Unraveling Power Dynamics in Communities of Practice

Unraveling Power Dynamics in Communities of Practice

Marcel Veenswijk (Vrije Universiteit, The Netherlands) and Cristina Chisalita (Vrije Universiteit, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-802-4.ch005
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Abstract

This chapter concentrates on the question how does power dynamics relate to the development of Communities of Practice within the organizational context of European public-private Megaprojects. The notion of power seems to be one of the underdeveloped fields in current CoP theory (Veenswijk & Chisalita, 2007). After a theoretical evaluation of the CoP concept, a Dutch Community of Practice case ‘Partners in Business’ is presented. In this community, actors of four leading Dutch construction firms and the Ministry of Public Works participate in an informal and unofficial setting. This community was established in 2005 and is still active as innovative platform in the infrastructural field. The researchers act as catalyst and project reflector during the different stages of community building. After presentation and analysis of the case, we discuss the results of the case study while reflecting back on the theory, and we illustrate the advantages of considering the blind spots relating to power dynamics in CoP theory.
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Introduction

In this chapter we explore the role of power dynamics in the development of Communities of Practice (CoP). Although the process of community building has been described extensively in current CoP literature, power dynamics seem to be an underdeveloped field in CoP theory (Contu & Wilmott, 2003; Veenswijk & Chisalita, 2007). We have chosen to explore this topic in the context of innovative projects (so-called Megaprojects) as research shows a strong connection between CoPs and innovative contexts (e.g. Hislop, 2003). Megaprojects refer to large-scale construction building interventions planned at the institutional (public sector) level (for example the construction of a High Speed Train rail). However, the lack of success of these interventions have pushed towards alternative types of interventions in which the construction sector itself (private construction companies) is made responsible for improvements through a process of community building. Therefore, Megaprojects offer a rich context in which public and private sector come together (despite their differences), develop a CoP and works towards innovative solutions.

After a theoretical evaluation of the CoP concept, a Dutch community of practice case ‘Partners in Business’ is presented. In this community actors of four leading Dutch construction firms and the Department of Public Works and Water Management participate in an informal and unofficial setting. This community was established in 2005 and is active as innovative platform in the infrastructural field. The researchers act as catalysts and project reflectors during the different stages of community building (Wenger, 2000). After the presentation and analysis of the case we discuss the results of the case study, we reflect back on the theory and we illustrate the advantages of considering the blind spots in CoP theory.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Identity Formation: Refers to the process of identity construction through a variety of cultural artifacts.

Interorganizational Collaboration: Refers to the process of collaboration between different organizations (in our case: organizations from Public en Private sector).

Community Development: Refers to the process in which a Community of practice develops and grow by building on shared meanings, identity and practice.

Narratives of Change: Discourses about change in organization containing the vision on change of a certain actor, they are meta-stories which define regimes of truth. Narratives of change regulate the process of cultural change, are constructed by different organizational actors and can be competitive.

Virtual Simulation: Refers to the process by which a certain aspect of reality is simulated in an virtual world/environment in such a way that participants can explore it and perform tests on that aspect as this it would be in the real world.

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