When do you know it’s a community?

I have been part of CPsquare (http://www.cpsquare.org) for a number of years. It was a gathering of people working in CoPs and envisioned to be a community of practice.  For the first two years or so  I did not have sense of it as a community. We had a hundred plus members but struggled to have clear ties and to be more than a loosely tied group that talked together online. Then after a few years (in early  2006) we had an event to explore Web2.0 tools in CoPs and called for members to help host, promote and manage the event. People really stepped up to take leadership and support roles and a large globally distributed team pulled off what was a very successful month long event. I really had a sense that through these activities (or what lead to them) that we had finally become a community and were able to rely on each other, to make room for each other and to enjoy a successful shared experience. It is difficult to say that whether this event was a cause or a proof of community 9or both) but it was my first real sense that we had evolved into something more than a dialogic space. I sat back after the event and reflected that many people had really worked for the good of of the group and each other, and to me the sense of community was palpable.

For me the two things surface out of my reflection:

  1. the opportunity to step up and step into roles – that this event provided.
  2. the shared sense of the value of being together – that evolved through the activity

To me these are very important components but what’s your experience of how much is community development is linked to the roles and shared experiences we as facilitators/conveners offer? Are events like this an essential part of the community building? Is this what Leigh Blackall is doing with our group in the FOC08 course?

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11 Comments

  1. Daryl Cook said,

    August 11, 2008 at 6:09 am

    thanks Bron! I went down the trying to define it route. Story is such a great way to get to the heart of it. I should have known better 😉

  2. August 11, 2008 at 6:11 am

    Not what I am doing – more what YOU are doing 🙂

    Perhaps I started the engine and I’m doing my best to keep it running, but you are one of the many critical parts that actually turn it all over. It has been great to see how a large number of highly motivated informal participants can do in terms of helping others to keep going and to get inspired.

    Thankyou.

  3. Diane said,

    August 11, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I feel this sentence:
    “I sat back after the event and reflected that many people had really worked for the good of of the group and each other, and to me the sense of community was palpable.”

    sums up what a community means to me – which I feel the FOC08 is already being as there are many knowledgeable people stepping forward and sharing valuable information, giving assistance, time and energy to the group.

    I already have a definite sense of sadness at the thought that this “space” will be vacant and the group disbanded come the end of the year!!

    Regards

    Diane

  4. August 11, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Yes! I was asked this question in a job interview, and fumbled through the answer because there are so many little indicators. One that stands out is when you see evidence of people starting to give back. A community cannot be consumed (I’ve seen “communities” that do little more than push content). Another is when you see a feedback – feedforward trend — always seeking to improve the practice. Say, I think I feel a blog post coming on 🙂

  5. August 12, 2008 at 2:03 am

    Hi Bron
    I reckon it is really important to have people like yourself who are willing to “step up and take on facilitating roles” if a community is going to work. It is not just about participation is it but moving through the levels of participation into leadership.

  6. Vida Thompson said,

    August 12, 2008 at 2:26 am

    You have defined a Community very well Bron. I agree it takes time & the group members need to get to know each other & work with each other before a successful community can be formed.

  7. Marcel Bruyn said,

    August 14, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Hi Bron,

    “1. the opportunity to step up and step into roles – that this event provided.
    2. the shared sense of the value of being together – that evolved through the activity”

    I agree entirely with both points as being of GREAT value. Both resonated with me in my experiences with the Maths PLC that has developed in the top end of the NT. I came in as a maths teacher seeking to improve my maths teaching. I am now a leader in the PLC, and have caught a passion for the value of PLCs in improving professional development amongst teachers and in providing more oppotunities for the sharing of tacit knowledge (got to break down this rediculous independance of thought and practice that many teachers have). I also find myself doing a Masters with a theoretical and practical investigation and implementation of CoPs and PLCs.

    The impetus was a face-to-face meeting of enthusiastic and concerned teachers, university lecturers, DEET staff and others. For a few people like myself this meeting alone sparked a desire to take up leadership roles and be involved in this learning. The nature of the meeting was important, it was ‘alive’: inclusive, interesting, attractive/rewarding (great venue, catering and accomodation; fun with maths problems handed out), different opportunities for discussions were offered such as whole group, small group (which were made up of relatively homogenous groups that allowed focussed discussions and built up a sense of shared identity and confidence in making comments since you were amongst peers of your own level), plenty of time for informal discussions. The invitation to join a ‘management’ (I know that word is perceived as a bit of a no-no in CoP circles, but I wander if this is the semantics game since at this initial stage of evolution it seems to fit best anyway) group was made open to all, about 12 put their hand up, since then some have adopted a more participatory role, while a few such as myself caught the ‘PLC bug’ and have invested large amounts of time in the facilitator’s role.

    Both points of 1. the opportunity to step up and step into roles, and the shared sense of the value of being together were significant in my transformative experience.

    The role of the initiator of the PLC, Ian Roberts was also highly influential. It was not overt, and probably due to experience as a teacher, conversations with him were littered with reflective questions that invited personal relflection of my part. Importantly, as as Leigh also expresses, he made it clear we are all on a learning journey together and we learn from each other. This mirrors the current pedagogy of learning through inquiry and constructivist theory.

    Well I have probably committed some blogging crime by writing too long a comment. If this is the case please tell me since I am new to the world of blogging.

    BTW I found your learning journey very inspiring. Good on you Aussie.

    Marcel

  8. August 19, 2008 at 5:02 am

    […] long after my first post, where I was trying to grapple with semantics and definitions, Bron told a story of a personal experience of community, reminding me of the futility of my own approach. Having […]

  9. Joao Alves said,

    August 23, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Bron, this was a very clear example of what a community is. In my point of view, the most important characteristics you mentioned that define a community are: (1) “People really stepped up to take leadership and support roles…” (2) “…we were able to rely on each other, to make room for each other and to enjoy a successful shared experience.” (3) “…many people had really worked for the good of the group and each other…”

    Thank you.

  10. August 27, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Hi Bron,
    this is a really good trigger to get us thinking about community feeling.
    It is hard to explain feelings – what makes us think we belong to a given community; that we are a member and share an identity…
    In a very simple way I can say that I need to connect to the people that participate in the group. It is when the connections start to be established and we bond closer that the communal feeling starts to emerge. Until then, that group of people is nothing but a group of people (to me) – which is not bad at all. However, it is when you reach the phase where those people mean more to you than a group – when they become a community which is made up of people you trust your “silly” questions and mistakes with, for instance – that you realize their true value.
    Like you also mentioned, it is very important to me that I am able to give something back to the community – then I feel useful and worthy of belonging to it..

    One interesting thing that I have been thinking about lately is that sometimes the same community is regarded differently by its different members.This is only obvious. We are all different! But I also think it is related with the levels of engagements and with whom each individual mainly interacts with. Take WiA for Instance. Sometimes people ask me how many members WiA has. I have no idea. But I can tell you the name of those I interact more often with and those I am emotionally more connected to. And that is for me the core of the WiA. On the other hand, and depending on the people you feel more attached to/ collaborate more often with, your WiA core group might be composed of a different number of people. Still as they play an important part in your learning/activity/purpose they might be as an important community to you as it is to me – although we will have slightly different perspectives on it.
    Does this make any sense…? ….

  11. Nancy White said,

    August 30, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    I’m smiling, Bron. A few months ago you talked about your reentry into blogging, and wondering how to engage and engage with readers. And look at this blog post.

    * It came from context of a shared experience of the Course — and look how you “rang a bell” for people.
    * It allowed us to see ourselves through your story

    I think you have hit on something important, not just in the content of the blog post, but in how blogging is connecting to your life, experience, and practice.

    I’m lovin it!


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