Understanding your community

Now I’m not talking about a rural village but a community of practice. Today I had a great discussion with some of my colleagues of Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) about how to best map out this community of practice at our annual meeting in Lisbon next week. Who are we, what are the roles and networks of our members, what holds the community together, who drives it?

We discussed back and forth: What is it that we actually want to know? What is possible in the limited amount of time? How can we integrate old hands and new comers, more and less active community members? Just to give you an idea what such an activity can look like, let me give a brief outline:

We will have 3 hours, about 60 participants, 7 tables and piles of paper, post-its, pens and checkers pieces. We split up in groups of about 8 members, each group will draw one map together.

First all group members will put their own name on post-it on the map. Then the first one will take up the pens and draw links of different color between him/herself and everyone that they:
1. Interact with regularly (knowledge exchange, advice etc.)
2. Work together (paid or volunteering) to co-create something
3. Follow actively (meaning: seeking out their blog posts, websites etc. without actually interacting with the person)

The members of the working groups will interact with people beyond this small group, so they will add post-its for other community members that they interact with and draw the respective links. Once the first ones have drawn all their links, they hand the pens to the next person, who draw theirs, until everyone in this small group has added their part of the network.

A lot of the members of KM4Dev are actually also members of sister communities and it would be very interesting for everyone to know who holds double memberships, because it helps you in understanding the structure and networking beyond the immediate scope of the community. So we decided that participants will identify the relevant sister communities, draw a legend and assign different colored stickers to each actor who belongs to different communities.

We had a discussion about whether or not we wanted to talk about the influence of actors in a non-hierarchical network: Will that offend or intimidate some people? We decided to use the (influence) towers not to indicate power relations but rather how far actors are “drivers”. Some members will be drivers of the content development (What is KM4Dev? How does it work? etc.) while others will be drivers of the process (Fostering and developing KM4Dev as a community, making things happen for the group). We decided that these two functions are so different that we want to give “driver towers” of two different colors for driving content and driving process. The stronger the driving, the higher the tower.

This process is slightly different to what I have done before in group meetings. Normally I would ask the group to agree on a common view of all the actors and flows within a specific issue network. This would mean: Sometimes they would draw links that are not their own but indicate that “these two actors interact”. The way we do it this time, they don’t have to agree on a common view but rather build one layer on top of the other, each one just talking about the own linkages. Let’s see how that works and what the resulting networks look like.

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