This paper aims to examine the dynamics of a community of practice (CoP) through a case study of eCars – Now! They offer open-source blueprints of the electric conversion kits globally. The authors analysed the CoP by considering its entire life cycle, starting from the motives for its establishment, through its active performance, up to the current stage, where the members need to decide whether the community will remain viable. Particular attention was paid to the group dynamics and issues that seemed relevant to the change in dynamics which determine whether a CoP maintains its vitality or dissipates.
The qualitative case study was chosen as the research strategy (Yin, 1984) to answer the research question and understand the target phenomenon of the CoP by analysing textual data. This particular case was chosen because of its unusual revelatory value for the case CoP which aims at creating a tangible innovation by using a platform that normally aims at intangible problem-solving (Eisenhardt and Graebner, 2007). In the data collection, the authors used method and researcher triangulation (Patton, 1990).
Life cycle analysis revealed four themes that explained the change in the group dynamics and the dispersal of the community: differentiation and dispersal of interests, growth that resulted in role differentiation, virtuality in community development and inclusion of investors. The themes were all related to the fact that the case community operated with not only knowledge, but also with a tangible product. Therefore, the tangibility of a problem to be solved seems to play a pivotal role in a CoP’s operations and dynamics and, in part, also explains the changing role of information and communications technology (ICT) in the process.
However, this paper identified also different ways to characterize community participation, which was also relevant from group dynamics point of view. Thus, the topic should be studied further. Group dynamics in general, as it relates to the success of CoPs, should be also investigated further. Additional studies should implement the inclusion of external resources in the community. Further research is also needed to investigate tangible and intangible outcomes achieved through CoPs. Much of the available research was conducted over short periods; prolonged interactions in a CoP context could show different results.
In conclusion, at the beginning of the life cycle of the eCars community, ICT played a significant role. It helped increase awareness of the community in the first place and enabled people to join in, which thus enabled the community to evolve. When the operations evolved and the life cycle progressed, both the physical meeting place as well as personal interaction and communication became emphasized and much more important. In the maturing stage, the role of ICT, and especially social media, is the essential part of the community.
This analysis suggests that at the early stage of a community, the plans can be somewhat random, even utopian, but when the community evolves, this uncertainty can become a problem. First, it affects achieving the actual, and in this case, concrete results. Second, uncertainty and unclarity dampen enthusiasm and motivation, which are of utmost importance due to the voluntary participation. This paper also concludes that when the operations evolved and the life cycle progressed, both the physical meeting place as well as personal interaction and communication became increasingly important.
This paper argues that the ideological basis for this kind of community should be openness. All information should be available for everyone who registers to the community platform on the internet. This community was working in the mindset of open innovation. Technical documentation and all other material were available for everyone in the community’s wiki pages, which attracted a lot of people who were delighted by eCars. Many advisors delivered technical information and good advice to the practitioners of the community through the platform. The hang arounds were also very well-informed in this stage regarding how the core group was working.
Pohjola, I. and Puusa, A. (2016), "Group dynamics and the role of ICT in the life cycle analysis of community of practice-based product development: a case study", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 465-483. https://doi.org/10.1108/JKM-06-2015-0227Download as .RIS
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