I was on a conference call on the weekend discussing Steve Denning’s book, The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling, with the CP Square guys. In chapter 7 Steve makes a clear distinction between CoPs and Networks where the latter consists of a group of people who link together for mutual benefit, such as an alumni. While a community of practice is a group with formed for the purpose of improving member practice. Now, if you take extreme examples like your LinkedIn contacts (a network) and Shell’s Turbodudes (a CoP of geologists interested in turbidites) the difference between the two forms of organising are clear. But when we consider the middle ground it seems that the organising structure is in the eye of the beholder. For example, ask a handful of people who participate in ActKM, some will say it is a network while others will swear it is a community of practice.
I would like to propose that the way we perceive the group type as either a network or a CoP depends on whether people have heard and retell the group’s foundational stories. I know many of the ActKM stories because I was there from the start. I can tell you the one about the KMCI debacle which helped get ActKM started, the one about how the listserver system went haywire and we introduced moderation and the one about the YahooGroups being deleted. So I see ActKM as a CoP. I’m also a member of CP Square but I don’t know that group’s stories and consequently I see it more as a network than a community. I would like to change my perception in that case.
This is merely an observation. Does it hold true in your experience?