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Communities of Communities

Much of what is written about Communities of Practice (CoP) concerns the initiation, facilitation, and support for communities of individuals. Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger first used the term in their book, Situated Learning in 1991. The concept describes people who have a common interest in learning about a topic through collaboration. Since then, the CoP concept has become common in corporate boardrooms and training rooms around the globe. There are abundant resource materials available on how to create them, nurture them, make them more effective, and how to use them to promote an organization's competitive advantage. But how do you create and support a community of communities? Mains Associates is confronting this issue on a project we are supporting with the California Space Authority, program lead for the California Innovation Corridor's WIRED grant. The Corridor, as it is known, encompasses about 50 initial participants working on 25 projects across a 13 county area in California. Through the life of the grant, more participants are expected to join - in fact, this is a necessity for the various projects to continue effective work beyond the life of the grant. Though the original $15M grant sounds large, when spread out over this many projects and participants, it is a modest sum to accomplish their grand objectives. Doing more with less will certainly be a common refrain. In order to do more with less, projects must quickly learn from each other, attract new participants, and assimilate them and their knowledge quickly. How can this be done if the "participants" working on these projects are often multiple staff from one organization, or various organizational representatives who change over the life of the project? In short, it's a challenge. We have what we think is a good system, tested inside NASA, and now about to be rolled out into the wider world. I'll go into our approach in more detail in future posts, but the summary is: 1. Create a searchable repository of resources -- in the form of project, participant, and accomplishment profiles -- that is easily accessible via the Web to anyone who is interested in those projects, their objectives, or their outcomes, whether or not they are part of the project. This enables people who are part of a participating organization or project to share and contribute to the same knowledge base. 2. Maintain that repository by drawing upon existing information to create new content that is updated in as near-to-realtime, as possible. The key is to reuse existing information rather than require projects to create new information suitable for this system only - who has time for that? 3. Focus on providing projects with proactive support in leveraging their resources and helping to implement processes and systems that are sustainable beyond the WIRED grant itself. Discussions with WIRED project staff inside and outside of California leads us to believe that this approach would be useful across many of the WIRED grants, and taking the next step, useful to many endeavors that involve bringing together communities of communities. I plan on going more in-depth on the various elements of our approach soon and sharing what we are learning about bringing together such a diverse group, but please contribute your experiences in this area through the comments section.


Welcome to Non-Trivial Pursuits

Non-Trivial Pursuits (NTP) is a way for us at Mains Associates to better connect with our friends, clients, colleagues, and partners and others who share our interests. The convergence of science and space exploration with the emerging commercial space market and our increasing involvement in online communications and community building makes being part of the blogosphere a natural for us. NTP gives us a new opportunity to expand our interaction with these groups, and along the way, highlight some of the tools and techniques we use to help our clients and partners be more effective in their pursuits, as well. We intend to talk about:

Space - "The Final Frontier" is really just being opened up to broader human involvement and we find this to be an endlessly fascinating topic. Whether it's domestic or foreign, public or private, human or robotic, space exploration holds fantastic potential. We will share our 25 years of experience and knowledge on developments of the extra-planetary kind, especially how they can and have benefited Earth.

Science - Biosciences R&D is another area that we are very familiar with, whether it is conducted on the ground, in a satellite, or on the International Space Station (ISS). This is an exciting time to be working at the intersection of life sciences and space exploration, and the emerging link with the commercial sector and societal applications adds fascinating new dimensions.

Communications - Mains Associates was established during the early days of the personal computer, and experienced the dramatic change in how that facilitated communications with our partners and clients. Our experience working both in the government and private sectors provides us a unique perspective on intra- and inter-organizational communications, most importantly, what works and what doesn't with respect to the critical human elements.

Community - Whatever one's industry, vocation, or avocation, it is the interaction with others having similar interests that makes projects rewarding and able to succeed, yet it brings its own set of challenges. The most productive and rewarding communities include face-to-face interactions and use of online tools to enable virtual collaborations. We see creating effective communities as the ultimate goal of any project we pursue - including NTP! We hope you'll join us at NTP by not only sharing our thoughts, but contributing your own we we can learn a lot together. As with any blog, NTP is a work in progress, so please contribute comments, critiques and new ideas. Welcome to our community!





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