Big Brother and CoPs

June 6, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

I was trying to explain to an HR expert what exactly is a community of practice. Sure, I could have trotted out Etienne Wenger’s definition or say something along the lines of “a bunch of people who get together regularly to discuss and learn about stuff they have in common” blah blah. But since I’ve been watching Big Brother (remember my teenage mentee told me to do this so I’d understand the Gen Y mind..I’m not watching it because I’ve suddenly lost the plot!), I used a Big Brother analogy to get the point across (he was after all a Gen Y person by the looks of him).

  • think of a community of practice as a bunch of people coming together like those in the Big Brother household (the common purpose in BB obviously being your 15 mins of fame, the money)
  • they interact regularly and learn about each other, become familiar with each other (leaving aside that they all seem to be sleeping together in the same bed!)
  • intruders enter the household – new people who disturb the relationships already established. Just like new members join a CoP.
  • people get voted off – sometimes we have to ban members of online communities for breaching etiquette
  • there’s the head of the household award – in a CoP, you have a CoP facilitator, someone who guides or leads community discussion and activities
  • people have squabbles on BB – when different people come together in a community, not everyone agrees. Healthy debate moves a community forward by pushing members to explore, think or rethink, shift their worldview and so on.

The KM purists amongst you will be rolling your eyes but the analogy worked. He got it. I know it’s not that elegant and I did get caught when he asked “so where is Big Brother himself in a CoP?”. Okay, well a community worker like myself is someone who helps set up CoPs, works with the facilitators and so on. So I’m observing, watching how things go, watching the interactions, suggesting things. Kind of like Big Brother (without the Orwellian connotation!).

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