Developing a Community of Practice
At the recent STC Annual Conference in Baltimore, I heard much discussion about the future of the organization. As many of you may already know, STC has lost membership in the past few years, not surprising given the economic downturn in the US economy and the outsourcing of technical writing jobs to countries with cheap labor. Perhaps more than membership, the attendance at the STC annual conferences has declined precipitously since 2001 because of reduced support from companies for training that involves travel.
As a result, STC leadership is actively engaged in trying to redefine the organization and provide alternative forms of membership. They hope to encourage more people to join on their own, without support from their companies, because they find what STC offers to be valuable. It is still not clear to many exactly what the STC leadership intends to do in this “transformation” effort. The leaders need to communicate with members more effectively about the steps they intend to take. I believe that STC has an opportunity at this point to become more business oriented, especially with respect to government and business activities that do not appear to be in the best interests of members. STC also has an opportunity to embrace a global focus, given the globalization of the profession. I urge STC to embrace its long association with Intecom, the international steering committee that is made up of all the international technical communication societies and was founded by STC. Given the globalization of the US economy, it would be a wise move.
One interesting point of debate, however, focuses on the attempt by STC to build communities of practice, associated as this point with the Special Interests Groups (SIGs) that now represent a high percentage of the members. As STC president in the early 90s, I was instrumental in giving the SIGs board-level representations and increased status, at a time when the STC leadership was actively trying to get rid of them. I even started the Management SIG so that managers might have more representation within the STC structure.
The SIGs have since increased in number and membership. I think I belong to four or five myself. Apparently, many members find it valuable to concentrate their interests in such areas as usability studies, management, independent contracting, information design, accessibility, and so on. These SIGs are now being labeled “communities of practice” and being asked to take on a larger role in the future of the society.
When we started CIDM nearly 6 years ago now, the focus was to develop a community of practice among experienced information-development managers. The intent of the community has been to exchange management insights and best practices among the members and to promote professional management perspectives.
At this stage in CIDM development, I think it wise to revisit our mission in terms of a community of practice. Here is an interesting definition that appears on the Web site of an organization called Community Intelligence Labs.
“Bonding by exposure to common problems”
There are many shades of definition of this concept