Thursday, 17 January 2013
Setting up an online Community of Practice can feel like going out to sea in an open boat. You are never sure what is going to happen. There are lots of unseen forces out there. All will be well if things are calm, but what if things get stormy? How will you cope? Will you, and the community, become overwhelmed, or swamped?
These are valid worries. As I explained in this post, there is something about online dynamics that means that sooner or later, things will start to degenerate.
However there are certain precautionary principles a community can take. These are as follows
1) Agree a charter, or "rules of engagement". This should cover the aims and objectives for the community, the roles and processes that will be employed, and also the behaviours the community members expect of each other. The great things about the charter are that firstly the new community members are clear about "what they are joining", and secondly the community sets boundaries so that it is clear when people stray beyond them. The charter should be a foundational document for any community, and it acts as a shield against things going wrong.
2) Appoint a facilitator, or moderator. This person is appointed by the community, to help it run well. The facilitator is not a dictator, nor a policeman, and is the oil in the community wheels, and the social energy source for the community. However if serious trouble arises (flame wars, insults, spam, persistent off-topic material) the facilitator is the person who deals with it on behalf of the community; initially by reminding the offender of the charter, and at a last resort removing offending posts or even asking the offender to leave the community.
3) Regularly revisit the charter, and check that the community is working well, and adding value to the members. If the charter needs tweaking, then call a meeting of the community to rewrite it, or conduct an online discussion.