Defining Communities in Research

Community Engagement Working Group poster at the DARIAH Annual Event in Berlin, April 2017

The Community Engagement working group in VCC2 is charged with making meaningful connections with researchers in the AHSS disciplines in order to drive forward work within the wider VCC2 network.

In order to do this, of course, we must first identify and define the communities with whom we want to engage.  At the DARIAH Annual Event, held in Berlin last month, we launched our campaign to do just that.

Our approach was two-pronged:  an ‘interactive’ poster on which visitors were asked to define communities of practice on removeable sticky notes they then stuck to the poster, and also by responding to our question “How would YOU define Communities of Practice?” as posted on Twitter.

The responses we received to both calls to action revealed some interesting patterns that bring us a step closer to identifying these communities.

On both the poster, and on Twitter, the majority of responses provided took a holistic approach, defining communities on a very broad level.  Common themes among those broad responses focussed on the collaborative nature within communities of practice, with ‘sharing’ and ‘exchange’:

Shared information and tools between scholarly communities working on similar/ related topics, with lots of feedback how the different teams are using the shared info”

(via Twitter…)

“People finding or creating a shared purposed, establish intellectual baselines and go beyond them!”

In addition to highlighting the very collaborative aspects of research communities of practice, many others were keen to define according to the types of practice undertaken, be they at a disciplinary level, or a methodological approach:

“People sharing theoretical assumptions + methodological steps (but yet don’t know of each other)”

“ ‘community of practice’: people working on a class of problems or a kind of activities [sic] using related methods and / or tools

“Groups of people brought together through common methodologies, disciplines, topics or also research backgrounds in order to network, create, share or enhance”

And, much more specifically:

“Aim at low-level (granular) communities of practice: es [sic] archaeologists working on c5th mainland Italy are many!  GIVE THEM A VOICE!”

Of these responses, we can also see an attempt to define what communities of practice are working towards: themes of networking, creation and ‘going beyond’.  The type of approach that advocates for strength in numbers, rather than the individual.  All too often, especially for Early Stage Researchers working in the Humanities, and some Social Sciences, isolation is an issue.  While Early Stage Researchers are often coached in the importance of networking, mostly through conferences and workshops, they might not have the opportunity to do so for months, during which stage they may find themselves floundering to get past a problem to which someone else might be able to offer a simple solution, if only they knew!  The same can be said for more established researchers.

Responses to our question “How do YOU define Communities of Practice?”

Many of these broad suggestions were clearly aspirational, painting a picture of how a research community would ideally work.  The practical nature of such communities can sometimes fall short of these ideals, however, down to either lack of resources, a lack of availability, or (sadly) a lack of motivation.  The latter of these potential problems is perhaps the most difficult to combat, after all why try tackling the first two if you don’t have the motivation.  However, through careful engagement and – yes, giving the different communities a voice – the Community Engagement Working Group hopes to ensure that the Research and Education needs of those communities, be they centred by career-level, discipline or common methodologies, are met.  Ultimately, we hope to be in some way instrumental in motivating groups to meet those aspirations of communities of practice by which researchers define them.

Our survey is ongoing.  If you want to help us come closer to identifying and defining communities of practice – tweet to us on @CE_DARIAH and let us know your thoughts!