Relationships in Communities & Networks

As my interest in knowledge management and communities of practice grows, I am more interested in the ways technology may be used to facilitate work. I recently began a research project evaluating Asana as a tool to fulfill the needs of academic research teams. In this research, I detail the issues with email overload. For example, the meaning and information lost in those long chains of email communication among project members. Yuan, Zhao, Liao, and Chi (2013) found that social norms are a key dimension in the adoption and use of technologies like Asana. Simply put, change is difficult. Using tools like email and conference calls are what we have grown used to in contributing to academic research teams. In line with Yuan, Zhao, Liao, and Chi (2013), I argue that information and communication technology tools that integrate social media functionality are more in tune with the relational needs of contributors. For instance, with Asana you can “heart” the work of others, which acknowledges individual and collective work, and, perhaps most importantly, shows affinity for that contributor. Functionalities such as this may foster community among project members.

Finger CommunityI have frequently referred to communities of practice in many of my blogs because these are a gold-standard of sorts for effective academic research teams. However, there are clear differences between communities of practice and networks of practice. An electronic network of practice is much larger, more loosely knit, and often geographically distributed – the most significant difference is that in networks of practice, contributors are often strangers who may never expect to meet face-to-face (Brown & Duguid, 2001 ). An example of this is Wikipedia, where experts (maybe?) on particular subjects contribute to pages of shared knowledge. I’ve often wondered what rewards come from this type of contribution as it requires resources of both time and energy, which I do not have. Raphael recently discussed just that – maintaining that the dimensions of social exchange theory (i.e., costs and rewards of social interaction) are at play during these types of individual contributions to a larger network of knowledge.

Homer ThinkingMotivation plays an important role in the decision-making contribute to this type of knowledge network (Wasko & Faraj, 2005). In thinking about reasons why I would potentially contribute to an electronic network of practice, I stumbled upon a wiki dedicated to information sharing in partnership with the National Cancer Institute. In my own research of cancer-related prevention and policy, I could envision myself as a contributor to this site, which is due largely to intrinsic motivation. I want to create and share knowledge that allows other public health practitioners access to potentially valuable and pragmatic knowledge to inform their work. However, this is not necessarily indicative of the motivation of others, as only weak evidence is found to suggest that relational capital plays a role in networks of practice – stronger evidence suggests that professional reputation is a more significant predictor of participation (Wasko & Faraj, 2005).

Even in light of these contradictory findings, communication and relational maintenance are important (see Abigail’s thoughts). Whether you are contributing to a community or network of practice, facework is involved. In other words, a person may desire feelings of belonging in a community or respect in a network. Regardless, and once again, knowledge management is relational.


Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2001). Knowledge and organization: A social-practice perspective. Organization Science, 12(2), 198-213.


Wasko, M. M., & Faraj, S. (2005). Why should I share? Examining social capital and knowledge contribution in electronic networks of practice. MIS Quarterly, 29(1), 35-57. doi:

Yuan, Y. C., Zhao, X., Liao, Q., & Chi, C. (2013). The use of different information and communication technologies to support knowledge sharing in organizations: From e-mail to micro-blogging. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 64(8), 1659-1670. doi:10.1002/asi.22863