The following is a draft paper I’ve begun work on, although the perspective on the core issue has changed a bit in the last weeks… It should fit it with the rest of the work that you can find in the Papers section.
Comments (about the interest -or lack thereof- of the subject, about the drafted content, about previous relevant work) and opinions most welcome as always.
Emergent leadership structures in online communities (very early draft).
This paper will attempt to map the key characteristics of leadership structures in online communities and the steps of their formation. It will do so by exploiting data gathered from the analysis of the Macuarium system of communities of practice and other complementary sources.
A community, and especially a community of practice (CoP) [def, biblio]) is a peculiar type of organization. For the purpose of this paper, we will underline three key characteristics:
- Membership and participation are voluntary. For their very nature, communities are gatherings of free agents, acting according to their individual will. Their motivations may be complex (and indeed participation may be part of their job) but the nature of the interactions in a CoP makes it exceedingly difficult to picture someone taking part unwillingly. Sharing experience and knowledge, building a common solution and references, are not activities that can be squeezed out of an unwilling person nor imposed on them.
- Every single member has a different set of goals. As in a market, where the aggregation of self-minded interactions builds a coherent result, a community of practice is built by individuals seeking solutions to very diverse needs.
- A community exists on a resource [def, biblio]. A resource is a set of assets, including physical and technical infrastructure, and often professional time. The dependency between each part of the binomy is very varied, but is key in the shaping of leadership and the development of community processes. [Expand: role of technology and its support ecosystem].
Leadership can be described through three elements: the context, the goals, and the roles (sets of behaviours) through which it is exerted [expand]. Those roles organise in reciprocal relationships that form structures of leadership.
We can observe two types of leadership roles in a community of practice, sometimes overlapping in the same person:
- “Practice leadership” sets the reference in the evolution of shared practices and methodologies. [expand].
- “Community leadership” vertebrates the aims, processes, and activities of the community, channelling its interests and strengths. [expand]
Our analysis will be based on the second one, and the following perspective of what is a “leadership structure” in this context.
This community leadership structure has four characteristics we will be commenting:
- The roles are peculiar to volunteer organizations [expand].
- It usually operates as a coherent pattern of distributed authority nodes: authority travels upwards, power comes downwards through the hierarchy [expand].
- It is emergent, not planned, as spontaneous behaviours create authority nodes that become part of the leadership pattern [expand].
- Community leadership is the prime example of servant leadership. It is exercised through the community’s supporting and service roles and depends on the community cooperation to perform them [expand].
[The description of this organization is the core of the paper].
Goals and alignment
The road to leadership in a community comes shaped by the alignment with the member’s goals and those of the organism: the sum of community plus resource. They are different entities and not every member will perceive and appreciate them as united. [expand] We can appreciate three types of drivers in member behaviour:
- Individual value-seeking.
- Community affiliation / involvement.
- Organic drive (community + resource)
T1 motivations vary from person to person within the domain (specific problems that need solving); T2 are shared among affiliated members of a community (cultural and social aggregation of people); T3 drive those that see and value the whole picture: the community and the resource (by extension, all stakeholders) recognising the symbiotic relationship. [Expand, include model data]
Emergence to leadership
The evolution of alignment along the experience and involvement of members can be mapped along this model:
[Expand, include statistics and set of anecdote].
Addenda: figures and statistics