Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Community is the Platform - Part 1

In a previous post, I suggested that the People are the Product, particularly in knowledge-based industries. However, when people in these contexts work and interact in a community, it becomes the platform for realizing continuous improvement and value innovation.

What is a Community?

Some of the definitions for community from the Miriam-Webster dictionary include:
  • a unified body of individuals
  • an interacting population of various kinds of individuals
  • a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society
In businesses, you find a variety of structures that help people interact and align to create value:
  • Organizational units and teams
  • Functional teams
  • Cross functional teams
  • Project teams
  • Ad hoc communities of practice
  • Informal associations and social relationships
If we only recognize the traditional or formal "communities" or organizational structures in a business, we can easily end up managing and assessing only a fraction of the "real world" social activity and potential. Taking a view of all "communities" allows a more complete perspective of the known activity while adding a new capability to "sense" and influence emerging activities and events.

One could view these various constructs through the lens of "community" to create a much richer, more comprehensive picture of the organization. Seeing an organization as a set of "communities" creates a powerful source of information about organizational design and behavior that can can be measured and then encouraged for sustainable, competitive value creation.

Accelerating Value Creation

In knowledge-based industries, communities are not simply the facilitators of existing collateral, but also the engines for future content and expertise. In order to optimize the agency of communities, it is important to:
  • Identify and catalog the existing communities
  • Assess the health of specific communities
  • Provide an environment that supports community development and cooperation
Concrete value is produced at the juncture where a community (via its members) uses its expertise to convert implicit knowledge into explicit products and artifacts. The conditions for accelerating this process, or scaling it include:
  • Visibility - how easy is it for others to see what you intend to do or are currently doing?
  • Openness - how easy is it for others to contribute to what you are doing or need to do?
  • Promotion - how ineffective are you at making others aware of your contribution and potential?
These conditions result in an increased level of output quality and volume. We call this output the contribution of the community.

Measuring for Success

The health of the community, or its potential for sustained contribution, can be measured by focusing on the following areas:
  1. Interaction Levels - an assessment of the visibility, openness and promotional aspects of the community. It includes:
    • Measuring new visitors to your community
    • Measuring contribution ratios and activity
    • Measuring dialogue and other forms of interaction
  2. Contribution Value - an assessment of the output of the community. It includes:
    • Measuring contribution levels
    • Measuring usage of content via access, ratings etc.
In my next post, we'll take a look at some practical tools and ideas you can use to create an environment that fosters community building. You'll be surprised at how executing simple principles and tools can generate significant short-term results, while reinforcing long-term productivity and innovation.

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