Yesterday, I attended a workshop conducted by Nancy White and assisted by Shawn Callahan here at work coordinated by VPSCIN. Nancy is a specialist in online interaction and distributed communities of practice.
Some of main points from the workshop included:
- That communities at their core work improvisationally
- That communities drive the use of technology and technology drives the formation of online communities – it works both ways symbiotically
- Australians naturally understand issues of distance better than Americans
- That collaborative technologies upset established power bases (must be why I like using them so much!) but that some technologies can amplify existing community power relationships (hub and spoke models as an example)
Nancy talked about four tensions that need to be lived with (and importantly not resolved) when working with communities. These tensions exist in both online and offline communities and different communities at various stages of their lifecycle will be at different points along the continuum of these tensions.
- Individual versus the Group – communities are designed for the group but experienced by the individual
- Participation versus Reification – belonging and acting and conversation in the group’s relationships versus the artifacts and trails that get left behind from the group’s activities
- Togetherness versus Separation in Time and Space – what is the minimum amount of togetherness required to generate community yet at times people will want to do their own thing
- Control versus Emergence – which cuts across all three preceding tensions.
Another tension that I thought about was similarity versus difference. At times some communities might want to exclude differences to forge a common identity while at other times that might want to incorporate difference and expand their points of view.
A critical aspect is the notion of identity in communities. Each individual could have a different type of identity in various communities (active/passive) while also, communities themselves might have their identity change over time.