Value Creation in Communities of Practice – further insights

I first wrote about the Value Creation Framework when I attended last year’s BEtreat in Grass Valley, California (2011) – see Value Creation in Communities of Practice

This year (Academic BEtreat 2012 ) the value creation framework has again been a topic for discussion, with the added advantage of having a few participants who are using it or planning to use it.  It was a useful discussion, which has further informed my thinking and practice; I am currently working on a project in which we are using the value creation framework to inform our approach to knowledge management in a third sector organization.

The key points for me were:

There has been a tendency (at least in my mind) to confuse value creation with evaluation. The term evaluation is not helpful in this context as it brings with it notions of assessment. I say this despite the fact that both the words ‘evaluation’ and ‘assessment’ are used on the Wenger-Trayner website.

The focus of the value creation framework on storytelling and indicators of value creation (a matrix of indicators and stories) is designed to explore what counts as value in a community of practice. The matrix is the key element of the framework.

Value Creation Matrix

(click on the image to enlarge)

Whilst some quantitative data is collected through the use of the value creation framework (e.g. website statistics as an indicator of immediate value in Cycle 1), much of the framework focuses on collecting qualitative data though story telling in answer to questions such as ‘What activities have you participated in and how has this participation changed your practice?’ or ‘What were the key things that happened that made a difference?’ Stories answer the ‘so what’ question.

My perception is that the process of collecting stories is not that easy to manage, unless it is part of a research project and the stories can be collated and analysed by a research assistant. Analysing stories is a skilled job and begs the question of who will do this in an organization without a researcher.

A number of stories will be needed to validate value creation at a collective level and this will generate a lot of data. It will also require a lot of ‘man hours’, since the story collection process will ideally involve 3 people – the person telling the story, the person responsible for drawing the story out, and the recorder. Value can of course be collected at the individual level, but this is unlikely to impress stakeholders and funders. We need to convince stakeholders and funders and maybe even the senior management team that story telling is not just ‘qualitative fluff’. The value creation matrix combines qualitative and quantitative data with causality trails between indicators. The only people who know and understand the causality links are the storytellers themselves. Thinking of stories as causal trails is more likely to lead to rigorous analysis of the stories.

Stories can also be about ‘lack of value’ and these will be just as valuable.

The value creation framework can be used both prospectively and retrospectively. It’s the negotiation of indicators of value creation in each cycle that is important. These indicators may be emergent and come through in the process of telling a story, e.g. an emerging indicator in Cycle 5 might be the renegotiation of what is viewed as success (an aspirational story), which might happen in an appraisal or performance review process. This would help to shift the appraisal process from being a vertical one to being a transversal one (see Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner’s slide – ‘Vertical and Horizontal Accountability – the need for transversality’ – in my last blog post about Social Learning Capability

Negotiation of indicators is critical to the success of the value creation process. In the negotiation of indicators stakeholders should clarify why an indicator is important.

Examples of indicators

(click on the image to enlarge)

 The following two stories illustrate why the negotiation of indicators is important and how inappropriate use of indicators can be misleading.

  1. Surgeons in New York were graded on the mortality rate of patients – but knowing this, surgeons would aim to achieve a high grade by turning away patients they couldn’t save.
  2. Russian shoe-makers were graded on the number of shoes they could make out of the least amount of leather. They responded by focusing on making Size 5 shoes which led to a shortage in larger sizes.

The value creation framework should be adapted to suit different communities of practice. Indicators of value creation may be unique to the community.

The framework should hopefully become a tool for reflection both at the individual and collective level – a dynamic tool for reflecting on learning capability and optimizing learning.

The number of case studies of how the value creation framework is being used appears to be increasing. The next challenge will be to prove to funders and stakeholders, through the analysis of the stories/data, that the time spent in applying the value creation framework has been well spent.

Modes of belonging in communities of practice

This is discussed in Chapter 8 of Etienne Wenger’s book Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity (p.173-187)

Keywords: Engagement, alignment, imagination, belonging, identity, communities

Notes:

To make sense of identity formation and learning in communities of practice, we need to consider three modes of belonging – engagement, imagination and alignment.

Engagement is the active negotiation of meaning through the formation of trajectories and the unfolding of histories of practice. Mutual engagement creates a shared reality in which to act and construct an identity. Whilst it can lead to negotiation of meaning, the shared histories can also narrow learning through their power in sustaining identity.

Alignment coordinates our energies and activities to contribute to broader structures. Through alignment we do what we need to do to become part of something big. Alignment concerns power, it can amplify our power and our sense of the possible – but it can also be blind and disempowering making us vulnerable to delusion and abuse.

Imagination is extrapolating your own experiences through time and space. It is a creative process that reaches beyond direct engagement. Imagination can create relations of identity anywhere throughout history. Imagination was very well illustrated by the experiences of two stonecutters, doing the same job who differed in the sense of what they were doing and in their sense of themselves as individual stonecutters. One was ‘cutting a perfectly square shape’; the other was ‘building a cathedral’.

On p.183 Etienne writes

‘Given a community, one might wonder what the possibilities for mutual engagement are, what material supports imagination, and how alignment is secured. Such questions focus not on classification but on mechanisms of community formation, as well as on the trade-offs and kinds of work involved’.

When working in a community of practice it is fairly easy to see concrete evidence of engagement and alignment.  Imagination seems to me more difficult to ‘pin down.’

  • Is it less visible?
  • How conscious is it?
  • Is it a shared reality?
  • What material supports imagination?

These are my questions from this Chapter.

Update 06-06-13

See also – http://prezi.com/u0gqsdob0p9h/edit/#1_195952

Academic Betreat as a landscape of practice

In preparation for the Academic Betreat 2012 , we have been asked to read a number of chapters from Etienne Wenger’s book, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity.  I have just read Chapter 4: Boundary (p.103 -121) and Chapter 5: Locality (p. 122 – 133).

I have heard Etienne speak about landscapes of practice before, most notably last year at Lancaster University – I blogged about it here  – but reading these chapters adds some new dimensions to my thinking and understanding.

Chapter 4 Boundary

Chapter 4 keywords – boundary objects, brokering, connections, boundaries, peripheries, negotiation, meaning

In Chapter 4 (p.105)  Etienne writes about two types of connections:

  1. boundary objects – artifacts, documents, terms, concepts, and other forms of reification around which communities of practice can organize their interconnections
  2. brokering  – connections provided by people who can introduce elements of one practice into another

If, as is written on p.107 ‘A boundary object is not necessarily an artifact or encoded information’, it occurred to me that the BEtreat itself might be considered a boundary object and the participants might be considered to be ‘brokers’.  ‘Brokers are able to make new connections across communities of practice, enable coordination, and – if they are good brokers – open new possibilities for meaning.’ Who will emerge as ‘brokers’? Will we all be ‘brokers’ or just some of us? What skills are required?

I also wondered whether people who work as independent consultants are more likely to be ‘brokers’. Some characteristics of brokers are:

  • they tend to stay at the boundaries of many practices, rather than move to the core of any one practice, i.e. at the permeable periphery
  • they translate, coordinate and align different perspectives
  • experience of multimembership and spanning boundaries
  • ability to facilitate transactions across practices and boundaries
  • ability to manage coexistence of membership and nonmembership
  • have enough distance to bring a different perspective,  but also enough legitimacy to be listened to.

My experience is that the last point is not always easy to achieve.

Will we see different types of boundary encounters in the BEtreat (a one-on-one conversation between two participants, immersion through visiting the practice of one participant, or delegations)?  Will the BEtreat keep the insiders in and the outsiders out, or will we be inviting outsiders in and working across boundaries ourselves?  Is this realistically possible in such a short period of time where the activity will be very intense?  What do we mean by insider and outside in this context? Do brokers necessarily work on the periphery?

Chapter 5 Locality

Chapter 5 keywords: locality, constellation, practice, landscape, geography

In Chapter 5 (p.122)  Etienne writes about how the concept of a community of practice constitutes a level of analysis, through discussing locality of practice and a constellation of practices. For me this chapter is summed up by the following two quotes:

‘My argument is not that physical proximity, institutional affiliation, or frequency of interaction are irrelevant, but rather that the geography of practice cannot be reduced to them. Practice is always located in time and space because it always exists in specific communities and arises out of mutual engagement, which is largely dependent on specific places and times. Yet the relations that constitute practice are primarily defined by learning. As a result, the landscape of practice is an emergent structure in which learning constantly creates localities that reconfigure the geography.’ (p.130)

These lines, for me, relate very closely to the work I have been doing with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau (Portsmouth University, UK) on emergent learning and emergent curriculum, in which we have developed a 3D model of landscapes of learning, for exploring the relationship between prescribed and emergent learning in any given curriculum. This paper has been submitted to IRRODL  and accepted but has not yet been published. (see Publications for further information)

The second quote is from the final lines of Chapter 5 (p.111), in which Etienne writes that communities of practice

‘… are important places of negotiation, learning, meaning, and identity. Focussing on the level of communities of practice is not to glorify the local, but to see these processes – negotiation of meaning, learning, the development of practices, and the formation of identities and social configurations – as involving complex interactions between the local and global.’

So will the Academic BEtreat be a community of practice or simply a course? It seems to fulfill many of the criteria of a CoP. What would prevent it from being a community of practice? Does it matter anyhow? What will be our experience of landscapes of practice in this BEtreat?

#betreat12 Communities of practice and learning

These notes are from the Academic BEtreat reading on communities of practice and learning, pages 72 -102 in Etienne’s book Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity 

Chapter 2 on Community raised one question for me

How does social learning theory relate to complexity theory and connectivism? I would like to hear what Etienne and others have to say about this.

Chapter 3 on Learning gave me a surprising ‘Ah-ha’ moment in the following three lines

For those who do not think of their job as learning (Etienne is referring to the work of claims processors here) – this is because what they learn is their practice. Learning is not reified as an extraneous goal or as a special category of activity or membership (p.95)

This was an ‘Ah-ha’ moment for me because last year I had difficulty relating to the cultural context and work on communities of practice done by the large corporate organisations represented at BEtreat11. I blogged about it in this post.   And then recently when Etienne and Bev spoke to the FSLT12 MOOC,  Bev caught me on the hop when she challenged me to explain what I meant by my blog post and I realised that I hadn’t thought this through clearly enough and wasn’t able to articulate what I meant. I only knew at the time (last year) that the work of the large corporations did not resonate with my experience or understanding of what is a community of practice.

Following Bev’s challenge I thought about it a lot and came to the conclusion that the difference was to do with values, i.e. ultimately the purpose of a CoP in an organisation like Shell seems to me to be principally about knowledge management and through this making money for the company, or gaining strategic advantage. Learning in these CoPs serves this purpose. As Etienne writes above, what they learn is their practice. In the CoPs that I work in (which are education related), whilst learning is entwined with practice, it is also reified as an extraneous goal or a special category of activity. In some academic communities the reified learning is supremely important – this thought comes to mind as I am currently writing this whilst staying at Exeter College in Oxford, where reified knowledge is almost palpable in the air around you. 🙂

So Chapter 3 has, I think, answered my troubling question for me – but I’ll be interested to hear what others think (if they are interested in whether there is a distinction between corporate and academic CoPs).

For the purposes of the BEtreat, here are my notes from the reading.

Chapter 2 Community

Key words

Mutual engagement, joint enterprise, shared repertoire, relationships, negotiation, accountability, meaning

Notes

  • Mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire define the community
  • Practice does not exist in the abstract (p.73)
  • CoPs are not necessarily homogeneous
  • Engagement defines identity and involves ours and others’ competence
  • Mutual accountability is an integral part of practice
  • CoPs are more about sharing than expertise
  • Joint enterprise is negotiated
  • Joint enterprise creates resources for negotiating meaning. These resources become the shared repertoire/history of the community, which is inherently ambiguous

 Chapter 3 Learning

Key words

Participation, reification, history, learning, practice, peripherality, legitimacy, emergence, remembering, forgetting, identity

Notes

  • Not everything we do is learning
  • Learning is not just the acquisition of skills, habits, memories, but also the formation of identity
  • Participation and reification can influence practice through memory, continuity and discontinuity, convergence and divergence
  • p.87.’The world and our experience are in motion, but they don’t move in lockstep’ so there is always uncertainty (I noted this because of my interest in and research on emergent learning)
  • p.89 ‘Our identities become anchored in each other and what we do together. As a result it is not easy to become a radically new person in the same community of practice. Conversely it is not easy to transform oneself without the support of a community.’ (I find this a fascinating statement as it alludes to the difficulties of getting the balance right between ‘group think’ and  support)
  • Participation and communication are channels of power available to participants. (I hope we have further discussions about the role of power in relation to learning)
  • p.93 Because the negotiation of meaning is the convergence of participation and reification, controlling both participation and reification affords control (but not complete unchanging control)over the kinds of meaning that can be created in a certain context and the kinds of person that participants can become.
  • Control must constantly be reproduced, reasserted, renegotiated in practice.
  • Practice is not an object to be handed down from one generation to the next – it is a shared history of learning.

Academic BEtreat (#betreat12) pre-conference call

The Academic BEtreat is underway. We have had our first conference call, to prepare for next week.

Screenshot from the Pre-Conference Call

There are 16 participants from across the world – eight will be in California meeting face-to-face and eight will join the BEtreat online. I am in the latter group.  There will be a ‘buddy system’ where face-to-face participants will be paired up with online participants. The idea is that f2f participants will represent the online participants. I wonder if it could/should also work the other way round.

Juggling time zones is going to be a challenge for the synchronous meetings – since participants are from the US, Europe and Japan. Evidently we will negotiate times for synchronous sessions, but realistically I think I will be working at least until midnight for most of the week. Although I know it could be worse than this I am naturally more of an early bird than a night owl – so it will be an interesting challenge.

The format is similar to the format for last year, although I think there is more asynchronous time built into the programme this year and more time for reflection – which is good.

Academic BEtreat Programme

As for last year the programme is divided up into different group activities and colour coded according to these activities.

  • Pale yellow marks the start and end of the BEtreat.
  • Pink is for leadership group activities. I will be in the Critical Friends group where we reflect on the process such as taking care of online and offline integration. We will be able to do some of this work asynchronously
  • Purple is for theory discussion activities in which we will review Etienne’s book. There are 5 theory review sessions covering – Meaning, Learning in communities of practice,Boundaries and scale, Identity, Identification and power
  • On Wednesday morning there is a theory preview session in which Etienne and Bev will present their most recent work.
  •  There are also three thematic discussion groups to deepen discussion on – Learning theory and research, Value creation and evaluation, Adult pedagogy, technology and professional development (I will be in this group)
  • Gold and yellow sections are for social activities (for the f2f participants)
  • Finally, we need to introduce ourselves – in the case of online people through creating a wiki page to provide a context for who we are and what we do. At the end of the week, we will create an action plan to take our work forward and post it on this page.
Academic BEtreat Wiki Homepage

It will be very interesting to be online on this BEtreat this year having been there in person in California last year. I’m wondering whether it will make a difference to how I feel about the integration of online and face-to-face working. (I made this blog post after last year’s betreat).  I also want to see whether it is easier to understand the cultural context than it was last year given this is an Academic BEtreat. (This was the blog post I made last year in relation to this). Finally, I am hoping to learn more about the relationship between meaning, learning and identity in terms of how an understanding of this would apply in the practice of teaching and learning, and more about the value creation framework and how to apply this in practice. I have started blogging about this and hope to continue if time allows – but it might be a bit hectic!