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Fourth International Heinz von Foerster Congress, 12-14 Nov.

2009, University of Vienna

Community Learning in a Network of Researchers:

An Experiment in Socialized Knowledge Management1
Marco Bettoni & Cindy Eggs2
Friday, November 13, 2009 - 14:00–14:40, Großer Festsaal
Afternoon Lectures: Learning in Society and Nature I (14:00 – 16:00)
Chair: Marco Lehmann-Waffenschmidt (TU Dresden)

Slide 1 – WELCOME

MARCO {0:54} Good afternoon, Ladies & Gentlemen, it’s a great pleasure for me to be here again for
the third time at this Congress in honour of Heinz von Förster with my colleague Cindy Eggs – we have
prepared together the presentation, but it came after that I had submitted the abstract, so her name was
not on the website, unfortunately.

The writing and reading of this presentation was a great opportunity for developing new ideas and new
ways of looking at this experience - that we would like to present – in the same sense as Glanville men-
tioned this morning.

I am very pleased about this Congress, because I have been lucky to meet Heinz von Förster several
times, the first time was 1987 in St. Gallen – [Ernst von Glaserfeld], Humberto Maturana and Gordon
Pask were also there and Stuart Umpleby, who is also here at this Congress and several other members
of the American Society for Cybernetics.

Regarding Heinz von Förster I was fascinated by his openness and also I think what Andreas von Förster
said this morning, that Heinz was a great listener, was also my experience and something that I appreci-
ated very much.

During the following years after 1987 I discovered that we shared several interests, for instance Cyber-
netics, Systemic Thinking, Radical Constructivism, Dialogic interactions and also that we liked graphical
visualisations [of important concepts] – for example the ouroboros, that Heinz mentions several times [in
his conversations] – and also his view [mentioned by Andreas von Förster this morning] that teaching
[and learning] should be done collaboratively – and this collaborative approach is a central component of
the learning experiment that we are going to present in this talk {3:46}.

Slides and typescript of the recorded talk. Words in square brackets are added [= not in the recording].

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Slide 2 – THIS TALK ...

CINDY - Thank you Marco. I also would like to welcome you to our presentation on community learning
in a network of researchers. I am glad to be here and to talk to you about our experience at the Distance
University [of Applied Sciences] in Switzerland.
Firstly I will make a general introduction and after Marco will put the setting, what was the challenge
given by our university director. Then he will also talk about the theoretical background in Constructivism
[and about the design of the community] which then afterwards will give me the opportunity to talk about
the implementation and [finally Marco will conclude by presenting ] the lessons learned we obtained from
this experience {4:35}.
That means that this talk deals with a network of university researchers and especially with commu-
nity learning as the objective, with socialized knowledge management as a new instrument, with cyber-
netics, radical constructivism, social theory of learning, etc. as the theoretical background. This experi-
ment took place between [October] 2005 and [November] 2007, so I will talk about the background, the
design, the implementation and the experiences. The focus will be on connectedness between network
members because that was the main focus of the experiment.


In order to put a little bit [establish] a relation between our research experience and [Constructivism] I
would like to show you an interview with Heinz von Förster - it just shows you 2 minutes because time is
running. Unfortunately it is in German, but I will tell you the key messages in English afterwards {6:08}.

[2 minutes from the Video “Heinz von Förster 90 Jahre - Cybernetics of Cybernetics”]

{8:15} For those who do not understand German I will just translate the key messages of this short inter-
view [excerpt]. Heinz von Förster told us that in ancient times people were thinking more in terms of in-
terdependencies and in terms of systems, they did not separate single elements one from each others,
so it was really a holistic view of things. The old symbols show this systemic approach, these pictures are
illustrations of this way of thinking; and he also mentioned [one of those symbols], the ouroboros which
Marco also showed us at the beginning of the presentation. Heinz von Förster [said further] that these
symbols of a systemic view mean very much to him, they suit very well to his own thinking because they
express in graphical terms an idea which would be very difficult to express verbally.

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This systemic view, the thinking in terms of inter-dependencies is also an essential component in the
approach and experiment that we are going to present now {9:54}.


MARCO Our experiment originated when I was appointed for leading reasearch at our university and my
boss [the director of the university] gave me [a set of] some very ambitious strategic objectives! For in-
stance I had to increase in Research & Development [R&D] the quality of projects - quality of sponsors,
quality of outcomes – [also] the quantity of funds had to increase and the degree of integration between
teaching and research had to be improved.
How to implement, how to organize research how to design research in order to reach these objec-
tives? From conversations and meetings with colleagues, with the researchers, and from my background
in Constructivism – I was before an engineer [but] not this kind of engineer that Ranulph Glanville was
mentioning this morning, which he said “is interested in the world as it is” – [since now] I had to become a
designer, I decided to design the organisation of research focusing on a collaborative knowledge strategy
which consisted of 3 main lines of action: increasing connectedness, community learning and collabora-
tion on knowledge.
How to implement these [collaborative] lines of action? When asking this question the means for
reaching the strategic objectives become ends. What was clear to me was that we needed a collective
effort to meet these [ambitious] objectives and to implement these lines of action. So I became a de-
signer [of collaborative research] and the idea came to design a community of researchers because this
community would produce the connectedness, the community learning and the collaboration and by that
realize the strategic objectives and in this way “lift the weight” together.
But not only that: the community would be grounded on a basis of what I call a “socialized” approach
to knowledge management. And finally it would not only be the origin of these lines of action which would
[eventually] meet the objectives: the objectives themselves would be measured, and the community
would act as a kind of “controller” in a feedback loop and measure the degree of attainment of the objec-
tives – which in cybernetics, as we heard this morning [John Holland] is called the “error” – and by meas-
uring this error and self-organizing [accordingly] change the [community] organisation and improve the
attainment of the objectives {14:09}.

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Slide 5 – FFHS Community of Research – Systemic view

Now let us have a look at the community as a system – systemic view. One aspect in a system to be
designed is its structure. The structure is important because it determines in certain ways the future func-
tion; and since we wanted a function which is “collaboration” so we selected “social network” as a struc-
ture. Because for instance it would allow to allocate equal responsibilities for each researcher instead of
having the classical hierarchical system which allocates [different] responsibilities at different levels. A
second aspect to design was the dynamics of this system; one aspect of dynamics is the interaction in
the community and another aspect – since we have to do with research and learning to do research – is
“knowledge management processes” {15:41}.
As a method for interaction we selected - consistently with our lines of action that we wanted to im-
plement – the [already] existent Community of Practice method and as regards the tools that enable the
community interactions we decided to use a Web 2.0 approach. Then the task of knowledge manage-
ment that we identified was to “collaboratively steward research knowledge”; for implementing this task
we had to select an approach. Usually it is Knowledge Management but in looking at [existing] Knowl-
edge Management [approaches] we were not convinced that traditional Knowledge Management would
work. So we decided that we needed a new approach to Knowledge Management that we called
“Knowledge Cooperation”.
So, why a new approach to Knowledge Management?

Slide 6 – Need a new approach to KM

One point was – of course everybody knows - that in Knowledge Management there have been many
failures but [less known is that] traditional Knowledge Managers had not been able to understand why
these failures had happened. If you read research papers or reports on conventional Knowledge Man-
agement [initiatives] you will find as a summary of the analysis usually the “insight” that “people - using
the Knowledge Management system - are the problem” {17:47}. From our background in Constructivism
we were convinced that the users of the system were by no way the problem. We did a different analysis
of the failures of Knowledge Management and we identified two points. One point is that [conventional]
Knowledge Management had failed to find ways to put people in the center of knowledge Management
[initiatives] and as a consequence [second point] they used approaches for managing knowledge which
were derived from approaches for managing work, but this [operation] was not viable.

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Now I would like to give a short look at the constructivist foundations which enabled us to do this analysis
and also to change the design and to come up with a more viable conception of knowledge, more viable
for Knowledge Management {19:03}.

Slide 7 - Heinz von Förster

So for instance [some foundations came from] Heinz von Förster with his view of Cybernetics as the
science of interdependencies. Or his famous formula that he presented at a conference, in 1973: „Reality
= Community“, meaning that we need a community to create a [social] reality or many realities.

Slide 8 – Ernst von Glasersfeld

From Ernst von Glasersfeld we took several views and one - which was probably very important in influ-
encing our model of a community of research - was his view that for validating knowledge you need a
different criterion than the traditional science validation criterion. His proposal is to use a viability criterion

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Slide 9 - Humberto Maturana

Finally from Humberto Maturana one important insight that we adopted was his view that love constitutes
social phenomena through mutual acceptance; or also his view that our experiences can be validated
only through reference to other experiences [of ours]; so [here again] this circularity in the validation of
what we know.

Well, this was the theoretical background which enabled an understanding of knowledge which in our
view was more viable for developing or – better – for designing a successful organisation of research.

Slide 10 - Understanding Knowledge in a more viable way

[Some essential components of this understanding are for example] the view that knowledge is unique to
each individual or group; that it must be respected as a constituent of the identity of the person - or group
- who owns it; if it is a constituent of the identity then it is something which belongs to the being, not to the
having. And as such knowledge, if it belongs to the being, should not be dispossessed from the owner –
and especially the tacit knowledge – because otherwise we would negate the owner. But this is some-
thing that has not been understood with the classical, traditional view of knowledge [as ideas validated by
reference to reality]; and for this reason Knowledge Management has not understood how and what is
necessary to put the human being at the center of Knowledge Management {22:00}.

Well, yes, this theoretical background was from Constructivism; then, because we wanted to implement a
collaborative approach to Knowledge Management, we used also a theoretical background from com-
munity thinking ... ah I forgot to say this point [in the slide], that shared knowledge – which is a central
concept in Knowledge Management – can only be a knowledge which is “taken-as-shared”. We heard
this morning Ranulph Glanville talking about the “X” and “Y” [two persons talking to each other] and we
saw how each understands differently – so the shared knowledge is shared only in this [limited] sense of
ideas “taken-as-shared” by X or by Y {23:22}.

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Slide 11 – Community Learning

The second domain or line of research which influenced our design was research in community learning
and particularly the concept of “legitimate peripheral participation” where learning is considered as a
situated activity and this situated learning is a learning which takes place in the same context in which it
is applied; and this is what we wanted to do: that learning would happen in the context of research and
research had also to be the context in which this learning had to be applied.
Legitimate and peripheral mean that also unqualified people are accepted as members [of the com-
munity of practice]. In these times where knowledge changes so rapidly I think that everyone is “unquali-
fied” in a certain sense; so, this is an important point, we are always in some ways at the periphery [of a
practice]; we are also in the center from one point of view [for some aspects of the practice, here “re-
search”] but also in the periphery from another point of view [for other aspects of the same practice]. So
this was important, that we accept members who enter at the periphery, but not only to accept them at
the periphery but also to promote, to facilitate their evolution from the periphery to the center {25:18}.

Slide 12 – Learning & CoP - Etienne Wenger

The concept of legitimate peripheral participation was developed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger [in
1991] and Etienne Wenger later further developed this concept into a social theory of learning which
views learning as “changing participation in the practices of one or more communities." We do not know
what learning as a process is – as Siegfried Schmidt said this morning [in the video] – but we know what
is before and what is after the learning; so we can have a feeling for what it means to change between
the two states, and this changing is also what is mentioned here.
What means community in this context? The community is [here] a Community of Practice which is
considered in the theory of Etienne Wenger as a group of people who share similar challenges; then,
they interact regularly and learn from each other and they apply what they learn in addressing their chal-
lenges – which can be individual challenges or challenges of the whole group. Similar [topics and issues
of] challenges define one element of the community, called the “domain”; the interactions and relation-
ships between members define the second element, the “community”, and [addressing] the challenges
defines the practice of the community {27:05}.

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Slide 13 – Social Theory of Learning - Negotiation of meaning - Etienne Wenger

In this social theory of learning there is one aspect which was particularly important for designing our
community of research and it is what Etienne Wenger calls “negotiation of meaning”, which is a process
constituted by two [sub-]processes. He defines negotiation of meaning as


AS MEANINGFUL.” (Wenger 1998, p. 53)

So [according to Wenger] this experience of meaningfulness which is the basis of engagement requires
two processes to be combined into one unit; [one is] the process of reification viewed as the process of
giving form to our experience by producing some objects - which can be a device, a paper or a computer
– and [the process of] participation viewed as the social experience of living in the world in terms of mem-
bership and active involvement in the practices of social communities.

This theoretical concept of “negotiation of meaning” was for us the starting point for creating the model of
“Knowledge Cooperation” that we used [as knowledge management approach] for our community of

Slide 14 – Knowledge Cooperation

We transferred the theoretical concept of negotiation of meaning to Knowledge Management in the way
visualised by this slide. We defined as one element of Knowledge Cooperation the “cultivation loop”
which is what already is known as traditional Knowledge Management which consists in stewarding
knowledge and applying knowledge. What is missing in this traditional approach is a second component,
the participation loop which in our design consists in stewarding knowledge and [at the same time] so-
cializing in this process of stewarding {29:55}.

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The two [loops] must be a unity and they must be equilibrated: you cannot have only participation with a
little cultivation nor too much cultivation but only a very limited participation. They are complementary and
one cannot be without the other.

Slide 15 - Knowledge Cooperation Model: cybernetic view

The cybernetic view of this [model is visualized in this slide]: we could look at it later.

Slide 16 – Strategic objectives

[So far I have shown] how we designed the community of research [for reaching the given, very ambi-
tious strategic objectives with the available, very limited resources] and now Cindy will present how it
looks like {30:48}.

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Slide 17 – University Hierarchy with a Research Network

CINDY Yes, I will present how it [the Community of Research, CoRe] was really implemented. Here you
see the university structure and the community of research as it was integrated. You see in blue the two
departments that we have, which had teachers and researchers. The researchers were outsourced and
became members of the community of research. The community was divided into [six] groups built
around specific topics or areas they were working in. The Core Group was composed by members of the
community and had special tasks like motivating, animating the community members to share their ex-
periences etc. in this community. The Strategy Group was composed by the research director, Marco,
and also by the group leaders. Basically his task was [to design, coordinate and promote the implemen-
tation of the] research strategy.

Slide 18 – The 7 Elements of CoRe

Here you see how the interactions in CoRe were organized: you see, there were seven different interac-
tion and cooperation areas corresponding to seven aspects of community life. The three main community
areas are in the center: Community, Practice and Domain. Marco has already mentioned them when
presenting the theory of Etienne Wenger. [The other four community areas are around the center]: in the
Individual Hut every researcher could steward his own knowledge, in particular topics of interest to him.
In the Leadership Lounge each community member could commit him- or herself to produce something
which gives an added value to the other community members. The Connection Room – sixth area – was
open for receiving visitors or guests or experts in special topics. And the last area is the Development
Corner, a laboratory for creating resources for the community.

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Slide 19 – Web 2.0 Platform “CoRe Square” - Community Circle

These seven spaces and common areas were supported by a Web 2.0 platform (based on Moodle).
[Here you see] just an example of how one of the [interaction] areas [the Community Circle] was sup-
ported on the internet platform [called “CoRe Square”] through spaces in which the interaction between
the community members could take place. These interactions enabled the activities of community mem-
bers for stewarding knowledge {35:58}.

Slide 20 – Negotiation Resource in CoRe Square

As main tools of the platform we used forums and wikis; if you remember the model of Knowledge Coop-
eration that Marco presented before [with the two processes of participation and cultivation of knowl-
edge]: the forum tool was for enabling participation, the wiki tool for enabling cultivation (reification) and
the file folder [for storing documents referenced in the wikis or in the forums].

The lessons learned from this experience can be summarized in five [main points] {34:36}

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Slide 21 – Lessons learned from the experiment 2005-2007

MARCO – First of all the experiment showed, that by means of this kind of Socialized Knowledge Man-
agement that we designed and implemented, it was possible to deliver connectedness, that community
learning was happening and that collaboration on knowledge was on its way. These were the good
The bad news is that there is a contradiction between network and hierarchy and this led in our or-
ganization to a power struggle. The [first] bad news here is that I did not become aware enough of the
importance of this power struggle; this had a [dramatic] influence on the community of research: the ex-
periment was stopped and [the research organization and collaboration] had to be completely redes-
igned, this time without the community
The second bad news is that I did not succeed in managing expectations, which means understand-
ing which is the perceived value of this experiment by top management and if it is very different from the
actual value delivered, to educate the boss and show that in fact the delivered value is higher than the
one he perceives. So this is the second bad news.
Then there are some insights which regard the perceived value from the point of view of the commu-
nity members. The self-organization and voluntary participation [two essential principles of CoRe] were a
big challenge for many community members and after one year they expressed the wish for [less auton-
omy], more mandatory interactions, and more mandatory use of tools. In this regard our analysis was
that there are a couple of problems, for instance what we call the “silent novice”: when someone is in the
periphery of a certain domain of knowledge he feels uncomfortable if he cannot provide “facts and fig-
ures” and then he becomes silent. The other is the “prototype deadlock”, maybe we can talk about this
later, and the third [problem] is the feeling that what is “voluntary is not serious”.
And finally we realized that for leading this conversational type of collaboration we needed a new kind
of competence which is a kind of “facilitative leadership”: that anyone who – in the Community of Re-
search acts as a leader must be able to lead negotiations of meaning.
Thank you very much {38:26}.

References & selected relevant publications by M. Bettoni:

Bettoni, M., Schiller, G. & Bernhard, W. (in press) A CoP for Research Activities in Universities. In Bueno,
E. & Rivera, O. (eds.) Handbook of Research on Communities of Practice for Organizational Man-
agement and Networking: Methodologies for Competitive Advantage. IGI Global,
Bettoni, M. (in press) Negotiations of Meaning with MOODLE: Concept, Implementation & Experiences.
In: Ertl, B. (ed.) E-Collaborative Knowledge Construction: Learning from Computer-Supported and
Virtual Environments. IGI Global,
Bettoni, M., Bernhard, W. & Schiller, G. (2009) Community-orientierte Strategien zur Integration von Leh-
re und Forschung. In: Bergamin P., Muralt Müller H., Filk C. (Hrsg.), Offene Bildungsinhalte (OER),
Teilen von Wissen oder Gratisbildungskultur?. Bern: h.e.p. Verlag, S. 125-146.

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Fourth International Heinz von Foerster Congress, 12-14 Nov. 2009, University of Vienna

Bettoni M. (2008) Why and How to Avoid Representation. Constructivist Foundations, Vol. 4, number 1,
November 2008, 15-16.
Bettoni M. (2008) The Illusion of Society. Constructivist Foundations, Vol. 3, number 2, March 2008, 68-
Bettoni, M., Bernhard, W. & Brunner, B. (2008) CoRe – Ein Wissensnetzwerk zur Integration von Lehre
und Forschung. In: Clases, C. & Schulze, H. (Hrsg.) "Kooperation konkret! Ein altbekanntes Prinzip
auf dem Weg zu immer neuen Formen". Lengerich: Pabst Science Publishers , 49-58.
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Bettoni M. (2007) Knowledge as Experiential Reality. Constructivist Foundations, Vol. 3, number 1, No-
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Glasersfeld. Vienna: edition echoraum, 107-121.
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Mehrwert. Bern: h.e.p. Verlag, 99-121.
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tion – Zeitschrift für Systemisches Management und Organisation, Nr. 25, Mai/Juni 2005, S. 6-24.
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teristika, Initiierung und Gestaltung“. In: Reinmann, G. & Mandl, H. (Hrsg.) Psychologie des Wis-
sensmanagements. Perspektiven, Theorien und Methoden. Göttingen: Hogrefe.
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schrift für Systemisches Management und Organisation, Nr. 12, March/April 2003, 28-33.
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und die Berliner Aufklärung. Akten des IX. Internationalen Kant-Kongresses, Vol.5, 436-444, de Gruy-
ter, Berlin.
Bettoni, M. (2000) "Eine Konstruktivistische Interpretation von Kants Kognitionstheorie", In: Rusch, G. &
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Intelligent Systems, Vol.12, Nr.8, 577-595, New York, 1997.
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