Analysing the role of business-to-business media in South Africa in the emergence of communities of practice.
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The purpose of this dissertation was to understand and analyse the facilitative role of specialist and niche business-to-business (trade) media in the emergence of communities of practice, part of the knowledge management discipline, using models from systems theory to assist in the qualitative research process. First, it was considered how to define communities of practice and business-tobusiness (B2B) media. How communities of practice (CoPs) emerge and why they are an important part of a management toolkit going forward in business, is described. Sharing knowledge emerged as the key to the creation of CoPs as well as being the core currency that business-to-business media trade in to service their stakeholders. How learning takes place through shared experience, narratives and storytelling emerged as essential to how knowledge is created. Soft systems methodology as the analytical lens through which to measure the data set was also investigated once it was decided to use a qualitative inductive approach to collating and analysing the data. A semi-structured interview schedule was employed and 17 research subjects interviewed. The respondents to this study were drawn from leading media houses in South Africa, including award-winning B2B publications, bar one from a US online think tank on new media. The impact of new media technologies/internet on communication and the distribution of information and engagement of communities in the CoP and B2B space, was a strong theme throughout this dissertation. The findings revealed that while communities of practice is not a widely used term in the networks that B2B media utilise to embed themselves in industries, it is true that some of the networks and associations they are close to and derive meaning from, do in fact contain characteristics common to CoPs and could be termed CoPs, even when formally unrecognised as such. What was a stronger theme emerging from the data was that B2B media could in fact benefit more from facilitating CoPs to aid information gathering and improve credibility within the industry sectors they serve. B2B media in South Africa, in particular, were regarded as immature and sometimes lacking in ethics and innovation, according to respondents. To improve their sustainability, several characteristics emerged from the research that B2B media should focus on as a 'model for sustainability': 1) Special interest/niche communities - to assist in building knowledge assets; 2) Sustainability - through a multi-media platform business model; 3) Values - for application to serve their industry sectors; 4) Educational role through the facilitation of networks such as CoPs; and, 5) Communication channels - utilised for deeper engagement with their communities in emergent new media models where their own stakeholders were influencing content. The value inherent in this dissertation lies in the original research undertaken into the B2B media industry in South Africa which has not been formally studied, particularly not from a knowledge management perspective. This study could also be of interest to knowledge management practitioners who are interested in the role specialist media can play in aiding CoPs with information for knowledge creation.