I always enjoy reading the blog of the Anecdote consulting organization in Australia. They are great people and frequently post insightful observations on communities of practice and knowledge management. Recently Shawn Callahan posted about a little test he uses to determine whether a community has a chance to succeed in building an identify and affinity among members. Since community has to start with a sense of belonging in order to succeed, I think this is a useful tool for any KM practitioner to have in their back pocket.
Shawn wrote, “When someone says, ‘I would like to start a community of practice.’ I ask, ‘Can you describe the potential members by completing the following sentence? I am a â€¦.’ If they can fill in the blank in a way that people can passionately identify with the descriptor then there is a chance a community might emerge.” In his example, “I am a project manager” had a good chance to succeed, while “I am a technical” did not.
I’ve seen this in my own experience. Groups with a clear sense of what commonality binds them together are more likely to have a viable community. If someone can say “I am an underwriter” or “I am a third grade teacher” or “I am the parent of a brain injured child” or “I am a User Interface designer”, then there will be a clear match in interests with anyone else who answers the same way. In my gaming life, that even includes being a player of a certain game, or a member of a particular guild/clan within a certain game or a certain class of player.
Trying to build communities that are too broad, for example, “I am an XYZ Company employee” or “I am a management consultant” will result in some or all of the following:
lack of participation/interest coalescing of smaller and more narrowly defined sub-groups who share common interests ineffective use of the community resource/tools failure to achieve desired objectives
Building a community of everyone who can say “I am a developer” will successfully segregate the programmers from the people in business operations, however, it will still be far too broad to make it relevant for participants. Defining subsets of developers into “I am a Cobol programmer” or “I am a web user interface developer” or “I am a team leader” will result in bringing people with greater commonalities together and help them to start the conversations that will add value to their work and to the business.