CASESTUDY to course “foundations of CoPs”

Posted on Saturday, 27 May, 2006 by

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This is the casestudy I sent to the course "stories" area:

I initiated a CoP of dutch dairy farmers in south Portugal. The total group is about 50 farms, the furthest farms maybe around 400 km apart.

Organizational Context:

50 large, modern farms in an area which is not traditionally a dairy area, and where the majority of dairy farmers is Dutch. The families who came first have been here 20 years, others have just arrived. These families are usually the only foreign people in their village, their children frequent the local schools, barter and friendly relations with the neighbours and villagers are the norm. For parties and special occasions, get-togethers with the Dutch are organised (a few times a year). Most farms have gone through difficult times, today, generally speaking, most make a good living. Between farms there may be some competition for resources (labour, feed), there is none for selling the milk. Competition seems to be about reputation more than anything else.

Description of the Community:

  • Domain: Dairy production in the area

  • Community: Dutch farms in the area

  • Practice: sharing information, knowledge. Joint inquiry, joint learning.

Development Strategy:

The idea was “tested” by having a womens network based on a yahoo group. The women, after initial resistances, took to the idea and since a year we have a blossoming email group and 4 times/year day long f2f events. This ensured that within each family, someone got used to the technology. It also ensured a firm base for me as a person within the dutch community.

On the 1st of April I started a blog and a google group. On average, I informed the group twice a week about the idea of a CoP and the advantages I saw. The 1st of May, at an agricultural meeting, we had a kind of kick-off: I had someone from Holland speak about inspiring examples from Holland and I spoke as well. The week after, I continued to blog, launched webversions of a “marketplace” and a “labour pool”. My husband started a project to gather market prices and publish them. For the future I think of a system where online contact enriches f2f events (3-4 times/yr day long).

Results Thus Far:

Results are really quite lukewarm. Practically no email traffic, no reactions to the website initiatives. The number of pageviews after a blogpost (I usually send an email to let them know I posted something, as RSS is not known much) are around 15-20. No reactions to my invitations to think with me. F2f, reactions are equally lukewarm, though usually when I start talking most become more positive.

To do:

Soon, we will have a first real f2f event, where I want to present the organization of the CoP, like subdomains, working methodologies. I had hoped to develop this event jointly with others, but do not want to drag people in if they do not see the potential!

Paradoxically, I myself see more and more potential for this CoP (or is it/ will it be a network?)

Comments from you that would be useful:

  • How to proceed?
  • How to finance this CoP. In any case membership fees will be a good idea. But will people be prepared to both pay and contribute their efforts?
  • Alternatively, to what extent would it be compatible with a business model? (sell events and webspace to both speakers and visitors)
  • To show the potential I would like to just start, but then some time we will have to switch from informal to formal, so maybe it is better to start formal right away?
  • What about leadership of this CoP? At first I thought I would do the initial start-up and then leadership would diverge / rotate to others, but I am beginning to see the willingness and (tech) abilities to lead may not be sufficiently present.
  • What is my role? I am part of the community and an “advisor” simultaneously. I had decided to give it a go without being rewarded but I would like to be.
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