How do we facilitate the co-creation of affinity based communities of inquiry by leveraging the potential of web 2.0 technologies?

I am currently a masters student at the University of Alberta. My final project revolves around leveraging web 2.0 technologies to facilitate the co-creation of affinity based communities of inquiry.
I am convinced that communities of practice, or what I like to call communities of inquiry, are the mechanism to initiate inquiry-based discussions and co-create powerful collectives. I believe communities are co-created by like minded individuals and that this co-creation may be enhanced by technology. What's more, I further believe that facilitated co-creation is crucial to maximize on the potential benefit to the community to influence practice and support the inquiry process.

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis. (Wenger, 2002, p.4 ).

It is not communities of practice themselves that are new, but the need for organizations to become more intentional and systematic about “managing” knowledge, and therefore to give these age-old structures a new, central role in the business. Companies need to understand precisely what knowledge will give them a competitive advantage. They then need to keep this knowledge on the cutting edge, deploy it, leverage it in operations, and spread it across the organization.4 Cultivating communities of practice in strategic areas is a practical way to manage knowledge as an asset, just as systematically as companies manage other critical assets. At the same time that the increasing complexity of knowledge requires greater specialization and collaboration, the half-life of knowledge is getting shorter. Without communities focused on critical areas, it is difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of change. (Wenger, 2002, p. 6)

Indeed, knowledge driven markets make it imperative to develop a “knowledge strategy” along with a business strategy. A knowledge strategy details in operational terms how to develop and apply the capabilities required to execute the business strategy. Therefore, a knowledge strategy eventually depends on communities of practice. (Wenger, 2002, p. 7).

Companies discovered the hard way that useful knowledge is not a “thing” that can be managed like other assets, as a self-contained entity. If companies are going to compete on knowledge, and manage and design structures and technology for it, they need to base their strategy on an understanding of what the knowledge challenge is. The essence of this challenge comes down to a few key points about the nature of knowing. (Wenger, 2002, p. 8)

Sharing tacit knowledge requires interaction and informal learning processes such as storytelling, conversation, coaching, and apprenticeship of the kind that communities of practice provide. But even explicit knowledge is dependent on tacit knowledge to be applied. Communities of practice are in the best position to codify knowledge, because they can combine its tacit and explicit aspects. (Wenger, 2002, p. 9)

Appreciating the collective nature of knowledge is especially important in an age when almost every field changes too much, too fast for individuals to master. Today’s complex problem solving requires multiple perspectives. We need others to complement and develop our own expertise. (Wenger, 2002, p. 10).

One of the primary tasks of a community of practice is to establish this common baseline and standardize what is well understood so that people can focus their creative energies on the more advanced issues.T hat is why knowledge, even explicit knowledge, must be constantly updated by people who understand the issues and appreciate the evolution of their field. In short, what makes managing knowledge a challenge is that it is not an object that can be stored, owned, and moved around like a piece of equipment or a document. It resides in the skills, understanding, and relationships of its members as well as in the tools, documents, and processes that embody aspects of this knowledge. (Wenger, 2002, p. 11)

Many companies are discovering that communities of practice are the ideal social structure for “stewarding” knowledge. By assigning responsibility to the practitioners themselves to generate and share the knowledge they need, these communities provide a social forum that supports the living nature of knowledge. this book is born of our experience that organizations need to cultivate communities of practice actively and systematically, for their benefit as well as the benefit of the members and communities themselves. (Wenger, 2002, p. 12)

Similarly, some communities of practice grow spontaneously while others may require careful seeding. Yet in both cases, organizations can do a lot to create an environment in which they can prosper: valuing the learning they do, making time and other resources available for their work, encouraging participation, and removing barriers. Creating such a context also entails integrating communities in the organization— giving them a voice in decisions and legitimacy in influencing operating units, and developing internal processes for managing the value they create. If organizations fail to take active steps in this direction, communities of practice will still exist, but they are unlikely to achieve their full potential. Without intentional cultivation, the communities that do develop will depend on the spare time of members, and participation is more likely to be spotty, especially when resources are lean. You cannot cultivate communities of practice in the same way you develop traditional organizational structures. (Wenger, 2002, p. 13)

Cultivating communities of practice in an organizational context is an art. Articulating the value of communities in terms of their tangible effects on performance provides them with the legitimacy they need to steward knowledge effectively. But it is still important to remember that some of their greatest value lies in intangible outcomes, such as the relationships they build among people, the sense of belonging they create, the spirit of inquiry they generate, and the professional confidence and identity they confer to their members. (Wenger, 2002, p. 14)

communities of practice create value by connecting the personal development and professional identities of practitioners to the strategy of the organization. Successful ones deliver value to their members as well as to the organization. If it is not clear how members benefit directly from participation, the community will not thrive, because the members will not invest themselves in it. (p. 17)

The multiple and complex ways in which communities of practice deliver value to both members and organizations is the reason they are fast becoming a central part of the management agenda. For an organization to learn from its own experience and to fully leverage its knowledge, the communities that steward knowledge and the business processes where knowledge is applied must be tightly interwoven. As members of teams and workgroups, people are accountable for performing tasks. But the same people are also community members, and as such they are accountable for developing a practice. (p. 18)

Through this multimembership the learning cycle continues indefinitely. That is why it is so important to have communities of actual active practitioners manage their own knowledge. (p. 19)

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