnant. I have yet to experience a CoP that remains active beyond a year without having new people involved and ideas coming in from outside the group. Openness is key.
  • Autodidactism / Heutogogy - Participants in CoP need to be self-determined learners. This means you can just lurk in a community, at some point you need to participate. It is the internal commitment to learning in the subject domain that must come first. Then participation in the community becomes part of the self-determined learning. In my opinion this is one of the keys to a valuable CoP. The commitment level of the members.
  • Visual Communication - People need to share through a variety of mediums, this should not be restrained within the CoP. Often the results of a visual meeting (or otherwise) can be shared for record keeping, review and to prompt further discussion, etc...
  • Social Media - social media is not social learning, but it is important in building community and allowing people to participate online where they want and when they want.
  • Tagging - social tagging can be an excellent way to draw a community together by allowing members to share there learning and related reference materials across different social media platforms.
  • Platforms - having an online place to host the community is essential. But given a solid tagging approach this doesn't have to be a traditional platform, it could be the internet as a whole. What is important is that it is accessible by everyone - from everywhere, on any device. In the end, you need to consider the whole internet as the platform.
Some assumptions
Most learning occurs outside of traditional approaches, it occurs 24 hours a day, and is a continuous activity that includes (and should not be limited too) the use of open social media tools. A community of practice is social learning and is further enhanced with access to online and virtual communities. Blended learning is important, as face-to-face time (when available) should be encouraged. Even if the face time is among a sub-set of the community members.
Being a self-determined learner is important as it provides the intrinsic motivation to deepen the engagement within the CoP. It is a valid amount of participation to only lurk within the CoP, but there does come a point where members need to dive in and participate. Learning will be deeper and broader, but the motivation needs to be there. And most often for long term commitment to participate comes from an intrinsic motivation.

The conundrum
How do you build a Community of Practice in a closed environment where you can't reach out due to client confidentiality?

In the next post on this theme we will discuss the requirements of a community of practice where client confidentiality is key. The thinking being if we can correctly identify the requirements, we will then be able to identify a platform best suited to cross organizational boundaries.