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A Guide to Communities of Practice
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A Guide to Communities of Practice


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Communities of practice have become an accepted part of organizational development. One should pay attention to domain, membership, norms and rules, structure and process, flow of energy, results, …

Communities of practice have become an accepted part of organizational development. One should pay attention to domain, membership, norms and rules, structure and process, flow of energy, results, resources, and values.

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  • 1. The views expressed in this presentation are the views of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank, or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this presentation and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. The countries listed in this presentation do not imply any view on ADB's part as to sovereignty or independent status or necessarily conform to ADB's terminology. A Guide to Communities of Practice Olivier Serrat 2014
  • 2. Define:Community of Practice Communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for something they know how to do and who interact regularly to learn how to do it better. They enhance learning and empower people in their work. They have become an accepted part of organizational development. One of the challenges of development is how to access and share tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge needs must be transmitted by special methods. Learning organizations build CoPs, leverage them with effect, and link them to networks of practice. The simple act of joining and being regularly involved in organized groups has a very significant impact on individual health and well- being.
  • 3. The Value of Communities of Practice Short-Term Value to Members • Help with challenges • Access to expertise • Confidence • Fun with colleagues • Meaningful work Short-Term Value to Organization • Problem solving • Time saving • Knowledge sharing • Synergies across units • Reuse of resources Long-Term Value to Members • Personal development • Reputation • Professional identity • Collaborative advantage • Marketability Long-Term Value to Organization • Strategic capabilities • Keeping abreast • Innovation • Retention of talents • New strategies
  • 4. Basic Structure of Communities of Practice The core group manages the CoP based on an agreed coordination mandate. It provides secretarial support as necessary. The inner circle serves as a steering committee with an informal structure, meeting once or twice a year. (Individual members may contact the core group on demand. The outer circle embraces interested members, contributors, and readers in a loose network.
  • 5. Functions of Communities of Practice Filtering • Organizing and managing information that is worth paying attention to Amplifying • Taking new, little-known, or little-understood ideas, giving them weight, and making them more widely understood Investing and Providing • Offering a means to give members the resources they need to carry out their main activities Convening • Bringing together different, distinct people or groups of people Community- Building • Promoting and sustaining the values and standards of individuals or organizations Learning and Facilitating • Helping members carry out their activities more efficiently and effectively
  • 6. Elements of Communities of Practice Structure The balance of formal and informal relationships. Hierarchy is not an important element to CoPs. Most CoPs crosslink organizational units and organizations. Domain The definition of the area of shared inquiry (thematic orientation) and of the key issues that relate to it. Community The relationships among active members and the sense of belonging that these give them. Mandate The priority that Management ascribes to the CoP, with resource implications. It defines the sector or thematic focus and the expected results. It opens the space for self-commitment by members. Motivation The personal interest and priority that members assign to the CoP in their daily work. Practice The body of information and knowledge, e.g., methods, stories, cases, tools, documents, and associated know-how. Each member has a practice in the domain, which other members recognize.
  • 7. Designing and Managing a Community of Practice Discover Exploring relationships Dream Synthesizing individual narratives Design Developing operational processes Document Engaging in learning and documenting knowledge Disseminate Disseminating and reconnecting
  • 8. Starting a Community of Practice Set the Strategic Context A strategic context lets a CoP find a legitimate place in a host. Articulate a strategic value proposition. Identify critical development challenges. Articulate the need to leverage knowledge. Educate CoPs are a familiar experience, but staff members need to understand how the new CoP fits in their work. Conduct workshops to educate management and potential members about the CoP's approach. Help staff members appreciate how CoPs are inherently self- defined and self-managed. Establish a language that legitimizes the CoP and establishes its place in the host.
  • 9. Starting a Community of Practice Get Going Cultivate the CoP quickly to create early examples that allow staff members to learn by doing. Gather the core group to prepare and initiate the launch. process. Interview prospective members to understand issues, discuss the community, and identify potential leaders. Identify areas where there is readiness and potential. Help members organize initial value-adding activities. Get a few pilots going as soon as possible. Encourage members to steward their knowledge. Integrate A host must have structures and processes to include the CoP, while respecting its roots in personal passion and engagement. Integrate the CoP in the business processes of the host. Identify and work to remove obvious barriers. Align key structural and cultural elements.
  • 10. Starting a Community of Practice Support CoPs can use light- handed guidance and technology infrastructure. Identify needs and define adequate infrastructure without undue reliance on complex technology. Provide process support, coaching, and logistic assistance. Encourage Practitioners usually see the value of working as a community but may feel the host is not aligned with their understanding. Encourage participation. Value the work of the CoP. Publicize success.
  • 11. Passing the Fitness Test • Is the area of shared inquiry, the key issues that relate to it, and the function of the CoP strategically relevant to the host? • Are the topics of interest to all members? • Do all members have their own practice in the domain? Domain • Is the relevant experience on board? • Is the heterogeneity of the members assured? • Is the CoP open to new members and advertised as such? Membership • Are roles and accountabilities defined in a common agreement? • Are both distant contacts and face-to-face meetings possible? • What is the balance between giving and taking among members? Norms and Rules
  • 12. Passing the Fitness Test • Is the chosen structure clear and flexible enough? • Are key roles in the core group defined, e.g., manager, facilitator, and back-stopper? • Is the step-by-step work planning process open and transparent? Structure and Process • Do members care about common interests, commitment, and trust? • Are there regular face-to-face events? Are social moments celebrated? • Is the history of the CoP alive and shared with new members? Flow of Energy • Is delivering and reporting on tangible results a common concern? • Do members draw direct and practical benefits from their involvement? • Are results officially recognized by the host? Results
  • 13. Passing the Fitness Test • Do members have sufficient time for the CoP? • Is the host willing to provide time, space, and incentives? • Is CoP facilitation attractive and stimulating? Resources • Is listening to others a cardinal virtue? • Are members willing to give without immediate return? • Is diversity in thinking and practice validated? Values
  • 14. Critical Success Factors • The domain is of strategic importance to the host. • The host recognizes knowledge management and learning as important. • The CoP and its host share common values. • The results are relevant and beneficial for the host and its staff members. An organization is ready to host a CoP (and allocate resources to it) if:
  • 15. Critical Success Factors • A domain that energizes the core group and inner circle • Skillful and reputable managers and facilitators • Involvement of members • The details of practice are addressed • Right rhythm and mix of activities Community • Strategic relevance of the domain • Management sponsorship (without micro-management) • Judicious mix of formal and informal structures • Adequate resources • Consistent attitude Organization • Clearly delineated function • Capacities, skills, resources, and systems match function Function
  • 16. Asking, Learning, and Sharing Working in Teams As a Community Ask I ask questions. Inquiring minds are welcome here. We check first to see what already exists. We question accepted wisdom. Every Single One of Us We share experience, evidence, and feedback. We share achievements, outcomes, and pride. Learn I contextualize learning to make it real. We connect and take opportunities to learn. We review lessons as we go and apply our learning. Share I share personal details, roles, and skills.
  • 17. Further Reading • ADB. 2008. Building Communities of Practice. Manila. Available: practice • ADB. 2009. Building Networks of Practice. Manila. Available: • ADB. 2008. Creating and Running Partnerships. Manila. Available: partnerships • ADB. 2009. Learning in Strategic Alliances. Manila. Available:
  • 18. Further Reading • ADB. 2011. InFocus: Communities of Practice. Manila. Available: practice • ADB. 2011. Survey of ADB-Hosted Communities of Practice. Manila. Available: adb-hosted-communities-practice-final-report • ADB. 2011. Surveying Communities of Practice. Manila. Available: practice
  • 19. Further Reading • ADB. 2011. ADB Resources for Communities of Practice: Creating Value through Knowledge Networks. Manila. Available: communities-practice-creating-value-through-knowledge- networks • ADB. 2011. Timeline of ADB-Hosted Communities of Practice. Manila. Available: hosted-communities-practice • ADB. 2011. Communities of Practice 101. Manila. Available:
  • 20. Further Reading • ADB. 2011. ADB-Hosted Communities of Practice—Driving Knowledge Activities. Manila. Available: driving-knowledge-activities • ADB. 2011. Empowering ADB-Hosted Communities of Practice. Manila. Available: adb-hosted-communities-practice • ADB. 2012. Communities of Practice: Passing the Fitness Test. Manila. Available: passing-the-fitness-test-for-print
  • 21. Further Reading • ADB. 2012. Communities of Practice: Passing the Fitness Test. Manila. Available: passing-the-fitness-test-for-presentation
  • 22. Videos • ADB. 2011. The Empowerment of ADB-Hosted Communities of Practice. Manila. Available: • ADB. 2011. What CoPs Do. Manila. Available:
  • 23. Olivier Serrat Principal Knowledge Management Specialist Regional and Sustainable Development Department Asian Development Bank