The Global Community of Practice

Design communities of practice need to re-think what “community” means today. Though we may be more connected to others’ ideas through the Internet, true understanding cannot be achieved by a theoretical knowing.

We need to look at solutions that foster conversations beyond the antiquated mailing list in a manner that recognizes the impact different cultures have on what we collectively consider to be “good design”.

In workshops I conducted on Information Architecture in Kingston Jamaica, I asked people to brainstorm and sort products and services they would expect to find within a specific industry. Interestingly, they chose terms such as “Parish” to describe counties (in Jamaica) – though in North America this same term would delineate a community of worship – and “Deli” to describe the Vegetarian section of a grocery store.

Daniel Szuc, Principal at Apogee Ltd in Hong Kong, made a similar observation during the Interaction Design conference this year, outlining that one needs to fully immerse themselves in a culture to truly understand the values and lifestyles of its people.

Eric Reiss, Principle of the User Experience firm FatDUX, in Copenhagen Denmark recently blogged about the European community in his Johnny Holland article, The Man Without a Country.

Within each nation, there are incredible regional differences – a Dane from Himmerland sees the world differently than a Dane from Djursland. A Swede from Halland is different from one from Blekinge. Is Galacia part of Poland, the Ukraine, Austria – or Spain? In Zagreb, Croatia, they’ll tell you “The Balkans start on the other side of the river”. Dalmatia and Istra are Balkan; Slavonia is not. Most folks have never heard of these places. But that’s what makes Europe so exciting, right?

In an effort to illustrate this notion of a global community, I asked colleagues in South Africa, India, and Germany to describe what community means to them based on their experiences living and working within his/her respective culture. [Note: This was originally to be part of an effort for The UX Workshop, an effort that never came to fruition.]

Werner Perhchert ~ South Africa

Based on all of these shared experiences from colleagues in the User Experience discipline from around the world, the following are suggestions for creating a truly global community of practice:

Dismantle Board of Directors This is an opportunity to gain trust by giving up control. In certain contexts it appears almost arrogant that a North American-centric Board of Directors, for example, would claim to know what was in the best interests of those in countries they have never experienced.

I don’t believe we need a small group of people to instruct the future of any discipline. In many instances this creates a myopic clique of individuals who, perhaps unknowingly, dominate conversations and the opportunity to share. Invariably, this empowers the few to determine what is most important for the many.

Lead with Passion and Purpose The only way for a community to grow is to provide people within a specific country the opportunity to meet and connect. People are the foundation of every successful venture. Imagine a global community of practice led by Werner in South Africa, Afshan in India, and Jan in Germany with the single purpose of conveying value behind the UX discipline regardless of title.

Share the Wealth Imagine a global community of practice that acknowledges and recognizes the unique needs, requirements, and expectations of different cultures. Practitioners in South Africa would undoubtedly have different requirements than those in New York City. Membership fees in most communities of practice is minimal. What if the global community of practice took the time to understand the needs of people in different cultures, countries, economic environments and provided money, resources, time, and mentors to those in developing nations?

In the 100+ people I’ve mentored over the past few years every single person, regardless of where they were located, talked about wanting to do meaningful work that would help other people. Who would not want to join a global community of practice under this model …knowing that their small contribution could help others learn from their experiences?

The workshops I led in Jamaica didn’t net me a large contract, but it did afford me the opportunity to learn from a culture who models the behavior of community in ways like no other community I’ve seen.

Leverage Current Technologies Skype, Facebook, Twitter, iChat, GTalk, Podcasting, Video…and the list goes on and on! Connecting and communicating with all nations is no longer an issue of cost. We can connect for free on Skype; with the ability to have meaningful conversations with people from around the world. We can share ideas on video and upload to search engines like YouTube to engage, collaborate and inspire.

Membership Fees This cannot be universal! Membership fees must be predicated upon the socio-economic status of each country, and its citizens. Who better to determine this membership rate than those living in that specific country? In countries where the economy is not as wealthy as developed nations, ensure that 100% of their membership fees stay within that community …and a small percentage of the global community’s fees goes towards helping that nation build their own local community of practice.

There is no questioning the value of a community of practice. These organizations have brought researchers, designers, thought leaders in government and business together who would not have otherwise had such an opportunity.

That said, I believe it’s time for radical change! We need to start “walking the walk” within every discipline. We need to understand that we can have a far greater impact on not just our own discipline, but the world we live in!