Knowledge sharing in a distributed community of practice: a case study of ePractice.eu

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Author: Juliane Jarke

This article aims to explore and describe the attempt of the European Commission to establish a Community of Practice amongst European eGovernment practitioners through the ePractice.eu project. The focus of the European Commission's attempt lies hereby in the facilitation of eGovernment good practice exchange throughout Europe.

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Knowledge sharing in a distributed community of practice: a case study of ePractice.eu

  1. 1. Knowledge sharing in a distributed community of practice: a case study of ePractice.eu This article aims to explore and describe the attempt of the European Commission to establish a Community of Juliane Jarke Practice amongst European eGovernment practitioners through the ePractice.eu project. The focus of the Student MA European Commission's attempt lies hereby in the Philosophy, facilitation of eGovernment good practice exchange University of Hamburg throughout Europe. Theory, namely the concept of Boundary Objects and the Communities of Practice approach, was used as an Keywords initial guide to design the case study and the data Distributed Community of collection. Data was collected through the author’s Practice, good practice participation at workshops, the examination of relevant exchange, knowledge eGovernment online forums and the conduction of sharing, boundary objects, semi-structured interviews. ePractice.eu, eGovernment, EC The used theory enabled to gain a better understanding of the relevant issues in the process of building such a distributed Community of Practice. The case study Since knowledge is shows that eGovernment practitioners see themselves perceived as being rather as members of a local community or a small situated and embedded into community focussed around a specific topic or practice, the conduction of technology than as members of a European workshops and the emphasis on transferability of good eGovernment Community of Practice. The concept of practice cases are leading boundary objects helped to identify the diverse in the right direction. perceptions of different actors and lead to recommendations on how to manage them in order to better facilitate the good practice exchange in Europe. European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 1 Nº 1 · November 2007
  2. 2. 1 Introduction This article aims to explore and describe the attempt of the European Commission to establish a 1 Community of Practice amongst European eGovernment practitioners through the ePractice.eu project . Knowledge exchange and transfer, especially the sharing of good practices in the field of eGovernment, is meant to be furthered through the ePractice.eu project which consists of a mixture of on-line (e.g. web portal) and off-line (e.g. workshops) activities and devices. The rationale for setting up such an initiative lies in the European Commission’s conviction that “the sharing of good practice is a core activity in realising the European Commission’s targets for the information society. It helps to ensure the wider deployment of good practice in ICT-enabled services across the European Union, to the benefit of citizens, public organisations and business” (EC call for 2 tenders (S 177-187995), 2006, 2) . In this article the following questions will be addressed in order to give a rich picture about the way knowledge sharing in a distributed Community of Practice in the public sector could be facilitated: (1) What are the most prominent Boundary Objects3 and how are they regarded by the eGovernment practitioners and the ePractice.eu team? In order to understand the different perceptions and interests of eGovernment practitioners and the ePractice.eu team relevant Boundary Objects are examined. (2) What concept of knowledge is used within the ePractice.eu project? This question is explored in order to conceptualise the project's approach of knowledge sharing. It is furthermore crucial to analyse the eGovernment practitioners' perception in order to judge the appropriateness of the approach chosen by ePractice.eu. (3) What perception of knowledge and knowledge sharing can be found amongst eGovernment practitioners and what are perceived to be the key success factors that enable or key barriers that hinder the successful portability of good practice examples? (4) To what extent have (distributed) Communities of Practice4 evolved in the European eGovernment community? The research on which the article is based on was accomplished within a 3.5 months time frame from 5 May to September 2007. The research design and conduction was independent from the European 1 For a thorough case description see http://www.epractice.eu/cases/epractice. It should be noticed that the activities of ePractice.eu concerning knowledge sharing are not solely focusing on eGovernment practitioners but also practitioners from eHealth and eInclusion. However these communities have not been regarded in this case study. 2 For more information about eGovernment policy and the ePractice.eu project please consult: http://www.epractice.eu/document/3253, http://www.epractice.eu/document/3915, http://www.epractice.eu/document/3927 and http://ec.europa.eu/egovernment. 3 Boundary objects were originally developed by Star & Griesemer, 1989. They are an analytical concept that describes objects that are adaptable to different viewpoints and therefore have different meanings in different environments but are at the same time robust enough to maintain identity across those environments and are therefore a means of communication within and between different these different environments. 4 The concept of Communities of Practice was first introduced by Lave & Wenger, 1991 as a concept of collective learning. Communities of Practice are formed through relations among people that perform the same or similar activities over a period of time. Wenger defines Communities of Practice as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger, 2007). It has to be recognised that Communities of Practice are different from networks since they are about something and not solely defined as a set of relationships. 5 The research project was a MSc Dissertation at Lancaster University Management School. Within the dissertation Actor-Network Theory (ANT) provides a frame to explain the development of the socio-technical network with its interest struggles between different actors. However this article focuses on the notion of Boundary Objects. The interested reader is invited to ask for the whole dissertation. European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 2 Nº 1 · November 2007
  3. 3. Commission and any other organisation such as consultancies. Main source of data have been semi- structured interviews. I have conducted a total of 18 interviews: 2 interviews with Commissioners responsible for the ePractice.eu project and the eGovernment Observatory; 5 interviews with consultants (3 with current project involvement) and 11 interviews with eGovernment practitioners from different European countries. Due to time, language and money constraints a focus was laid on practitioners from UK and Germany or practitioners with very good knowledge of English. Furthermore I have examined relevant documents published by the European Commission and observed the web forum, workshops and presentations. 2 Boundary Objects Boundary objects are an analytical concept that “have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable, a means of translation” (Star & Griesemer, 1989, 393). Star & Griesemer distinguish between four types of boundary objects: (1) repositories of things, (2) ideal types, (3) coincident boundaries and (4) standardised forms. (5) Visionary objects have been amended to this concept by Briers & Fong Chua (2001). Boundary objects are not only means of communication between and within Communities of Practice, they also play an important role when networks are evolving (Hildreth et al., 2000). Because boundary objects are both “adaptable to different viewpoints and robust enough to maintain identity across them” (Star & Griesemer, 1989, 387) they help to negotiate the common ground and understanding between different actors of evolving networks. In that respect boundary objects are perceived through different passage points or convictions based on individual interests that lead into the new network and are object to continuous negotiation between the various actors. In the following analysis I will examine (1) workshops, (2) good practice cases, (3) eGovernment community, (4) eGovernment Awards, (5) target audience and (6) the ePractice.eu portal itself as most prominent and diverse boundary objects of the eGovernment practitioners network. According to an illustration by Star & Griesemer (1989) I have developed the following overview shown in Illustration 1. On the ground layer it depicts the various interests of the interviewed practitioners such as gaining recognition, improving service delivery, receiving eGovernment news, learning, meeting people, working in an international environment or project funding acquisition. The next layer shows various passage points through which the practitioners or other actors perceive the boundary objects. The passage points listed in the overview include (1) aim to deliver better and more efficient services to citizens through the use of ICT, (2) knowledge sharing will improve effectiveness and efficiency in eGovernment or (3) knowledge sharing and learning can take place through good practice cases. The third layer shows the boundary objects that are going to be discussed in the following. Depending on their interests actors perceive and construct boundary objects differently. Their passage point into the network will therefore differ. European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 3 Nº 1 · November 2007
  4. 4. BOUNDARY OBJECTS good eGovernment ePractice eGov target practice workshops community portal Awards audience cases PASSAGE POINTS aim to deliver better knowledge sharing and face-to-face meetings knowledge sharing will and more efficient learning can take place are essential in order to improve effectiveness and services to citizens through good practice build a notion of efficiency in eGovernment through the use of ICT cases community INTERESTS enjoy working with recognition / improving project eGov news learning meet people international reputation services acquisition project partners Illustration 1: Passage Points and Boundary Objects In the following each boundary object will be introduced and then analysed according to the statements the practitioners made in their interviews; these statements are followed by the corresponding statements of the ePractice.eu team (involved consultants from P.A.U. Education and the European Commission). 2.1 Workshops Workshops are coincident boundaries which are described as “common objects which have the same boundaries but different internal content” (Star & Griesemer, 1989, 410). A workshop has the same boundaries in terms of time, place, scheduled activities such as presentations and involved actors for every actor, yet its content differs depending on the actors' role. The differences concerning internal content can not only be found between practitioners and the ePractice.eu team but also amongst the practitioners themselves. The interviewed practitioners view workshops foremostly as means of networking amongst each other to nurture existing contacts as well as build up new ones for potential project collaboration. “The people that go to the workshops have an interest in building and nurturing their networks, to bring themselves 6 7 in a good position for further project funding acquisition” (PRA 7). A further networking aspect targets the European Commission: “It is very useful to have the opportunity to talk to the people from the Commission in order to find out what they are thinking concerning the EU- funded projects [...] to get the flavour behind the words” (PRA1). Another important aspect of the workshops is learning: Learning was given as a reason not only within the interviews I've conducted but was also stated by almost all participants of workshops I've attended. Mostly people were eager to know whether others were facing the same problems as they do and how others were approaching these problems. 6 PRA stands for practitioner 7 It has to be noticed that the workshops which the practitioners reflected upon within the interviews were not limited to the ones ePractice.eu is conducting. Other workshops such as the ones of the North Sea Region Programme offer explicit networking opportunities in form of speed dating sessions for project partner search. European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 4 Nº 1 · November 2007
  5. 5. On the other hand, as reasons for non-attendance the following were named: (1) language, (2) money for the travel expenses and (3) a different level of development in eGovernment amongst participants. The ePractice.eu project team wants the networking aspect to work for the portal and its community itself. The workshops are regarded as an essential part of ePractice.eu exchange concept, namely the off-line. In order to gain results such as stronger notion of community, stronger relationship to the portal and new member acquisition, the workshop conduction is integrated into online pre- and post- workshop activities. However the ePractice.eu team's challenge lies in the ability to interest people in the ePractice.eu workshops or the co-branded workshops in order to reach practitioners and make the networking aspects of workshops work for ePractice.eu. 2.2 Good Practice Cases As a boundary object a good practice case can be classified as an ideal type. Star & Griesemer (1989) define ideal types as something that “does not accurately describe the details of any one locality or thing. It is abstracted from all domains and may be fairly vague” (410). Like the workshops, good practice cases are boundary objects not only between the practitioners and the ePractice.eu team but more importantly also amongst the practitioners as a means of communication. When asked what a good practice case is and how good practice is constituted most practitioners emphasised its role as a means of (1) learning and (2) communication rather than a means for gaining reputation, recognition or awards. Concerning the good practice case's functionality as a learning tool most practitioners criticised the spinning of information in a case description in order to make it look good. What is perceived as a truly good practice case is an honest description of problems encountered, even failures, critical success factors and lessons learnt. Only cases that can be honest are considered to be good practice cases (PRA1,3,5,9). “The problem you have with most best practice sites is that people will spin the information. They basically put the best things on: the achievements. They won't talk to us about - what is just as interesting to us in order to understand the knowledge - what went wrong and what were the hard things to do. It is good that you might save re-inventing solutions, but actually what you definitely don't want to do is re-invent problems. And therefore you need to understand both sides of that” (PRA1). Another often mentioned must-have-feature is the transferability of good practice cases: Only what is transferable can be relevant and therefore worth reading. “Nothing should be labelled best practice if there is no route for others to follow. It is only best practice if you show how others can take it up and if you show that it is sustainable” (PRA2). As a means of communication PRA4 and PRA7 point at the immense importance of good practice cases in order to motivate people. People can be motivated by telling them stories about how others did it and sceptics can be convinced by showing how far others have gone successfully. PRA1 pointed out the importance of cross-referencing and the description of the roles of involved stakeholders together with their contact details. Whereas for practitioners the notion of learning and motivation is central when defining good practice cases, they serve a different purpose for the ePractice.eu team in form of a measure of success and means of portal interactivity: Cases are seen (1) as indicator for “hot” topics through the monitoring of access and rating, (2) as attractor for visitors and (3) as means of communication amongst the members through the rating and comment functionalities. Nevertheless the definition on how a good practice case has to be structured ideally and what it has to include seems to be quite close. Hence by providing a case structure / template that is appreciated by the practitioners, the ePractice.eu team ensures the success of their own interests: mainly increase in European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 5 Nº 1 · November 2007
  6. 6. interactivity through take-up. The willingness to adapt to the practitioners' needs can be observed for example in the shift of emphasis towards lessons learnt and transferability of cases (EC1, PRA2, CO3). 2.3 eGovernment Community The eGovernment community is an ideal type of boundary object. It is an abstraction from several domains and is quite vague (Star & Griesemer, 1989). Concerning the meaning of eGovernment the answers of the interviewed practitioners were quite diverse. Although they all agree that eGovernment is not ICT, they disagree on whether it is on how to use ICT to improve service delivery or how to use ICT in order to make it more efficient. Effectiveness and efficiency are not exclusive, but for some practitioners it appears as such. Almost all British interviewees emphasised the shift from eGovernment towards transformational government and how ICT is shaping the way government is interacting with its citizens. “Certainly last year the agenda in England has moved to a different stage. It tends to be saying: Let's stop talking about eGovernment and let's start talking about using technology to deliver better services. After putting money, time and resources for the past 5 years into the eGovernment programme the enthusiasm has shifted towards transformational government” (PRA8). The eGovernment Community of Practice as such does not exist according to the interviews. It is rather subgroups that are either focussed around specific technologies (e.g. smart cards) or topics (e.g. participation). One interviewee who emphasised his impression on subgroups that are formed around the topics created through the EU funding agendas stated: “When the EU says: 'This is the topic', then everybody is grouping around this topic” (PRA7). According to the interviews the eGovernment community is quite heterogeneous both in terms of job roles and academic backgrounds as well as topics and themes. This has to be acknowledged through the structure in the portal and is attempted to be addressed through a web log tool which ought to monitor emerging themes and topics that might lead to sub-communities. 2.4 eGovernment Awards The eGovernment Awards that have been held 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007 are yet another example for a coincident boundary. Practitioners have described them in terms of reputation gain: “Winning awards helps a lot. It raises the profile of the project” (PRA5) but also in terms of better networking opportunities: “Parallel to eGov Awards there were approaches to exchange knowledge on conferences and look for co-operations. Those who have been there said: It would be a pity if we would not see us again. We have been awarded here and in a sense we are the frontrunners of eGovernment. We should stay in touch. This is how informal networks developed” (PRA7). The integration of the eGovernment Awards into the ePractice.eu project will raise its profile and ensure higher interest. This is especially relevant because the launch of the new portal was only 3 months before the eGovernment Awards in 2007. In this respect the newly launched portal could use the 8 attention drawn to the eGovernment Awards in its full potential. 2.5 Target Audience The portal's target audience can be seen as yet another ideal type of a boundary object. It can be seen that it differs quite a lot between practitioners in central government and local authorities as well as in comparison to the ePractice.eu team. The construction of the target audience or the audience constructed to benefit most is quite interesting in so far that most interviewees referred to a different group than themselves when asked. The ones 8 This can also be seen at the very good response rate of new users that are registering. Within the first three months the registered users went up from 7000 to above 10000. European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 6 Nº 1 · November 2007
  7. 7. pointing at the local authority level (PRA4,6,8) all work at central government level, all have participated in the portal's Kick-off workshop, but do not see themselves as primary target audience. The practitioners working at local or federal level are constructing the target audience rather through provided functionalities or benefits than through governmental levels. The ePractice.eu team promotes the target audience as broadly as possible to include civil servants, academics and consultants within the field of eGovernment, called eGovernment practitioners. Their shared interest is the improvement of efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery. But although civil servants at state level would claim the same interest for themselves, they do not include themselves in the target audience. This fits with the findings of the PPP-project were it has been stated that the portability of good practice cases is higher at local authority level than at central government level, since national projects are wider in scale, have higher costs, risks and political visibility (EC, 2007c). Therefore the target audience of a Community of Practice that is primarily concerned with the sharing of good practices and their portability is rather local government. 2.6 ePractice.eu portal Like the workshops, the ePractice.eu portal is a coincident boundary object. The practitioners define the portal over the benefits it might offer them. Firstly the introduction to a community of active eGovernment practitioners is mentioned. “It strikes me the added value of the exchange portal in contrast to google is it is introducing you to a community of people. And you might therefore be able to receive your information through talking in a much more detailed way than it would be possible with sole documentation over google” (PRA8). “It [ePractice] is a flag. It is a rally place, a meeting place, where you know that anybody involved in that area will have a similar idea like yours and will be trying to develop and to bring things forward” (PRA2). Another benefit is perceived through the opportunity to learn from each other. “You come across projects in other countries, you come across people that do similar things – so it can be a shared learning experience” (PRA8). Furthermore the enabling to take different perspectives has been identified as benefit. “Knowledge exchange is some kind of follow-up education: Thinking different, developing new ideas, seeing that somewhere else things work: To see: We could be so much further as we are now” (PRA7). For the practitioners the benefits of using it constitute their perception of the portal, whereas the Commissioners try to implement political targets and visions such as the gain of effectiveness and efficiency through knowledge exchange within the portal and therefore perceive its purpose differently. Finally the consultants identify the portal primarily with their two year project and the related objectives such as building an active community through the portal. The practitioners have mentioned quite a number of potential benefits and it is up to the ePractice.eu team to decide which route to follow. Ideas of closed sub-communities are quite controversial as well as the idea of a functionality that enables practitioners to search for new project partners as suggested by PRA1. 3 Knowledge The “exchange of good practices” and the “learning from practice” are set objectives for ePractice.eu (EC, 2007a). In order to exchange good practices and learn from practice knowledge has to be shared between eGovernment practitioners. In the following I examine the different concepts of knowledge that exist among eGovernment practitioners and the ePractice.eu team members. The reason being is that European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 7 Nº 1 · November 2007
  8. 8. the way the sharing of knowledge is conceptualised, depends on the way knowledge itself is conceptualised (Hayes and Walsham, 2003). Furthermore, only through an analysis of the eGovernment practitioners’ perception of knowledge it is possible to judge the appropriateness of the approach chosen by ePractice.eu. 3.1 Conceptualising knowledge Among the practitioners the concept of knowledge as being situated was predominant: Explicit knowledge which can be expressed in good practice case descriptions can not be separated from the 9 tacit knowledge one needs to understand the case. Most practitioners referred to face-to-face communication if wanting to learn from a case. Knowledge is been conceptualised as something embedded in a practice. It cannot be seen apart from the specific organisational and project settings in which it was acquired. Therefore knowledge, if it ought to be transferred from one organisation to another has to be regarded in its original, 'practical' context. According to the findings of the PPP project the external and internal project environment has to be taken into account if judging about the transferability of a good practice case (EC, 2007c). When asking the practitioners what knowledge is or how they would define it all referred to a practical usage of knowledge: “Knowledge has to be about the application of information to your particular circumstances. So understand how this information is relevant and support things in your area” (PRA1). Knowledge is not seen as something static, but it is constantly changing through learning. Furthermore it has been emphasised that knowledge is linked with experience. According to most practitioners knowledge is related to the situational context: All information has therefore to be related and translated to the specific circumstances. 3.2 Knowledge sharing What was relevant for good practice cases is relevant for knowledge sharing: There has to be a certain level of trust in order to report honestly about project mistakes and problems. What is seen as the most valuable part of knowledge sharing is the sharing of project insights and experiences concerning critical success factors, problems and mistakes: “Knowledge sharing is avoiding hitting the same stone twice” (PRA3). PRA1 and PRA2 emphasised the fact that knowledge sharing can only take place on the same level of expertise. “Knowledge exchange has to take place between equals. It takes too long to bring new people at the same level, to the same problems you're in. So you can't really talk about the 10 problems/issues you're facing” (PRA1). 3.3 Knowledge transfer If knowledge transfer ought to be successful the embeddedness of projects and good practices has to be taken into account. PRA7 emphasised the need to acknowledge preconditions that are given in every organisation. Good practices cannot simply be transferred from one setting into another, but their 9 The notion of tacit knowledge was introduced by Polanyi, 1966. Tacit knowledge is seen as highly personal and difficult to communicate: it is embedded in the individual experience (such as the knowledge of how to ride a bike) and concerns mental models and beliefs. Tacit knowledge refers to taken-for-granted assumptions about the world. In contrast explicit knowledge is defined as articulable and objective. This knowledge is codifiable and therefore storable in databases and libraries. Hence, Polanyi states that “We can know more than we can tell” (Polanyi, 1966: 4). 10 This idea of having to be equal in terms of experience and knowledge in order to share knowledge effectively might be interesting to examine regarding Lave's & Wenger's (1991) concept of legitimate peripheral participation as a way to become a member of a Community of Practice through situated learning. However the limits of time and space as well as the focus of the dissertation did leave room for such an analysis and investigation. European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 8 Nº 1 · November 2007
  9. 9. ideas have to be translated to requirements of the organisation / setting it ought to be transferred to PRA1 therefore suggested to develop cross cutting issues in projects rather than specific services that are deployed differently in different countries. Since knowledge and its transfer are embedded in a practice, practitioners said that most effective learning takes place in project settings. “Hands on; getting hands dirty is the best way to learn” (PRA2). 3.4 Implications Two implications shall be mentioned here: Firstly, the situated approach to knowledge defines ePractice.eu as a means for knowledge sharing that can only be used in its full potential if the tacit knowledge component is taken into account. This implies, secondly, that the knowledge that ought to be shared has to be seen in regard to its practice – yet that the knowledge sharing is conducted in Communities of Practice most successfully. The first implication has been addressed through the increase of workshops where best practice cases are going to be presented and discussed as a means of off-line knowledge exchange. Furthermore it has been tried to implement certain aspects such as the need for transferability into the case description. Transferability has been furthermore made a requirement for getting a good or even best practice label. The second implication is meant to be met by shifting the exchange paradigm from the focus on good practice cases (in the eGovernment Good Practice Framework, previous project) to a focus on the individual (in the current ePractice.eu project). This is intended to be accomplished by applying Web 2.0 technologies as well as introducing the notion of Community of Practice and following this approach and its recommendations regarding knowledge sharing and learning. 4 Communities of Practice Wenger et al. (2002) have written a book on how to develop a Community of Practice taking the findings of their research and developing a practical guide. This is, however, no theory that guarantees the successful “production” of a Community of Practice if followed. Hence it needs to be acknowledged that Communities of Practice can only be researched when already in place and therefore retrospectively. Therefore my analysis does not and cannot provide sufficient evidence of whether there will be a Community of Practice developing or just a Community of Interest or Network since ePractice.eu is in the process of being established. Nevertheless some statements can be made upon the three pillars domain, community and practice of which a community is constituted: (1) Domain The domain of interest can be described as (a) the issues around IT enabled change in public sector organisation and IT enabled projects and (b) initiatives to further effectiveness and efficiency in service delivery. The interviews conducted have shown that most practitioners can relate to either one of the objectives: more effective or more efficient service delivery through the use of ICT. Before people belong to a global community they belong to a local one (Wenger et al., 2002). In the 11 12 researched network, people belong not only to local communities such as SOCITM or V-ICT-OR but 11 SOCITM is the professional association for public sector ICT management in the UK. See also http://www.socitm.gov.uk. 12 V-ICT-OR is a Belgian ICT association for local authorities. See also http://www.v-ict-or.be. SOCITM as well as V-ICT-OR are members of LOLA (Linked Organisation of Local Authorities ICT Societies; http://www.lola-online.org). European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 9 Nº 1 · November 2007
  10. 10. also to functional small communities for example the smart card community. Furthermore, there seem to be several networks of people planning and conducting EU-funded projects together. The kind of job that the practitioners I have interviewed conduct varies quite dramatically. Some work in central government and are concerned with policy-making and networking with local authorities or local organisations (PRA4, PRA6, PRA8). Those working at a local government level differ a lot. Some work on projects within a specific field (PRA2, PRA5, PRA11) whilst others are more in a role of an ICT manager (PRA1, PRA7, PRA9), but are conducting projects as well. Although all work is in the field of eGovernment, their jobs do not only vary in regard to a specific field in eGovernment but also to their role within projects within the specific fields. The notion of boundary objects and its analysis has shown one way to overcome differences between groups and communities, but it also shows how difficult it is to establish a community that has a common understanding of its domain. (2) Community According to Wenger et al. (2002) people that are already networking need to be found and motivated by the potential benefits such a Community of Practice can provide. The ePractice.eu team has found the potential members in the networks of the eGovernment Good Practice Framework as well as the network including the subscribers of the eGovernment Observatory newsletter. All have been informed about the new initiative and invited to participate in order to benefit from sharing. To disseminate the new initiative several channels have been chosen: (1) the ePractice.eu portal, (2) ePractice.eu workshops, (3) ePractice.eu newsletter, (4) the eGovernment Awards, (5) co-branding other workshops and events. The culture and atmosphere of the eGovernment community is referred to as collaborative and positive by most interviewed practitioners. “Quite a nice, collaborative atmosphere. Quite nice environment to be part of. You always have a few ideas about what you could and want to do after a workshop” (PRA2). One practitioner spoke about a community of trust: “What you do find if you meet people and you talk and then you find trust to talk about difficulties as well” (PRA5). As outlined in the boundary object “target audience” the interviewees working in central government do not regard themselves as a target group. They believe it is the local authorities that will profit and benefit most from sharing. The practitioners working at local or federal level are constructing the target audience (themselves as local or federal level) rather through provided functionalities or benefits as discussed in the ePractice.eu portal section. (3) Practice In order to establish a common practice, common knowledge needs have to be identified. The ePractice.eu team is addressing this for example through surveys among the participants of the workshops, through a blog tool at the portal and the monitoring of the good practice cases. So far the practice in the eGovernment community might be depicted in the good practice cases that include lessons learnt. Since the Community of Practice is in the evolving stage it is difficult to describe a particular practice. However, a suggestion by the ePractice.eu-team first defines a “sector” and then within a “domain” of either eGovernment, eHealth or eInclusion certain “topics”. In how far and which of these “topics” will constitute practices within Communities of Practice has to be seen. European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 10 Nº 1 · November 2007
  11. 11. 5 Conclusion and recommendations Within my research it could be shown that small sub-communities focussing either on technologies (e.g. smart cards) or topics (e.g. participation) might emerge if not already in place. The key findings of the analysis for the current state of the ePractice.eu network can be summarised as follows: − Most interviewed actors share a common goal: to improve service delivery and citizen satisfaction through the use of ICT. − All interviewed actors believe in the advantages of knowledge sharing and exchange within a known community. − Some interviewed practitioners see their interests represented in the portal or they see opportunities/benefits the portal might provide. The analysis of the concept of knowledge that can be found amongst the practitioners showed that the situated knowledge approach is predominant. This has led to the conclusion that the Community of Practice approach is the most appropriate one in order to facilitate knowledge sharing: Since knowledge is perceived as being situated and embedded into practice, the conduction of workshops and the emphasis on transferability of good practice cases are leading in the right direction. The concept of boundary objects helped to identify the diverse perceptions of different actors. Currently it is open what role the different boundary objects will play in the future and how their translation is going to be stabilised. Therefore the management of the boundary objects will clearly be a key success factor for enabling the building of the Community of Practice. This management regarding the discussed boundary objects includes: (1) to ensure that workshops provide topics that are of interest to the practitioners and thereby to facilitate the networking aspect of workshops through on-line and off-line devices, (2) to acknowledge the practitioners' needs to network not only to exchange knowledge but also to develop new projects and find new project partners through the portal's on-line and off-line devices (such as project partner speed dating devices), (3) to ensure that good practice cases meet the demand of the practitioners concerning honesty, lessons learnt and transferability, (4) to acknowledge that eGovernment as such is too broad as a topic and that practitioners see themselves rather as members of a local community or a small community focussed on a specific topic or technology, (5) to ensure that the beneficial recognition of the eGovernment Awards is fully used, (6) to focus around practitioners at local and federal government level rather than central government because projects at the local level are much more likely to be transferable, and (7) to let the practitioners drive the functionality of the portal and decide thereby what kind of community they need in order to further the common objective to improve effectiveness and efficiency in service delivery through ICT. 6 Future research The study I have conducted lead to first insights into the field of how a distributed Community of Practice in the public sector might evolve facilitated by Web 2.0 functionality. In order to get a better understanding and explanation on the developing network around ePractice.eu a longitudinal study is needed. With the gained insights from my research a questionnaire could be developed to validate the findings. Another interesting approach to further research would be the inclusion of practitioners from the new EU member states. Their perception of the boundary objects and interests into the network might be quite European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 11 Nº 1 · November 2007
  12. 12. different from the old member state practitioners considering the different levels of the countries' eGovernment maturity and lead to different results concerning the boundary objects and the notion of knowledge sharing. References Briers, M. & Fong Chua, W. (2001). The role of actor-networks and boundary objects in management accounting change: a field study of an implementation of activity-based costing. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 26, (237-269). European Commission (2007a). e-Government. Retrieved February 27, 2007 from http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/eeurope/2005/all_about/egovernment/index_en.htm European Commission (2007c). High-level report - Provide e-Government Good Practice Portability. PPP project report: C517499. European Commission, S 177-187995 (2006). Call for tenders quot;Service contract for good practice servicesquot;. Retrieved March 17, 2007 from http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/egovernment_research/doc/gp_call_for_tender/b_tend er_spec_200621_en.pdf Hayes, N. & Walsham, G. (2003). Knowledge Sharing and ICTs: A Relational Perspective. In: Easterby- Smith, M. & Lyles, M. (Eds.). Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge. Blackwell: Oxford. (54-77). Hildreth, P., Kimble, C. & Wright, P. (2000). Communities of practice in the distributed international environment. Journal of Knowledge Management, 4, (27). Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning. Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge University Press: New York. Polanyi, M. (1966). The Tacit Dimension. Routledge: London. Star, S. & Griesemer, J.R. (1989). Institutional ecology 'translations' and boundary objects: amateurs and professionals in Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19, (387-420). Wenger, E. (2007). Communities of Practice: A brief Introduction. Retrieved March 17, 2007 from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm Wenger, E., McDermott, R.A. & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge. Harvard Business School Press: Boston. European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 12 Nº 1 · November 2007
  13. 13. Authors The European Journal of ePractice is a digital publication on eTransformation by Juliane Jarke ePractice.eu, a portal created by the Student MA Philosophy European Commission to promote the University of Hamburg sharing of good practices in eGovernment, http://www.epractice.eu/people/julianejarke eHealth and eInclusion. Edited by P.A.U. Education, S.L. Web: www.epracticejournal.eu Email: editorial@epractice.eu The texts published in this journal, unless otherwise indicated, are subject to a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial-NoDerivativeWorks 2.5 licence. They may be copied, distributed and broadcast provided that the author and the e-journal that publishes them, European Journal of ePractice, are cited. Commercial use and derivative works are not permitted. The full licence can be consulted on http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc- nd/2.5/ European Journal of ePractice · www.epracticejournal.eu 13 Nº 1 · November 2007

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