Thursday, June 16, 2005

Do communities of practice HAVE to show tangible value in order to be funded?

Hi all,
Thank you to the person who responded to my posting and provided their point of view. I truly value your interaction.

The issue you speak about,

"What if formal structures have actually begun to prevent the organization from achieving its purpose? Even great leaders atop the formal chart can't seem to overcome the inertia. By bringing the informal social systems like networks and communities of practice under formal organizational control, we actually limit the
power of the informal to make a positive difference for people and society."

is the one that forward thinkers are now concerned about. It seems that in our wonderful capitalistic economy every time something innovative is discovered, especially innovation that leads to returns, corporate capitalism is just waiting there to absorb it into the mainstream. And I agree with you, sometimes that kills the effort completely.

So at one end we could say finally KM and CoPs are becoming part of mainstream and being realized as value add activities, but on the other hand the very nature of CoPs is such that if it loses its edge when it gets absorbed into mainstream.

I am sure this is not a debate anyone can win per se, just an articulation of different points of view.

farida

6 comments:

Dinesh Tantri said...

At the heart of the problem are the mental models of managers.David Meggitt writes about a paradigm shift that managers need to go through to appreciate the value of communities. He calls it the "newer thinking". Once this shift happens, managers realize that these organic systems need "nurturing"(via support systems) as opposed to typical manegerial interventions.

Jim Lee, PMP said...

Dinesh,
thanks so much for your comment. I will look into this and share a summary on the blog.
farida

Anonymous said...

Hi Farida! Love what you have going here :-)

In many organizations there is a person or set of people who are responsible for communities of practice. These people are "CoP experts" and they are in charge of training others to start and help lead CoPs. However, many of them have never DONE it themselves. They have become experts by reading what other people, who also have not led CoPs, have written about it.

When APQC goes into organizations to study them, who do you talk with? Who do you spend the most time with? Is it the formal organization to include the CoP function people? Or, do you talk to the community of practice leaders who are passionate about the practice that they are part of and are taking action to improve?

Because your entry point into the organization is the formal organization and the CoP function people, you may be skewed from the get go towards the formal interpretation of reality.

I wonder what would happen if you conducted a clandestine study of the most JAMMING communities of practice--communities that the formal organization might not even know about.

Dinesh Tantri said...

One of my earlier blogs on Lurking and its impact on social capital and Nancy White's comments on that are also useful in to understand this better. Trying to pin down the ROI of a community is going to be tough-tougher if you are looking at quick results. One of the key areas to address would be to convince managers that it takes a lot of effort to reap tangible/intangible benefits from communities. Wenger says:"If I were talking to a CEO, I would say to him or her, ‘If you choose to build communities of practice for your members, understand that significant communication and nurturing will be required.These communities are completely voluntary. If your communities don’t create value, people will vote with their feet. … Don’t just open a few discussion boards on your Web site. You have decided to cultivate something that is alive.”

Which also suggests that if there was no value(tangible & intangible) being created in the community ,the community would cease to exist(iresspective of the funding it gets). If a bunch of guys are meeting regularly and are having sustained interactions over a period of time and if the organization feels that the domain is of strategic importance to them-it should be funded.

Behaving as if intangible benefits dont affect the company's bottomline would be foolish. Yeah,we dont know how to measure it perfectly but we "know" that ties and trust do have an impact on how quickly work gets done. Would a typical manager treat a serious anecdote from a community member on the value the CoP created for him on par with a more rigorous ROI statement. If he does, he understands the inherent complexities(social nature) of work and has crossed the rubicon into the "newer thinking".

Organizations also need to make this shift-to understand that communties are about building long term capabilities. This snippet from a CIO article sums it up pretty well:

"In his book The Living Company (Harvard Business School Press, 1997), Arie de Geus says that the average life span of Fortune 500 companies is only about 50 years. The reason they don't live up to their potential, de Geus argues, is because most companies have a heavy economic bent rather than an organic one. In other words, de Geus believes, companies are so focused on turning a profit that they effectively shut down any feedback mechanisms that could promote learning and growth". Full article here

I think Communities are one such "feedback mechanism that could promote learning and growth" or rather is part of the "learning loop"(Assuming an individual is a member of both a team and a community within the organization).

jasmine said...

Great work on your blog - it was very enlightening. You've got a lot of useful info on there about Knowledge Management so I've bookmarked your site so I don't lose it. I'm doing a lot of research on Knowledge Management Exposed and have just started a new blog - I'd really appreciate your comments

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