Chapter VII: A Look at Other CoPs

Chapter VII: A Look at Other CoPs

In this chapter we aim to take the issues that have been raised in the main study and explore them in the context of other CoPs. As we now have a much tighter focus, we do not have to spend so much time living with these CoPs but can use open-response structured interviews with key members of the CoPs. In these CoPs, the practice was not the work of the members but ran alongside their everyday work.


Our purpose in this final short study is to explore the two main issues of a shared artefact and face-to-face communication/relationships in two other CoPs:

  • The Environmental Sustainability Community (ESC); and

  • Educational Excellence Alongside Work (EE-AW).

Both of these communities differ from WWITMan in that WWITMan's practice was the everyday work of its members. The practices of ESC and EEAW are extra to the everyday work of the members.

The Environmental Sustainability Community

The ESC is a group that has a shared interest in environmental issues. It was driven initially by a small group of individuals who obtained support from its organisation to run a conference for interested parties. This was attended by people from all over the organisation and also by people from outside the organisation. There was a hard core of volunteers who invited people who might possibly be interested. The attendance was approximately 130 and was very successful. The organisation has continued to support the community by funding one person to be involved full-time and allowing other people to work on it alongside their normal work.

There has been no major meeting since the conference, so the community is distributed to a much greater degree than WWITMan. It does not have the range of communications media available to WWITMan and therefore is restricted to the intranet and e-mail.

There is an active core of members who drive the community, which now numbers approximately 130. It has an intranet site maintained by a member of the active core. The active core is co-located to a degree. Members are not all in the same building but the majority is at least in the same town, with two members in a neighboring town. Other people are restricted to the intranet and to the mailing list. Participation and access are formalised to some degree, as some people are on an "everything" mailing list, which means they receive all the community e-mail. Others are on a "newsletter" list, which means they receive a newsletter giving a summary of the community's communications.

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Figure 1: ESC Degrees of Participation

The people who are not members of the organisation but who attended the conference are not on the mailing lists for reasons of company confidentiality. Any communication with those people is undertaken on a one-to-one basis.

Figure 2 shows the physical layout of the ESC. The active core is located in California's Bay Area with most of the core members being located in Palo Alto. Two others are a short distance away in San Josť. There is also a branch in Corvallis (Oregon) where there are several members who participate in community discussions and also talk between themselves. Everybody else tends to be linked by e-mail or newsletter. The people in the Bay Area are recognised as the ‘core’.

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Figure 2: ESC Physical Layout

Education Excellence Alongside Work (EE-AW)

EE-AW had been in existence about fifteen months and had been started by two people interested in education. They had pulled together a group of like-minded people to explore how the organisation could be involved in education in a different way. The organisation already donates regular large amounts of money to the educational system, but EE-AW is trying to see how products can also be matched to the educational needs. As part of this, scientists from the group go into schools and work as guest teachers. The group is supported by the organisation by the unwritten rule that people can use about 10% of their time for "undirected research." Like ESC, EE-AW is too distributed to be able to have people together on video or audio conferences, so communication tends to be by e-mail. Also like ESC, there is an active core of seven or eight people, referred to by the community as the "fanatic core." The active core is spread over two locations in Palo Alto. The members of the active core refer to the wider community as the "extended family." Members of the extended family occasionally call on the active core if they are in Palo Alto and will sometimes join meetings as peripheral members.

The name of the community is intended to be evocative of a children's story and, according to an EE-AW respondent, "has the nice characteristics that if we ever say it to anybody, their first impression is to giggle and that's always a good thing because it's interesting. It's new to the mind."