We’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.
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.
A 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?