Title: Virtual communities of practice: the communication of knowledge across cultural boundaries

Authors: Jo Hanisch, Deborah Churchman

Addresses: School of Computer and Information Science, University of South Australia, City West Campus, North Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000, Australia. ' School of Management, University of South Australia, City West Campus, North Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000, Australia

Abstract: Communities of practice, described as social structures which enable knowledge to be managed by practitioners, are recognised as important to the social fabric of knowledge (Wenger, 2004). As a result of the internationalisation of business and the development of enabling technologies, there has emerged the notion of Virtual (online) Communities of Practice (VCoP), where members make use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to share stories, knowledge and practices. This new phenomenon raises some issues for the ways knowledge communication occurs at work. Little is known about the application of communities of practice theory in the virtual domain, especially in relation to the communication of knowledge across cultural boundaries. This paper draws on qualitative data from a study of several VCoPs to explore their members| communication and cultural experiences. The findings identify some barriers to sustaining communities of practice in a virtual context, and the issues which exist when organisations intentionally create these communities for specific organisational purposes. These issues include the transition of legitimate peripheral participants to full practising members of the VCoP; cultural diversity in intercultural VCoPs; and the ways in which VCoPs are constructed by management to meet a transient need, rather than allowed to emerge.

Keywords: virtual communities of practice; VCoP; knowledge communication; cultural boundaries; web based communities; online communities; barriers; cultural diversity.

DOI: 10.1504/IJWBC.2008.019548

International Journal of Web Based Communities, 2008 Vol.4 No.4, pp.418 - 433

Published online: 16 Jul 2008 *

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