You actually have to talk to members, including leaders
Despite the great contributions of com-prac members pointing to specific exemplars of long-lived communities of practice, I think you need to be careful drawing conclusions from a casual site drive-by. Many years ago when we wanted to insert a field trip experience into the Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop, we asked people to go visit Ward Cunningham’s wiki (start here: http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WelcomeVisitors there’s a lot of history and really smart people there) . A few workshop participants browsed the site and were inspired and impressed. Most came back with a big, “Huh? What was that?” That taught me the lesson (again) that most communities have enough insider talk that an outsider either spends a lot of time figuring it out or risks really misunderstanding what’s going on. Since then we always ask a community leader to offer a tour that explains what it is people are seeing.
In fact, over the years I’ve concluded that there are some built-in biases that result from a one-point-in-time snapshot. A leader or long-term member can bring accumulated experience, but even so we are all pretty selective in what we recall and report. So, one tactic to get around that which has been productive at http://CPsquare.org (yet another community you might look at) is to check in with a leader over a sustained period of time. It’s amazing to me how some patterns or concerns are deep-seated concerns and others are like a bird flying by in the sky. (All of the leader / communities we’ve “shadowed” over the years have had a technology component and we wrote up the first year’s experience in Chapter 1 of Digital Habitats.)
* John David Smith ~ Voice: 503.963.8229 ~ Skype & Twitter: smithjd
* Portland, Oregon, USA http://www.learningAlliances.net
* “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” Viktor Frankl