Cultivating virtual communities of practice in KAFKA

Publication Date05 February 2018
Date05 February 2018
AuthorFabio Sartori,Riccardo Melen,Stefano Pinardi
SubjectLibrary & information science,Librarianship/library management,Library technology,Information behaviour & retrieval,Metadata,Information & knowledge management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Cultivating virtual communities of
practice in KAFKA
Fabio Sartori
Computer Science, Systems and Communication,
University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy
Riccardo Melen
Dipartimento di Informatica Sistemistica e Comunicazione (DISCo),
Universita degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, Milano, Italy, and
Stefano Pinardi
Universita degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, Milano, Italy
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to present a framework for cultivating virtual communities of
practice in distributed environments. The framework is based on the integration of knowledge artifacts and
wearable technologies.
Design/methodology/approach The proposed knowledge artifact is based on the correlation between
conceptual and computational tools for the representation of different kinds of knowledge.
Findings In this way, it is possible to make deeper the collaboration between knowledge seekers and
contributors within the community, given that seekers and contributors share, at least in part, design choices
at the knowledge modeling level.
Originality/value A practical application of the framework has been described, to show its originality
with respect to traditional knowledge management systems. In particular, it has been demonstrated how
lurking phenomenon inside communities of practice can be significantly reduced. To this aim, opportune
indexes have been defined from existing ones in literature.
Keywords Bayesian network, Knowledge artifact, Rule-based system, Sense of virtual community,
Virtual communities of practice, Wearable technologies
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Communities of practice have been defined as groups of people bound by informal
relationships sharing common practices (Brown and Duguid, 2001). The notion of CoP has
been used in the past to define the spontaneous arising of knowledge centers in
organizations, which overcome the traditional division into business units.
Pan and Leidner (2003) pointed out that CoPs are important as they weave the
organization around competencies without reverting to functional structures. They facilitate
an environment of structured informalitysupported by knowledge, people, organizational
processes and infrastructure. Finally, the importance of CoP emerges from the fact that
knowledge cannot be considered apart from the context where it develops. In all types of
knowledge activities, knowledge contributors as well as seekers require a community in
order to share general conversation, experimentation and experiences with other people
carrying out the same kind of activities.
This last point brings us to the identification of two distinct roles in the CoP knowledge
generation process: contributors and seekers. According to Sutanto and Jiang (2013),
knowledge contributors must be willing to part with their knowledge and share it via a
knowledge management system. For instance, knowledge contributors log into the system,
fill out a form describing their contribution, and either attach a document or post content
into a text box: this can be a one-time or a repeated action. Having invested funds in a KMS,
organizations promote a continued inflow of knowledge. Knowledge seekers typically log
Data Technologies and
Vol. 52 No. 1, 2018
pp. 34-57
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/DTA-02-2017-0008
Received 27 February 2017
Revised 8 August 2017
Accepted 30 August 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
into the system, type keywords to search for the knowledge they require, and then retrieve
and examine the results.
This conception of the relationship between the two roles suggests that knowledge
contributors are active entities and knowledge seekers are passive entities in the knowledge
management system development; the way knowledge is modeled within the system is
unknown to the knowledge seeker, who is not responsible for its modification or
maintenance. Indeed, this is a big limitation to the CoP potentialities in developing
knowledge models: in particular, the principle of legitimate peripheral participation (LPP)
(Lave and Wenger, 2002) is not satisfied. LPP consists in the possibility for newcomers to
enter the CoP actively, contributing to its growth by means of their competencies. To do so,
they should be enabled to transform the underlying knowledge bases by means of proper
artifacts and interfaces. In this way, the transition from the role of knowledge seeker
(typical of early stages in attending the community) to that of knowledge contributor could
be more effective and rapid.
LPP is the key aspect to keep in consideration when developing KMS for CoPs
promotion; it is important to avoid that newcomers become passive lurkers instead of
contributors. As pointed out in Yeow et al. (2006), lurkers are participants who
persistently refrain from engaging in the core activities that sustain a virtual community.
Arguably, as the perceptions of both periphery and participation are context-specific,
the identification of a behavior as lurking is dependent upon technology constraints and
group-specific norms.
In this paper we propose the adoption of a framework (Sartori and Melen, 2015) based on
the knowledge artifact notion (Salazar-Torres et al., 2008) for building up virtuous
relationships between knowledge seekers and contributors. This framework, namely,
Knowledge Acquisition Framework based on Knowledge Artifact (KAFKA), implements
knowledge contributors as Knowledge Artifact Developers (KA-Developers) and knowledge
seekers as Knowledge Artifact Users (KA-Users). KA-Developers are responsible for the
definition of conceptual and computational elements of the knowledge artifact,
while KA-Users exploit the knowledge artifact to solve problems, according to the actual
conditions of the target environment. In this way, the successful development of a KMS
depends not only on the capability of the KA-Developer to model involved knowledge by
means of a suitable knowledge artifact, but also on the capability of the KA-User to adopt
the proposed knowledge artifact in real application scenarios, possibly identifying
new potential sources of knowledge to be included in the model. For instance in
Pinardi et al. (2016), the KA-User may intervene in the knowledge artifact development cycle
thanks to its peripheral reasoning strategy, the capacity to detect and elaborate on the field
the data included as inputs, partial elaborations or outputs, in the knowledge artifact model
by the KA-Developer, exploiting inertial measurement unit sensors provided by wearable
devices. Thus, the KA-User is made capable to evolve in the KA-Developer role by its active
participation in the knowledge artifact definition instead of remaining indefinitely in a
lurker condition.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows: Section 2 briefly reviews the literature
about virtual communities of practice and knowledge artifacts. Section 3 introduces
KAFKA, focusing on knowledge seekers and contributors and LPP in knowledge artifact
management. Section 4 introduces a case study to show in practice how KAFKA works.
The case study is related to the development of mobile apps for the promotion of physical
activity (PA) in people potentially risking heart diseases. Section 5 briefly evaluates the
theoretical and practical applicability of KAFKA in the virtual community development
research field, presenting the preliminary results of tests conducted on a small community
of users in the case study domain. Finally, the paper concludes with some considerations
about future works.
of practice in

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