The concept and term ‘Communities of Practice’ emerged in the 90s, through the research of Etienne Wenger, an educational theorist and practitioner who noted that such communities occur when ‘groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, learn how to do it better as they interact regularly’.
Wenger identified that whilst organisations recognise knowledge as a critical asset, efforts at managing it are usually disappointing. The focus is almost always on the underlying IT systems. Wenger’s ‘Communities of Practice’ concept took a new approach, one which focused on people – and the social structures that enable them to learn with and from each other.
The evolution of business collaboration through digital communities, endeavours to replicate in the workplace the relaxed and positive way people interact on social media, rather than the stilted and formal work communications that tend to dominate.
Many wonder whether the continual blurring of the boundaries between work and play is a good thing? But organisations that get this right are seeing an increase in employee productivity through real knowledge sharing and cooperation between disparate work groups. They’re also benefitting from improved levels of staff motivation and morale – because the work environment has become a more enjoyable place.
Sceptics will question whether we ever really know if it’s making a difference. But we’re aware that all too often, new digital community platforms are left to drift out to the workforce with minimal planning and vague objectives. And assessments on the project ROI currently see people diving for cover and scrambling to justify the cost outlay.
At Sei Mani, we’re used to driving extraordinarily levels of user adoption, and we’ve added to our methodology a framework, based on Wenger’s continuing research, that will promote and measure value creation in your online community efforts.
Value creation in this context refers to the value that accrues to business work streams and initiatives through people’s participation in your online community. This activity may include, but is not limited to:
In order to measure and assess value creation, you must first frame what success looks like by identifying the purpose and goals of your community. Secondly, you must identify the indicators that will demonstrate fulfillment of purpose and movement toward goals. In order to appreciate the richness of the value created by communities, it is useful to think about it in terms of value cycles, as defined by Wenger and fellow researchers:
Cycle 1. Immediate value: Activities and interactions
Cycle 2. Potential value: Knowledge capital
Cycle 3. Applied value: Changes in practice
Cycle 4. Realised value: Performance improvement
Cycle 5. Reframing value: Redefining success
In order to measure value, it is necessary to identify value indicators across these cycles. Some indicators may suggest themselves before the community is launched and others will become apparent as it unfolds. The reason for identifying indicators across the five cycles is to enable value narratives: examples of how community activity gives rise to knowledge that gets applied to business activities and contributes to continuous improvement and, potentially, evolution of strategy. A healthy combination of metrics and value creation stories allows you to demonstrate success and make well-informed decisions about your community.
Some value creation stories will span all five cycles, but can still be compelling if they span fewer. For instance, a story may begin with the discovery of a useful document and end with it being applied to solving a specific problem (cycles 2 to 3). It may not be necessary to investigate exactly what activities gave rise to the document in cycle 1. Equally, this value creation story may not give rise to a wider change of direction or practice (cycle 5).
Value narratives are key to our approach, but they exist in a broader framework. Our five stage process builds from a start point, where we help you assess what you’re trying to achieve and the results you’re expecting, through to tangible, evidence-based output and measurement reporting.
Here’s a snap shot of our framework:
For a detailed discussion about how our end to end capabilities could make a difference to your online community initiatives, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org