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Communities of Practice Leif Hommen CIRCLE leif.hommen @circle.lu.se. Overview (1). What is a ’Community of Practice’? Definition, Key Characteristics, & Relevance Cognitive Aspects Working, Learning & Innovating Governance Aspects

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overview 1
Overview (1)
  • What is a ’Community of Practice’?
    • Definition, Key Characteristics, & Relevance
  • Cognitive Aspects
    • Working, Learning & Innovating
  • Governance Aspects
    • Communities within the Firm, Localisation of Routines, Motivations and Incentives
    • Management by Communities (vs. Management by Design)
overview 2
Overview (2)
  • Literature
    • Brown, J.S. and P. Duguid. 1991. Organizational learning and communities-of-practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning, and innovation. Organization Science 2 (1): 40-57.
    • Cohendet, P. and P. Llerena. 2003. Routines and incentives: the role of communities in the firm, Industrial and Corporate Change, 12 (2): 271-297.
    • Amin, A and P. Cohendet. 2004. ’Communities and governance of knowledge in the firm’. Chapter 6 inArchitectures of knowledge: Firms, capabilities and communities. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
what is a community of practice 1
What is a ’Community of Practice’? (1)
  • Definition (Lave and Wenger)
    • Groups of persons engaged in the same ’practice’,
    • communicating regularly with one another about their activities, and
    • seeking to improve their competence in the given ’practice’, through
    • construction, exchange and sharing of a common repetoire of resources
what is a community of practice 2
What is a ’Community of Practice’? (2)
  • Key Characteristics of CoPs
    • Self-organization
      • Autonomy
      • Identity
    • Self-consciousness
    • Mutual commitment
    • Learning
      • Individual acquisition of values and ’know-how’
      • A ’socially localized’ process
what is a community of practice 3
What is a ’Community of Practice’? (3)
  • Relevance for Innovation
    • Intra-organizational
      • Collective problem-solving within organizations leads to product and process innovation
      • Innovation as learning: identification, joint production and sharing of tacit knowledge
    • Inter-organizational
      • An essential support for ’networks of innovation’
      • ’Relational proximity’ facilitates knowledge flows across organizational boundaries
i cognitive aspects
I. Cognitive Aspects
  • Working, learning, and innovating are conventionally thought to conflict
    • Work practice: conservative
    • Learning: problematic re: change
    • Innovating: disrupts work & learning
  • Connecting these activities provides a basis for reconceiving and redesigning organizations to improve all three activities
    • A focus on CoPs provides a relevant and useful basis for developing a ’unified view’
working 1
Working (1)
  • Canonical versus non-canonical practice
  • Practice is essential to understanding work
    • But abstractions detached from practice tend to distort or obscure its ’intricacies’
  • There is thus a basic conflict between ’espoused practice’ and ’actual practices’ of work
    • Organizations tend to rely on ’espoused practice’
    • They are usually blind to ”what and who it takes to get a job done”
    • But ’actual practice’ is usually what determines their success or failure
working 2
Working (2)
  • Canonical practice: Photocopier service technicians
  • The company servicemanual as ’canonical map’:
    • ’Directive documentation’ aimed at ’single point failures’
    • A single predetermined route with no alternatives
    • A decision tree for diagnosis and repair that assumes ’predictable’ machines’ & an ’unproblematic process’.
    • Minimizes the amount of information provided
  • The training programme follows a similar approach
    • ’Downskilling’: unhelpful and overly simplistic
    • Assumes that ’reps’ are untrainable, uncooperative and unskilled
working 3
Working (3)
  • Non-canonical practice: What ’reps’ do
  • Trouble-shooting:
    • Developing options where canonical approaches fail
  • Maintaining – and repairing -- social relations
    • Replacing machines as the last resort
  • Solving problems by constructing coherent accounts
    • out of incoherent data and documentation
  • Key aspects of actual practice:
    • Narration: ’Stories’ are both adaptable (general causal maps) and particular (detailed case histories)
    • Collaboration: Joint development & group discussion
    • Social Construction:Shared understanding & identity.
learning 1
Learning (1)
  • Conventional ideas of learning as transmission – ’knowledge transfer’
    • increasingly under attack
  • A more useful alternative is to view learning as a process of construction
    • As, e.g., in ’legitimate peripheral participation’ (becoming an ’insider’)
  • From this perspective, learners are not acquiring ’expert knowledge’
    • Instead, they are developing ’the embodied ability to behave as community members’
learning 2
Learning (2)
  • Groups and Communities
    • ’Communities’ are not recognized sub- organizational groups (e.g., ’teams’)
    • They tend to be interstitial (e.g., involving both suppliers and customers) and to emerge independently (not by managerial fiat)
  • Fostering Learning
    • Training programmes should avoid ’context stripping’
    • Learners need direct exposure to practitioners
    • They also need both legitimacy and peripherality
innovating 1
Innovating (1)
  • Innovation often emerges out of the interface between an organization and its environment
    • E.g., user-producer interaction
  • To innovate, an organization ’tries out’ a new concept on its environment, and reflects on the interaction
    • E.g., making sense – and full use – of a new kind of office equipment
  • Drawing lessons from such reflection can be problematic, due to a fixed ’world-view’ and ’identity’
    • But this kind of reconceptualization takes place continuously within interstitial ’communities’
    • E.g., Adoption of ’dry photocopy’ technology depended on a new concept of use, which emerged gradually out of experiments with new office practices and forms of work
innovating 2
Innovating (2)
  • It follows that CoPs can play a key role in ’incremental’ improvement based on innovation as ’enacting’
    • Essentially, this kind of ’adaptive’ innovation involves sense-making, congruence-seeking, and identity-building activities
  • If an organization suppresses or ignores input from CoPs, it runs two serious risks:
    • Undermining working and learning practices that are vital to its success
    • Cutting off a major source of potential innovation that arises from work and learning
conclusions implications
Conclusions & Implications
  • To foster working, learning and innovating, an organization must close the gap between espoused and actual practice
    • To do so, it needs to reconceive itself as a community-of-communities, and to acknowledge and support the non-canonical communities in its midst.
  • CoPs typically excel in ’incremental’ or ’adaptive’ innovation, but they might also contribute to ’discontinuous’ or ’radical’ innovation
    • Here, harnessing the creative energy of CoPs would require changes in the ’organizational archecture’ by which CoPs are linked to one another, and whose design influences their patterns of interaction.
ii governance aspects
II. Governance Aspects
  • The view of the firm as a ’myriad of communities’ is especially useful for understanding how ’routines’ are localized within organizations
    • Organizational routines have been analysed as if context does not matter – but it does!
  • Routines emerge out of the interaction between organizations and individuals -- a process mediated by communities, which help to ’shape’ routines.
    • Understanding the important role played by communities in this context has important implications for the firm’s organizational structure and incentives.
localisation of routines 1
Localisation of Routines (1)
  • Hitherto, most work on routines has stressed the cognitive aspect. This has led theory and research to neglect
    • the motivational dimension, generally
    • internal selection mechanisms relying on managerial decisions
    • agency (“the agents who are involved in the routine”)
  • Viewing the creation and distribution of knowledge as inherently and mainly linked to the distribution of power and conflicts of interests has important implications for our understanding of governance mechanisms:
    • the “origin” is no longer inequalities in the distribution of information
    • instead, it resides in the need to control learning dynamics
localisation of routines 2
Localisation of Routines (2)
  • From this perspective, incentive schemes within the firm have to avoid a number of risks specific to a collective learning framework:
    • the risk of a lack of incentives to improve an existing routine
    • the risk of a lack of incentives to explore new routines
    • the risk of conflicts between individual and collective learning
  • C&L hypothesise that the nature and intensity of these risks are context dependent
    • or , “more precisely, ‘community-dependent’”.
  • Hence, socially localised interactions within the organisation, are a key to understanding the motivational and cognitive aspects of routines.
    • All of this leads, quite naturally, to a focus on “communities”.
motivations incentives 1
Motivations & Incentives (1)
  • C&L propose a twofold classification of incentives:
    • Intrinsic incentives (e.g., pride in one’s work)
    • Extrinsic incentives (e.g, money)
  • They further consider that the appropriate balance between intrinsic and extrinsic incentives will differ, according to the type of community.
    • Hierarchical communities (e.g., functional groups) will rely strongly on extrinsic incentive schemes.
    • Autonomous communities (e.g., epistemic communities) will rely strongly on intrinsic incentive schemes.
motivations incentives 2
Motivations & Incentives (2)
  • Given the existence within firms of different communities that are apt follow different incentives, “new questions” arise about:
    • compatibility of the rules and routines emerging in these communities
    • coherence of the communities, both within the firm and in relation to each other
    • the frontier of the firm, given the presence within it of ‘boundary crossing’ communities
  • These are very good questions, which C&L try to address in what follows.
routines communities structure of the firm 1
Routines, Communities & Structure of the Firm (1)
  • For C&L, providing answers to the above questions depends on applying some sort of functional standard.
  • The standard they choose to begin with is, not surprisingly for two neo-Schumpeterians, the entrepreneurial function, which has several aspects:
    • The ability to manage strategically the adaptation, integration and reconfiguration of resources in relation to a changing environment.
    • The ability to develop and diffuse a specific ‘vision’ of the firm’s context and future.
    • The ability to structure the organisation of the firm according to this vision.
routines communities structure of the firm 2
Routines, Communities & Structure of the Firm (2)
  • To accomplish all of this, the management of the firm has to mediate between the selection environment external to the firm and the communities within the firm.
  • In effect, this involves the development of an internal selection environment, which can operate to achieve “relevant trade-offs’ between the incentives affecting different communities.
  • In particular, it is important to strike an appropriate balance between the routines of the so-called “autonomous communities”:
    • Epistemic communities – essential for “exploration”.
    • Communities of practice – fundamental for “exploitation”.
routines communities structure of the firm 3
Routines, Communities & Structure of the Firm (3)
  • These communities must be given sufficient freedom or latitude within the organisation
    • but not so much that they lose all integration with the hierarchical communities.
  • “Project” organisation represents an effort to escape from this difficult balancing act
    • but one can question its cumulativeness.
  • These considerations have important implications for the governance structureof the firm.
routines communities structure of the firm 4
Routines, Communities & Structure of the Firm (4)
  • Transaction costs economics – arguably, the dominant approach to understanding firm governance – begins from the perspective that the firm is essentially “an information processing machine”.
    • Thus, its point of departure is the distribution of information.
    • It applies a “make-or-buy” logic to informational issues.
  • Evolutionary economics takes a different approach, and is concerned instead with the firm as a knowledge-producing/learning organisation.
    • Its point of departure is distributed knowledge and distributed learning processes.
    • It cannot apply a “make-or-buy” logic to issues of knowledge and learning.
routines communities structure of the firm 5
Routines, Communities & Structure of the Firm (5)
  • Notwithstanding these considerations, firms do not face an “all-or-nothing” choice between these two theoretical perspectives and the practices they imply.
  • Rather, firms tend to apply the “evolutionary” perspective to their coreactivities.
    • In effect, core activities are decoupled from the market.
  • Similarly, firms tend to apply the “transaction costs” perspective to peripheral activities.
    • Peripheral activities are effectively coupled to the market.
routines communities structure of the firm 6
Routines, Communities & Structure of the Firm (6)
  • Based on these considerations, C&L maintain that firms have a dual governance structure
    • -- in which the frontier between core and periphery is subject to change.
  • Within this framework, the most difficult problems concern management of the core activities and the communities they involve
    • – but these are also the most important problems to solve for firms that seek to innovate.
management by communities vs management by design 1
Management by Communities (vs. Management by Design) 1
  • Amin and Cohendet outline a set of principles regarding ’Communities and Governance of Knowledge in the Firm’
  • To begin, they ´distinguish between:
    • Management by Design
      • Top-down; Static view of ’knowledge’
    • Management by Communities
      • Bottom-up; Dynamic view of ’knowing’
management by communities vs management by design 2
Management by Communities (vs. Management by Design) 2
  • A&C advocate ’management by communities’, which means:
    • Enactment: value and support learning based on practical experimentation
    • Engagement: provide and maintain the ’architecture for certain kinds of interaction’
      • Emphasis on ’sociality, not trust’
    • Strike a Balance between exploration and exploitation
management by communities vs management by design 3
Management by Communities (vs. Management by Design) 3
  • Two advantages of management by communities:
    • Communities absorb some critical costs of knowledge-generation
      • skills, experience, routines
      • sunk costs of building ’infrastructure’
    • Communities do not require costly external incentive schemes
      • Incentive schemes of communities are ’internal to the practices of communities’
management by communities vs management by design 4
Management by Communities (vs. Management by Design) 4
  • Limits of Communities:
    • Parochialism
      • Discrimination towards other communities; incompatibility with organizational priorities
    • Lack of Variety
      • The ’tendency for communities to be relatively homogenous’; low interaction with other communities
    • Internal hierarchy
      • Each community has its ’core’; and ’key actors’ may be stronly motivated by self interest.
management by communities vs management by design 5
Management by Communities (vs. Management by Design) 5
  • Back to B&D’s idea of the firm as ”a community-of-communities”.
    • Here, the key management problem concerns the ’organizational architecture’ by which CoPs are linked to one another.
    • Organizational design influences CoPs’ patterns of interaction – which, in turn, may or may not lead to innovation
management by communities vs management by design 6
Management by Communities (vs. Management by Design) 6
  • In linking heterogenous communities within the firm, two factors are especially important:
    • Degree of repetition of interaction between communities
      • Recurrent interaction, cooperation, coordination through reciprocal adjustment
    • Quality of communication between communities
      • Shared codes, common ’language’, culture