A Tool for Communities of Practice

I have to say, building tools is a total blast.  It’s so fun problem-solving the facilitation of a process — because the tool builder is never exactly sure what the process will exactly look like.  You’re just making the wand to facilitate the magic.  At any rate, there seems to be two primary design paths to the perfect tool.

Path #1:  Build the tool to suit the needs of the user.  The user usually wants more efficiency, to maintain or raise quality, a faster rate of production, and all at a cheaper cost.

Path #2:  Build a tool that you hope is extremely utilitarian and flexible — and then let users tell you what it’s good for.  And then, perhaps iterate from there.

I think of the bright, up-and-coming Neanderthal that first invented a thingamajig to dig holes.  His buddy, only slightly impressed, got him to make a much smaller version and it became a whosamagatz which was the perfect tool to eat soup and gruel with.  And then her buddy (yes, let’s not get all male-oriented here) suggested she cut some slits into that whatsamabob and that thing became a fork.  Best of all, the part they cut out for the slits made the perfect toothpick.  (I’m pretty sure toothpicks were always called toothpicks.  I’m just guessing though.)

The Nuvana Whatchamahoogie aka the MVP aka the Mega Versatile Platform never ceases to amaze us when folks tell us what it’s REALLY good for.

One of the partners we were planning to build for defines their institution as a community of practice and asked us to customize around that sensibility.  After carefully looking at the Nuvana MVP, their remark was, “Never mind, your platform already does that.”  To be safe, we decided to delve a little deeper nonetheless and came across this interesting article:  “Cultivating Communities of Practice” by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder.

Here are some design tenets that Wenger et al suggest a good community of practice adhere to.

  1. Design for evolution.
  2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives.
  3. Invite different levels of participation.
  4. Develop both public and private community spaces.
  5. Focus on value.
  6. Combine familiarity and excitement.
  7. Create a rhythm for the community.

So how does the Nuvana platform specifically adhere to these principles?

1.  Design for evolution:  “The key to designing for evolution is to combine design elements in a way that catalyzes community development.” — Our platform uses missions aka “calls to action” derived from expert opinion as well as community suggestions and moderation that result in dynamic but authentic outcomes.  Most of our competitor platforms are closed systems.  The outcomes are pre-defined.  The Nuvana system self-iterates (evolves) — leading to unforeseen positive results.

2.  Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives:  “Good community design brings information from outside the community into the dialogue about what the community could achieve.” — The Nuvana platform, depending on how admin sets it, allows in “guest experts” to moderate.  Also, if the “game” is set to “Open/Viral” those outside perspectives are invited in.  The calls to action also encourage the community to seek outside experience and expertise.

3.  Invite different levels of participation: “The key to good community participation and a healthy degree of movement between levels is to design community activities that allow participants at all levels to feel like full members. Rather than force participation, successful communities “build benches” for those on the side lines.” — The Nuvana platform allows admin to set levels for broadstroke grouping, and emphasizes mentor/moderator participation to give individual attention.  The result: top to bottom inclusivity and personalized learning.  The leveling and badging system makes for dynamic flow within the community, transforming the social network into collaborative space.

4.  Develop both public and private community spaces:  “The key to designing community spaces is to orchestrate activities in both public and private spaces that use the strength of individual relationships to enrich events and use events to strengthen individual relationships.” — The Nuvana MVP has public walls, private messaging, private forums for the moderators, and circles of privacy setting to determine who can look at what user-generated media.  The activities can be virtual, but we encourage real world activity, and embed a voucher system to connect behaviors to bricks & mortar venues.  The profile formula we’re working on synthesizes all activities from liking to scoring to badging — into an overall reputation quotient that helps individuals seek the right mentors and understand the utility of comments they’re getting.

5.  Focus on value:  “Communities thrive because they deliver value to the organization, to the teams on which community members serve, and to the community members themselves.” — One of our partners, a foundation, uses the Nuvana platform with the adult grantees of their organization.  It allows the grantees to share best practices in a healthy competitive environment (while keeping certain issues secure), provides value to the constituents of the grantees, and gives the foundation usable media to market and proclaim the value it provides overall.  By allowing users to act as individual “players’ or collaboratively in Teams, a host of different interactions are available to the community.

6.  Combine familiarity and excitement:  “Lively communities combine both familiar and exciting events so community members can develop the relationships they need to be well connected as well as generate the excitement they need to be fully engaged. Routine activities provide the stability for relationship-building connections; exciting events provide a sense of common adventure.” — Since the Nuvana MVP allows for 24/7 presence, like any social network, our games become a familiar part of a community’s daily life.  Then with special Missions of the Day or Week that have deadlines or clear incentives — there are surges of excitement — not to mention the frenzy that occurs at the beginning or end of game cycles emblazoned on our countdowns.

7.  Create a rhythm for the community:  “Vibrant communities of practice…have a rhythm. At the heart of a community is a web of enduring relationships among members, but the tempo of their interactions is greatly influenced by the rhythm of community events.” — With the Nuvana MVP, our newsfeed pages allow admin to create rhythms of activity for the community involving research, collaboration, activity and celebration.  The timing is up to you.

Well, that’s how one group is using the Nuvana MVP.  We’re waiting for the right partner to show us how our tool works as a toothpick.

—  JvK

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