Community development projects at Pepperdine University

With the support of Pepperdine University faculty members Margaret Riel and Paul Sparks, and the collaboration of Alice MacGillivray, Sue Wolff, and John David Smith, CPsquare is pleased to award Christian Borja and Noah Sparks, from Pepperdine’s MA in Learning Technology Program,  the

2011 CPsquare Award for
Community Development through Action Research

This award is given to recognize skill and excellence in leveraging technology to support the formation, growth, and development of a community of practice through action research.  This award includes a membership in the CPsquare community and an invitation to present their work in the CPsquare Research and Dissertation series during the 2011-2012 year.

Welcome Christian and Noah!

Week 1 – religious communities of practice at different scales

During the first week of our conference on religious and spiritual communities of practice we had two very different sessions, one synchronous, where William M. Snyder, co-author of Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge (Harvard Business School Press, 2002) with Etienne Wenger and Richard McDermott, presented some work he had done with the Episcopal archdiocese of Massachusetts and the other an asynchronous discussion where we read a few paragraphs from Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).

Remarkable contrasts between the two sessions in terms of scale, although both instances were connected with Protestant communities in the US.  Snyder described a vision of renewal and innovation, where communities of practice could play a crucial role at different levels of scale in a large institution: both across multiple congregations and within a single church.  He brought out some of the organizational consequences and possibilities of such a strategy, speaking from the perspective of an organization that would cultivate many different communities and be transformed by their activity.  On one level it was an extension of ideas from Cultivating Communities of Practice, but the emphasis on the role and mission of the church and the satisfaction of participation in communities had a very different flavor from what has seemed typical in all the many communities that have been guided and inspired by that 2002 book.  In fact, Snyder pointed to the second and last footnotes in the book as reminders that part of the book’s vision was to ground the whole argument about communities in a civic and social purpose, rather than an intention that is primarily secular, commercial,  and corporate.  So this conference is in that sense reconnecting with a forgotten root.

The second “session” was at an entirely different scale.  Through Putnam’s eyes, we looked at one meeting on one morning of one of a Saddleback Church’s morning prayer breakfasts. Over oatmeal, omelets, and French toast 10 professionals enlist each other’s help in prayer and offer support and sympathy in dealing with everything from the challenge of a new client to grief over recent bereavement. Caren Levine sums it up:

I am particularly struck by the intimacy of the group, the lay facilitation and distributed leadership, and how they create sacred space together in a public venue which in itself seems to communicate that sacred community can be found anywhere.

Preliminary Conference Schedule

This is a working version of the conference schedule which is still evolving (mixing scheduled items with a few tentative items). Numbered items are scheduled. Bulleted items are not quite scheduled yet.

  1. Opening – Bill Snyder: Communities of Practice: Organizing for Renewal – June 27 (see more detail below)
  2. Robert Putnam reading: Prayer request circles vignette from American Grace – June 29
  3. Josh Plakoff and Estee Solomon Grey: Isomorphism between Judaism and Communities of Practice – July 5
  4. Lisa Colton: the Jewish indie minyan “phenomenon” – July 7
  5. Joe Kutter: Community of Practice initiatives in the American Baptist Church – July 20
  6. Sr. Maxine and Julie – an online Catholic community – July 21

Not quite scheduled yet:

  • Frank Daugherity, “A Christian community ministering to disaster victims in Japan.” Spiritual and religious communities are alive and well in Japan, despite the devastation from the 9.0 earthquake and Tsunami. Frank observes the interactions of several communities during a work mission with during the first half of July. CRASH is a group of Japanese Christians that have been doing relief work all over Asia. Frank is an ordained minister and long-time member of CPsquare who lived in Japan for 20 years earlier in his life. How do the several communities show up and how might they evolve in their response to this crisis? Join us for an interview at (TBA).
  • Dave Makokwski, “WebEx support for Tibetan New Year in an international Buddhist Sangha.” (TBA)
  • A transcription and publication project as community of practice:

To give a flavor of our conversations, here are a few of the provocative propositions that William M. Snyder, co-author of Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge (Harvard Business School Press, 2002) with Etienne Wenger and Richard McDermott, has offered to kick off our conversations.

The learning church: initial propositions

William M. Snyder

January 7, 2008

  • The superordinate purpose of the church is the ongoing discovery and fulfillment of the Mission of God
    • This provides a context for setting expectations and priorities at global, diocese, and congregation levels
  • As “the Body of Christ,” the church is built on human faith and relationships as well divine inspiration
    • Thus the church, like any community or organization, is affected by personal and social dynamics
    • This means attending to issues such as power, conflict, and personalities as well as scripture, sacraments, and spirit
  • Many faith communities do not demonstrate capabilities required to engage and energize members to fulfill their mission
    • Key capabilities include leadership, community-building, and practice-innovation and -development
  • We must dramatically increase our learning capacity to thrive: technical learning for improvement and transformational learning for sustained vitality and influence
    • Much to learn about learning from organization experience in other sectors
    • There is a growing repertoire of learning-related concepts, methods, and structures to draw on
  • A key strategy for learning is cultivating generative relationships—across congregations as well as within them
    • Mutually supportive relationships among peer practitioners are key for generating ideas and getting them shared and applied
    • “Communities of practice” foster learning, innovation, and collaboration
  • The church is a unique organization with distinctive capabilities—and barriers—for transformational learning
    • Large-scale, systematic change is not easy for established organizations, particularly ones (such as the Church) with a deeply embedded hierarchical structure and ideological buffers that obscure market forces
    • Yet the Church also has distinctive advantages: members’ faith and their communal commitment to embody the love of God provide an openness to the Spirit and a trustworthy foundation to build on
    • The Church’s “witness of hope” to the world also inspires internal renewal

Religious and spiritual communities conference

The text in this post is a snapshot of the Conference Wiki page.  The wiki text is sure to evolve.  This blog post is a matter of record and your invitation.

We’ve been having a conversation in CPsquare for more than 4 years about communities in religious and spiritual contexts. What is unique about those contexts? What similarities do they have with each other or with other secular communities of practice (e.g., of Java programmers or skateboarders or mothers of newborns)? What could we learn about communities in general by looking at spiritual and religious communities? What could those communities learn from exploring each other using a communities of practice perspective? We’ve decided that it’s time to hold a larger and more organized conference and invite you to join us during July 2011, whether you are only able to dip into one or two sessions or whether you can spend the whole month exploring these issues. Here is why we are doing it:

  • We are interested in what we see people learning and what they do to learn, rather than what or how they are supposed to learn. Religious and spiritual communities are interesting examples — apparently different from the corporate or professional communities that have been associated with the term “community of practice.”
  • We are always looking at communities from inside and outside because we are concerned with personal experience and social organization. Many of us actively participate in religious and spiritual communities and find that they inform our work with other communities. It seems important to practice looking at them from the outside a bit more systematically.
  • CPsquare is an international and cross-cultural community. We are curious to know more about how “situated” religious and spiritual communities are when they straddle the cultural or national boundaries we straddle or when we can observe them across those boundaries.
  • We see communities of practice at multiple levels of scale, tucked away in organizations as well as spanning the globe. We see community of practice structures at the level of an individual congregation (e.g., First Baptist Church or Congregation Beth Shalom), across congregations (e.g., meditation instructors across Shambhala) as well as inside congregations (e.g., self-organizing prayer breakfast at Saddleback Church described in Robert Putnam’s American Grace). What does that imply for those of us who seek to support or cultivate communities?

Conference organization

This is an online conference, so we will use our several platforms as we get organized in June and hold the conference in July, 2011. This conference is like an open space technology conference where the conversations are traceable back in history and the community hosting it expects to continue interacting and working on the topic as a whole in the future. (See more about participation in the conference.)

Focus issues

Because CPsquare is an ongoing community, we don’t mind tackling issues that are larger than what we can handle in one conversation or one conference. Here is the beginning of a list of issues that we could discuss or investigate:

  • Many religious or spiritual communities are examples of long-standing, highly evolved communities of practice. At the same time we find young, very recently formed communities that are attempting to address age-old issues in new ways. Communities along the whole spectrum are of inherent interest to us in the CPsquare community.
  • Religious and spiritual communities are interesting examples of communities of practice that:
    • occur at all levels of scale, from the smallest, self-organizing minyans (Jewish prayer groups that are often lay-led) to very large and formal institutions,
    • are embedded in very diverse social, cultural, technical and economic contexts,
    • create a kind of “mycorrhizae” stratum (to use Engeström’s metaphor) that creates a beneficial context for other communities.
  • Migration and social changes cause religious communities that evolved separately to now exist in social settings that are very different from where they originated (and now they live right next to traditions with very different origins), presenting new challenges as well as opportunities.
  • A social learning perspective is useful in that it allows religious communities to look at themselves in such a way as to consider the relevance of insights, innovations or difficulties faced by other communities.
  • From a social learning perspective new technologies presents opportunities for spiritual communities such as:
    • reaching larger peripheries (including proselytizing),
    • for supporting or teaching teachers,
    • technology also presents challenges because it can facilitate multi-membership and “religion as an identity game” that’s superficial, or a needlessly confrontational “issue”.
  • Communities always face interesting issues about how to organize themselves, how to grow, and how to sustain themselves. How they fund themselves and fund their ongoing evolution is always an important theme.

Case Examples

These are the kinds of cases we are thinking of (and as the schedule gets organized we will be editing the conference schedule with our latest thinking. These happen to have a technology theme, although this conference is ‘not’ limited to technology:

Schedule overview

Religious and spiritual communities conference schedule overview
The public, overview schedule will be updated as the conference takes shape. The official and more detailed conference schedule is inside the CPsquare community space.

CPsquare conferences are open but intimate. We examine a particular subject within our general field of communities of practice in greater depth across several days or weeks.

Our conferences are primarily by and for CPsquare members. Membership is open and you are invited to join us. (Dues are low enough so that a year’s membership costs less than many other conferences.) In addition to members, some people participate as guests during the conference:

  • Guests of the conference who are making a presentation (and are invited by the conference organizers)
  • Guests of an individual CPsquare member (who join as “a friend of CPsquare” and designate the individual as “sponsor” on the membership form). The expectation is that sponsors will help their guest participate and become acquainted with the CPsquare environment)

CPsquare conferences usually combine synchronous and asychronous elements, making participation possible from anywhere in the world.  (See the times in the password-protected community calendar). We will typically use more than one of our several platforms for our interactions in a conference.

What makes effective community events?

CPsquare, SCOPE and Online Community Enthusiasts are sponsoring a share fair on Thursday May 12 from 20:00 to 22:00 GMT about planning and running excellent online events for communities. (An event about designing events!  How recursive!) It’s a great opportunity to share some of what we’ve learned about what works in our communities. Would you like to share?

  • The agenda and a launch pad to participate is here:  Here’s how the agenda stands at this moment:
    • 1:00 p Introduction and welcome
      • Event logistics review: balancing broadcast & interaction,
      • Platform & technology components
      • Fall-back positions
    • 1:10 p Morning Fish bowl report-out (format & conclusions)
    • 1:20 p Planning an online symposium to launch a community with Linda Blong, Connie Silva-Broussard, George Triest, and Percy Young.
    • 1:40 p LaDonna Coy and Susan Stewart: increasing participation by diversifying tools (See the diagram on the right.)
    • OCE Elluminate room (continued)
    • CPsquare Elluminate room
      • 2:00 p Breakout # 1
      • 2:20 p Breakout # 2
      • 2:40 p Breakout # 3

We’re also having a Twitter chat at 18:00 GMT on Thursday May 12 on “Effective online vents from a KMer perspective”

A field trip to KM4Dev

Some field trips take longer to pull together than others.  The CPsquare / SCOPE visit to and with KM4Dev has taken longer than most and feels like a much bigger deal than most.  For one thing there has been a great deal of overlap between the two communities.  KM4Dev is notable for being very productive and quite informal community in a global sector that is both complex and with its share of command-and-control style organizations. Also, it seems like this is an inflection point in the life of KM4Dev.  It has grown from about 500 members at the beginning of 2008 to over 1500 today.

Because KM4Dev is big and a bit sprawling, because there has been an overlap between CPsquare and KM4Dev membership, and because this is an interesting inflection point for KM4Dev, this field trip will have both synchronous and asynchronous components.  The asynchronous part will begin on April 20 where we look at several different facets of KM4Dev.  We will collect pointers to historical events such as face-to-face meetings or notable transitions as well as tools that have been developed, platforms or tools that have been tried.

For example, recently (in the current “My Practice” session) Joitske Hulsebosch mentioned a blog posting by Nancy White describing the effort to “translate” from the D-group email list discussions to a wiki page: it’s a great idea but hard to do.  We will try to collect such stories and examples more systematically.  Another example is that at one of the KM4Dev face-to-face meetings, Josien Kapma and Beverly Trayner practiced and developed the craft of social reporting so as to benefit the KM4Dev community (and spread good practice) and develop their own learning as well.  When I went to a KM4Dev meeting in Brussels a couple years ago, I observed a Bingo game as part of a community warm up (the video has an advertisement at the beginning):

I have to say I was pretty skeptical, but when I saw it translated into Spanish, being used at the KM4Dev meeting in Cali, I think I “got it.”  So the question is, how can KM4Dev’s history of innovation and learning be kept alive and developed further?  All successful communities face this kind of question sooner or later, and having a field trip like this is a great way to explore the question and come up with possible answers.

Although this event is different in scope and structure than our regular field trip visits, it will be open (and free), as in the past.  If you are interested in spending some time on this project, write to john (dot) smith (at) learningalliances (dot) net for enrollment in the online, asynchronous discussions.  We hope to have a good number of KM4Dev members participate in the conversation along with CPsquare members and (some) guests.  Also, if you would like to participate in just the synchronous part of field trip (which will last for 90 minutes and will be held on 27 April 2011 at 15:00 GMT, come back here for details that will be posted the day before.

For this field trip we are intending to produce a more comprehensive and systematic summary of what we learn than what has been the norm in our previous trip reports.  The final report will be published or linked from here and we have allocated some funds for an honorarium to the CPsquare member who undertakes writing the summary.

Online Conferences

This is an open invitation to two upcoming events related to planning events.

1) SCoPE seminar (online)

Online Conferences: Professional Development for a Networked Era, a 2-week online seminar at SCoPE, begins on Monday, April 11, 2011. During this event we will share experiences and advice on how to plan or participate effectively in an online professional development conference. Our facilitators, Lynn Anderson and Terry Anderson, have written a book based on their research and experiences. It will be of interest to anyone who has participated in an online conference of any kind, which is just about everybody! As with all SCoPE activities, you are welcome to participate according to your own time and interests, and there is no registration required. Just show up! Please join the dialogue; together we can improve the online conference experience.

We will kick off the seminar with a Web Conference in Elluminate – Monday, April 11, 10:00 PDT, 17:00 GMT

2) Gathering of Online Community Enthusiasts

problems The second event is the 3rd annual Gathering of Online Community Enthusiasts, (OCE2011) May 12, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The theme this year is planning excellent community events and will be a full day of talking about and experiencing various event formats, strategies, and technologies. There will be an opportunity to participate from a distance as well, so watch the OCE2011 space in SCoPE. If you plan to attend, RSVP here.

Coping with so many CoPs

These days we are all pulled in many directions, including conversations and communities that pique our curiosity or compel our participation for one reason or another.  The conversations about communities of practice are a case in point.  Nobody can follow them all, or read everything that’s written about communities of practice.  Google says there are 29 million pages when you search for the term.

You have to resort to some shortcuts to follow the conversation about communities of practice or just try to catch up.  I have been impressed with recent conversations about communities of practice in LinkedIn, for example.  It’s not a place where I would expect to find the topic pop up.  In one recent conversation, however, a bunch of references to good articles were cited and Nicky Hayward-Wright ended up not only gathering them together but organizing them into a wonderful update to the Healthcare page on CPsquare’s Wiki bibliography. When you think of it each one of the bibliographies in CPsquare’s Wiki points to a conversation as well.  Which brings up the question of the different flavors or meanings of the term.

Thanks to Bev Trayner, I just bumped into a comprehensive bibliography in the business and organizational studies literature that is a full length study of the concept by Enrique Murrillo.  Murillo talks about how the concept’s “interpretive viability” makes it flexible but also has associated risks. Murrillo suggests that the recent decline in practitioner-oriented journals is “a symptom of the CoP concept becoming mainstream, an accepted addition to the Management vernacular.”

Essentially, how you use the term is kind of situated — say on whether you’re in healthcare or in business or education — or in the theory-construction business.  (In his keynote talk at the Networked Learning Conference in Aalborg last May, Etienne Wenger suggested that whether you use the term or not depends on what you want to do.)  I have to say that conversations in  LinkedIn, CPsquare and com-prac among others, which lean on, borrow from, and occasionally heckle the academic literatures, are alive and well. Keeping a conversation going is an art with enduring interest.  Even when you think you’ve figured it out, it seems there are surprises and more to learn.  (For example, I thought that Digital Habitats would lead to more of a conversation about technology stewardship than it has so far.  I wonder why?)

Workshops, conferences, religions, reifications, and involvement

Different participants see the social network differentlyWe’re running the Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop again two times this year, starting next on April 4 and (tentatively) on September 12. Since its predecessor first ran in 1998, the workshop has been under continuous redesign as participants from all over the world pitch in and make it better, as new tools become available, and as we formulate new strategies to make it more useful and impactful. For example, recently Bronwyn Stuckey, Etienne Wenger, and I have been thinking about how participation and reification show up in communities and in our workshop. We are developing summaries of each week’s activities as a visible marker and transition to the next. We want to use summaries that work in a workshop setting that are also useful in an ordinary community of practice.

For example, Social Network Graphs are sometimes used to think about the social structure of communities, especially when they are forming. So at the end of week one we use a graph showing how people interact in the workshop’s “Opening Circle.” It represents what people have been doing and provides an opportunity for reflection going forward. At the end of week six, as Practice Lab projects are wrapping up, we’re holding a Share Fair, both because it’s useful for workshop participants to present what they have learned and because Share Fairs are a common and recommended practice. I would like to know what the most useful (and common) reifications that you are seeing in practice! We would appreciate a comment on the CPsquare blog or drop us a line!

The regular activities that we are holding at CPsquare include “Shadow the Leader” (in it’s 5th year), the Research and dissertation series (which has been running more or less since the beginning), a quarterly “field trip” where we visit a community together, and now the monthly “My Practice” series, where people talk about their work and the communities they work with (ranging from HR and medicine, to beekeeping, to software development, to education and on and on). We usually interrupt these regular events with larger scale conferences. Next Fall we are seeking to organize a series of conversations with pioneers — people who were around the Institute for Research on Learning when the community of practice idea was hatched. In June, we are holding a conference on religious communities as communities of practice.

Churches the most common community of practice experience in the US?In American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010) bring up many of the issues that are likely to come up in our conference next June. For example, the graph at right (on page 30) suggests how”a regular place of worship” is such a common experience for Americans compared to other forms of association (and hence learning). Although they come at the topic from a sociologist’s perspective (outside looking in), they provide some fascinating vignettes and insights about how religious practice has evolved in America.

One of the issues that has come up repeatedly over the years in CPsquare is how the surrounding social and economic context (and even “business model”) shapes a community of practice. Putnam and Campbell offer an interesting perspective on that issue in the following two quotes:

However, the congregation as an all-purpose association with members who choose it, belong to it, and make contributions to it is actually a very Protestant model of religious organization. This form and function of the typical American congregation – of whatever religious tradition – is thus a consequence of America’s Protestant heritage. The United States may not be a Protestant nation in law, but its Protestant legacy shapes the contours of the religious landscape. (p 30)

Rather than a congregation with a fixed membership, mosques in Muslim societies were – and continue to be – convenient places into which one steps in order to pray, depending on where one is in the course of the day. . . . But in the United States, mosques inevitably come to resemble churches. (p 31)

From an entirely different angle, a story from a great little book by Richard H. Axelrod, Emily M. Axelrod, Julie Beedon, and Robert W. Jacobs titled You Don’t Have to Do It Alone: How to Involve Others to Get Things Done (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004) about the very productive coexistence of an Episcopal Church and a Jewish Temple in Ann Arbor, Michigan, fits right in here. I’m quoting at length (from page 16 on) so you’ll buy the book (notice the different kinds of involvement they mention), because it suggests how learning at many different levels of scale intersect in religious communities, and because it provokes questions about the kind of involvement we seek to encourage in any community we might work with:

It’s important to always stay clear about what you are trying to accomplish since different goals call for different kinds of involvement. Here’s a story that illustrates the point.

Genesis Ann ArborA Jewish temple and an Episcopal church share a building in Ann Arbor, Michigan — the longest-standing affiliation of its type in America. Some years ago, the temple and church were in conflict, which threatened the harmony of the relationship. The membership of the temple was growing, but that of the church was not. Members of the temple wanted a larger social hall for celebrating life-cycle events in their community weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and so on. The church wanted to invest its excess funds in charitable works. Initially the boards of each organization met together to see if they could iron out their differences.

After these sessions, the temple leaders thought that the project was clear: the work they faced was to decide whether or not to build an expanded social hall. They planned to hold a few meetings with the board’s audit committee to determine the financial feasibility of such an effort (Know-How Involvement). They talked about what it would take to encourage members of the congregation to contribute to a fund raising campaign (a creative variation of Arms and Legs Involvement you might call “Checkbook and Wallet Involvement”). But as they explored the situation further, they uncovered a more fundamental question: “What kind of temple do we want to be ?”

Suddenly, the entire project changed. The temple leadership knew they needed to engage the entire congregation in such a significant question. In conversations about their collective future (Care and commitment Involvement). A vision for the temple community gradually emerged. At the same time, they also got clearer about the nature of their relationship with their church partners. This new clarity made it relatively easy to resolve the building issues. They proceeded to build a beautiful new worship area, social hall, and educational classrooms that have benefited both congregations — with strong backing from across the congregations’ members.

Today, the space shared by the temple and the church is the best utilized building in Ann Arbor. Schools, community groups, fitness classes, and lifetime learning programs are all housed there for below-market fees. This met the church’s need for charitable works. These various groups have also provided a substantial source of income, defraying the costs borne by the temple and church for the construction project. The lesson: as you get clearer about what you’re trying to accomplish, you’ll get clearer about the kinds of involvement you need.

Just think how much learning is happening in that story!  To me it suggests that if people are involved in something important, the learning takes care of itself.  Are involvement and learning goals aligned for your community?

Fifth year of Shadow the Leader: Franklin Cook

This year CPsquare’s Shadow the Leader series will shadow Franklin Cook, who is working to establish a community of practice on suicide bereavement in the United States. Here is more information about him: Some of the big questions that may come  up this year are:

  • Is this more of a network or a community of practice? Does that question matter?
  • How do institutional role and mission affect the participation of individuals?
  • What kinds of resources does a community like this require?

Our first session will be on Thursday September 23.  The Shadow the Leader series has been going on for four years.

  • In four years we’ve explored questions of leadership, legitimacy, platforms and how they work together, multi-membership, community peripheries, and business models.
  • The leaders we’ve shadowed have ranged from people who had never heard of CPsquare or communities of practice before to people who’ve been very involved in our community over a long period of time.
  • The basic form has been fairly constant. We always start with: “How is your community?” and take it from there.
  • We continue meeting every month whether the group that shows up on the conference call is large or small.

Ground rules for these conversations are:

  • Inquiry: We avoid volunteering advice. The main point is to see the situation through the eyes of a practitioner.
  • Open participation: Any member of CPsquare can join us. Although the conversation evolves and a lot of context accumulates, the conversations are such that you can get a lot out of any one of the sessions without having participated in any of the previous ones.
  • We design this so that multiple levels of participation are possible. Members can just scan the chat room notes, or listen to the audio recordings, or “sit in” on the calls, or be one of the active contributors to any one conversation or to the whole series.

This series is rewarding because it:

  • Explores what works on the ground in a specific situation (reflecting on why things work, as well) rather than a theoretical “best” practice aimed at a theoretical or “typical” setting
  • Focuses on “the doing it”: the rewards, techniques, obstacles, confusions, and outcomes as they unfold in time. Instead of the plan or the recollection after the fact, we try to look at community leadership and development “in the moment.”
  • Looks at how all the elements fit together: personal, political, technical, organizational.
  • Offers an example of the coexistence of the cutting and the trailing edges