Community Knowledge Management and FIRST Indiana Robotics

At the foundation of FIRST is community.  Our participants, mentors, and volunteers have developed strong community bonds.  One example is the creation of supporting groups that have come out of the culture of the community, for example, FIRST Like a Girl, a full-fledged organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in STEM.  These communities have developed shared practices that we, as an organization, help foster and strengthen.

In the book Organizational Knowledge Dynamics: Managing Knowledge Creation, Acquisition, Sharing, and Transformation by Constantin Bratianu:

Communities of practice are groups of people who shape a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on ongoing basis.” People who are members of these communities of practice do not have to work together within the same company, since they meet in their free time. They find value in being together and sharing their cognitive, emotional, and spiritual knowledge. May be more than in their regular jobs, people can fulfill in these communities of practice their emotional and spiritual needs, and based on that to learn together through sharing their experiences. Traditionally, communities of practice are groups of people who share face-to-face their knowledge. More recently, communities of practice become virtual networks where knowledge is sharing by using all opportunities offered by advanced information systems and technologies.”

By providing a set of core values guided by the shared ethos of Gracious Professionalism, FIRST has baked trust into what we do.  When sharing knowledge, our teams trust that they have each other’s best interests in mind.   

“If there is one, and only one aspect of knowledge sharing all researchers agree upon it that is the crucial role of trust. Although many authors make frequent references to trust in connection to knowledge sharing, very few explain the meaning of this concept. Trust can be defined from many perspectives.” (Organizational Knowledge Dynamics)

FIRST Indiana Robotics, in partnership with our teams, corporate sponsors, university partners, volunteers, and community, has developed a multi-pronged approach to community knowledge management.  

FIRST Forums – Started in 2008, Purdue FIRST Programs took on the challenge of hosting robotics teams from around Indiana and sometimes neighboring states for a day of conference sessions.  The teams create content sessions covering almost every topic a FIRST team would want to learn.

This event has grown every year since its inception and strengthens the community of FIRST teams.  Mentors have built strong relationships.  Students get to know each other better and are prone to more Gracious Professionalism at competitions due to the relationships built. 

“Our FIRST Forums events provide a great platform for our community to share what they know. Our mentors, volunteers, and students have opportunities to share their knowledge in more formal settings by leading presentations and discussions, and the informal networking and knowledge sharing that happens outside of the regularly scheduled sessions also build connections throughout the FIRST Indiana community.”

-Brad Thompson, FRC Mentor

Another format we use for community knowledge sharing is online.  Through recorded zoom calls pushed to YouTube or the creation of a FIN Playbook for community knowledge sharing, we recognize the importance of using various tools for various learners.

The FIN Playbook is an open-source Moodle server that a key volunteer set up for us and is slowly growing in the number of active users and online communities.  We can use the server for wikis based on our programs, essential volunteer resources, training resources for coaches and students, and a forum where members can communicate with each other.

We have found that if we provide the space for the community to develop and share, our teams will utilize the space.  We know the playbook will be a solid piece for our community knowledge management puzzle in years to come.

Over the years, we have produced dozens of videos on various topics for our teams, coaches, and parents.  We bring experts in from our vast pool of knowledge and interview them, and conduct panel discussions and webinars.  We record those sessions and post them publicly on our YouTube channel.

The final piece of our community knowledge management is providing our community an opportunity to share at our culminating events.  We host a series of roundtable discussions at our competitions for students, coaches, and parents alike to come together, listen, and share their experiences.  From fundraising, parent engagement, and school/team relationships, our roundtables have been another great tool for community engagement.  

At our competitions, we set up the roundtable discussion areas, find volunteers to mediate the conversations, and have them take notes.  FIRST Indiana Robotics uses those notes and feedback to create more content at our forums, for our playbook, and for future video recordings.

These approaches are all in different phases of rollout.  We continue developing these community knowledge management tools from the introduction to full community integration. By keeping the community engaged, we know there are tools on the horizon we don’t even know about yet.  We will be ready to grow with the new tools because of the work we’ve done with the tools we have.