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Willing is not enough; we must do.
Okay, so how does one get a community started? How does the concept of a community get translated into a functioning body that provides value to its members and the organization? How does a group of individuals, possibly from different organizations, backgrounds, and locations, morph into a viable, living source of organizational and technical knowledge that members can tap into? This transformation — from concept to reality — is the goal of this section. The results from following the steps below will include:
- Community identity, including name, knowledge domain, type of community, and organizational fit
- The CoP’s value, including purpose and how the CoP will help with the organization’s mission and goals, and generally how the CoP will meet member needs.
- Initial direction for community type and organization fit
- A clear understanding of the community roles and responsibilities
- A Core Group planning meeting
- An Initial Community Workshop
- A foundation for community activities
- An approach for establishing a collaborative work environment
- Assessment of community progress
- Initial input to a Community Experience Locator
Step 1: Conduct Core Group Planning
distant things as if they were close
and to take a distanced view of close things.
The Core Group, which is comprised of the working group of initial community members, needs to conduct a meeting for putting building blocks in place to launch the community. It is essential that the individuals who participated in the community’s originating session and identified the community’s knowledge domain attend this planning meeting as well. The community’s Champion and Sponsor should also be in attendance, if possible. See
Roles and Responsibilities in the Building CoPs Section for a detailed description of community roles.
The following building blocks are the agenda items for the Core Group planning meeting:
- Community Identity
- Community Value
- Community Roles and Responsibilities
- Community Membership
- Community Publicity
- Collaborative Work Environment
Each of these areas is discussed in detail below. Additionally, a Sample Core Group Planning Meeting Agenda (Table 1) can serve as a guide to creating your agenda.
Table 1. Sample Core Group Planning Meeting Agenda
Date and Time:
Develop community identity
1. Set Up
1.2 Introductions, if applicable
1.3 Review objectives and agenda
2. Create Tentative Community Identity
2.1 Develop CoP name, domain, etc.
2.2 Review knowledge needs
2.3 Review types of communities
2.4 Consider fit with organization
2.5 Consider success criteria
2.6 Consider community norms
3. Clarify Roles and Responsibilities
3.1 Review Sponsor role
3.2 Review Champion role
3.3 Review Community Leader role
3.4 Review Coordinator role
3.5 Review Facilitator role
3.6 Review Cybrarian role
3.7 Review Events Tracker role
3.8 Review Q&A Tracker role
3.9 Review Technologist role
3.10 Review Core Group role
3.11 Review Member role
4. Identify Community Members
4.1 Review personnel identified in proceeding analysis
4.2 Brainstorm additional prospective contributors
4.3 Devise methods to get the word out
5. Define Collaborative Work Environment
5.1 Explore capability for shared workspace
5.2 Evaluate chat room and discussion tools
5.3 Identify meeting rooms (VTC capabilities)
6. Wrap Up
6.1 Review next steps and action items
6.2 Review meeting objectives
Agenda Item: Solidify Community Identity
A community identity is one of the essential building blocks for a CoP. This identity should address the community’s name, knowledge domain, type of community, and how the community fits in its sponsoring organization. The community value statement is requisite to full acceptance in the organization and sets forth the basic purpose of the organization and how it supports the organization’s mission and goals. This is also a good place to note what members need from the CoP.
To save community members time, the Core Group may choose to develop a tentative outline that addresses community identity and community value to be suggested during the initial community workshop. Conversely, the community may best be served by fleshing out these ideas itself. The exercise of thinking collaboratively may begin to form a sense of community among members. The core group needs to decide the most effective approach to use given the culture of the organization. In either case, consensus and ownership in relation to identity will be invaluable for creating interest and expanding community membership.
Tip: If the Core Group chooses a tentative outline approach, it must be open to a change in direction once presented to the community. It is important to avoid pride of ownership.
Agenda Item: Select Community Type
The nature of a CoP’s interest in its knowledge domain, the relationship of the knowledge domain to the organization’s goals, and a sense of the CoP’s commitment and resources are the basis for selecting community type. The four CoP types are:
- Helping Communities provide a forum for community members to help each other with everyday work needs.
- Best Practice Communities develop and disseminate best practices, guidelines, and procedures for their members use.
- Knowledge Stewarding Communities organize, manage, and steward a body of knowledge from which community members can draw.
- Innovation Communities create breakthrough ideas, new knowledge, and new practices.
Types in the Laying the Groundwork Section for additional information on these types. Determining the primary type for a community will help to determine how the community should be organized in terms of key activities that it will undertake, community structure, and required roles. Although communities may serve more than one of these purposes, most communities focus on one type and develop their approach with that specific intent in mind.
Agenda Item: Clarify Roles and Responsibilities
Communities may be supported by corporate roles that provide resources and infrastructure support, or the community may provide these roles internal to its own community. Useful external roles include a Champion and Sponsor. Useful internal roles include Community Leader, Coordinator, Facilitator, Cybrarian, Events Tracker, Q&A Tracker, and Technologist. Again these are discussed in length under
Roles and Responsibilities in the Building CoPs section.
These roles are useful from the beginning when getting a community up and running, creating and maintaining tools to foster collaboration, planning community events, creating or capturing knowledge, sharing knowledge, and providing continued focus and momentum.
Agenda Item: Identify Perspective Community Members
Who should be included in the community? Anyone who wants to participate should be welcome in community activities. Notwithstanding, it is recommended that prospective community members-individuals who could learn from each other and have a stake in the community’s success-be identified and cultivated. Consider those in the organization who could contribute and benefit from sharing know-how related to the domain.
Without members, there is no community. The essence of a community is its members. The community concept was built upon members being self-organizing and participating because they receive value from that participation. In these communities, membership is voluntary rather than prescribed; participation should not be mandated. The Core Group, the Community Leader, and other community supporters should personally invite prospective members to the initial community workshop and subsequent forums until the community takes on momentum. When encouraging participation, it should be emphasized that this is not another task force or project team. Communities do not normally have task plans or deliverables, although they may be designated as a special resource to create something specific in the organization related to ideas. Stress that membership is voluntary and individuals are encouraged to participate only if they see the community purpose to be meaningful and believe they will gain from or contribute to the community.
What makes a good member? Good members embrace and appreciate diversity of thought and perspective and engage in building the practice of the community.
A technique for identifying those individuals in your organization that connect the informal networks already operating in your organization is social networking and knowledge flow diagramming. Tracing a network of relationships can help you to identify the integrators, or the employees who are seen by many as experts or who are trusted as information sources. Recruiting such individuals for your community will make your communication effort easier. These people have a wide reach in the informal communication network of the organization.”
Agenda Item: Community Publicity
Word of mouth is wonderful way to locate potential members, but it happens slowly over time. Building awareness of the community is an immediate focus point for emerging communities. See
Publicity under Building Communities for a fuller discussion of broadcasting, local actions and publishing.
Tip: The Core Group could write a short article for publication in internal publications or websites describing the community and what the community practice offers its members.
Agenda Item: Define a Collaborative Work Environment
How will members work together? The community will need an operational environment with some level of computer and communication technology in which to collaborate. See the
Shared Space topic in the Building CoPs section for related ideas. The Core Group will need to identify what media and function can be put in place. Over the next two to three years, collaboration resources will be increasingly available. If the collaboration tools the community uses operate across the organizational or network security boundaries, their operation must comply with the Department of Navy’s Firewall Policy, as articulated in the NMCI NIPRNet Baseline Configuration Document, and with the DoD Mobile Code Policy.
2 These policies are established to ensure that DoD information and the systems that handle it are protected from denial of service and computer virus attacks, as well as from unauthorized attempts to modify, disclose or destroy the information.
The Community Leader will also need to arrange for meeting rooms. Depending on membership, teleconferencing and video conferencing may also be required.
Step 2: Prepare for Initial Community Workshop
First and foremost, the goal of the initial community workshop should be to engage member interests and stimulate continued involvement, not increase workload for members. The first workshop should also serve to begin building relationships among members. Careful planning can help ensure the success of the initial community workshop. The agenda for the initial CoP Orientation Workshop should include at least the following: (See the Sample Initial Community Orientation Workshop Agenda)
- Identify community members
- Solidify community identity and value
- Clarify roles
- Begin building relationships (exercise)
- Community publicity
- Identify highest priority knowledge needs
- Provide overview of methods to create, capture, and share knowledge
- Identify next steps to satisfy specific knowledge needs
- Provide overview of how selected tools may be used to further community goals
The Champion and Sponsor should join the workshop to welcome members, encourage participation, and spark dialogue. Let the Core Group establish themselves as members, not directors.
Tip: Consider facilitator services for at least the initial community orientation workshop. The Facilitator should be involved in planning the community orientation workshop, including assisting with the agenda development.
Tip: Just sending an email invitation to prospective members is not enough. An email invitation could easily be lost in the shuffle. The Core Group and community specialists must reach out, in person or by telephone, to begin building personal relationships. Personal invitations provide an opportunity to distinguish the community from other requests for time-to stress what the individual can gain from the experience. The better organized and supported the quick start effort is, the more time Core Group members will have for contacting and relationship development.
Tip: Don’t burden members with “administrivia”. The community should be free to focus on its purpose-building its practice. This cannot be overstated. What you do not want is for the community to get turned off by procedural or administrative duties.
Tip: Give them a reason to keep coming. To jump start the community, invite a dynamic guest speaker to share a best practice or innovation in an area of particular interest to the community.
Optimum location is critical. The optimum location for a workshop is off site so that interruptions can be limited. The most successful arrangements for the room include a U-shaped table for participant seating with a facilitator table in the front for projection equipment and facilitator materials. The room size should reflect the number of team members. If a room is too small, people will feel cramped and trapped. If a room is too large, close relationships will be more difficult to establish.
When using easel paper, solid, smooth walls are required for posting and maintaining the group memory-discussions and decisions made by the group and documented on easel paper. Electronic means will also be useful. For example, electronic whiteboards and computer projected work group tools will capture the group memory. The following supplies might be useful:
Three or four easel boards with papers-one for each possible subgroup.
- Masking tape
- Name tents
- Access to a copier and printer
- Laptop computer
Step 3: Conduct Initial Community Workshop
The initial community workshop presents a one-time opportunity to engage member interest. As they say, first impressions are the most lasting. This orientation should convince members that leadership is ready to invest in the community, that the organization respects and values community members’ time and commitment, and that participation in the community will serve its individual members as well as the organization.
See the sample agenda (Table 1 above) provided for your reference. The following agenda items and tips for a successful workshop are cross-referenced to the appropriate agenda item.
Agenda Item: Provide a Guest Speaker
An interview may generate more interest than a canned briefing. Consider conducting an interview with your guest speaker rather than having them deliver a formal briefing. Not only will this approach to knowledge exchange more closely resemble the desired give and take of community interactions, it will also demonstrate a useful community technique for gathering knowledge.
Tip: Have some questions on hand to spark dialogue during the question and answer period. Members of the Core Group may serve as provocateurs. Interview questions designed to stimulate interesting dialogue should be prepared.
Tip: A good learning technique is for the group to collectively list the key or salient points surfaced during the guest speaker’s presentation or interview. This serves to reinforce concepts. Key points should be posted on an easel and recorded as knowledge nuggets for posting in a shared space. A variation might be to hold this exercise until the end of the workshop and summarize key points learned throughout the workshop.
Agenda Item: Solidify Community Identity
Community identity has several components, and each needs to be clarified and agreed upon including: the knowledge domain, type of community, and how the community supports its sponsoring organization’s mission and goals. Also included are how the community determines whether or not it is adding value, what members need from the community, and what cultural norms or conventions will be honored.
A community is a network of relationships. The first community-wide workshop is a good opportunity to begin the process of building person-to-person relationships among members. It is the human relationships that will sustain the community over time and provide a sense of trust and reciprocity among each other. To foster this, it is suggested that a relationship-building exercise be included in the initial and subsequent workshops. A sample exercise is provided as a tool in the CoP Tools section under the topic Relationship Building.
The best way to unify a community is for its members to share a common value. A clear sense of value unifies and creates a sense of urgency. A community’s value should be centered in knowledge areas that carry a sense of urgency and incite people’s passion. The communities value statement should be directly connected to the challenges its members face in their work. It is particularly powerful when it is directly aligned with the organization’s strategy and mission.
It is essential that the community realize that it, not the enterprise leaders, is responsible for determining its success. Members must set their own success criteria for two reasons: First, it raises the sense of ownership in the CoP and second, when individuals develop their own performance measures, more demanding targets are normally set. Success criteria guide community evolution. Some general success criteria are provided here as examples:
- Sustained mutual relationships
- Quick mobilization for discussion
- Shared methodology
- Rapid flow of knowledge
- Fostering of innovation
- Acknowledged participant base
- Knowledge of what others know, what they do, and how they contribute
- Mutually defined identities
- Ability to assess appropriateness of actions and products
- CoP developed practice-documents, tools, language, examples, stories, etc.
- Open communication channels
- Report of significant volume of learning
Here are some other possible success criteria:
- Satisfaction of specific knowledge goals
- Reduction in hours needed to solve problems
- Reduction in hours needed to find resources
- Drop in rework
- Number of breakthrough ideas
- Member satisfaction survey results
- Transfer of best practices from one member to another
- Adoption of best practices or innovations that were “not invented here”
- Less redundancy of effort among members
- Avoidance of costly mistakes
- Quantitative measures
- Success stories
The DON Chief Information Officer has produced a metrics guide to assist knowledge management practitioners in measuring the performance of KM projects. Though designed broadly for knowledge management projects, it may provide useful insights for communities of practice, and can certainly serve as a starting point for developing community metrics. This guide is available in the Resources section as
Metrics Guide for Knowledge Management Initiatives.
Quantitative measures are most valuable when they are tracked over time and compared against a baseline recorded at the start of the initiative. For this reason, it is advisable to try to leverage existing measures when possible. Metrics are particularly important to initiate early because return on investment may take significant time to appear. Putting a KM program in effect will interact with other business processes as the organization learns to use and leverage the new knowledge sharing capabilities. This adaptation period can take 18 to 36 months in some cases. According to GartnerGroup, a leading technology research and advisory group, “In no case should a KM program be expected to show a return on investment in less than 12 months.”
Again, the emphasis here is to leverage existing metrics and use available baseline data. For example, if one of the organizational goals is to improve customer satisfaction, there should already be an existing baseline metric in your sponsoring organization for customer satisfaction. The CoP initiative should leverage the process already in place to track customer satisfaction in order to track and observe progress towards the goal.
Anecdotes, or stories, can be more powerful than numbers. A story about how knowledge was leveraged in the organization to achieve value does two things. First, it creates an interesting context around which to remember the measure being described. Second, it educates the reader or listener about alternative methods that they themselves might employ to achieve similar results, thus helping to “spread the word” about the KM program and speed up the cultural change. Qualitative measures such as stories, anecdotes, and lessons learned often fulfill one of the primary benefits of KM measurement: allocation of resources and support to your KM pilot project.
To be strategic, a community must be able to link its purpose to specific business drivers or objectives of the organization. By establishing this link, the community can demonstrate direct value to the organization. For example, a Navy shipyard’s strategic goals might be to improve customer satisfaction. Let’s assume for this example that reducing cycle times will improve customer satisfaction. Additionally, reducing cycle times will produce cost savings and an improvement in on-time delivery.
Let’s also say that the Navy shipyard figures out a way to reduce the time it takes to complete a frequent, routine maintenance action. The shipyard maintenance community uses that knowledge to adopt the same practice at all the yards, thus reducing cycle time for that maintenance action. The reduction in maintenance cycle time also produces dollar savings. If the business goal were to improve customer satisfaction, the transfer of knowledge in this instance was successful in contributing to that goal. Further, this example shows how an organization can use communities to leverage knowledge across the organization.
The community may wish to explore other ways to measure its contribution to achievement of strategic objectives. The
DON KM metrics starter kit may provide a source of additional relevant information on how to best develop performance metrics for your community.
Tip: When people work together or sit close enough to interact daily, they naturally build a connection — they find commonality in the problems they face, see the value of each other’s ideas, build trust, and create a common etiquette or set of norms on how to interact. It simply emerges from their regular contact. When building more intentional communities, it is tempting to jump right to official community business before the community has had time to form. During community events, allow some time for technical schmoozing to allow members to share immediate work problems and to begin helping each other.
Although norms will evolve over time, some initial conventions can easily be discussed and possibly adopted by the community in the initial workshop. Here are some examples:
- Relevant information and knowledge will be shared as soon as possible
- One conversation at a time during discussions-watch air time
- Frequency of events, i.e., 2nd Wednesday of every month
- An open meeting policy with few exceptions-anyone can attend any meeting
- All planned workshops should have an agenda-each agenda should provide for standard points of discussion like action item assignments and tracking
- How to identify areas of interest for evolving agenda items
- Use of facilitators
- When documentation is desired and how the community will ensure its preparation; perhaps a role that rotates amongst members
Tip: Once the community agrees to its “identity,” this message should be posted in the workspace as a “welcome” to prospective members.
Tip: Attendees at the workshop should be polled to identify individuals who could benefit from and contribute to the community’s knowledgebase.
Agenda Item: Prioritize Knowledge Needs
Member agreement on knowledge needs is key to stimulating participation. The community must have a shared understanding about what knowledge it needs in the community of practice. Although the proceeding analyses identified needed knowledge, skills, and information (KSIs), it is wise to build consensus around which KSIs are most critical to community members. The community should prioritize its knowledge needs.
Tip: In a large group, an effective prioritization method is multi-voting. Allow each member to cast five votes based on what they believe to be the five highest priorities. Members are not allowed to cast more than one vote on any one item. This will quickly identify where there is the most energy and urgency.
Tip: Another prioritization technique is to build consensus on decision criteria, for example, mission need, safety, cost, and risk. Once consensus is reached on the criteria, the prioritization of knowledge against mutually agreed to criteria will foster commitment and build ownership of the community process.
Agenda Item: Plan of Action
How can you transform a knowledge need into a knowledge nugget? Once the top knowledge needs have been agreed to, the community should decide how it wishes to approach satisfying these needs. For example, Will the community conduct a search to acquire needed knowledge? Would a problem solving session produce the needed knowledge? A plan of action should address the “who, what, and when” of how the knowledge need will be satisfied for the community practice.
Agenda Item: Collaborative Environment
Open members’ minds to the possibilities of collaborative work tools. This agenda item is intended to provide members with an overview of available collaborative technology. The goal is not to provide hands on training; but rather, to explore collaborative tools and how they can be used to promote member interactions with each other and the community’s practice knowledgebase.
The second aspect of this is to better understand members’ level of exposure or proficiency with potential tools in order to better target their needs for training and access. The discussion may include how organization activities can help the community acquire and use tools.
Tip: Although critical to future activities, this is an item that may be slipped to a second workshop agenda.
Agenda Item: Wrap Up
To close the session, the community should agree to some next steps – at least enough to confirm a date for the next session and suggested agenda items.
Tip: As action items are identified, the Core Group should volunteer for as many as possible – the Core Group should be seen as a resource for the community, not the other way around.
Tip: In closing, conduct a roundtable where each participant shares their thoughts, whatever is on their minds, to solicit gut reaction, initial reservations, and enthusiasm. Be sure to listen rather than defend.
Step 4: Check Community Progress
The Community Leader and the Core Group should do a quick progress check after the community’s first event to ensure the community is on the road to success. A checklist for this purpose is found under the
Progress Review (see below). The answer to each of the progress check questions should be “yes.” Questions where the answer is “no” present a potential barrier to the community’s success. For each identified barrier, a solution should be developed and implemented.
A second valuable exercise for the Core Group and Community Leader would be to have a lessons learned discussion to evaluate how well the initial workshops went. This information will be useful to improving the community’s next event, but also, will be beneficial to the next time a new community is initiated.
Tip: A variation might be for the community to complete this exercise in lieu of a roundtable.
Congratulations! The community has met and begun to form, working together to develop a practice. Now, how do you keep the community moving in a forward direction? How do you keep members coming back for more?
The progress review tools below are designed to help community leaders assess CoP activity, recognize the natural evolution of community interactions, and continuously foster innovation and growth. Expected outcomes include process adjustments and the continuous infusion of new knowledge.
First, is the CoP still in sync with strategic objectives? As the community evolves, so may the strategic objectives of its members’ organizations. A community should ask itself these questions: Have we satisfied our highest priority knowledge needs? Do remaining needs still reflect strategic objectives? Have the knowledge needs changed?
To address these key questions, member feedback should be solicited. Community members should be polled periodically to gain insights into how they believe the community is performing. In other words, is the community serving its members, the organization, and the enterprise?
One relatively simple method to gauge the status of a CoP is to gather feedback from the members. A generic Community Member Satisfaction Survey is provided for this purpose. The survey should be tailored to the community’s identify and purpose. It could be conducted in real time meetings, through email or through a Web-based survey tool. A good person to obtain and aggregate the input could be the CoP Facilitator.
Communities should periodically conduct more in depth assessments. The Community of Practice Progress Checklist provides a way of assessing community development. This checklist may either be used in individual interviews or in a group assessment process. This checklist may also be distributed through email or by means of a Web-based survey tool. A good person to obtain and aggregate the input could be the CoP Facilitator.
The following list of community behavior standards address effective community interactions. This list will be useful for considering against the results of surveys and interviews.
- “Identify important issues to address that can help in day-to-day work and add value.
- Update purpose and activities on a regular basis to reflect the defined issues. The agenda evolves.
- Sift through the best of existing materials and search for new resources that can be shared with others.
- Organize and publish these resources in a way that makes them accessible to all. In some cases, CoPs establish a physical resource area, such as a library, but increasingly the web is used to publish and share knowledge.
- Contribute to discussion groups. Ask questions of others and collaborate in solving common issues.
- Interact with other members in a number of ways, depending on the need. Use any, or all, of the following to collaborate and build professional relationships: email, event reports, internal conferences, newsletters, face-to-face meetings, luncheons, workshops, personal visits, video-conferences, web-site and telephone.
- Share and apply knowledge to make progress in individual taskings and advance the purpose of the CoP.
- Create and publish new knowledge when the challenges faced cannot be met through the application of the existing knowledge pool.
Also, using the Community of Practice Development Model, which is presented in the Development Model section, will provide guidance about progress the CoP has made, where it is at a given point in time, and what it needs to attend to as it moves forward.
Step 5: Build Community Experience Locator
Another useful tool for rapidly getting the right knowledge to the right person at the right time is to create a community experience locator. The locator could be resident on a community’s shared workspace and could include key information about members’ experience, for example, top three jobs held and significant experience. A key word search capability might be a feature of this tool. A sample CoP Experience Locator format is provided as a tool in the
COP Tools section under Locator of Expertise.
While formal information about member’s experience is necessary, it is not sufficient. Most individuals have skill sets that are not captured in the documentation of experience, for example, both verbal and written language capabilities, storytelling, scenario writing, and perhaps understanding of other cultures. These capabilities, along with an individual’s passion for particular areas, can add tremendous value to the community and to the organization.
1American Productivity & Quality Center. (2001). Report: Building and Sustaining Communities of Practice: Continuing Success in Knowledge Management
2DoD CIO Policy Memorandum, Policy Guidance for Use of Mobile Code Technologies in DoD Information Systems. 7 November 2000.
3Caldwell, F. (2000). CEO Update: Measuring the Success of Enterprise Knowledge Management. GartnerGroup
4Conklin, Dr. Jeff, Burns, Kathryn, & Hanley, Sue, draft “KM Measurement Guide, Starter Kit for Measuring Performance in DON Knowledge Management Projects,” pg. 5, GDSS, Inc.:V4.1.
5Ibid., pg. 8