What are Communties?

According to Webster, a community is “any group living in the same area or having interests, work, etc. in common.” Most communities, whether online or traditional, share a number of qualities and characteristics. For example, they’re held together by distinct operating norms, members are distinguished by their formal and informal roles, trust must be built to ensure quality interactions, and a shared sense of purpose serves as the glue that bonds the community together.

Social scientists have used versions of the concept of community of practice for a variety of analytical purposes, but the origin and primary use of the concept has been in learning theory. Studies of apprenticeship reveal a complex set of social relationships through which learning takes place mostly with journeymen and more advanced apprentices. The term community of practice was coined to refer to the community that acts as a living curriculum for the apprentice. Learning in a community of practice is not limited to novices. The practice of a community is dynamic and involves learning on the part of everyone.

Sources: Learning Circuits and Wenger

Communities of Interest, Practice, and Purpose

O'Driscol Model

Source: O’Driscoll

Why Building Communities?

Why should you consider building communities into your business startegy?

  • Approximately 70 percent of what an employee needs to know to do his or her job successfully is learned outside of formal training, according to Peter Henschel’s article “Understanding and Winning the Never-Ending Search for Talent: The Manager’s Core Work in the New Economy.” Therefore, communities extend learning by creating a structure in which people can learn from informal interactions.
  • Tacit knowledge, which is informal knowledge about how things really get done, is extremely difficult to capture, codify, and deliver through discrete learning objects and traditional training programs. Communities are a way to elicit and share practical know-how that would otherwise remain untapped.
  • Creating and structuring opportunities for people to network, communicate, mentor, and learn from each other can help capture, formalize, and diffuse tacit knowledge. Communities become a boundaryless container for knowledge and relationships that can be used to increase individual effectiveness and a company’s overall competitive advantage.

For most learning professionals, the question isn’t whether building communities will deliver value to the organization, but rather what kind of community does it need and what steps does the company need to take to build one.

Source : Learning Circuit

Effective Communities

A community’s effectiveness depends on the strength of its three core structural dimensions:

  • Domain: refers to its focal issues and the sense of members identity with the topic
  • Community: includes its member relationships and the nature of their interactions levels of trust, belonging, and reciprocity
  • Practice: consists of a repertoire of tools, methods, and skills as well as members learning and innovation activities

Source: Wenger

Communtiy Architect

The role of the community architect and the moderator is instrumental. A community architect is responsible and would communicate the following with the community members on a regular basis:

  • Clarify the intent of the community
  • Support contributions from community members
  • Define and clarify the rules of engagment
  • Define and clarify key processes
  • Define and clarify the role of the moderator / facilitator
  • Define and clarify the role of the community members

The community architect would also:

  • Work with content experts and community to identify key learning needs and strategies
  • Work with community members to identify contributors
  • Evanagelize and support community participation
  • Seed community content, support aggregation of content for various topics
  • Engages and collaborate with learning experts outside of the advisory team
  • Collaborates with IT group to develop the next generation virtual community models, and web-based experiences for display and structure of the user-centric content

Benefits of Online Communities

Online communities provide an environment for facilitating creation, access, reuse, and sharing of knowledge. In addition they offer the following benefits:

  • Users learn of others who are doing similar things and can share their experience to help one another
  • Users learn of “experts” who can help them in their endeavors
  • Users can share/collaborate to bring embryonic ideas to realization
  • Users can share “stories’ that help others learn from their experience (especially considering the Boomer defection over the next five years)
  • Those who are new are connected with those who are in the know and can coach and support new learning

Source: Learning Lab and Innovation

Informal Learning Practices and Processes

The following are examples of some of the practices and processes for launching online communities:

  • Access to reference materials and best practices
  • Make it easy to contribute and share content
  • Discussing and having dialog with peers and other experts
  • Reviewing presentations by peers and other experts
  • Leadership led dialogues and discussions
  • Exposure to other departments and roles
  • Subscribing to and reading work related posts –  inexpensive way of communication
  • Creating “lessons learned”  after projects or other work is complete and reviewing learned experience of others
  • Using social networking tools to find and connect  with people to communicate with and learn from
  • Access to frequently asked questions and answers of others
  • Coaching and mentoring by more experienced workers
  • Ask colleagues to help with problem solving
  • Working with and observing more experienced colleagues

Source:  SRI Report

How to Plan and Launch a Learning Community

There are a number of elements to consider when you are planning to launch a learning community. First things first: to ensure participation organize your learning community around some startegic initiative in your organization; and define clear roles and responsibilities for the community facilitator, users, and sponsor.

While designing an online collaborative experience, besides identifying the learning objectives of the course, selecting the contents, preparing the learning materials, setting up the communication system, it is important that the instructional designer devotes special attention to the creation of the learning community and to its social structure: this includes identifying the most effective strategies and techniques to be enacted in order to promote the collaboration among the actors, designing how to organize groups and sub-groups in the various phases of the activities, and defining the most appropriate modalities of interaction, etc.

I like the approach of the Learning Labs and Innovation. I suggest that you start with launching a prototype. Use an iterative design and development approach as a vehicle for communication and requirements definition/refinement. In this approach the participants provide input and ideas to the evolution of the design. This approach helps users to conceive of how a solution could work, particularly from a user interface point of view. Ultimately, as iterations conclude, incorporate the user feedback into the overall design. At this point a pilot may or may not be executed as a means of fine tuning the whole solution before launch. This method would be a perfect opportunity to test the more intangible aspects of the design such as usability, change readiness, barriers to adoption, implementation timing, methods, required support, and integration with other aspects of change.

Virtual Distance

Virtual Distance is defined as the perceived distance between two or more individuals, groups, or organizations that is brought on by the use of electronic versus face-to-face communications. The greater the Virtual Distance among the members of a team, the more problems team members will experience. Among them: miscommunication, lack of clearly defined roles, and even personal and cultural conflicts. It does not matter whether team members are widely distributed or collocated; every team is potentially subject to the risks of Virtual Distance.

Organizations that have managed virtual distances well report:

  • Innovation behavior increase by 93%
  • Trust improves by 83%
  • Job satisfaction is better by 80%
  • Role and goal clarity rise by 62%
  • On-time, on-budget performance is better by 50%
  • Helping behaviors go up by almost 50%

Source: Uniting the Virtual Workforce

Online Community Key Metrics

The following is a list of key metrics that organizations choose from to track the effectiveness of their communities:

    Unique Visitors
    New Member Registrations
    Page Views
    Retention / Attrition
    Member Loyalty
    Member Satisfaction
    Most Active Members
    Top Searches
    Message Posts
    Advertising Performance
    Influencer / Evangelist
    Member Lifecycle
    First Time Contributors
    Content Rating
    Ratio: Unregistered to Registered Visitors
    Ratio: Page Views Per Post
    Reputation Changes
    Ratio: Posts Per Thread
    Content Tagging
    Comments per Blog Post
    Ratio: Searches Per Post
    Podcasts & Video (linked to / Uploaded)
    Member Blog Posts
    Size of Networks / Buddy lists
    Quality of content and exchange
    Tracking the brand through the “Community ecosystem
    Impact of the community on revenue
    Mobile interactions with the community

Source: Forum One Communication