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The XYZ Axis of Community Modeling

March 26, 2009

I’ve mentioned in a few posts how much I like the blog post and diagram Harold Jarche and Jay Cross put forth to describe learning.  Their diagram looks like this:

Image courtesy of Jay Cross and Harold Jarche

Image courtesy of Jay Cross and Harold Jarche

There is a lot I like about this diagram.  The more I’ve thought about it though, the more I’ve begun thinking that maybe Jay and Harold’s title was too narrow.  While the title is “The Future of the Training Department, what they really describe is the future of work.  I’ve decided to explore this a bit further to see how far we can extend this model.

The first thought I had was this: “what if we used this basic construct to visually map different kinds of work cultures or work communities?”  You can imagine a highly emergent organization might not be in the shape of nice equilateral triangle, but might be skewed to the left.  You can imagine a highly collaborative organization would skew the other way.  So my first thought was that maybe this model provides a way to visualize and profile different community types.  As with most good ideas, this came to me as I was describing the model with Geophrey Graves, a colleague at Mzinga.  At which point, we both got really excited because of the vast possibilities in this approach.

I sat on this for a day or two, letting the idea sort of bounce around my head a little.  I do this a lot when I think I’m onto a “big idea.”  After it had baked a bit, I ran it by another colleague, Isaac Hazard, who is our lead guru on community management.  He also had that “immediately excited, brainstormy” reaction and we started kicking the concept around some more.  Then Isaac suggested that instead of using the oddly misshapen triangles I had drawn, that we create a new framework that would be a more formal and structured way to represent the significance of each vertex.  Here is what we came up with:

CEC - Codified, Emergent, Collaborative

CEC - Codified, Emergent, Collaborative

Ok, so now we have something interesting. We have a framework through which we can  visually describe the unique “footprint” of specific communities. It also suggests the possibility of “typing” communities according to common characteristics.

Let’s consider one real world example: Ace Hardware.  Ace has been in business over 85 years and has over 4400 independently owned and operated retail stores nationwide.  Part of this network of dealers specializes in B2B sales.  While Ace provides some training to these dealers, for the most part the dealers are responsible for their own training and development.  Not surprisingly, that means that there are lots of gaps in what dealers know.  Some might be experts in roofing, others plumbing, still others electrical.

To overcome these gaps, Ace set up a dealer network where dealers could ask for help and share their expertise with each other.  This wasn’t formal training or codified best practices.  Nor was it emergent knowledge or best practices.  This was mostly dealers sharing expertise they already had with each other.  Obviously, some new best practices emerged from this collaboration and undoubtedly, some of these made their way into formal Ace best practices.  But for the most part, this was about collaboration and sharing.  So what might that kind of community paradigm look like?  Maybe something like this?

Highly Collaborative Communities

Highly Collaborative Communities

With the gradations, we can also begin thinking about using this predictively.  Imagine creating a list of questions to identify emergent, collaborative, or formal needs.  Answers to these questions could then be plotted against this framework to create a visual map of the community “type.”

The end result could be something like Myers Briggs typing.  We develop a list of questions to create the type and then we can map types to common use cases, best practices, typical challenges, appropriate technology, strategies, etc…  Once we identify a Collaborative Community paradigm (like the Ace example above), it could then kick off a whole set of best practices and approaches related to this paradigm.

One final point for this post:  the scope and scalability of this model is very broad.  Our work with Ford’s SyncMyRide support site would be a classic Collaborative Model, similar to Ace, but focused on customers helping each other rather than dealers.  Our work with EDR is broader, more like a full-blown community of practice with blogs, discussions, idea sharing, social networking, etc…  This kind of community is more blended, including formal content, emergent knowledge, and collaboration.  Something like Dell’s IdeaStorm project is almost entirely an Emergent Community where members share ideas.

It can also describe ad hoc, temporary communities around software launches or market research, or larger community initiatives like standing communities of practice or partner / channel partner sort of communities.  Needless to say, I think this framework might have some legs and be worthy of a lot more discussion.

I’m going to explore these ideas further over the next few days in a number of posts:

  • Community Map of the Mzinga Social Enterprise Suite
  • Community Map of Highly Emergent Communities
  • Community Map of Highly Collaborative Communities
  • Community Map of Highly Codified Communities
  • Community Map of Blended Communities
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