I’m working on a community of practice for green building technologies and am discussing business community networks here in the Maritimes. I thought it would be a good time to review some lessons from the first online community I was responsible for.
The first online community of practice for which I was responsible was a project to enhance collaboration of members of the learning industry here in New Brunwsick, Canada (LearnNB).
The initial focus of this CoP was research and development, especially business models and commercialization. It was not intended to be a theoretical or academic community, but one looking at the development of practical applications- be they products, services, standards or models. Membership was open to anyone.
The major events during the course of this project (2003):
- Establishment of an initial blog
- Report on best practices in the establishment of a community of practice
- Interview protocol and initial interviews in New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia
- Evaluation of technology platforms for the web presence of the community
- Discussions/conversations/interviews with interested members
- Establishment of two web-based systems for discussions, one private and one public
- Continuing discussions in person, via e-mail and through blogs with interested parties
- Fine-tuning of technology platforms
Here are some highlights from the Case Study:
- A sense of community cannot be forced;
- Communities are self-defined;
- Communities are conversations; and
- Communities evolve over time.
- Face-to-face contact can be the impetus for online conversations, while
- online contact can be the impetus for face-to-face meetings.
- Communities of individuals appear to have stronger bonds than communities of companies;
- blogging helps to define dispersed communities; and
- password-protected web sites do not encourage conversation.
It was recommended that if there are future efforts in this area, then we should:
- Keep the online community spaces for special projects and events.
- Advertise the community space for others to test out blogging.
- Encourage more community members to use blogs as a community building tool.
I felt that any efforts to foster community should be addressed at the grass roots level. Centralized command and control does not work well in this inter-networked world. Regional initiatives or very local initiatives seem to stand the greatest chance of success. Provincial [state] boundaries are blurry, and not part of many people’s sense of community.
Finally, the online community space never became an active place for discussion, conversation or sharing of ideas and knowledge. I keep plodding away with this blog, and Stephen Downes is also a local voice with a larger worldwide audience. Other Maritime bloggers who discuss learning & technology include Robert Paterson and Dave Cormier, both on Prince Edward Island. A more recent blogger is Charlene Croft in Nova Scotia, with some excellent insights.