11.3.4 Case Studies/ Examples

The Turbodude community regularly attracted an average of fifteen members. But after about six months, word spread that some of the company’s leading geoscientists were engaging in cutting-edge discussions about turbidite reservoirs. Attendance grew averaging forty to fifty people per meeting, topping off at 125 members. Although the people changed somewhat during the life of the community, the participation remained fairly constant.

After several months the community coordinator felt he should try to get even more participation from members and considered forcing the issue. He interviewed some of the nonparticipants and discovered that many were new to the organisation or the field and were using the community to learn, madly taking notes during the meetings. They asked not to participate more actively because they felt that their contributions would dilute the quality of the discussion. So, to keep discussions focused on cutting-edge issues, the coordinator let the leading experts dominate. Still, the community continued to be a training ground for people new to turbidites. About forty people had used the community as a vehicle for learning about turbidites.

As the Turbodudes matured, they became clearer about the real value of their discussions. They discovered that one of their greatest contributions was to reduce uncertainty in deciding whether or not to develop a site. Exploration involves extrapolating from sketchy data and comparing the site to known geological structures, called analogues. Analogues are important because so little site data is available before drilling a well; they help the geoscientists determine if the oil reserves are sufficient to warrant drilling. Turbodude discussions of analogues and alternative interpretations of data have avoided unnecessary drilling and testing at three sites per year- this represents a cost of $20 million to drill and another $20 million to test each well, a total saving of $120 million annually.

The more recognition the community received, the higher the commitment of community members. By the end of the first year, the Turbodudes’ core group realized that they were onto something. Several of them started devoting more time to the community and taking on additional issues to develop areas of interest.
Although most Turbodude discussions still focus on helping each other, these activities reflect a shift in the community from pure helping to organizing, systematizing and creating standards of good practice for turbidite analysis.1


1 Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, William M.Snyder (2002) “Cultivating communities of Practice”