Sunday 1 February 2009

Communities - a term that's becoming increasingly fuzzy

Sometimes a word becomes so broadly used that it becomes a barrier to communication.

The word “Community” is something you hear a lot in the Knowledge Management world. I have heard it used to describe lots of very different groupings of people, from collaborating groups of half a dozen experts, to the 3000-strong technical communities of Shell, to the 150 million people who have registered with Facebook.

The function of these groups is extremely varied. Some are groups for exchanging and building knowledge, others are small innovation teams, others are people with absolutely nothing in common but the use of the same software tool. Their structures, their governance (if any) and the ways in which they deliver value can be like chalk and treacle (to choose something even less chalk-like than cheese).

I worry that the “Communities” word is becoming too broad to be useful, and a better way of categorizing these networks is needed (or else a need to describe them in a little more detail). From now on, I intend not to use the word "Community" on it's own, as others may hear it in a very different way to the way I speak it. I will be more specific, and talk of Communities of Practice, Communities of Purpose or Communities of Innovation.

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