The community dance hall

In Diversity, Complexity & Chaos I highlighted several articles by others that discussed these themes and I finished with this graphic:

Karen Jeannette (@kjeannette) noted that her challenge is to “foster movement between the bubbles” and I responded that my own experience and with my clients has been that negotiating these boundaries is an art form and is highly contextual and quite fluid. To which Karen responded, “which is why I’m glad I had dance lessons when I was young …. always dancing, negotiating the next step”. This is an important metaphor. Supporting communities of practice is a lot like dancing, there’s constant give and take.

Another useful metaphor is to think of social media as languages. Learning to use one is like learning a new language, and as anyone who works with adults learning new languages has observed, most grown-ups do not want to look stupid, so they are inhibited in embracing the new language and making mistakes as they go along. Younger children don’t have this aversion.

So here we are, speaking new languages, where some people are fluent and others less so and then put on the dance floor learning new routines, while in fleeting but pervasive contact with partners of varying skills, abilities and mannerisms.

Instead of trying to find the perfect recipe for supporting communities of practice in the organization, think more like a social convener of a community dance hall. Many people have come, some will dance well, some poorly with gusto, and others will watch. Your aim is not to make it perfect for everyone but to make sure that people come to the next dance. That means changing the tempo of the music or perhaps introducing new dance partners or maybe taking a break. It takes keen observation, pattern recognition and a suite of subtle tools (a gentle hand) to help guide the flow.

The community hall is where those who work together can be more social while meeting some new folks from out of town. It’s a constantly negotiated space, dependent on who shows up, who plays, and who dances.  It depends on getting introduced to interesting people; some to dance with and others to talk to.

7 Responses to “The community dance hall”

  1. Karen Jeannette

    Harold, Thank you for your blog post. It offered a great opportunity for me to reflect on my own metaphor. I recently gave a presentation ( at our annual eXtension CoP Workshop about our path to our community of practice blog. Slide 10 shows the dance (or path) that we have negotiated until recently, and you can almost see the rhythm in the process (or dance). Yes, as you discuss, we have to speak to many languages to get this CoP blog to come together (e.g. why this effort is of value, art and science of blogging, technical aspects of blogging, how to monitor and respond to bloggers, how to have a conversation (not a presentation) on a web conference, etc..). All of this requires a lot of vision (for course correction), passion (for endurance), patience, persistence, and as you mention, knowing when to take a break and when the timing is just right to press on…

  2. Karen Jeannette

    Thank you for your response, again (and please excuse the delay in getting back here – my notification went to my spam folder).

    Your diagram is very helpful to reflect on. As I went to your blog post you mentioned you were refining this figure. Do you think a coiled spring instead of a jagged line would help to emphasize the continuous need to go back and forth between collaborative work and social learning? There would still be delineation between the two needs (collaborative work and networked learning), but it would show how we dip back and forth to construct our knowledge?


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