Establishing a Community Identity

In my last post I was thinking about some of the issues that surround the sustainability of a community. Thanks to Carmen, John and Keith for their thought-provoking comments. I am still thinking about these issues. I understand that communities need time to emerge and that a community culture is such that members are autonomous and can choose to engage from the core or periphery as they wish. My understanding is that as a ‘rule of thumb’, we can expect about 10% of an online community to be active at any one time (see Nancy White’s website) – so does the level of participation need to be carefully monitored?

In a community I am active in, we have asked the community to discuss what the community identity should be and have set up a wiki to do this.  One member has engaged with this and suggested that the purpose of the community should be to exert an influence on the higher and further education sector and therefore the community should maintain its title as a special interest group (SIG) for those interested in e-learner experiences.  On the wiki she has written:

The reason I thought it was worth keeping as a SIG was because, based on our research, we might seek to influence as a group (although where, and when, and how remains moot, as does what might be meant by ‘political’ decisions).  Describing us solely in terms of people who share a concern or passion seems to disenfranchise us of any potential influence.  I don’t think being a SIG stops us from also being a community of practice.

This wiki discussion has made me realise that if we are to think about a community in terms of one which has a political agenda, it must be a very different animal from one which has, for example, a mutual support agenda, which might be how you would describe some ‘parenting’ communities.

It does seem to be critical to determine the purpose of the community if it is to be sustainable. I can now see that I will have to go and read up on how politics and power work in a community of practice.

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