Defining the various types of communities - both internal and external to an organization.
As one views the rapidly evolving landscape of innovation and/or knowledge management, there are terms (some new, some old) being bantered about to describe observed phenomena. The problem is that it is natural to apply meaning to words that have similar but quite different uses. This could be construed as splitting hairs, but I think it is really important to aptly characterize the meaning of words so that we can expand mutual understanding. To that end, this blog post attempts to define the various types of community/groups that work internal and external to the conventional institutional and enterprise environment.
Some types of communities/groups may be familiar to most in business and education. For instance, terms like ‘communities of practice’, ‘crowdsourcing’, or ‘open innovation’ are all terms that have been well defined - or have they? The following set of definitions are derived from literature as well as my own observation - where I feel it is important to make a distinction between them.
Communities of Practice (CoP):
Groups that work within an enterprise or institution who have shared goals (Swan et al., 2002). As observed within my own experiences with CoP within the corporate environment, they are organized to improve sharing, creation and integration of knowledge central to the domain or specialization of the group. They are sometimes cross-functional and the knowledge of one group is shared with other communities that might interact with deliverables of the other community.
Networked communities typically have been defined from the perspective of interaction between one organization and another. Tier one, two or three suppliers are consider part of a networked community. The unique aspect of this type of community is that they embody knowledge- centric beliefs, the community at large is able to leverage, integrate and learn from one another. The relationship changes from supply to supply/share/build in a co-dependent manner. To be able to motivate and leverage this within a system is powerful. It also assumes a less competitive and adversarial environment.
Lately, crowdsourcing seems to be used as a catchall phrase. The term describes the use of external groups of talent. The most common way to consider crowd sourcing - implying no collaboration - but a crowd as a group of individuals that generally compete with one another for prizes and/or payment. They could also be considered freelance services. Organization often use this model to expand their capacity and to distribute labor for projects that lack internal expertise or a need for fresh ideas from external sources. The organization generally does not have a one to one relationship with these individual. It is a crowd - a bunch of individuals. They are not organized into a community.
Open Innovation and Collaboration
Open collaboration should be used as a container phrase that I believe captures the essence of the activities of the following types of communities. My preference is to use the term ‘open innovation’ as a verb and not to define any specific group activity or community.
Open Innovation Communities
Open innovation is a shift from enterprise driven projects to projects and activities that are partly driven by individuals that share an interest. Many institutions and enterprises try to leverage these communities of experts and enthusiasts. Open innovation is driven by collaboration. We find projects conceived by community members who are challenging themselves to grow and expand on innovative IT solutions for example. These groups are often self organizing and have a floating leadership structure.
Peer to Peer Communities
Peer to peer communities are similar to the above open innovation communities. The peer to peer community is comprised of individuals who meet-up to share experiences on topics of mutual interest. They generally have few ties to the corporate world and would be considered amateurs. The word amateur may imply they have little experience and they are not indeed experts, but some of these individuals show tremendous competency in their areas of interest. They may have knowledge of conventional scientific and engineering principles, yet they often choose to chuck them out the window and experiment with concepts that are not meant to be used in the manner the community is trying to use them - which defines them as true innovators! It is from this group that the next term originates. I needed to include them because they are the embodiment of the Peer to Peer community - they are ProAm’s
ProAm’s were noticed and defined by Leadbeater (2010) They are the utmost experts in repurposing of unexpected processes and/or products. They are responsible for mountain bikes, bio-hackers (who choose to challenge conventional wisdom and have developed their own personal form of health and life enhancement), and those interested in natural building methods. These are a few groups that exhibit the ProAm behavior.
Open Communities of Practice (OCoP)
The last community type I believe needs clear definition here are open communities of practice (OCoP). Some have said this is redundant with the previous definition of CoP yet I argue it is not at all the same as internal communities - which are essentially closed. Managed by a formal structure, the leadership is generally conventionally defined.
These open groups are not led, they are wholly independent, yet function well through facilitation. OCoP currently serve as the ‘idea engines’ for only a small number of organizations at present. These open and collaborative communities are cross disciplinary (Phlypo, 2014). The membership does not start with new participants as they generally have a cohesive component. Whereas in most of the aforementioned communities, the expertise is focused generally within a specialization. This group has a cross-functional nature and they function together as a community - building and expanding knowledge - collectively and collaboratively.
In summary, there is a clear spectrum of definitions that range from communities, crowds, to ProAms, and the open collaborative community. Each one has distinctive characteristics. My intent here is to help provide further clarity as we go forward. The more we discuss, and achieve consistency on definitions, the better we are able to research these various groups and to look for overlap as well as differences. I’m certain there are more types that I have not included, or different terms that basically mean the same thing. This was my attempt to bring some clarity for myself and for those who have wondered about the differences and need a more succinct way to conceptualize these communities. More to come.
My next post will describe some organizational structures that generally employ these various crowds and communities.
Ebner, W., Leimeister, J.M. & Krcmar, H., 2009. Community engineering for innovations: the ideas competition as a method to nurture a virtual community for innovations. R&D Management, 39(4), pp.342–356.
Leadbeater, C., 2005. Charles Leadbeater on innovation-TED.com. Available at: http://www.ted.com/speakers/charles_leadbeater.html.
Leadbeater, C. & Miller, P., 2004. The pro-am revolution : how enthusiasts are changing our society and economy, London: Demos.
Leadbeater, C., 2010. We-Think: Mass innovation, not mass production, Profile books.
Pan, Y. & Blevis, E., 2011. A survey of crowdsourcing as a means of collaboration and the implications of crowdsourcing for interaction design. In Collaboration Technologies and Systems (CTS), 2011 International Conference on. pp. 397–403.
Phlypo, K.S. 2013, Emerging Forces of Innovation: Bridging Enterprises and Open Communities of Practice, Walden University.
Sharma, A., 2010. Crowdsourcing Critical Success Factor Model. Strategies to harness the collective intelligence of the crowd.
Sloane, P., 2011. A guide to open innovation and crowdsourcing : expert tips and advice, London; Philadelphia: Kogan Page.
Swan, J., Scarbrough, H. & Robertson, M., 2002. The Construction of `Communities of Practice’ in the Management of Innovation. Management Learning, 33(4), pp.477–496.