Member Value?: Evaluating Professional and Learning Networks

Member Value?: Evaluating Professional and Learning Networks

Elizabeth A. Carter
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3673-5.ch006
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Imagine an organization where every employee/member/student is fully engaged, working to full potential, adding personal and professional value. How does that happen? It happens through deliberate engagement tools that allow individuals to come together with common interests and goals. The goal is to elevate the skills of the individuals to the point of personal and professional growth. This case study describes an educational environment that is very beneficial in driving development, performance improvement, engagement, and value at a low cost.
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Organizational Background

The organization can be any “group of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting (with each other) on an ongoing basis” (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002, p. 4). These types of groups are technically termed communities of practice. Examples of common communities of practice include, “special interest groups, professional associations, parent–teacher associations, and clubs” (Roy & Pershing, 2012, p. 83). Examples in corporate settings include employee networks, business resource groups, diversity and inclusion networks, and learning communities.

The qualities of a community of practice are different than those of groups who function as teams. Wenger et al. (2002) describes the difference as a unique combination of three fundamental elements: a domain of knowledge, which defines a set of issues; a community of people who care about this domain; and the shared practice that they are developing to be effective in their domain (p. 28). Watland, Hallenbeck, and Kesse (2008) have identified these reasons that communities of practice are not teams: the relationship lasts longer in duration than teams, membership is voluntary, and members continue to interact as long as there is value. Value is defined as the awareness of the benefits and outcomes, provided as improvement in a tangible or intangible way, that positively impact organizations and/or individuals and their personal and professional environment.

A community of practice is a newly identified solution to improve an individual’s and/or organization’s performance. Performance can be tangible such as monetary status or profitability, or intangible such as confidence or stature. When Van Tiem, Moseley & Dessinger enhanced their 2000 performance improvement technology model in 2012, they added professional communities of practice as a personal development solution. They recognized that personal development does not only occur in one-on-one interactions such as coaching or mentoring, but that group feedback in a peer environment also enables growth and development.

Because of the newness of the term, the groups or teams in organizations may be communities of practice. To assist in determining if a group or team is a community of practice, an organization can compare why their members join. Community of practice members come together “to share their knowledge and engage in innovative thinking that fosters creative, meaningful approaches to problems” (Regan & Gold, 2010, p. 18). These types of groups add value to organizations in several ways; help drive strategic direction in the organization, solve key problems quickly, transfer best practices, develop professional skills, and help recruit and retain talent (Regan & Gold, 2010. p. 18). Wenger et al. (2002) noted these reasons why individuals join communities of practice; to expand skills and expertise, a way to enhance one's professional reputation, a place to gain a sense of professional identity, and the ability to increase marketability and employability.

Participation in a community of practice occurs through social and professional networks (Cortese & Wright, 2018). Table 1 provides some examples of groups that have communities of practice characteristics that may not have been recognizable at first thought.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Outcome: Results of a process ( Van Tiem et al., 2012 ).

Tangible Benefits: The impacts that have contributed by an approximate or true value to an organization’s bottom line ( Murphy & Simon, 2002 ), or to an individual’s wallet or net worth. Tangible items have an approximate or true value, but there is a question as to whether value pertains to money or some other measure ( Murphy & Simon, 2002 ).

Performance Deficiency: Problem that is prohibiting individuals from working or achieving their highest potential or accomplishment ( Gilbert, 2007 ).

Benefits: Noncash portion of a compensation program intended to improve the quality of work life for an organization’s people” ( Van Tiem et al., 2012 , p. 332). For this study, benefits pertain to the improvement of the quality of work and personal life.

Intangible Benefits: Soft benefits that are difficult to measure, such as emotional and intrinsic feelings, morale, satisfaction, improved connectedness ( Riotto, 2004 ).

Perceived Value: Van Tiem et al.’s (2012) perceived value definition is “the awareness of the results and outcomes that positively impact the client, their customers and the global environment” (p. 54). For this study, the definition was modified to be the awareness of the results and benefits that positively impact individuals and their personal and professional environment.

Individual Causes: (Also defined as person's repertory) Personal characteristics or “one’s own skills, knowledge, capacity to do what is expected, and desire and motivation to do what is expected well” ( Van Tiem et al., 2012 , p. 46).

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