I assumed, when I began my research, that having a balance of experts and novices was important to engender the sharing of knowledge and experience. What I found was that more confident community members would share more readily regardless of how long they had worked in their roles.
The apprenticeship model assumes that a “master” can and will teach an “apprentice” what they know. We generally assume that the length of time in a role dictates the level of ability – this may be the case, but the ability and willingness to pass on skills requires a degree of confidence.
In terms of an online community, attempts to ensure that membership includes those with differing levels of seniority alone may not be the best tactic for ensuring skills are past from master to novice – if the “master” is not confident, they may be less likely to share their knowledge. Confidence AND ability are required to ensure skills are passed on within an online community. Face to face sharing may be different, as the level of confidence required to share may well be less in such familiar situations, and many of us have techniques for encouraging participation in even the quietest individuals.
Confident people may share more readily, but that doesn’t mean what they are sharing is good practice. Encouraging the more reticent members of a community to take part is important for diversity of opinion. Those with less confidence may be less willing to share online and may need support to develop confidence and trust prior to sharing online.
Managing the diversity of a community then is more complex that merely having a balance of novices and experts. Just as we see in meetings, training, any group gathering, quieter less confident members have valuable contributions which balance debate and enhance the knowledge being shared. Where there are no face to face opportunities, then techniques such as encouraging individuals to contribute by contacting them personally, by a phone call or an email, recognising their value, may give them the incentive to take part.