COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE FOR THE WORLD OF COOPERATION: THE FON.COOP PROJECT. Giuditta Alessandrini Roma TRE University, Italy

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1 COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE FOR THE WORLD OF COOPERATION: THE FON.COOP PROJECT Giuditta Alessandrini Roma TRE University, Italy Summary In Italy the area of cooperative companies is very extended, particularly in the field of social services and food distribution. The continuing training activity for cooperative enterprises is managed by Fon.Coop, which is an interprofessional fund made up by confederal trade unions and cooperative associations. The formative intervention, which will be presented during the 2009 EADTU conference, was planned and put into practice by the fund and it addressed planners and researchers working in the field of continuing training within Fon.Coop cooperative companies. The project peculiarity, that has followed the classical standards of training planning, from needs assessment to learning audit, lies in the use of innovative didactic and organizational methodologies aiming to increase the learning process effectiveness. The course was divided into six modules, each one covered in two days by means of classroom, seminar and group activities. The training activity was made more flexible thanks to a complete environment for distance cooperative learning, based on a portal where the participants could find video recordings of the lessons and the slides used by the speakers. Distance cooperative learning activities, based on the interaction among the learners in a Community of Practice and on the creation of individual or group Project Works, were supported by the tutors by means of interventions on the forum or on the area reserved to the Community of Practice. The course met the participants approval and the Fon.Coop wants to propose it to its member companies 1. Development of continuing training in the European framework The development of a system of continuing training in the country pursues and builds the path which in its broad outline was traced by European policies with the aim to push the economic and cultural development in the direction of lifelong learning. Continuing training policies and guidelines in the European framework are increasingly related to the idea of knowledge welfare. In this perspective continuing training becomes a field together with the guidelines for social inclusion and support of competitiveness belonging to the European framework which began with the Lisbon Strategy. In recent years the European Union defined in a more explicit way the idea of the right to learning and training, which is not only related to the strategies of educational and vocational training systems, but also to local systems. Interventions range from apprenticeships to adult training activities and there are more and more integrated policies among the various political

2 and institutional actors, including social partners, and the different actors working in the training system, including universities. Continuous learning and investment in adults becomes a condition not only to improve the adaptability of the territories to social and economic scenarios but also to promote the right of the subject-person as an individual right to satisfy a demand of knowledge. Knowledge is essentially an "asset" that enhances the traditional factors of production, namely labour, capital, technical progress. It is a private asset that produces process and product innovation when used by the group at a social level. The idea of a knowledge-based society has been increasingly combined with the idea of supporting Europe s competitive growth focusing on the meta-territorial dimension, and emphasizing the circuit of knowledge determined by the relationship between institutions and territory, organizations and enterprises, businesses and universities. A recent paper on the report "European universities charter on lifelong learning" issued in July 2008, for example, emphasizes the need to encourage partnerships at regional level with local authorities, managers and agencies, and asserts that the benefits of high quality lifelong learning processes can be achieved in the European regions by strengthening regional partnerships with the institutions working in the field of higher training and with the representatives of social partners. This contribution comes from the reflection on the role that interprofessional funds are increasingly playing in the field of continuing training and it aims to present the results of an innovative training path based on the collaboration between Roma TRE University and the Fund of cooperative enterprises (Fon.Coop). The objective of the project was to organise a higher training course for planners, supposing the trainer s growth of role towards a greater availability of management skills in training demand. The idea is to follow the path of professional growth towards a figure who has the skills of a "researcher-consultant, who is able to understand and meet territorial needs of cooperative enterprises. Another innovative element is the need to create a portal dedicated to the planners training using a blended training approach, which was already tested during the University Master GESCOM (www.master-gescom.it), with the aim to enable the use of videotaped interventions and the management of online monitoring and assessment processes. 2. The 'macro' scenario of Interprofessional Funds and Fon.Coop The 2001 Finance Bill, on the basis of Article 118 of the Law 388/2000, has constituted the national interprofessional funds for continuing training on the basis of the agreements signed by the most representative social partners at national level. The purpose of these funds is to promote, consistently with regional programs and guided by the Ministry of Labour, development of continuing training supporting competitiveness and ensuring workers employability. The funds, which came into action only in 2004, are financed through a 0.3% share paid by the companies as a "compulsory insurance against involuntary unemployment" and taken from the employees contributions proportionally to all wages. Furthermore, this kind of contribution, paid by the company but proportional to the wages, results in the distribution of training costs between business and employees, so that the training process is financed by both companies and employees. As part of their annual planning, the funds define the criteria and procedures to collect, evaluate and finance training proposals coming from the registered businesses and the annual planning enables to adapt the demand to the offer and to meet the needs of businesses, territory and industry. In 2007, as noted by the latest Isfol survey, relevant regulatory innovations were introduced, which influenced deeply our national productive structure. Important innovations in the field of continuing training were brought by an agreement signed in April 2007 by the Ministry of Labour, Regions and Social Partners to define a progressively organized, not competitive, but integrated system coordinating regional programmes with those of the interprofessional funds. Thanks to the activities of the funds, in the last three years approximately 459 million Euros have been allocated, most of these funds helped to conclude the start-up phase,

3 during which 2,376 training plans were financed involving 18,543 businesses and 348,819 employees, that is respectively 4.2% and 6.1% of those who took part in the funds. The national interprofessional fund for continuing training in cooperative businesses, called Fon.Coop (www.foncoop.coop), was made up on the basis of the interconfederal agreement signed on 6 June 2001 and aims to promote and finance training plans at business, sectorial or individual, regional, interregional and national level and, in addition, to monitor and evaluate training plans, to improve continuing training practices and the management of the activities on the basis of specific criteria characterised by inexpensiveness and organizational efficiency. Taking into consideration all the members of the fund, in January 2008 there were about 10,000 businesses, 85% were cooperative businesses, mostly connected to the social sector (16%), to food and non food retail (12%) and to the banks (6%), for a total of 350,000 employees and associates. So, from a dimensional point of view, the fund is made up by the circuit of large enterprises (4% with over 150 employees) and small and medium enterprises with a clear prevalence, 60% of the total, of microenterprises. With regard to the offer, Fon.Coop believes that the distinctive value of interprofessional funds is not only the possibility to provide resources for continuing training, but also the ability to support the training policies of the associated businesses, by means of various original operative methodologies: analysis of training needs, training planning, regrouping of training demands, submission of financing requests and management of the activities which will be financed. 3. Higher Training Course "Planning with Fon.Coop": Project structure The project of higher training LAOC-Fon.Coop, carried out on behalf of the interprofessional fund of cooperative enterprises (Fon.Coop) by the laboratory of organizational learning and communication (LAOC - was conceived and created to facilitate and encourage the expansion and consolidation of professional level and quality of trainers and researchers working for training institutions to provide the basic and essential skills which enable to increase professional knowledge. The project is focused on an idea of learning, which is not only understood as a process of acquisition and accumulation of knowledge and skills, but as a process of human and professional growth which evolves continually thanks to innovative planning methodologies based on a logic characterized by the participation, cooperation and collaboration of learners who can act, on the basis of the acquired skills, also in informal and non formal paths. The project was developed starting from a thorough analysis of training involving directly all Fon.Coop businesses and, subsequently, from the reading and analysis of the received curricula in order to create a class, made up by the recipients of the higher training course. The project was developed in the following phases: Course planning, consistently with the collected data and with the planning guidelines shared with the client institution; Development of the structure for a spontaneous and informal creation of communities of practice in the network; Development of training and research activities in the classroom; Ongoing monitoring of the achieved training results (techniques of learning audit); Comprehensive evaluation of the achieved results; Dissemination and communication of the training product. The training course was structured over 15 days divided into seven modules on key training issues and a concluding workshop; it started on March 2008 and continued for the following six months. The didactic architecture was conceived and organized on the basis of the idea, shared by the project group, that the objective is to build possible paths centred on the cultural dimension rather than on the technical one, that is to invest in transmission/acquisition practices and knowledge processing, to develop and refine the skills related to acquired professional experience. The project involved Roma TRE University teachers, external professionals from the publicprivate sector and from associations (Isfol, Associazione Italiana Formatori, Asap Lazio) and experts on learning facilitation helped by tutors, who were "point of reference and guarantors

4 of continuity" during the training course and main point of reference for the participants. The chosen methodology was that of an active didactic based on diversified and multiform practices: brainstorming and problem solving, lectures, group work, simulation, discussion of cases, research laboratory, communities of practice. Sometimes this training path has undergone some modifications due to the need to upgrade the scenario, and related to the inputs and suggestions coming from the class. With regard to the evaluation tools, ongoing evaluations were carried out by means of online evaluation questionnaires and a final test where students were asked to produce something "new", that is to create an experiential product, a project work. 4. Tutorship tools and the community of practice In line with the figure of tutor-researcher, a detection tool called logbook was used to analyse and observe the learners social-training behaviours in order to detect those psycho-social aspects which could help or impede the learning process. The logbook is essentially made up of a series of measurement scales which analyse the status of three psycho-social phenomena: attitudes, behaviours and interactions. The aim is to determine how and to what extent these phenomena could affect the training process in general and how it is possible to intervene during the process in order to prevent any alteration, especially at emotional level, of the natural individual or group learning process. Another tool is a satisfaction questionnaire which was used to determine the appreciation and satisfaction level of the group during the training course. The project, of experimental nature, has helped to build a "bridge" between the figure of a planner, more involved "on the desk" to understand and translate public notices and the figure of a training broker more involved "on the court" to understand and meet territorial needs. In order to achieve this goal, the LAOC staff (which was recently transformed into the Research Centre CEFORC - Continuing Training and Communication) has adopted the Community of Practice methodology (from now on CoP) which has been tested for 4 years within the Master Gescom, a post-graduate course that aims to train HR professionals who are able to use knowledge management portals and to exploit diversity within organizational, public and private contexts. The CoP methodology is based on Etienne Wenger s theoretical construct about the communities of practice, which was adapted and used as a training tool in any work and professional environment. More precisely, this methodology is really valuable because it is both a training tool and a survey approach focused on the social dynamics of learning. The LAOC approach wants to reinterpret, in an evolutional and empirical perspective, Wenger s theory and it tries therefore to find additional indicators and to fine-tune the existing ones in order to exploit them during the observational stage and to describe the dynamics of social interaction that contribute to knowledge production and skills development. The aim was to move from desk work to planning and relational work, to create a figure with a renewed professional identity, with a marked pro-activity and specific skills and able to use network technologies to communicate, share and learn thanks to the potential of the new WEB 2.0 paradigm. The first step to implement the CoP methodology was to reflect on the professional identity in order to bring to surface former experiences, characteristics and expertise, concerns about the future, implemented programs or projects and gradually imagining alternative scenarios. The tutorship immediately got involved to facilitate knowledge socialization, also organising socio-relational activities in the learning community platform, creating the typical environmental conditions of a real social context. The second step was to propose a group work aiming to create appropriate tools of training needs analysis. The objective of this second phase was to allow the community members to identify themselves with the new figure, placing them in a typical real situation of a community of practice in the middle of its daily activities, busy with the production and exchange of knowledge through the constant negotiation and social mediation of meanings, symbols, world views and values. The results of the applications seem to confirm the validity of this method based on the community of practice concept and indeed, 4 months after the end of

5 the training course, many community members have overcome their technological difficulties which prevented them from benefiting the full potential of the learning network and started to use constantly social medias (eg Facebook) as a tool to communicate, interact and keep contacts. In addition, more active members decided to specialize in advanced techniques of training needs analysis in order to change their professional role and to start a new adventure, dragging with them the rest of the group..

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