Indicators of community

The Cloudworks team had a Critical friends meeting this week which was really useful in focusing our minds on prioritising development for the rest of this year. Cloudstreams and email alerts are nearly there, and we hope to be adding a Bookmarklet function to the site to make it easier to set up clouds spontaneously. Next month we will be focusing on the home page and improving new user experience.

I have started the task of evaluating the effectiveness of Cloudworks as a conference tool  and have been mapping the evolution of the conference Cloudscapes and the types of interactions added using CompendiumLD. I have identified 4 broad catagories of interaction: Informational, Discursive, Practical (not sure about this label, what I mean is a sharing of practice and experience) and Social, and hope to identify behaviour patterns which indicate the development of a 'sense of community'.

Of course, this means that we need to come to an agreement about a definition of 'a sense of community' and some reliable indicators of community behaviour. This has been attempted many times both for real and virtual communities so we're not in any way starting from a blank page! Erickson (1997) suggested the 6 criteria: membership, relationships, commitment and generalised reciprocity, collective goods and duration. Although argues that actually it isn't useful to refer to online discourse as an on-line community anyway - he prefers to focus on the nature of discourse rather than the nature of relationships but I find it hard to disengage the two.  I find myself more attracted to Mark Smith (of Infed)'s  list of tolerance (from Walzer, 1997), reciprocity (from Putnam,2000),  and trust (from Putnam, 1993 and Coleman, 1990). Reciprocity is clearly essential for the success of Cloudworks as a sustainable environment for discussion and sharing, and can be fairly easily evidenced through the increase in Discursive and Practical interactions but tolerance and trust will be harder to identify through observation of behaviours. Surprisingly, I haven't found much on this topic (indicators of 'community') written since the late 90s despite the emergence of Web 2.0.

Even though I have just started the process of mapping the interactions there are some suggestions of patterns, especially around the use of Social interactions to promote Discursive comments. For example, currently it is primarily the Cloudworks team who contribute Social comments (welcome, thanks, affirmations, word play and jokes etc) and maybe an indicator of trust or tolerance will be that users begin to take over this role themselves, or even that Social comments become a less significant factor in the evolution of the Cloud.

Another issue is one about what might indicate a successful conference Cloud - I'm finding it easy to slip into the trap of thinking quantity of comments is all important, but more valid indicators are more likely to be focused around the range of contributors, number of links to wider conversations and sites, evidence of increased professional knowledge, exchanges of learning and teaching ideas etc. I need to define some criteria so will be giving this more thought over the next few weeks.


  Posted by Rebecca Galley on 13 August 2009


Andy Powell says...

Interesting, thanks.  How about using 'Shared Practice' as a label rather than 'Practical'?  It seems more descriptive of what you are trying to capture?

18 August 2009

Shirley Williams says...

You may want to look at the work of Wenger and others on Communities of Practice and use some of the same categories chosen in that work.

18 August 2009

Gráinne Conole says...

Yes hi Andy I like that as a label and does capture it better - thanks


18 August 2009

George Roberts says...

You might want to look at "Emerging criteria for comminity success", here (with links):  These have been restated as

  • Bounded openness
  • Enough difference
  • Semi-stability
  • Adaptable model
  • Shared repertoire
  • Structured freedom
  • Multimodal identity
  • Serious fun<!--EndFragment-->

18 August 2009

Gráinne Conole says...

Great thanks George these look useful we'll take a closer look....


18 August 2009

Rebecca Galley says...

Thanks for the feedback - really useful stuff.

@Andy Powell Yes you are absolutely right 'Shared practice' is much better - I was trying for one-worders but there isn't one that fits. What I would really like is a donkey bridge i.e. Informational, Interactive, Interpersonal...but that really would be pushing my luck!

@Shirley Williams. Thanks for the pointer; really useful - Some Cloudscapes could be defined as a Community of Practice and the model provides suggestions for observable behaviours:

Characteristic                Behaviour

The domain                    Commitment to the domain

Community                      Engagement in joint activities and discussions

Practice                            Develop a shared repertoire of resources, ideas and language

And also linked to to this the concept of Communities of Purpose when Communities of Practice work across community boundaries towards a shared interest or task. I think one of the things Cloudworks is/ will be good at is cross boundary  discussion.

@George Roberts I really like this list - and especially the way it captures the enjoyment of discussing and sharing with people who are interested too. Thanks also for signposting me to the Emerge reports - very interesting.

20 August 2009

Rebecca Galley says...

This looks interesting - Social Design Patterns  

21 August 2009

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