4.4.2 Mapping across multiple communities of practice
In introducing the core concepts, we highlighted the perspective that ‘what counts’ as valuable knowledge is unavoidably shaped by the communities of practice to which the ‘publisher’ and ‘consumer’ belong. One makes situated judgements regarding the relevance of a new piece of information for oneself and others, and how to store or share it appropriately. One geographical metaphor conjured up by this perspective is that of ‘islands’ of local coherence, with narrow ‘causeways’ connecting them (interchange of information), and with particularly talented ‘linguists’ who can speak more than one island's language, possibly even holding ‘dual nationality’ such that they can move comfortably in more than one culture. In particular, there may be no mapping scheme or level of detail that can usefully describe material across this whole ‘archipelago’ of islands. Such a map is either so general that it is of limited use, or too specific, imposing the language and distinctions of a particular island. From a meta-knowledge perspective, this is a serious challenge to gaining a meaningful bird's-eye perspective of an organisation.
In this context, an interesting strategy (deployed, for example, in IBM – see Snowden, 2000) is to leave individual communities to negotiate among themselves how to respond to a request for information from an outsider. This takes seriously the idea that boundaries are important to the building of trust and expert practices, while recognising the need for organisation-wide communication and search. Groups are provided with genuinely private virtual workspaces (documents; discussions; video conferencing; messaging; etc.), knowing that they are not going to be spied on by outsiders, and free to negotiate their relationships with outside groups, taking into account organisational sensitivities that are unformalisable. Forcing individuals or groups to share knowledge against their will, thus violating these principles, results in what Snowden (2000) has dubbed ‘camouflage behaviour’ – vacuous ‘information publishing’ or ‘knowledge sharing’ in order to retain privacy, autonomy and invisibility.