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Transformation of practices

Here’s some text from a recent proposal draft (I’ll add citations later). I’m still editing the document from which these are excerpts, but the people have spoken, and they asked for drafts. So here you go. This is what I’m working on now.

Much of the research on practice focuses on how it may be transfered from one firm to another, from one
person to another, or from one group within an organization to another part of the same organization.
This study builds on those literatures, but asks a different question – how do networked practices change when
one or more parts of the network change? Instead of exploring a sender-receiver model of transfer of practice,
this study explores scenarios in which the source and target of a new practice are the same. Instead of focusing
on practice within a single community of practice (CoP), this study explores how multiple, interacting CoPs
influence one another. To refer to the set of changes that occur in the network, I use the term transformation
of practices. The following describes relevant terms and literature and proposes a study designed to produce
data necessary to describe the processes involved in transformation of practices. The plural of ”practices” is
necessary here; that I explore the relationships among communities of practice and their impact on one another
sets this study apart. The goals of the study are to describe the network of actors in such a way that enables us to understand the
practices in which those actors engage and how those practices relate.

The transformation of practice seems like a learning and coordination problem. First, someone must develop a
new material or method – broadly a new technology – that is a candidate for adoption by the network. Then, the
technology must be successfully adopted by a number of communities within the network. This sounds much
like Rogers’ diffusion of innovation work, but there still he described the uptake of innovations by people
engaged in the same kind of work. Here, the problem is a little different in that many communities are pursuing
a common goal, a technology with the potential to change how that goal is achieved is introduced, and each
of those already distinct practices must adjust to account for the new technology. This proposal describes a
study that focuses on a case of a transformative technology – engineered cementitious composite (ECC) – and
the resulting transformation of practices within the civil infrastructure building network.

Notes:
I want to be able to talk about something like a network of practice (NoP). Brown and Duguid characterize
NoPs as members sharing a common practice but not needing to coordinate their work. I’d rather think of
an NoP as members needed to coordinate work but whose practices are not the same. The members have a
common goal (e.g. build a bridge) but none of them do the same thing (e.g. design bridge vs. pour concrete).
This kind of activity seems more networked to me than Brown and Duguid’s characterization. However, I don’t
want to use NoP if a big name already did and means something different from what I mean. What else could
I call it? I’m thinking of practice at a higher level of granularity, maybe? Maybe I mean ”system” and not
”network”?


So, what do you think ?

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