How did my research into growing my community of practice go?

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The Brief

This assignment was designed to help me to build knowledge and contacts in a certain field, as well as building expertise, while also building your reputation.

It uses the term ‘communities of practice’ to indicate groups of individuals whose knowledge, contacts and expertise will be vital to my work as a journalist.

The following is a brief overview of the work I carried out for this assignment.

One of my interviewees requested anonymity, so his interview cannot be made public. Another interaction is a personal direct message which the other party would not expect to see published in any form. Both the interview and the message are missing from this blog.

The Communities

My recent past is in the travel industry. Before I started this assignment my goal was to work for one of the three B2B travel magazines I have built a relationship with.

When I started this assignment I was going to use the research to build up my reputation with these magazines. I started by investigating a part of travel where I have very little in the way of connections, this is the airport protest community.

I listed current groups in a blog, some of which I contacted for an interview. Only one group came back, and that was the Aviation Environment Federation.

The interview can be heard here

This lack of response was frustrating at first, however it led me to take another look at my goal for this assignment. If I stuck with travel I wouldn’t really advance my community of practice. Nor would I learn much in the way of new skills.

The following is my journey; what I discovered, what I had forgotten, and what I would do differently when approaching new groups.

However, I still have a weekly travel show to produce so the travel industry did feature in my research a little.

Where to start

Networking can be offline or online. I was going to look into both, with more emphasis on offline networking. I prefer to meet people face-to-face.

So I looked at finding groups that would be useful in starting my new community.

My sources were:

LinkedIn

I have been a member of LinkedIn since 2005, and I have over 1,400 connections. I’ve no idea who 1,200 of them are.

I started my membership as a means to advertise my former business to as many people as possible for free.

That was it. It is an example of very poor community of practice.

Yes, I am connected to hundreds of people from different disciplines and industries, but it isn’t a community. It is a directory.

My focus for the assignment was to be to join new journalism groups to discover what these communities were talking about.

I applied to join:

I was only accepted as a member by Hack Journalism and Online reporters and editors. Which was disappointing, but probably all my past activity on this medium warranted.

Positives
I was able to share some information (listed in Appendix 11) with part of my journalism community I had forgotten to include at the start of my investigation – my fellow students at BCU.

Negatives
I didn’t join in with any discussions as there wasn’t much in the way of real activity in these two groups.

Facebook

This is my main networking tool. I signed up back in 2007. I have 275 friends, over half I do know and around 70-80 with whom I have regular contact. Some are old friends; others are business owners I met while business networking. The remaining are others are people I have met somewhere or somehow.

Before this assignment I was already a slightly active member of a couple of travel industry groups and I follow two community groups for my village.For the assignment I joined:

Positives
I was asked to be a moderator for the travel group.
I did contribute something to a new group, as well as to an existing group.
Negatives
I’m not really a freelance journalist, so a lot of the chat in this group wasn’t relevant to me.
A lot of the posts were ‘I’ve seen this and I’m sharing it’. Yes, I do realise that I did exactly the same thing on the MA Journalism Slack team.

Meetup

This was my main focus. The groups I joined gave me the opportunity to learn something while meeting people.

There are a couple of negatives with Meetup groups:

  • Most are monthly – this makes building a relationship with new people harder
  • Location – there isn’t a lot of interesting options in the Bedford/Milton Keynes area.

While travelling to London isn’t a problem, it is if I have work the next day (I’m up at 3am), which meant that this also reduced the number of meetings I attended for this assignment.

I joined the following groups:

  • MK.js
  • Journocoders
  • data+visual London
  • Hacks/Hackers London
  • London Open Data Missions
  • The Art of Smartphone Filmmaking – London Meetup
  • GoCode Academy – Milton Keynes Beginners Coding Meetup
  • Digital Hustlers Hub Luton
  • Bedfordshire WordPress Meetup
  • MojoMeetupLDN – Mobile Content Storytellers
  • Journalism.co.uk socials
  • BigData|MK
  • Milton Keynes Hackathon
  • Modern Journalism London
  • ONA UK Digital Journalism Meetup
  • Journalists and writers in London
  • Citizen Journalists London
  • Web of Data Meetup
  • Hackney Hack Nights

Unfortunately, most of them proved to be dormant.

I did attend three meetings, which are covered in the following blogs:

• MK.js 
• Journocoders
• data+visual London

I have a meeting booked at Bedfordshire WordPress Meetup booked on 11 March 2017.

The meetings I attended all had a reason to be there- to learn something new. As selection based solely on availability, they actually complemented each other well.

The content for all three was great, however, I had trouble in starting a new relationship with other attendees. I found this easy when I was business networking.

My investigations

My research into to writing informative blogs to share with my community of practice was in two parts; technical and social.

 

Two of my blogs investigated and shared new tools that I have picked up attending meetings/presentations. The other two looked at the process of networking off- and online.

Online networking – Netiquette

 

In my blog, ‘Does Netiquette still exist?’, I looked into how groups can grow or reduce based on the expectations of members’ conduct. I carried out two interviews with group administrators to find out what they expect of members and how they ensure that the groups’ social order is maintained.

 

Offline networking – Etiquette

 

My blog ‘Communities of practice – Networking’ discussed how to network at physical meetings. I research business networking techniques and applied them to making contacts to add to your community. Without a goal the meeting is the equivalent to watching a film at a cinema. You just share an experience with a room of strangers.

 

 

This is the topic that made me realise that I should learn more about working with data instead of just focussing on travel. When I attended the Journocoders meeting I was unable to follow the exercise due to my laptop’s limitations. I was also told that it wasn’t possible on a Windows machine. The blog documents my struggle to complete the coding to produce an interactive map of London.

 

 

Tableau is a system that allows users to display data visually. This blog was used to share part of a presentation given at BCU.

Sharing

I didn’t increase by community by much during this assignment. I did share information with my existing community. Appendix 11 shows the various methods I used to share knowledge (other than my blogs).

 

It may seem that I shared most of the information with my fellow students, but maintaining what you have it more important than adding fresh members. I was reminded of this when working through the data mapping exercise. If a contact hadn’t of suggested using Firefox, I might have given up, or rented a server to host the files (as recommended by the group leaders).
A list of the links I shared can be found here.

How did the assignment go?

For this assignment I have classed a community as more than just a contacts book. Perhaps this is too limiting, but I’d rather have a few people I know, like and trust to help me with future projects than just a name with contact details.

So, have I increased my community’s size? No, but I have increased the size of my contacts book, which is a start.

The main outcome of these last few weeks is that I have discovered that I like coding (or at least trying to find out why something doesn’t work). This shouldn’t have been the surprise it was. After all, most of my working (and school) life was involve in electronics. I have just moved on from electrons to code.

It may have taken me ages to get my map of London to work, but eventually I did, with a kick in the right direction from a long time member of my community.

This assignment has reminded me that new isn’t always better, so don’t forget your existing community members. Keep in contact and see how you ca add value to them. If the BNI is right, givers do gain, so it is important to share far more than you take.

 

Also, it doesn’t look like I’m going to stick with travel.

The next steps

 

The next steps are to continue to look to continue grow my community and to maintain the existing members. I will stick with the three Meetup groups I have already attended, and perhaps the WordPress group once I have tried it out.

 

My next assignment will also record my further studies into data visualisation, including mapping. I have a round-robin Freedom of Information with police forces to chase up (around 20% of the forces have missed the 20-day deadline) and I also want to know more about screen scraping.

 

I have started to looking into scraping flight routes from airport websites (I know, still looking at travel), only to learn how to pick the correct method for the various types of websites. I will then look into the different ways to display the information.