Computer Mediated Communications and International Communities of Practice

Abstract

Within the Knowledge Management context there is growing interest in computer support for group knowledge sharing and the role that Communities of Practice play in this. Communities of Practice are groups of individuals with a common purpose and who share some background, language or experience. The community is regenerated as newcomers join the group and old-timers leave. The newcomers have access to the old-timers and learn from them. This generally takes place through situated learning. New group knowledge is also created as members of the community have a problem to solve and swap experiences and anecdotes to solve the problem, possibly arriving at a novel solution. This may then be further shared through anecdotes so that it eventually becomes part of the group's store of collective knowledge. Communities of Practice provide an excellent forum for knowledge sharing and a vital question is whether the new communications media, which provide new possibilities for collaboration and distributed working, could support the existence of such groups in a distributed environment. This question takes on an added relevance with the rapid internationalisation of business [Castells 1996] that can spread the distribution over national boundaries posing problems of cultural and temporal as well as physical distance. This paper reports on a case study which was the first stage in exploring whether Computer Mediated Communications technologies (CMCs) can support distributed international Communities of Practice. The aim of the case study was to explore the possible existence of Communities of Practice in an international organisation, to identify such groups and to ascertain the media used.

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