Education Community Builders

Adult education

You will find within this paper, theoretical and practical aspects of knowledge communities, their strategies, important tools and processes that will help to integrate Knowledge Management into our organisation's current methods.

Knowledge communities are groups of people who share common challenges, opportunities, or a passion for a given topic, and who collaborate to deepen their understanding of that topic through ongoing learning and knowledge sharing. (AIA Knowledge Communities)

The theoretical aspect of Knowledge communities is based on managing technology and managing human beings who share their knowledge effectively. The sharing of knowledge further depends upon information seekers who are in need of a certain type of knowledge. So that they can perform certain tasks with confidence and knowledge sources may have all the required information. The theoretical aspect is implemented in such a way so that effective knowledge sharing is possible between knowledge seekers and the knowledge source. This facet helps seekers and sources to be aware of their requirements and resource.

The concept of Knowledge Communities is largely derived from what is known as a community of practice (CoP). The term was coined in 1998 by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger who claimed that communities of practice are everywhere and that we are generally involved in a number of them whether at work, school, home, or in our civic and leisure interests. In some groups we are core members, in others, we are more at the margins. (Smith, 2003)

Towards the end of the last century, the idea of knowledge sharing was put to use in the corporate world and a broader form of CoP evolved which was known as "knowledge communities".

The basic difference between CoP and knowledge communities is that the scope of member participation is clearly defined by job description (such as farmer's community) in CoP, whereas in the case of knowledge communities member participation is wide open and covers in some cases, all the employees working in a big organisation. (Yamazaki, 2004)

Knowledge communities were first put to practice by Xerox which was faced with a global IT infrastructure transition project. Top managers decided to launch a knowledge-sharing initiative which was called the Transition Alliance. The Alliance comprised fifty IT professionals responsible for managing 70,000 desktop workstations, nearly 1,200 servers, and networking hardware on five continents. It was observed that the motivation for learning and developing at an individual level seemed greater in this community structure than in other organizational forms. This had important implications for the longer-term job performance of the participants. (Storck and Hill, 2000) Since then large corporations have used knowledge communities with documented positive results. knowledge communities…strategies

Knowledge communities are based on the idea that knowledge and insight are created and acquired when humans interact with each other and their environment. Any strategy to implement knowledge communities, therefore, must emphasize on the need for a diverse range of social interactions, such as one-on-one conversations, information and communication technology (ICT) tools, group discussion, research projects and presentations. Storck and Hill (2000) identified six guiding principles that are instrumental to the success of organisational learning. These are stated below and are applicable to knowledge communities in a corporate environment:

- Design an interactive format that promotes openness and allows for serendipity.

- Build upon a common organisational culture.

- Demonstrate the existence of mutual interests after the initial success at resolving issues and achieving corporate goals.

- Leverage those aspects of the organisational culture that respect the value of collective learning.

- Embed knowledge-sharing practices into the work processes of the group.

-Establish an environment in which knowledge sharing is based on processes and cultural norms that are defined by the community rather than other parts of the organisation. (Storck et. al, 2000) Apart from these the management of both technology and context in order to provide effective support for learning and knowledge sharing is essential. knowledge communities…tools

In this section, the aim is to clarify which IT tools support knowledge communities. Most of the knowledge communities today is online, there is very little interest in face to face knowledge communities. The tools generally used for knowledge communities are therefore e-mail, groupware, e-learning systems teleconferencing etc. There are however constraints to the usefulness of these technologies. Face-to-face interaction can sometimes be very crucial for example in developing and reinforcing trust relationships between team members. Most knowledge communities have predefined Knowledge Management component architectures which are based on knowledge portals, components, and databases. These architectures act as tools for organizing and classifying knowledge in a proficient manner. In Knowledge Management, a portal is the base source from where members of a knowledge community should start to enter, find, and access knowledge using the various KM methods.

Most of the search tools used by knowledge communities are server-based systems which can handle the portals of different organizations. These tools should be designed so that they follow a top-down design approach. Due to their basic inherent complexity, these are centralized, inflexible and slow to respond to change in the knowledge base. If the knowledge base has to handled by an individual rather than a community, then the approach of the design will be bottom-up, and the complexity level of the tool will be minimum. Of course, all tools used for the infrastructure have to be maintained so that they can provide the required knowledge in a classified manner whenever necessary. The knowledge communities use the knowledge assets for the applications like product development by collaboration, automation of different business processes and real time collaborations for online applications. If the applications are user-centric, then the storage cost can be decreased with the help of knowledge assets provided and maintained by the knowledge communities. On the basis of the knowledge base maintained by many communities, it is possible to enhance the capabilities of the search-based applications.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools can only provide great infrastructure and environment to support learning. But these tools alone are not sufficient to stimulate effective learning in knowledge communities. "Technology, however, has a central part to play in providing the media and infrastructure for learning in and between knowledge communities if motivation and the learning context already exist." (Barrett, et. al., 2004) knowledge communities…processes

The processes which are used in knowledge communities are the following:

1. Creation or construction of the knowledge database. This is the main process in developing the information database, and it should be implemented efficiently so that other processes can reuse this process if needed.

2. Storing the knowledge so that it can be used for learning and implementing the knowledge database. This process also deals with the retrieval of information if data loss is evident.

3. The next process deals with the transfer of knowledge from one category to another. There are different methods available for the transfer and anyone of them can be chosen according to the requirements. Transfer processes are different for various types of users, and can occur at a range of levels.

4. One of the other important processes supported by knowledge community is application. The knowledge base is useful only if it is capable of providing useful information to the user.

5. The last process deals with learning, which is useful for the knowledge base organization. This process deals with how to learn what is needed, and why it is required.

Knowledge communities have their utility in areas of high structure, automation of processes and tasks, and a stable business environment. Applications should be based on conditions that are most suitable to the pre- specifications of the knowledge base. The structure of these applications should be capable of making use of the knowledge communities. The automation processes which new technologies are used on and based on workflow can get proper backup from the knowledge communities by other systems. Such applications use the knowledge base generated by these communities to achieve lower costs, higher quality, and greater market share for existing products and services. The process of establishing knowledge communities is not straightforward. The need for it or the context of knowledge sharing must be defined first. Then we must focus on where to get this knowledge from, that is, which members of the organisation or community to focus on. Once the community and the Knowledge context have been decided we need to decide on the media. Putting knowledge communities in place is not very difficult but maintaining and running it efficiently is, especially when the community members are expected to have a loss of interest in future or when there is lack of trust among users. Periodic checks and reviews are therefore very essential to sustain any knowledge communities. relationship to knowledge management knowledge communities is very much related to knowledge management. Knowledge management is capturing, organising, and storing knowledge and experiences of individual workers and groups within an organisations and making this information available to others in the organisation. This is what knowledge communities does too so that we acknowledge that knowledge communities is a very effective tool for knowledge management. an example of knowledge communities system

A good example of the use of knowledge communities at corporate level is Hewlett Packard's IT Resource Center (ITRC) which brings together engineers, internal IT staff and customers. The community uses intranet or extranet and is focused on specific products or issues. These organisational communities have membership running in thousands and they cover topics such as business recovery planning and operating systems software. Community participants can ask questions and receive answers within a short period of time. So when systems administrators have problems, they can post symptoms electronically on the intranet and receive detailed help on how to proceed within minutes. For such communities to succeed, members must have mutual trust. Hewlett Packard deals with mistrust by using a system of user-profiles and ratings. Community members get to rate each other's responses from 1 to 10. The response now has a 'credit rating' and the query poser can easily assess the utility of this answer.(Barrett, et. al., 2004) Such success stories of knowledge communities abound in today's corporate world. conclusion

It's a well-established fact that people with common interest facing similar kind of problems learn faster when in a group. The interaction between individuals creates a knowledge base which is of utmost importance to each member of this community. Knowledge communities are based on this basic premise. They try to bring people together mostly using today’s advanced ICT tools. knowledge communities have found tremendous acceptance in the corporate world owing to their simplicity and usefulness. ICT tools work best in creating knowledge communities when a sufficient stimulus to learn already exists in the community. ICT tools, however, have their constraints and face-to-face interaction becomes vital sometimes. For a knowledge community to succeed there must be a learning context, sufficient members to contribute knowledge, a media and mutual trust among members. If such requirements exist, knowledge communities can become an indispensable tool for any organisation or community.

The knowledge communities help organisations to identify their knowledge priorities so that these organisations can upgrade their tools to be more user-friendly in handling the knowledge platform. It helps the organisation to develop more appropriate, meaningful, and useful knowledge management bases.

With thanks to


Knowledge communities, The American Institute of Architects,

Michael Barrett, Sam Cappleman, Gamila Shoib and Geoff Walsham.(2004) Learning in Knowledge

Communities: Managing Technology and Context. European Management, Journal Vol. 22, No. 1, pp.11, 2004

Smith, M. K. (2003) 'Communities of practice', the encyclopaedia of informal education

Storck, J. and Hill, P.A. (2000) Knowledge diffusion through 'strategic communities’. Sloan Management Review 41(2)

Wenger, E. (1998) 'Communities of Practice. Learning as a social system', Systems Thinker

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