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The Federal Chief Information Officer’s Council established the Community of Practice SIG under the sponsorship of the Knowledge Management Working Group as an interagency group to promote the benefits and advance the state-of-the-practice of Communities of Practice (CoPs) among Federal organizations, customers and partners. The CoP SIG serves as a network of people interested in learning about and/or applying CoPs as a means to address compelling business needs within their organizations. The CoP SIG seeks to:
- Collect, document and share good practices related to CoPs through site visits with public and private sector organizations
- Create and maintain a network for knowledge exchange on CoPs and build personal knowledge
- Serve as a resource for the federal government on CoPs
- Act as a “sounding board” for CoP SIG members, and use collective wisdom to provide insights for success.
The CoP SIG currently has over 50 members representing more then 20 different Federal agencies including NASA, GSA, DoD, Treasury, Energy, Justice, Education and the FBI. There are also several associate members from private sector organizations. CoP SIG meetings are held every other month and are hosted by CoP SIG members. Meetings focus on activities such as site visits, expert panel presentations, and demonstrations of successful CoP tools and practices. In addition to the CoP SIG membership, meetings are open to the KM Working Group, and meeting information is posted on the KM.GOV website.
For more information on Communities of Practice, go to the Communities section of this CD.
Mike Burk, SIG Chair
(See sections below to access the content of these documents)
- Communities of Practice — A Primer: This document describes the evolution of the “communities of practice” concept that began back in the 1980s.
- Establishing Communities of Practice: This outline provides the criteria, implementation issues, principles for quick start and risks involved in establishing a community of practice.
- So you think you want to be a community?: This white paper identifies some key qualities and traits that exist in working, thriving communities.
- Good Practices for Starting a CoP: This list offers 16 good-practices for starting a community of practice.
- Case Study: FHWA Resource Center Expertise Locator : the Resource Center Expertise Locator is a Web-based interface into the skills and services offered by the four FHWA Resource Centers, and serves as both an internal tool and a new customer interface for external partners.
- Case Study: FMCSA 2010 Strategy and Performance Planning Community of Practice (CoP): the FHWA forged an internal community of practice around safety program and technology areas to serve as a virtual home base for safety information, knowledge, and people across the organization.
- Case Study: Re:NEPA Community of Practice (CoP): the FHWA forged a customer-facing community of practice around key environmental topics to gather and share good practices, gather feedback on guidance materials, and disseminate information on new research and innovations.
(See Attachments section below to download item #1)
- Supporting communities of practice: a survey of community-oriented technologies (PDF): Guide prepared by Etienne Wenger (contracted by the KMWG) for how to make sense of the emerging market, understand the potential of technology, and set up a community of practice.
- Communities: Business Case for CoPs, ABCs for CoP Quick Start, CoP Tools, and a guide for Facilitating Flow.
- CPort: Building Communities of Practice: Creating Value Through Knowledge Communities, A Practitioner’s Guide V1.0: provides a set of resources-concepts, principles, models, checklists, and tools-for building Communities of Practice. To order a copy of the CD-ROM, contact Jill Garcia at Garcia.Jill@hq.navy.mil.
February 23, 2000
Communities of Practice — A Primer
In a 1995 article in Fast Company, John Seely Brown and Estee Solomon Gray described the evolution of the “communities of practice” concept that began back in the 1980s (1).
Xerox officials were looking for ways to boost the productivity of their field service staff, so they launched an organizational study. An anthropologist from the Palo Alto Research Center traveled with a group of tech reps to observe how they actually did their jobs. That research challenged the way Xerox thought about the nature of work, the role of the individual, and the relationship between the individual and the company.
Here’s what the anthropologist saw: Tech reps often made it a point to spend time not with customers but with each other. They’d gather in common areas, like the local parts warehouse, hang around the coffee pot, and swap stories from the field. Think how a garden-variety reengineer would interpret this finding: Here’s “low-hanging fruit” – easy pickings for immediate productivity gains. Simply reroute the tech reps, cut out the conversation, elimnate the dead time – and pocket the savings.
The anthropologist saw the exact opposite. The time at the warehouse was anything but dead. The tech reps weren’t slacking off, they were doing some of their most valuable work. Field service, it turns out, is no job for lone wolves. It’s a social activity. Like most work, it involves a community of professionals. The tech reps weren’t just repairing machines; they were also co-producing insights about how to repair machines better. Rather than eliminate the informal conversations in pursuit of corporate efficiency, they decided to expand them in the name of learning and innovation.
National Semiconductor has also been a pioneer in promoting and catalyzing CoPs. In the late 1980s, National experienced a dramatic transformation when its business model collapsed. Gil Amelio arrived in 1991 and began a process of restructuring. Now the agenda has changed from cutting costs to growing – and from commodity manufacturing to product leadership. Communities of practice are playing a central role in this redefinition. At one level, they energize and mobilize the company’s engineers – the critical people for a company in transition from slashing headcount to pioneering markets. A CoP focused on communication signal processing (an application of mixed-signal technology) includes engineers from a variety of product lines. This community, built slowly over an 18-month period, has gained a powerful voice in the company’s strategy.
There are now several recognized CoPs at National, and they created a CoP Council to provide advice on communities of practice, offer technology support, and lobby for funding for community projects. It has distributed a CoP Toolkit to help rank-and-file technologists build their own communities of practice. It encourages CoPs to create home pages on the World Wide Web to help members communicate with each other – and to share their work with the rest of the company.
The authors believe CoPs seldom grow beyond 50 members – that’s about as big as they can get before they lose the intensity needed to build shared commitment. They also recognize that reengineering would not have been possible without new information technologies. Almost without exception, companies applied these technologies to explicit work in the authorized organization; they flattened the formal. New digital technologies will enable companies to engage their employees and energize the emergent. Consider Project Jupiter, now in operation inside Xerox – a collection of audio, video, and communications technologies to help communities form and flourish. Jupiter’s real value is that it supports interactions that are richer and more focused than free-form electronic discussion groups, bulletin boards – even the Web. It allows for flexible participation; users can be more or less engaged as they see fit. It provides context as well as content: different programmable “rooms” and “objects” evoke different behaviors. In short, it is a network place, rather than an electronic space, where people interact as a community.
Etienne Wenger is a leader in the field of learning theory and its applications to business. Along with Jean Lave, he coined the term “communities of practice” in a book they co-wrote back in 1991. A pioneer in communities of practice research, he published “Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity” (Cambridge University Press, 1998). His landmark work on CoP has been featured in Fortune and Training magazines. (2) Wenger published the following thoughts in the “Systems Thinker,” June 1998. (3)
We now recognize knowledge as a key source of competitive advantage in the business world, but we still have little understanding of how to create and leverage it in practice. Traditional knowledge management approaches attempt to capture existing knowledge within formal systems, such as databases. Yet systematically addressing the kind of dynamic “knowing” that makes a difference in practice requires the participation of people who are fully engaged in the process of creating, refining, communicating, and using knowledge.
We frequently say that people are an organization’s most important resource. Yet we seldom understand this truism in terms of the communities through which individuals develop and share the capacity to create and use knowledge. Even when people work for large organizations, they learn through their participation in more specific communities made up of people with whom they interact on a regular basis. These “communities of practice” are mostly informal and distinct from organizational units. However, they are a company’s most versatile and dynamic knowledge resource and form the basis of an organization’s ability to know and learn.
Defining Communities of Practice: Communities of practice are everywhere. We all belong to a number of them–at work, at school, at home, in our hobbies. Some have a name, some don’t. We are core members of some and we belong to others more peripherally. You may lead a group of consultants who specialize in telecommunication strategies, or you may just stay in touch to keep informed about developments in the field. Or you may have just joined a community and are still trying to find your place in it. Whatever form our participation takes, most of us are familiar with the experience of belonging to a community of practice.
Communities of Practice in Organizations: Communities of practice exist in any organization. Because membership is based on participation rather than on official status, these communities are not bound by organizational affiliations; they can span institutional structures and hierarchies. They can be found:
- Within businesses: Communities of practice arise as people address recurring sets of problems together. So claims processors within an office form communities of practice to deal with the constant flow of information they need to process. By participating in such a communal memory, they can do the job without having to remember everything themselves.
- Across business units: Important knowledge is often distributed in different business units. People who work in cross-functional teams thus form communities of practice to keep in touch with their peers in various parts of the company and maintain their expertise. When communities of practice cut across business units, they can develop strategic perspectives that transcend the fragmentation of product lines. For instance, a community of practice may propose a plan for equipment purchase that no one business unit could have come up with on its own.
- Across company boundaries: In some cases, communities of practice become useful by crossing organizational boundaries. For instance, in fast-moving industries, engineers who work for suppliers and buyers may form a community of practice to keep up with constant technological changes.
Communities of practice are not a new kind of organizational unit; rather, they are a different cut on the organization’s structure –one that emphasizes the learning that people have done together rather than the unit they report to, the project they are working on, or the people they know. Communities of practice differ from other kinds of groups found in organizations in the way they define their enterprise, exist over time, and set their boundaries.
A community of practice is different from a business or functional unit in that it defines itself in the doing, as members develop among themselves their own understanding of what their practice is about. It is different from a team in that the shared learning and interest of its members are what keep it together. It is defined by knowledge rather than by task, and exists because participation has value to its members. Its life cycle is determined by the value it provides to its members, not by an institutional schedule. It does not appear the minute a project is started and does not disappear with the end of a task. It takes a while to come into being and may live long after a project is completed or an official team has disbanded. And it different from a network in the sense that it is “about” something; it is not just a set of relationships.
People belong to communities of practice at the same time as they belong to other organizational structures. In their business units, they shape the organization. In their teams, they take care of projects. In their networks, they form relationships. And in their communities of practice, they develop the knowledge that lets them do these other tasks. This informal fabric of communities and shared practices makes the official organization effective and, indeed, possible.
Importance of Communities to Organizations. Communities of practice are important to the functioning of any organization, but they become crucial to those that recognize knowledge as a key asset. From this perspective, an effective organization comprises a constellation of interconnected communities of practice, each dealing with specific aspects of the company’s competency–from the peculiarities of a long-standing client, to manufacturing safety, to esoteric technical inventions. Knowledge is created, shared, organized, revised, and passed on within and among these communities.
Developing and nurturing Communities of Practice. Just because communities of practice arise naturally does not mean that organizations can’t do anything to influence their development. Most communities of practice exist whether or not the organization recognizes them. Many are best left alone–some might actually wither under the institutional spotlight. And some may actually need to be carefully seeded and nurtured. But a good number will benefit from some attention, as long as this attention does not smother their self-organizing drive. Whether these communities arise spontaneously or come together through seeding and nurturing, their development ultimately depends on internal leadership. Certainly, in order to legitimize the community as a place for sharing and creating knowledge, recognized experts need to be involved in some way, even if they don’t do much of the work. But internal leadership is more diverse and distributed. It can take many forms:
- Legitimizing participation. Organizations can support communities of practice by recognizing the work of sustaining them; by giving members the time to participate in activities; and by creating an environment in which the value communities bring is acknowledged. To this end, it is important to have an institutional discourse that includes this less-recognized dimension of organizational life. Merely introducing the term “communities of practice” into an organization’s vocabulary can have a positive effect by giving people an opportunity to talk about how their participation in these groups contributes to the organization as a whole.
- Negotiating their strategic context. In what Richard McDermott calls “double-knit organizations,” people work in teams for projects but belong to longer-lived communities of practice for maintaining their expertise. The value of team-based projects that deliver tangible products is easily recognized, but it is also easy to overlook the potential cost of their short-term focus. The learning that communities of practice share is just as critical, but its longer-term value is more subtle to appreciate. Organizations must therefore develop a clear sense of how knowledge is linked to business strategies and use this understanding to help communities of practice articulate their strategic value. This involves a process of negotiation that goes both ways. It includes understanding what knowledge–and therefore what practices–a given strategy requires. Conversely, it also includes paying attention to what emergent communities of practice indicate with regard to potential strategic directions.
- Providing support. Communities of practice are mostly self-sufficient, but they can benefit from some resources, such as outside experts, travel, meeting facilities, and communications technology. A company-wide team assigned to nurture community development can help address these needs. This team typically provides guidance and resources when needed; helps communities connect their agenda to business strategies; encourages them to move forward with their agenda and remain focused on the cutting edge; makes sure they include all the right people; helps them create links to other communities. Such a team can also help identify and eliminate barriers to participation in the structure or culture of the overall organization; for instance, conflicts between short-term demands on people’s time and the need to participate in learning communities. In addition, just the existence of such a team sends the message that the organization values the work and initiative of communities of practice.
- The Art of Balancing Design and Emergence. Communities of practice do not usually require heavy institutional infrastructures, but their members do need time and space to collaborate. They do not require much management, but they can use leadership. They self-organize, but they flourish when their learning fits with their organizational environment. The art is to help such communities find resources and connections without overwhelming them with organizational meddling.
Richard McDermott, PhD (an associate of Etienne Wenger and Bill Snyder) published an excellent article in Knowledge Management Review, Fall 1999. (6) He wrote:
There are many different kinds of communities of practice. Some develop “official” best practices, some create guidelines, some have large knowledge repositories, others simple meet to discuss common problems and solutions. Communities also connect in many different ways. Some meet face to face, others have conferences; others share ideas through a website. To decide what kind of community and what kind of connection is best for your organization you need to understand three dimensions: what kind of knowledge people need to share; how tightly bonded the community is; and how closely new knowledge needs to be linked with people’s everyday work.
Communities of practice are groups of people who share ideas and insights, help each other solve problems and develop a common practice or approach to the field. Communities of practice are particularly useful where cross-functional teams are the basic structure of the organization. In those companies, people have most contact with teammates from other disciplines. This increases project coordination and knowledge sharing, but can isolate people from peers in their discipline or field. Communities of practice are a way to knit people together with technical peers while maintaining the focus on cross-functional teams.
There are many different kinds of communities of practice. Some are closely knit groups of specialists who informally share knowledge in unstructured discussions: scientists who regularly call on peers to help think through a problem or mechanics who share technical war stories at their morning check-in. Some are loose networks of people who only occasionally seek each other’s advice. Some try to capture and store the knowledge of their members; others simply bring people together, using little or no information technology. Some are natural outgrowths of people’s need for companionship and collaboration; others are intentionally formed. McDermott advises:
- Build communities on strategically important topics. Organizations frequently cast “too wide a net” and ask teams to share or document too much information. As a result, they end up building stockpiles of underutilized information–information junkyards. To leverage knowledge effectively, communities of practice need to understand what knowledge is strategically important to the business.
- Build enough background context for people to understand each other. Sharing insights is not simply a matter of transmitting information from one person to another. To be useful, information needs to be translated from the context in which it was developed to the context in which it will be applied. What one person considers valuable to share depends on their own experience, goals, problems and mental frameworks. What another person considers valuable to apply depends on their experience, goals, problems, and mental frameworks. A mismatch between these two contexts is probably the single biggest reason ideas and insights are rejected. Even when sharing simple information, like a procedure, people often need to build a shared context to understand how to use it.
- Use both human and information systems to share insights. Sharing insights is essentially a person-to-person activity. Building the human community of people sharing insights is critical to effectiveness. It is in the human interaction that people build enough common context to understand each other, enough trust to be willing to share ideas, and enough spark to draw out the “tacit” knowledge others have, the lessons they forgot they learned. Once that human community is established, then electronic tools can provide useful ways for them to continue the connection.
- Use multiple forums for sharing knowledge. Most communities of practice have many different kinds of knowledge to share. Since data, information, and know-how travel best in different medium, most communities of practice need multiple ways to connect and share knowledge. Even when a single form of communication dominates a community’s interaction, keep other forum active and available. When a community relies too much on a single medium, it tends to get clogged with inappropriate information–meetings with long rounds of information sharing rather than collective problem solving or web pages full of individual discussions.
- Help people “pull” insights from each other when they need it, rather than “pushing” it out to them. Most of us have had the experience of sitting through long discussions that were not immediately relevant. Even when there are gems of insights in these discussions, they are hard to pull out and remember. Most of us learn best when faced with a problem and need ideas to solve it, when we “pull” information currently relevant. Whether using person-to-person forums or information technology, knowledge sharing should be designed to respond to pull rather than push information out to people.
- Communities of practice live within an organizational culture. If the organization values learning and sharing knowledge, it will provide a rich ground for growing communities of practice. But that means managers need to give people the time and encouragement to reflect, share ideas with other teams and think through the implications of other teams’ ideas.
- Build on the natural energy for learning. Whether the culture supports it or not, communities of practice arise in most organizations. Rather than creating a new “program” for sharing team learning, find the networks that already exist, enable them, and link them to other communities in their neighborhood.
Anyone looking for thorough research into this subject should see William M. Snyder’s August 1997 article (complete with numerous cross-references and lengthy bibliography), “Communities of Practice: Combining Organizational Learning and Strategy Insights to Create a Bridge to the 21st Century.” His tie-ins to organizational development gurus such as Peter Drucker and Chris Argyris, and his 9-page bibliography provide a rigorous cross-reference to performance-based models of organizational learning. (7)
Community Intelligence Labs also has a great list of books which you can access at http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/contents.shtml
David Stamp’s Training Magazine article: “CoP: Learning is Social. Training is Irrelevant” is an excellent treatment of the relationship to organizational learning, and major theorists like Malcolm Knowles and Bob Mager. (8)
(1) How CoP concept evolved in the 80′s at Xerox – John Seely Brown (Xerox) and Estee Solomon Gray, Fast Company (11/95), The People Are the Company: http://www.fastcompany.com/online/01/people.html
(2) Wenger background: http://www.knowledgeecology.com/keu/fac/ewenger.shtml
(3) Wenger article CoP – Learning as a Social System: http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml
(4) Overview of Wenger’s CoP Chapter 4: http://hale.pepperdine.edu/~ejwheele/cop.htm
(5) Wenger’s 14 steps – How to Optimize Organizational Learning: http://www.trusteemag.com/thfnet/th960401.HTM
(6) Richard McDermott’s excellent article from KM Review (Fall 99) Nurturing Three Dimensional Communities of Practice: How to Get the Most out of Human Networks: http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/dimensional.shtml
(7) William M. Snyder Aug 97 28-page research article with lengthy bibliography: http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/cols.shtml
(8) David Stamp’s Training Magazine article: CoP: Learning is Social. Training is Irrelevant? http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/learnsoc.shtml
(9) John Sharp’s 3/11/97 article on Key Hypotheses in Supporting CoP: http://www.tfriend.com/hypothesis.html
(10) Michael McMaster’s intro to CoP: http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/mmintro.shtml
(11) Recommended reading: http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/rreading.shtml
(12) Federal IT Communities of Interest: http://www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/interest.htm
Federal CIO Council, Enterprise Interoperability and Emerging IT
Knowledge Management Subcommittee, CoP SIG
Establishing Communities of Practice
You must have a purpose (e.g., Advancing Electronic Gov’t across Federal Organizations)
Criteria for Selection of CoPs
- Is there a pressing need?
- Is there (or is there potential for) leadership from within the CoP?
- Are there existing networks (informal or formal). It may not be necessary to create new CoP’s but support existing ones. If there are existing networks, would providing tools make them work more effectively?
- Will the CoP be meaningful to the sponsoring organization(s), i.e., supports the mission of government and be of interest to the CIO Council?
- Is it doable within the budget provided?
- What is an appropriate size of the CoP? (Too chaotic, too quiet, training needed for all?)
- Is the network/community satisfied with their existing knowledge exchange? Maybe the pace and results of the community are already satisfactory to the members.
- Is the culture of this community ready for this type of knowledge exchange? (Fear, mistrust, retaliation)
- Do the potential agencies/members have the technical access/readiness to participate in web-based CoPs?
- There is an IT segment and KM expertise segment. Will likely need expertise and support for both.
- Financial management/contract management needed and focused where?
- IT platform operations (hardware/software maintenance and hosting)
- KM expertise must be available to:
- determine functional requirements for each CoP
- nterface with each CoP Knowledge Manager
- fulfill KM facilitation roles (educate, get buy-in from key stakeholders, community members)
- determine how to articulate success for CoP’s and help them visualize it
- evaluate effectiveness/success
- provide start-up assistance and coordination
- assess and apply criteria for CoP selection
- Ownership — who is ultimately responsible?
- CoP understanding of output, e.g., pilot effort vs. long-term maintenance, financial responsibility, integration to their (who’s?) activities for long-term support
Guiding Principles for a Quick Start
- 80% / 20% rule: Seek 80% benefit with 20% of effort.
- Capitalize on success of other communities – no leading edge/no bleeding edge.
- Set beginning and ending points.
- Focus on quick return, easy wins.
- No real knowledge to share.
- Build it and they don’t come.
- Leadership is only one deep; is that enough? Will it still be there “tomorrow?”
- Design is too complex.
- Too political, e.g., sensitive issues, lots of emotion, no right answer.
- Lack of coordination and commitment of community leaders and members.
So, You Think You Want To Be a Community
Over the last year, there has been a great deal of discussion at FHWA about communities of practice — how communities operate, and how to work in a community environment. This white paper identifies some key qualities and traits that exist in working, thriving communities. As you read this, think about the groups and people you work with and consider whether the community model can be used to improve knowledge exchange.
Communities of Practice
The term “community of practice” is a relatively new term that has been used to describe loosely structured groups of people that share knowledge in areas of common interest. Innovative private and public sector organizations have adopted this model to position themselves for leadership in the knowledge economy. Recently, the Harvard Business Review captured the spirit and diversity of communities in the following discussion:
What are communities of practice? In brief, they’re groups of people informally bound together by shared expertise and passion for a joint enterprise – engineers engaged in deep-water drilling, for example, consultants who specialize in strategic marketing, or frontline managers in charge of check processing at a large commercial bank. Some communities of practice meet regularly – for lunch on Thursdays, say. Others are connected primarily by e-mail networks. A community of practice may or may not have an explicit agenda on a given week, and even if it does, it may not follow the agenda closely. Inevitably, however, people in communities of practice share their experiences and knowledge in free-flowing, creative ways that foster new approaches to problems.
Successful communities of practice are organized around the needs of their members, and as such, have exhibited a wide range of sizes, structures, and means of communication. Even with this diversity, however, effective communities do share a few common traits that include:
- Voluntary participation – Members choose to participate due to the “value added” in performing their jobs. Communities complement existing functions and organizational structures; they do not create additional ones.
- Common interest or goal – Communities are organized around topics that are important and meaningful to their membership.
- Common means to stay connected – Communities stay in frequent contact using hi-tech (Web forums, email listservs) and/or more traditional approaches (face to face meetings, teleconferences).
- Willingness to share knowledge – Members are willing and able to share what they know, respond to requests, and collectively solve problems. They build trusting relationships.
- Facilitated, not dominated – Successful facilitators focus on recruiting and engaging members, not dictating content.
- Management support, not control – Management provides tools and a supportive environment that includes providing employees the time to participate and recognizing those that demonstrate an exemplary attitude for community and sharing. Communities set their own agendas based on the needs of members as they perform their jobs.
Communities at FHWA
Self-organized communities have existed at FHWA for years…but there have been challenges in operating in this environment.
Networks of expertise are not new to FHWA. FHWA professionals have been involved in technical and program groups both inside and outside of the organization. These communities have long exchanged knowledge via conferences, cross-organizational meetings, email lists, and informal gatherings. At times, however, these communities have experienced difficulty in exchanging knowledge between meetings and making their knowledge available when others need it.
Knowledge shared in an email or at a meeting often became inaccessible after the fact. New staff have found it difficult to plug into existing, far-flung networks to become productive quickly. Reorganizations, retirements, and limited travel budgets place additional pressures on these communities, hindering them and possibly causing a break down.
Working in a Community Environment
By proactively cultivating communities and providing structure and support, FHWA can provide new ways for communities to create more value-value to the community, value to FHWA and its customers/partners, and value to the individuals involved. Thriving communities at FHWA and elsewhere have adopted the community model and can offer a number of lessons learned for success:
- Find a means for frequent contact – Communities grow stronger with better and more frequent exchanges, which can include more frequent meetings, standing teleconferences, email list serves, and/or a virtual home base accessible by the Web.
- Give it a name – Informal communities can become stronger by simply recognizing the community with a name, creating and disseminating member lists, and letting others know how to plug in.
- Maintain a balance between experts and practitioners – A mix of knowledge levels and related disciplines in community membership can help the organization innovate and develop staff skills.
- Facilitate knowledge exchange – Recognized community facilitators can grow membership and help the community identify and address its priority needs.
Benefits of Communities
Why is FHWA interested in communities? Staff and management from across the organization have shown great interest in communities because they see great potential for benefits to FHWA. Such benefits include growing competencies in areas of high need, becoming more responsive to customers, capturing and sharing good practices/lessons learned of experienced staff, getting new staff productive quickly, and sharing lessons learned and sparking innovations across the highway community. Working in communities supports organizational learning and individual development, both of which enhance the agency, our value to the highway community and FHWA employees, our most valuable resource.
For More information
Contact Mike Burk, Chief Knowledge Officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good Practices for Starting a CoP
- Focus on a compelling business need.
- Give the group visibility, e.g., publicize in newsletters.
- Provide recognition/incentives for participation.
- Tell “real-life” stories to highlight the value of sharing.
- Provide a means to stay connected between face-to-face meeting, e.g., e-mails, list-serve, on-line CoP’s, etc.
- Get senior management’s support/buy-in and have them be advocates to highlight group to others.
- Provide task assignments for group members.
- Help the group to make personal connections through periodic face-to-face meetings. Such meetings help build members’ “social capital” and trust that facilitates willingness to share knowledge.
- Discover what motivates different members of the group.
- Make sure group members know their roles.
- Make members accountable for something they have to provide in order to gain commitment.
- Schedule face-to-face meetings around meaningful events, e.g., the budget cycle.
- Target the marketing of CoP to desired audience, e.g., early practitioners vs. advance users.
- Have a central point or Facilitator for the CoP to monitor group activities and keep active. Facilitators do not necessarily have to be experts on the subject matter.
- Start small and pick the “low hanging fruit” that will likely show success.
- Look for areas where there is the greatest pain.