By Mikko Korpela, Crazy Town
Networking is a huge part of our REVALORISE+ Researcher Training program. We want our participants to meet like-minded people and gain new insights and opportunities. The challenge is that our program is international and arranging random live encounters would be too expensive and time intensive.
This blog article shares learning points on
* Why having “a community of practice” like the Champions Club is important?
* What are the benefits of online events as a venue?
Communities of Practice are a tool to boost peer learning within a shared domain.
Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner tell us that “communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour.” ( https://www.wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/ ) One such domain can be the valorisation of researchers’ knowledge into society, as is the case in our REVALORISE+ program.
This is why as part of the program we decided to establish a community of practitioners called the REVALORISE+ Champions Club.
At Crazy Town (www.crazytown.fi), we have utilised the Communities of Practice (CoP) approach for all types of professionals, who want to stay current on best practices and developments in their field, or who are looking for guidance and support from their peers. We have observed how CoPs can offer a way for people to connect with others who share similar interests and goals and to build a sense of community and camaraderie.
As valorisation of research knowledge into society is still a relatively rare phenomenon amongst social sciences and humanities researchers, a CoP like the REVALORISE+ Champions Club has the potential to demonstrate that as a trailblazing researcher, you are not alone! A wider group of contacts from beyond your own organisation can provide a sense of belonging for professionals, especially if they are working in a field where they may feel isolated, or if there are no similar people at their own organisations.
When implemented well, CoPs can foster learning and knowledge-sharing among participants of the training program, by providing a supportive and collaborative environment for members to share their knowledge and experiences.
Luckily these days, you don’t necessarily need to get in the room with people you want to connect with. You can build your events and communities of practice online.
Early on in the project, we decided to arrange the “Champions Club” meetings online. Champions Clubs are participatory events by nature, so we want participants to be active, ask questions, comment and be vocal. They are also very much unofficial. People can talk freely, be interested in each others’ experiences and, most importantly, be themselves.
Although the recent online networking boom was driven by the necessities of the pandemic, there are reasons to prefer online events over traditional face-to-face encounters.
EU Business School (https://www.euruni.edu/blog/what-is-online-networking-benefits-for-business-professionals/) list out a few pointers and benefits of why online encounters can be your line of choice if you have some networking needs.
* It’s more convenient: Rather than spend time travelling to conferences, you can stay at home and make the same connections. It’s easier to pick and choose which parts of a conference are relevant to your business goals too.
* It’s low-cost: Events and conferences can be expensive. At these events, networking often takes place over dinner and drinks, which can incur additional costs. When you network online, you don’t need to pay for this or travel.
* You can expand your range: With traditional networking, you’re usually limited to events in your immediate area. Online networking allows you to build connections all around the world. As business becomes more international, it makes sense that networking follows suit.
* It’s less intimidating: When you’re a newcomer to your industry, the prospect of approaching seasoned professionals in person can be daunting. With online networking, you don’t have to walk across the room, strike up a conversation, and introduce yourself in the same way. The dynamics can be very different.
However, as we all know from disastrous online Teams / Zoom meetings (I mean we all have had our share of them over the course of almost three years), none of this happens automatically.
Even unofficial gatherings like the Champions Club meetings need to be facilitated. This includes having people who set up the purpose and goals to guide the direction of the group, ensuring that the activities and discussions are aligned with the needs and interests of the members as the training program goes on. Facilitators running the Club meeting should also encourage active participation and engagement from all members via different methods.
These facilitation skills include, but are not limited to:
– Active listening: Facilitators should be able to actively listen to the concerns, ideas, and experiences of CoP members, and show that they are engaged in the discussion.
– Inclusivity: Facilitators should strive to create an inclusive environment where all members feel welcome and valued. This may involve using inclusive language and facilitating discussions that take into account the diverse perspectives and experiences of the group.
– Adaptability: Facilitators should be adaptable and able to adjust their approach to meet the needs of the group. This may involve changing the direction of a discussion, modifying the agenda, or finding new ways to engage members.
But fear not! The only way to get started is to roll up your sleeves and start doing it. So, if you are responsible for creating a cultural / mindset change within your organisation or network, why not try communities of practice?