The subject of the research paper that I have recently submitted (with a colleague) is the challenges facing ‘artificially’ created communities. By this we mean communities that are set up as part of a funded project. We found that there are significant challenges, as you would expect, to be faced when the funding ceases. The project may have attracted a lot of interest and if an online site has been set up in association with the project, then this interest may have come from across the world. So what to do with all these people, now that the funding has been withdrawn and the management team is no longer being paid for their efforts? Does this management team have any responsibilities to the wider, larger community that it might unexpectedly have created and if so what are these responsibilities? Should they be obliged to move into voluntary community work when this is not what they originally signed up for? How does the community perceive its responsibilities? So at this stage, when funding ceases, the community faces a crisis of identity which includes determining who the community is for, who should lead it, and what will be the purpose of the community if it is to continue but no longer as a project.
I am writing about this because these thoughts around this research also resonate with experiences on the connectivism and connectivist knowledge course and on the Connectivism Technology Web 2.0 Education Learning and Research Ning site (community?) set up by Sui Fai John Mak.
On the connectivism course there was some discussion about the distinctions between a course, a network and a community. It was clearly a course, but for some it was also a network and for others it was also a learning community. The idea of ‘community’ brings with it a great deal sharing and collaborative negotiation of meaning, which in turn helps people to make relationships more than just simple connections. The relationships that were made on the connectivism course are still alive for some people ( I wonder how many?), but whilst individual one-to-one relationships can be relatively easily sustained, group relationships and a sense of community need a degree of organisation and leadership to be sustained. John has taken this on and people have joined the Ning site, but whilst organisation and leadership is certainly not lacking, as yet there has been little interaction which lies at the heart of an effective community. So I wonder what people were hoping for when joining the Ning site.