Saturday, January 21, 2006

Moderating and Facilitating a VCoP

When you moderate and/or facilitate VCoPs composed of "professionals", the most important word is: beware. And the second one is: beware.

In particular watch out for the warning statement: "how can I get onto digest".

That might mean many things, I concede it, yet one of those meaning can be that the person that says it just wants to search for the "meat" without acknowledging the meaning and importance of negotiating meaning thorough conversation and thinks of an "online community" as a list of links, resources, repositories.

The first danger in that is, this is but first generation KM (definition coined by McElroy) with a codification approach only. The codification approach alone fails, period (see Huysman & de Wit, 2002).

The second danger I see is all in the difference between legitimate peripheral participation (ie: enjoying reading conversations, threads, and the like as well as how insights are generated and shared) and egocentric "what's in it for me, me, me" (ie: adversarial conceptualization of the reader with respect to the community, where the reader has to "bear with" ongoing conversation in order to "get something" out of it). The "proper" legitimate peripheral participant is one that enjoys reading the threads and the conversation so much that sets aside some time to delve into insights/opinions/ideas that are offered, even if s/he participates only occasionally.

What I always do in these settings is:
1. I remind whoever protests about "too many emails" that conversation is precious because it is in conversation that new knowledge is generated (and I add referrals and pointers to the social learning theory, if I really need to shut the dear one up);
2. I remind this very same vocal person that s/he is supposed to enjoy the conversation or else it's no place for him/her to be.

That usually weed out many persons that would later be troublesome for the proper "nucleation" of the CoP.

CoP facilitators/moderators, differently from facilitators in other settings, enforce negative rules mainly: that is, like in Carver boards, they set a rule on what has not to be done, the rest is for free experimentation of the members to find out. Occasionally, posting articles and links elicit some dialogue in case the CoP is kind of "dormant", but a healthy CoP does not need the facilitator to participate, even if s/he might want and/or like to do so.

A CoP facilitator also needs to try to resist the idea of engineering the community life. Sometimes backchannelling with members about the community helps, but it does backfire if you use it too often. A CoP faciliator does backchannel, however, in order to establish a personal relationshipwith those members you find more in tune with your moderation style. If s/he asks something, s/he does it naturally, NOT out of the blue to people s/he has never talked to, and NOT to the "old same buddies", otherwise members would have the impression of being kidded around by a clique.

In order to have a group of people helping the facilitator, complimenting with them privately for something they spontaneously said or posted feels much better, to them and to the group, than it feels to "schedule" the conversation. I am a member in a community in which the moderator often backchannels to ask members to post summaries (still the old repository/codification approach!!). The funny thing is that summaries do get posted, but without *anybody* saying "hey I thought it would be neat to post this" (aka spontaneous contribution), and the posting of the "assigned homework" sounds very artificial.

In short: depending on which kind of members you have and which kind of person you are, you will have different results, however:
1) Always be your natural self: do not play a role
2) Do not distort yourself or your community in order to follow an artificial scheme
3) Keep in mind where you want to go and let go of the controlling attitude most moderators have (enhancing/slowing email flow, having people posting requests/summaries/questions, getting afraid/p*ssed toward whoever posts "too much" or "not enough")
4) Let people be themselves with a list of basic donts.

A community is like a tissue: it will "create" and "heal" by itself whether you are there or not, but if you do your job you will make it easier (facilitation comes etymologically from the Latin word "facile" that is, in fact, EASY).

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Blogger Joitske said...

Hi, I've just discovered your blog because I refered to you :)

I'm now using com-prac the way you described actually: I think it is simply true that online lists are better for rapid information flows and scanning. What do you think?

11:43 am  
Blogger Rosanna Tarsiero said...


thank you for posting. I think you are right, online lists are better for knowledge sharing than "normal" CoP. This is precisely the reason for the can NOT be assumed to be CoP: because of the fact that they are so appropriate for knowledge sharing, many people would be there for that reason, rather than for participating in knowledge creation.

11:00 pm  

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