I am double-dipping here a bit maybe, but I am including a post I made on the FOC discussion group on my blog as well. I suppose this reflects my perception that the discussion forum is where a lot of the active community is at.
With regards to whether a community can be intentionally set up. My experience and research suggest yes and no. I see a general order of evolution:
1. A need/purpose arises that is commonly felt or recognised
2. One or two people perceive that this need/purpose is felt by others. They may attract a few more around them. These are the ones who 'set up' the community, they are it's initiators or founders. They/he/she are passionate, energetic and enthusiastic. They hold a shared vision and are 'evangelistic'.
3. Others that have the same need/purpose who are risk takers, the 'early starters' are attracted to what they perceive is a way to address that need. Many, particularly if this is their first learning community, will start off as legitimate peripheral participants (Lave and Wenger), others (the more experienced, confident and with high levels of inter-personal intelligence) will be collaboratively and communicatively active from the start.
4. Participants take on leadership roles of moderating discussions, running face-to-face events, etc. The facilitator may always be there since there may be a continued need for administration, maintenance and encouraging 'aliveness'. Once the community has a sense of shared identity the facilitator is definitely more nurturer than architect.
Of course there will be many exceptions to this process, and many contexts where this does not occur. In some cases there may be no defined coordinator, but I think cases of democratically formed CoPs with no definied leader would be rare, and usually composed of experienced people anyway, some of whom will naturally fill the role of facilitators though they may not be perceived as such.
In the Professional Learning Community I am involved in there was one major person who coordinated its formation. We would not exist as a community without this person, and we would fold at this stage without this person, though maybe someone would come in and step into his shoes. We are not yet self-sustaining. SO YES, I think in my experience and the model suggested above, many communities will be 'set up'.
BUT, when I say that I am referring ONLY to the creation and organisation of a 'set of conditions' that allow social connections/social capital/trust/communication to form. The actual relationships developed cannot be built by any facilitator. Someone bandying around that they are going to set up a CoP can be presumptuous. They may create a base on which a CoP can grow, but they cannot create or build one as such.
Maybe a CoP should be perceived to be more a VERB than a NOUN (a bit like love). It is people, doing, relating, connecting, collaborating. Without the doing there is no CoP.
I realise in the steps mentioned above Andrew, that this is different to the higher ed. context. Context influences the style, demands and role of facilitation.
Andrew Chambers wrote: "My students are there to learn, not to gain a sense of community. Community helps but is not critical in this context."
I see that is the case for CoPs in general. They are a means to an end.
I like what DuFour has to say on this:
"The goal is not simply learning a new system, but creating conditions for perpetual learning. It is an environment in which innovation and experimentation are not viewed as tasks to be accomplished or projects to be completed; rather they become ways of conducting day-to-day business - forever. In short, becoming a learning community is less like getting in shape than staying in shape - not a fad diet but a commitment to an essential, vital way of life."
DuFour, R. 2001. 1st Organizing Theme: Professional Learning Communities. The Leadership Academy Developer (Winter 2000-2001). http://www.ksde.org/Default.aspx?tabid=136