Week 3: Exploring technology, networks and communities in the service of work

Introduction to Weeks 3-4

In the first two weeks, we explored different models of learning in networked environments. We’re now shifting our focus to innovative models that impact the way we work or address workplace challenges.

We’ve selected a few models that may help us understand the potential offered by enterprise social networks and open networks:

  • Crowdsourcing
  • Idea Management and Design
  • Communities of Practice
  • Working Out Loud

To start the exploration we’ve created an open Google document that provides a starting point by defining each concept and  providing a list of references and resources. Participants may add to and refine this document over the next two weeks (or more).

The definitions and resources are also provided below under the heading References and Resources.

Where to begin

Begin by scanning the topics and our starter kit of readings and resources (listed below) to see what might be new territory for you and what might be more familiar territory. Note: You do not need to read all of the recommendations. None are compulsory. These are recommendations to help you get started along one of two options for blogging and discussion.

Option 1: Explore a model that is new to you. Write a post or start a discussion about what you see as the most innovative features of that model.

Option 2: This is for participants who have experience with one or more of these models. Based on your experience, what are the subtleties that novices overlook or under appreciate about any one (or more) of these models? Some potential questions to explore:

  • What makes a community a community? And a community a community of practice?
  • What is the experience of “working out loud” really like? How do you sustain the effort?
  • What really motivates individuals to contribute ideas to internal idea banks? To open calls for ideas (such as Open IDEO)? How do you inspire contributors to provide their best thinking – knowing that the is only a small chance their idea may be among the “winners?”

Option 3: Let’s leverage our networks to answer some of the questions above – especially where our own experiences may be lacking. Who in our networks can help us better understand the nuances of these concepts?

Post your thoughts on either option during the next 7-10 days on your blog and/or MSLOC430 Enterprise Social Networking and/or via Twitter.

Contribute to the shared Google Document

You may contribute to creating the shared document at any time.

Help us plan Twitter chat(s)

During week 4 (which begins Monday, Feb. 16) we would like to host at least one Twitter chat to share what we’ve learned, what potentials we see for the ideas we explore, and how we might innovate using them. If you are interested in leading a Twitter chat, comment on this post in our Google+ Community. Our goal is to do chats at one or more times to help us include a global audience.

Schedule Summary

For weeks 3-4:

  • Feb. 9 – Feb. 20 – Blogging and discussion to explore models of learning in networked environments. What are the defining features of each? What subtleties might novices miss?
  • Feb. 16 – Next weekly update (via this blog)
  • Week of Feb 16 – Twitter chats? At #msloc430
  • Feb. 19 – Feb. 24 – Final effort to complete the shared document.

References and resources


Our starting point for exploring crowdsourcing as an innovation is the work of Daren Brabham, an assistant professor at USC Annenberg. Brabham is author of a short book from the MIT Essential Knowledge series – Crowdsourcing – that summarizes his research into the history of the concept, case studies and uses.

In his book Brabham outlines the key ingredients of crowdsourcing to be:

  1. An organization that has a task that needs to be performed
  2. A community (crowd) that is willing to perform the task voluntarily
  3. An online environment that allows the work to take place and the community to interact with the organization, and
  4. Mutual benefit for the organization and the community. (Brabham, 2013)

Brabham is also one of several academics who have made an attempt to define crowdsourcing by categorizing its different uses. Brabham’s typology consists of four general types:

  • Knowledge discovery and management
  • Distributed human intelligence tasking
  • Broadcast search
  • Peer-vetted creative production

Each type outlines one way of thinking about what crowdsourcing is (and is not). Brabham further defines a decision tree based on his typology to help practitioners decide what type of crowdsourcing model might be appropriate for their situation.

Daren Brabham video overview of crowdsourcing: http://youtu.be/GSjG82ZPb_4

Brabham typology definition: https://essentialcrowdsourcing.wordpress.com/overview/

Brabham decision tree: https://essentialcrowdsourcing.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/a-crowdsourcing-decision-tree/

Blog post covering Brabham’s 2013 conference presentation (International Association for Public Participation). The full slide set adds further details to the decision tree and typology:


Brabham book: http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/crowdsourcing

Idea Management and Design

For this exploration we are looking at a couple of concepts that are combined in an innovative way by Open IDEO.

The first set of concepts includes “idea management,” idea markets and idea banks. For our purposes let’s define this set of concepts as anything that helps solve the problem of finding and filtering through new ideas by leveraging technology to reach a diverse set of contributors. Contributors could be within an organization, outside of it, or both.

One way to look at idea management/markets is to break it down into two key components:

  • Sourcing – who contributes ideas, and how do you collect them
  • Filtering – how do you evaluate ideas to find the most promising or innovative.

Technology and networks allows the possibility of sourcing ideas from a large number of contributors. The value of this approach is the benefit gained from diverse thinking and heuristics. The challenge, however, is how to successfully filter a large set of ideas to find the one(s) that may be most promising (to address a problem) and/or innovative solutions. Approaches include using expert panels, open voting, creating “markets” in which ideas are traded and valued like stocks – or some combination of these three (Soukhoroukova et al, 2012).

In the Open IDEO case we see examples of open idea sourcing; a combination of voting and expert review to filter ideas; and some instances of these ideas beginning to take shape as actual solutions. As a design effort, Open IDEO allows us to see the full cycle: leveraging the network for ideas that eventually turn into something tangible.

For example, see the case of the Open IDEO challenge to address this question: How might we create healthy communities within and beyond the workplace? The challenge:

  • Generated 333 contributions in the “Inspirations” stage, which led to
  • 240 actual ideas in the “Concepting” stage.
  • A shortlist of 20 ideas was then created via voting (“Applause”)
  • The 20 shortlisted ideas were refined by the community and then evaluated by the community using factors such as viability and impact.
  • The evaluations were then considered as part of the final evaluation by the sponsors of the challenge. Out of this evaluation, 10 winning ideas were selected.

The same process plays out for many different challenges: A sponsoring organization poses a big challenge. A network of contributors generates ideas. The ideas are filtered and refined by the network. And a final selection is made through some combination of evaluation input from the network and from a panel of experts or key stakeholders. Impact of completed challenges is recorded in the Open IDEO Impact Book.

Open IDEO home: https://openideo.com/

Open IDEO challenges: https://openideo.com/challenge

Open IDEO Impact Book: https://openideo.com/content/impact

Case studies of internal idea management efforts from the Management Innovation eXchange:


Academic references:

Soukhoroukova, A., Spann, M., & Skiera, B. (2012). Sourcing, Filtering, and Evaluating New Product Ideas: An Empirical Exploration of the Performance of Idea Markets. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 29(1), 100–112. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5885.2011.00881.x

Lauto, G., Valentin, F., Hatzack, F., & Carlsen, M. (2013). Managing front-end innovation through idea markets at Novozymes: idea markets stimulate creativity and enable recombination of existing knowledge in large corporations. Research-Technology Management, 56(4), 17+.

Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice (CoPs) could have easily been categorized in our exploration as  technology and communities in the service of learning rather than in the service of work. It clearly bridges both. CoPs can be emergent – evident “in the wild” – as structures for practitioners to become practitioners in a specific domain of practice. CoPs can also be instrumental – efforts that are intentionally designed to support the on-going development of a specific domain of work practice.

It may be most helpful in our exploration of CoPs – and the role of technology in supporting CoPs or allowing the development of entirely virtual CoPs – to begin by understanding what makes a community of practice according to Etienne Wenger, who created the concept of CoPs with collaborator Jean Lave.

Wenger provides an overview of the concept Introduction to Communities of Practice. He also describes the history of the concept and its essential elements in Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems: Career of a Concept (download the full paper from this page). This is a long read – but among the key ideas are the five disciplines of learning partnership described on page 12.

Key questions to explore are: What makes a community a community? And what makes a community a community of practice?

Case studies also provide insights into how this concept is currently used in ways that leverage enterprise social networks or open networks. Two case examples may be

The United Nations Development Programme Community of Practice Guide defines the concept and effective practices based on the U.N.’s extensive experience in utilizing the concept.

A Model for Evaluating eXtension Communities of Practice addresses the development of CoPs at eXtension – an interactive, online learning environment delivering knowledge from land-grant universities across the U.S. – and a model for evaluating their role in meeting the organization’s goals.

Etienne Wenger – Introduction to Communities of Practice: http://wenger-trayner.com/theory/

Etienne Wenger – Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems: Career of a Concept


Definition of communities from CommunityRoundtable


The United Nations Development Programme Community of Practice Guide
A Model for Evaluating eXtension Communities of Practice

Working Out Loud

“Working out loud” according to John Stepper, who is publishing a book on the topic:

“Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”

Working out loud emerges from the possibilities created by the existence of enterprise social networks and open networks. So our exploration of this concept starts with those enthusiasts who are not only defining the concept but living it as well.

Working Out Loud website and community

The Five Elements of Working Out Loud (John Stepper)

Working Out Loud Circle Guide

Stowe Boyd interview with Jane Bozarth