Identifying 'Hidden' Communities ...
IDENTIFYING 'HIDDEN' COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE WITHIN ELECTRONIC NETWORKS: SOME PRELIMINARY PREMISES Richard Ribeiro firstname.lastname@example.org Chris Kimble email@example.com University of York Department of Computer Science York - UK YO10 5DD Phone: +44 (0)1904 432-748 Fax: +44 (0)1904 432-767 Abstract This paper examines the possibility of discovering 'hidden' (potential) Communities of Practice (CoPs) inside electronic networks, and then using this knowledge to nurture them into a fully developed Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP). Starting from the standpoint of the need to manage knowledge, it discusses several questions related to this subject: the characteristics of 'hidden' communities the relation between CoPs, Virtual Communities (VCs), Distributed Communities of Practice (DCoPs) and Virtual Communities of Practice (VCoPs) the methods used to search for 'hidden' CoPs and the possible ways of changing 'hidden' CoPs into fully developed VCoPs. The paper also presents some preliminary findings from a semi-structured interview conducted in The Higher Education Academy Psychology Network (UK). These findings are contrasted against the theory discussed and some additional proposals are suggested at the end. 1. Introduction Communities of Practice (CoPs) (Lave & Wenger, 1991 Wenger, 1998 Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002) is an area of constant study and analysis. Such interest is result of a concern with methods of the creation, functioning and management of knowledge in social communities1. This subject is very relevant for many different sectors, such as industry, research institutions and businesses. Within these environments, it is important to know how to manage the knowledge generated by such communities, as their interactions can create specialized knowledge that is vital for the 'host' institution. The majority of the large companies now include knowledge (also sometimes called social capital) in their assets (Boersma & Stegwee, 1996). 1 Social Community in this work represents a group of persons that participate in the same community and have active involvement in social enterprises. Participation in this sense is both personal and social, involves individual and shared feelings and is reciprocal. In addition, the members can recognize each other as belonging to the same group. [Based on (Wenger, 1998, pp. 55-56)]
The improvement in performance and the related fall in prices of computers, coupled with the spread of access to Internet in 1990s, led to an improvement in Computer- Mediated Communication (CMC) systems in general. That enhancement quickly arrived at enterprises and institutions, and later at everyone���s house. As result, a new framework emerged, allowing social communities to create so-called virtual communities. With the creation of virtual communities came the possibility of easier 'transfer'2 of knowledge between people in different locations - even at an international (Hiltz & Turoff, 1993 Sproull & Kiesler, 1992). It is therefore important to examine the possibility of helping the growth of these communities, as this could make a difference for the management of the knowledge, which could influence the success of an enterprise. Companies and institutions can create an environment suitable for innovations through the facilitation of contact between groups with shared interests. Thus, allowing the nurturing of social communities that can be of use for that organisation. These communities might be the 'seed' of an innovation that can lead to the development of new technologies, which in turn might lead to improvements in the company and institution or to the creation of new products and services. Similarly, research institutions might wish to discover potential groups and/or areas of collaboration and research as sometimes innovations are held back by a lack of communication or awareness, since the existence of similar groups inside the institution is unknown. One step in this direction would be to discover the existence of 'hidden'3 communities that might represent the seed of a fully developed Community of Practice (CoP). However, to accomplish this, it is necessary to analyse several related issues. First, it is necessary to be certain that those 'hidden' communities can be located. Second, it is crucial that these communities can be developed to a level of CoP, or specifically in 2 The word transfer has been used between quotes because we do not believe that is possible to "transfer" knowledge in a similar way as it can be done with an object. Rather than that, we believe that the transfer is only apparent. What happens, actually, is that a person learns as the expert did (acquiring the same knowledge), as long as the conditions and environment are adequate for that. 3 In this paper, the term hidden is used in the sense of potential or to-be-discovered communities. It is not our intention to discover communities that deliberately conceal themselves such as criminal groups. 2
distributed environments, to a level of a Distributed Community of Practice (DCoP). Finally, if the two previous cases are possible, it is important to verify if that DCoP can be considered a fully developed DCoP. 2. A model of knowledge transfer in a distributed environment CoPs can bring to institutions and companies novel ways to manage internal knowledge. That knowledge is shared and is formed by the sum of internal and individual knowledge. Such knowledge is also known as tacit knowledge, which together with explicit knowledge, forms the two types of knowledge a person carries (Gourlay, 2002 Nonaka, 1991, 1994 Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Tacit knowledge is very hard to acquire and utterly personal. However, there are ways to 'transfer' it to others, if not in the totally, at least partially. Several authors have debated this topic Gourlay gives a good overview of the key issues (Gourlay, 2002). Nonaka suggested using the transfer of (tacit) knowledge as way to achieve success in companies in the early 1990���s. He proposed the SECI model to explain how to accomplish the transfer of a tacit knowledge from one person to another (Nonaka, 1991, 1994 Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995 Nonaka, Umemoto, & Senoo, 1996). The model has been widely accepted and has been used in several areas. However, some authors still argue that there are problems with it. Gourlay, for example, states that the model is not supported by empirical evidence, and that some of its phases are not coherent (Gourlay, 2003). Similarly, Jorna argues that the model lacks of background in learning theories and lacks methodology (Jorna, 1998). The SECI model is mainly based upon the concept of apprenticeship. It explains how the tacit knowledge of an expert could be transferred to an apprentice through a process in four phases. Each phase represents a unique type of movement between tacit and explicit knowledge. Nonaka called the phases modes of Knowledge Conversion (Nonaka, 1994, p. 18) and the model, the Spiral of Knowledge (Nonaka, 1991, p. 99) or Knowledge Spiral (Nonaka, Umemoto, & Senoo, 1996, p. 209). The four phases are: (S)ocialisation, where the apprentice acquires the necessary skills working with the expert(s) (E)xternalisation, where the person, after acquired the tacit knowledge, transfer it to a media or pass it on (C)ombination, where the 3