Case study of Young Innovators Master Honours Programme at Utrecht University Analysing the communication strategies that index belonging to the Community of Practice of Young Innovators.
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The Community of Practice (COP) theory has been widely discussed. However, research up to date has been mostly limited to knowledge management. Moreover, the framework lacks specific communication theories which could enable an in-depth analysis of COP communication. To extend and contribute to this topic, this research investigates the communication strategies indexing belonging to the Young Innovators Master Honours Programme at Utrecht University. It enriches Wenger’s (1998) classic COP theory with distinct frameworks focused on communication. The Communicative Constitution of Organizations (Putnam and Nicorela, 2008), Non-violent Communication (Rosenberg, 2015) and Theory of Dialogue (Simmons, 1999) serve to index belonging through numerous communication strategies. The study has been conducted through a mixed-method approach: qualitative methods of observation and focus group interview with the organizers of the community and quantitative online questionnaire with the student body. The data was categorized in the following categories: Big-D discourse, small d-discourse, jokes and laughter, non-violent communication, non-verbal communication, stories, Dialogue, active listening, co-orientation and jargon. The data triangulation suggested that Young Innovators’ communication indexes belonging in recursive work of the macro and micro scale discourses. Additionally, the analysis of modes of belonging highlights how the common narrative of social innovation and being on the transformational journey turned to be a root metaphor underlying all community’s actions. Dialogue, NVC, non-verbal communication, use of jargon and active listening are all recognized by the participants as being an important part of their belonging. Overall, YI achieves the high sense of belonging through ongoing negotiation of meaning happening in an open and safe communication which encourages emotional speech and sharing feelings in verbal and non-verbal ways. The results of this research allow seeing the advantages of the used methodology and provide some points of criticism towards Wenger’s conceptualization of belonging. Furthermore, this study highlights that community belonging is mostly achieved through communication directed at alignment and engagement. This might be of help for other programmes within educational settings which aim at teaching students how to work collaboratively using the strength and potential of the community (of practice).