Aug 03 2006

Studies of and for communities of practice

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Community studies and evaluations

Natural. Leading a community of practice or supporting its development rests on having a good understanding of a community’s history, concerns, and potential. Communities (and their leaders) develop a very practical and down-to earth self-awareness very naturally, given the right conditions and enough time. That awareness enables further development which leads to further community awareness. However, some help from outside can jump-start or accelerate this process. Learning Alliances designs and conducts studies that help communities, their leaders and their sponsors accelerate community development, engagement and learning. We help clients gather information about a community and turn it into effective strategies for community design, support, and advocacy.

Unique. Member surveys and community of practice evaluations are unique because the needs, perspectives, and potential contributions of community members are by nature different from each other. In fact, recognizing members’ variance in experience, connections, participation, and even access to technology is essential for guiding technology or leadership interventions. Studies of communities of practice need to be done well because they are interventions in living systems that can send a positive, stimulating message, or not.

Role. Learning Alliances has organized many community surveys and evaluations to study different points in the community life cycle. The purpose of such studies is to make sense of what’s going on and help community members and leaders think through what the next steps could or should be. We always work in partnership with clients: in some cases we’ve helped people conduct their own studies and in other cases we’ve stepped in as outsiders to ask the questions and compile the answers on behalf of the community. We know what to ask, what to listen for and how to translate what community members say into effective plans. In some cases findings are communicated directly to a community, while in others they are communicated through the community’s leaders or sponsors.

Scope. Community surveys and evaluations can gather information using a mix of media ranging from observations of community meetings, assessment of technology utilization, and web-based surveys, to individual or group interviews (often on the phone). Topics have included readiness to form a community, willingness or need to adopt new technologies, and the design of community meetings. We advocate as much transparency as possible, so that community members benefit from the study directly. At the same time, it’s important for the results of a survey or evaluation study to be translated into leadership action, in many cases by means of ongoing coaching for community leaders.

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