(Virtual) Communities of Practice within Modern Organizations
Stefanie N. Lindstaedt (Know-Center, Graz, Austria)
Abstract: The papers of this special issue were presented or
were inspired by a special track on "I-Know'03 - Third International
Conference on Knowledge Management" in Graz organized by the Know-Center.
The guest editor wishes to acknowledge the contributions of the authors,
reviewers, and discussants which have made the special track a valuable
experience for all participants. This introduction gives an overview of
the topics addressed and the papers presented. We conclude with a short
summary of the group work and discussions which took place.
Communities of practice (CoPs) - collocated and virtual ones alike -
increasingly attract attention in the business world. Bringing together
employees of different organizational units and addressing business relevant
topics across organizational units they play an important role for knowledge
distribution and evolution within a modern organization. They can be conceptualized
as strings of a web which tie organizational units closer to each other,
ensure knowledge flow and support the creation of an organizational whole.
However, the question about "When, where and how to employ CoPs
to serve business goals?" forces an organization to consider and decide
upon a number of important trade-offs - which unfortunately often are not
made explicit. Examples of such trade-offs are:
- knowledge centralization versus knowledge distribution
- one common knowledge structure versus diverse knowledge structures
- optimized knowledge distribution within one community versus making
knowledge readily available to all other employees
Making these trade-offs explicit is an important first step to help
organizations decide on which knowledge management activities will be effective
for reaching the business goals as well as will fit to the organizational
1 Goals of the Special Track
The goals of this special track were twofold:
- Identify the trade-offs which a manager has to weigh when introducing
CoPs into an organization.
- Based on the priorities assigned to the trade-offs, provide guidance
when considering IT-systems to support CoPs.
Here, we use CoPs to identify and examine the trade-offs faced within
an organization. However, we believe that these trade-offs can then be
applied to decisions about knowledge management activities in general.
In order to achieve these two goals the special track brought together
researchers and practitioners, people from different disciplines and with
different perspectives on CoPs.
2 Overview of the Contributions
The contributions of this special issue approach the topics of application
of the CoPs concept within organizations and the trade-offs encountered
from two different sides: social and organizational aspects of CoPs and
IT-Systems to support CoPs. Accordingly, the papers of this special issue
are structured alongside the following categories, which are aiming at
covering a large number of issues that arise from viewing CoPs from the
two distinct perspectives laid out above:
- Knowledge management trade-offs
- Social and organizational aspects of CoPs
- IT-systems to support CoPs
- Needs of virtual CoPs Knowledge Management Trade-Offs
Matteo Bonifacio, Pierfranco Camussone and Chiara Zini (all from University
of Trento, Italy) in their paper Managing the KM Trade-Off: Knowledge
Centralization versus Distribution distinguish between subjective and
objective approaches to knowledge management. By doing so, they introduce
this dichotomy as the fundamental, intrinsic trade-off which the field
of knowledge management faces and from which a variety of other trade-offs
can be derived. Their paper provides a conceptual map of major knowledge
management approaches and lists knowledge management related trade-offs.
Managing these trade-offs is proposed as a main challenge of knowledge
Social & Organizational Aspects of CoPs
The papers in this category focus on the social and organizational effects
of employing communities of practice. In more detail, the following topics
David Fuhr and Frank Fuchs-Kittowski (both from Fraunhofer ISST
Berlin, Germany) provide a good overview over the bandwidth of the CoP
concept by illustrating and analyzing four attempts to introduce
CoP-related structures into industrial settings. Based on these case
studies their paper Against Hierarchy and Chaos - Knowledge
Coproduction in Nets of Experts introduces two management
trade-offs: technology "vs." the social and exchange
"vs." production. For the conception of solutions they show
that it is useful to think in terms of another structure between
"teams" and "communities", which they refer to as
"nets of experts".
The contribution Participative Process Introduction: A Case Study
in the indiGo Project by Björn Decker, Jörg Rech, Klaus-Dieter
Althoff (all from Fraunhofer IESE, Germany) and Andreas Klotz, Edda Leopold,
Angie Voss (all from Fraunhofer AIS, Germany) focuses on the aspect of
process learning which is the key ingredient for organizations to ensure
that their process models are up to date and can be applied effectively.
They introduce the indiGo method and platform for eParticipative Process
Learning and present the results of a three case studies.
Dimitris Apostolou, Kostas Baraboutis, Soumi Papadopoulou (all from
Planet Ernst & Young, Athens, Greece) and Grigoris Mentzas (from National
Technical University of Athens, Greece) introduce a different type of CoP:
Learning Networks - inter-organisational structures, formally established
to increase the participants' knowledge and innovative capability. Their
paper Facilitating Knowledge Exchange and Decision Making within Learning
Networks presents an integrated toolkit for supporting knowledge sharing
and decision making in Learning Networks that consists of a software system
and a methodology.
The concept of Knowledge Nodes is introduced by Roberta Cuel, Matteo
Bonifacio, and Mirko Groselle (all from University of Trento, Italy). Their
paper Knowledge Nodes: the Reification of Organizational Communities.
The Pizzarotti Case Study uses Knowledge Nodes to reify communities
within their distributed knowledge management approach. Here organizations
are seen as constellations of communities, which "own" local
knowledge and exchange it through negotiation processes. They argue that
there are types of knowledge that must be managed in an autonomous way.
IT-Systems to Support CoPs
The papers presented in this category introduce new IT-systems and features
which can be used to support the work of communities of practice. In more
detail, the following topics are addressed:
In order to capture implicit knowledge in informal social networks Jasminko
Novak (from Fraunhofer IMK, Germany) and Michael Wurst (from University
of Dortmund, Germany) propose a system which enables the users to create
personalized knowledge maps and to collaborate and share knowledge with
their help. Their contribution Supporting Knowledge Creation and Sharing
in Communities based on Mapping Implicit Knowledge discuss how this
model resolves one critical shortcoming of the existing socialisation and
externalisation approaches: the creation of a semantic representation of
a shared understanding of the community which reflects implicit knowledge
and incorporates personal views of individual users.
The contribution Organic Perspectives of Knowledge Management: Knowledge
Evolution through a Cycle of Knowledge Liquidization and Crystallization
by Koichi Hori, Kumiyo Nakakoji, and Yasuhiro Yamamot (all from University
of Tokyo, Japan) and Jonathan Ostwald (from University Corporation for
Atmospheric Research, USA) focus on the organic aspects of knowledge -
its evolution within a community. The evolving process takes place through
the interactions among conceptual worlds, representational worlds, and
the real world. The approach is illustrated through three systems.
John Davies, Alistair Duke (both from BTexact Technologies, UK) and
York Sure (from University of Karlsruhe, Germany) focus on the
creation and evolution of a common ontology for a specific
field. Their paper OntoShare - An Ontology-based Knowledge Sharing
System for Virtual Communities of Practice shows and evaluates how
an ontology-based knowledge sharing system can support this
process. Observing that in practice the meanings of and relationships
between concepts evolve over time, OntoShare supports a degree of
ontology evolution based on usage of the system - that is, based on
the kinds of information users are sharing and the concepts
(ontological classes) to which they assign this information.
To wrap up the technological discussion Georg Droschl (Hyperwave R&D,
Austria) in Communities of Practice: An Integrated Knowledge Management
Perspective provides an overview of a commercial knowledge management
tool suite. The benefits of integration different document management and
collaboration tools into one platform are examined in the application context
Needs of Virtual CoPs
Jennifer Preece (University of Maryland Baltimore, USA) concludes this
special issues with a summary of the requirements virtual CoPs place on
supportive technology. In her contribution Etiquette, Empathy and Trust
in Communities of Practice: Stepping-Stones to Social Capital she argues
that the success of a CoP depends to a large extend on who is involved,
what their goals are, their personalities and the community's norms and
policies. Norms that lead to good online etiquette, empathy and trust between
community members are needed.
We hope that the variety of topics covered by the contributions of this
special issue provide readers with an overview of CoP related knowledge
management aspects and trade-offs.
As mentioned above the papers of this special issue were inspired by
a special track on CoPs at I-Know'03. At I-Know'04 we will continue the
discussions on CoPs - this time focusing on how they integrate knowledge
management and (e)Learning.
Stefanie N. Lindstaedt, Know-Center, Graz