Communities of Practice (CoPs)

INTRODUCTION

COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE (CoP) Also known As-Learning Webs AKA-Distributed Communities originated in the private sector and have been successfully utilized by a wide range of organizations and volunteer groups. CoPs provide a flexible way for groups of any size to organize their collaborative work either at a local, regional, national or even global scale.”Cultivating Communities of Practice” by Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder is widely regarded as the best introduction to organizing CoPs. Below is some helpful information on how to organize CoPs. The charts were developed by Wenger and colleagues. The web based resources inserted into the last chart , Communities of Practice, Integrating Organization, Work and Technology were inserted by UVC in 2010.

WHAT

DOMAIN
The members of a CoP are there to accomplish something on an ongoing basis;they have some kind of work in common and they see clearly the larger purpose of that work.
They have a “mission.”  In the simplest of terms, they are “up to something.”

COMMUNITY
The members of a CoP interact with one another not just in the course of doing their work but to clarify that work, to define how it is done and even to change how it is done.Through this mutual engagement, members also establish their identities at work.

PRACTICE
The members of a CoP have not just work in common but also a “Shared Repertoire” of methods, tools, techniques and even language, stories and behavior patterns. There is a cultural context for the work

HOW
A) ORGANIZING CoPS: SEVEN PRINCIPLES (Wenger, McDermott, Snyder)*
1.Design for evolution.
• Because CoPs are organic, designing them is more a matter of shepherding their evolution than creating them from scratch.
• Design elements should be catalysts for a CoP”s natural evolution

2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives.
• Good CoP design requires an insider’s perspective to lead the discovery of what the community is about.
• Good design requires an understanding of the CoPs potential to develop and steward knowledge, but it often takes an
outside perspective to help members see the possibilities.

3. Invite different levels of participation.
Research has identified the following levels of participation in a CoP. Members tend to move from one level to another.
• Core Goup, 10-15% of the CoP-forms the leadership, initiates projects
• Active Group, 15-20% of the CoP-actively assists on projects
• Supporters, around 60% of the CoP- people support the CoP but are not actively involved
• People aware of the CoP but may not consider themselves supporters

4. Develop both public and private community spaces.
• Public community events serve a ritualistic as well as a substantive purpose- people can tangibly experience being part of the community and see who else participates.
• A common mistake in community design is to focus too much on public events. A community coordinator needs to “work“ the private space between meetings, e.g., one-on-one meetings, twitter, informal discussions, networking, social media, etc.

5. Focus on value.
CoPs thrive because they deliver value to their community, to the teams on which CoP members serve, and to all CoP members

6. Combine familiarity and excitement.
Successful CoPs offer the familiar comforts of a hometown, but they also have enough interesting and varied events to keep new ideas and new people cycling into the CoP

7.Create a rhythm for the community
At the heart of a CoP is a web of enduring relationships among members, but the tempo of their interactions is greatly influenced by the rhythm of the CoP’s events.
*Adapted by UVC URGENT VC, LLC 2011©

B) COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE: ORGANIZATION & LEADERSHIP/ROLES*
CoPs require integrating Recognized Leaders (Experts, Thought Leaders) with Internal (Home Grown) Leadership
• The inspirational leadership provided by thought leaders and recognized experts
• The day-to-day leadership provided by those who organize activities
• The classificatory leadership provided by those who collect and organize information in order to document practices
• The interpersonal leadership provided by those who weave the community’s social fabric
• The boundary leadership provided by those who connect the community to other communities
• The institutional leadership provided by those who maintain links with other constituencies
• The cutting-edge leadership provided by those who shepherd “out-of-the-box” initiatives
*Etiene Wenger, Communities of Practice As A Social System

C) COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE: Managing Knowledge and Information*
CoP Functions: Creation, Accumulation, and Diffusion of Knowledge
• They are nodes for the exchange and interpretation of information.
Because members have a shared understanding, they know what is relevant to communicate and how to present information in useful ways
• They can retain knowledge in “living” ways, unlike a database or a manual.
Even when they routinize certain tasks and processes, they can do so in a manner that responds to local circumstances and
thus is useful to practitioners
• They can steward competencies to keep the organization at the cutting edge.
Members of these groups discuss novel ideas, work together on problems, and keep up with developments inside and outside the CoP
• They provide homes for identities.
They are not as temporary as teams, and they are organized around what matters to their members.
Identity is important because, in a sea of information, it helps us to
– sort out what we pay attention to
– what we participate in, and
– what we stay away from

TIP-“Cultivating Communities of Practice” by Etienne Wenger Richard McDermott, William M. Snyder, is the acknowledged authoritative work on the subject

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