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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.





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