Mar 23 2012

Writing up what we learn leading the Foundations Workshop

Published by at 11:10 am under Communities of practice,Learning

(Cross-posted from CPsquare.)

There’s a steady amount of experimentation that we do in the Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop. Although it’s a workshop, not a community, both share the challenges that come up around experiments, like keeping track of what worked, culling the best stuff, putting the results in a place where you can find them. This post reports on some of our experiments — with community memory practices.

The expansive and emergent conversations that make up our workshop are (almost) as messy as a community, and because we wanted to demonstrate in the workshop how communities deal with these real-life issues, we’ve been experimenting with the idea of “weekly reifications,” showing a range of memory practices that take more or less effort and show different dimensions of “being together” in a community of practice. Here are some that we have tried recently (the “community logic” is on the left, a snapshot is in the middle, and a note about how it is relevant in the workshop is on the right):

A participant or member directory or roster is something that most community platforms provide. Drawing a ring around a group of people is an easy but meaningful way of suggesting group identity: it can show who was present, who involved in a project, conversation, or event. When we put roster information in a “take-away” form, it’s available to participants after the workshop is over. Easy to produce and an important resource.
Looking at a group as if it were a community of practice and wondering what would be helpful to do is a key community development step. Apart from the insights that a social network analysis can generate, there’s something about getting a group to look at itself in a different mirror (or in several alternative mirrors and from different angles). I use the group dynamics in the workshop to illustrate how social structure matters. These graphs take me a bit more effort and skill to produce, but it can generate powerful insights.
A wordle summary is a well-known way of showing what words were important in a conversation. It tends to mark the close of a conversation, so best not to post the wordle in the midst of a conversation you hope will continue. Etienne produces a thematic summary of one of the conversations he has facilitated. The wordle is cheap and easy but nowhere near as interesting as what Etienne writes up.
Often it’s the sub-group conversations that end up having a big impact on a community: making these side-conversations visible and bringing their insights to wider view can be partly automatic and partly deliberate. When participants go off in weeks 4 and 5 to work on projects, Bronwyn makes them visible as groups and highlights the results of their efforts.
Ward Cunningham says, “unfinished is good news for communities.” Scrutinizing a polished text can be a surprisingly refreshing community activity. Having a discussion of about one of his relatively polished essays with Etienne through the comments feature in Google Docs is a refreshing alternative to our standard discussion platform.
As Beverly Trayner-Wenger said years ago about a CPsquare conversation, “The tangents tend to lead back to the main point.” A community’s URL cast-offs, when organized, can be of high value. People who participate in the Foundations Workshop bring a tremendous amount of prior knowledge. Just collecting and organizing the references that come up in conversation is a remarkable resource.

Stay tuned. We make up or borrow new reifications and some fall away depending on participant interest and on the amount of time we have to play with. Each workshop is different.

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One Response to “Writing up what we learn leading the Foundations Workshop”

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