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IBM Cambridge Research Center

  Project: Community Value Project

Primary Researchers: David R. Millen
Contact: david_r_millen@us.ibm.com

A Collaborative User Experience Project:

Organizations are increasingly providing informal groups of workers with resources, time, physical space and collaborative technologies to enhance the flow of knowledge and information. These groups, often called communities of practice, are defined by a common disciplinary background; similar work activities and tools; and shared stories, contexts, and values. Not surprisingly, supporting a community’s physical and virtual interactions demands both financial and technological resources, forcing knowledge managers to justify their investment while trying to determine the value that communities ultimately deliver to their bottom line. As with any other significant investment in information technology and human capital, managers are naturally interested in understanding the impact that these communities have on individual performance, team effectiveness, collaboration, social interaction, and to improve organizational performance and overall productivity.

To address the challenge of how organizations can begin to address these financial tradeoffs, a team of researchers from IBM Research and IBM’s Institute for Knowledge-Based Organizations (IKO) worked with more than 100 community members in 24 communities and with 36 knowledge managers in leading knowledge-based organizations from a broad range of industry sectors—finance, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, software, chemical, and telecom—to understand the types of community investments and how those investments deliver business value. The analytical framework used in this research included multiple resource investments used to drive community interaction and participation, which provide individual, community and organizational benefits and influence the search, processing, decision-making, interacting, and coordinating time spent in various knowledge work activities.

The research team completed a community value survey of 280 community members from four communities of practice. When asked about the influence of the community activities and resources on individual performance, 73% of respondents reported an increase in skills and know-how and 61% reported an increase in productivity or helped save time on in their job. When asked about benefits that have accrued to the community itself, 92% respondents report “increased sharing of expertise, knowledge and resources, while 83% indicated “increased collaboration and problem solving,.” Similarly, organizational benefits included “increased operational efficiency and productivity” (67%), and “improved cost savings” (61%).

More important, the survey revealed that community support programs significantly altered the amount of time spent in various work activities. For active community members (defined as those that participate in the community’s activities by using its resources or interacting with members via a provided communication channel daily or weekly), 53% reported a decrease in time spent “searching for information” while 37% reported a decrease in time spent “processing, evaluating or analyzing information.” In contrast, 60% reported an increase in time spent “interacting or communicating with others,” while 38% reported an increase in time spent “coordinating, training or managing others.” These shifts in time use can be used by community managers to assess the health of their programs, reallocate or adjust the mix of community resource investments, and to estimate financial returns via ROI analysis.

The Community Value Project is one of several projects focused on large-scale collaboration that has been undertaken by researchers in the CUE group (see, for example, the Carlisle Community Project ). The goal of this research is to understand, in detail, the user requirements for community support systems, and to explore new ways to model and measure employee performance in these emerging collaborative environments.