Section II: Living with the Community

Section II: Living with the Community

Chapter V. Living with the CoP — Stage One
Chapter VI. Stage Two—Visiting the American Core
Chapter VII. A Look at Other CoPs
Chapter VIII. Lessons Learned

Chapter V: Living with the CoP—Stage One

This chapter describes Stage One of the case study, which is designed to obtain an inside view of how a distributed CoP works, how the softer aspects of knowledge are shared, and how participation is achieved. To start with we are introduced to the members of the community, and then we spend some time with them. Before we move to Stage Two, we take the opportunity to examine some issues that arise from this first stage.


The community that provided the focus for the research in the case study is in the IT support for the research arm of a major international organisation. It exists in three locations—Japan, the UK, and California. It consists of the IT support group in a UK location, a larger IT support group in a Californian location, and an IT support member in Japan. They had seen a need for structural change at an early stage and for over two years have been working to try to provide a global infrastructure for the organisation's research arm, to try to undertake joint development work, and to try to deploy distributed resources more effectively.

click to expand
Figure 1: Structure of Case Study CoP

The UK core consists of an overall manager, Wayne, and three other managers: Dave, who is responsible for the Infrastructure Team; Stan, who is responsible for the Informatics Team, and Mike, who leads the PC Support Team. The first stage of the main case study concentrates on the UK core, but the members frequently and regularly interact with Chakaka, the support person in Japan, with the US core, and with people from a number of project groups. Figure 2 shows the relationship between the people who are present in the study.

click to expand
Figure 2: The People Involved in Case Study

The situation is very similar in the American location. There are specialist teams headed by an individual manager. The teams correspond broadly to the teams in the UK core. The main difference, however, is that the American teams are much larger. The Japanese location is much smaller overall and is served by one member: Chakaka. Although there is an obvious hierarchy within the US group, as evidenced by the presence of an overall manager (Dan), the group considers itself to be a Community of Practice and the members justify this by defining a CoP with the following characteristics:

  • Has a common set of interests motivated to do a common set of something.

  • Is concerned with motivation.

  • Is self-generating.

  • Is self-selecting.

  • Is not necessarily co-located.

  • "Has a common set of interests motivated to a pattern of work, not directed to it."

This is consistent with the CoP characteristics outlined in Chapter III but is interesting for the importance it attributes to the internal motivation. Also interesting is the fact that they do not feel co-location is necessary for a CoP to function.

Other CoP features were also in evidence; for example, there was a sense of a common purpose, and the group had a strong feeling of identity, even to the point of giving itself a name. The group had its own terminology—as well as the technical domain language, there were also group-specific acronyms and nicknames. Although the group is an official group, it is a group that has evolved from a need and that is driven by the members themselves.

The group originally evolved from getting together to act as a bidding organisation that sought to make innovative bids to make new investments in the IT structure. At the end of that process, the members of the group found that they had got to know each other quite well and had developed good relationships. They had developed into regarding themselves as a worldwide IT organisation, changed the group's name and have since continued to move forward and evolve, with relationships constantly developing. They consider the management team of the IT organisation (WWITMan) to be the CoP, as that is where the strongest relationships have developed and where the closest collaboration takes place. However, relationships are constantly developing in the wider group (WWIT), and joint projects and cooperation are becoming more and more the norm—it may therefore be possible that other CoPs will come into being in WWIT in the future.