Revisiting: How many people does it take to make a community of practice?

Last month I blogged about how I felt that I am often just a curator for a group of people rather than being in a community of practice. Having trialed a few different approaches I have seen an uptick in participation in the contributions to the community I manage.

INF532 has encouraged me to think about different ways that I might engage people to help develop a work-based learning network. A few techniques I have trialled:

  • changed up the tone of my posts focusing more on a narrative-based approach
  • tried to relate my posts to universal issues people face (not just work issues)
  • directly asked people if they can write about a topic
  • written posts of varying length
  • used a variety of mediums to engage people
  • Asked questions rather than just writing solutions

I am starting to get a lot more participation recently (4-5 responding people versus the normal 0-1). This is a positive improvement on people telling me that they “enjoy reading my posts”.

I have enjoyed trialing a variety of different approaches and although I am yet to get anywhere near the critical mass to call it a community of practice it is certainly evolving past simple curation.

The next step will be to try and move to more multi-media content such as microcontent, videos and potentially podcasts but this will require an investment from my work in the tools required. This could be a stumbling block as I wait for approvals but if I can implement these tools then potentially others can use them to create content as well.

How many people does it take to make a community of practice?

Image comparing crowd size at Trump inaguration and Obama inaguration

What is the critical mass for a community of practice? That is the question that struck me when I read Not everything that connects is a network (Hearn and Mendizabal, 2001).

I try to foster a community of practice at work in an area that is important but not core business. The result is a lot of people being involved in the group but not many participating.

Hearn and Mendizabal argue that “networks are indigenous to any situation or environment; they exist before an initiative comes along and will exist after an initiative has closed down” and that:

networks are not panaceas and are not suitable in all situations. The suitability of a network strategy needs to be interrogated carefully before investments are made, particularly as a network could prove more expensive than an alternative strategy.

I find this an interesting perspective and I am possibly in more of a curation role than one of being in a community of practice. Having read Popova’s article on the role of curation, I know that this is an important role as well.

Over time I will attempt different strategies to try and gain critical mass in and reach a fully fledged community of practice.