Presentació "Success Factors of Communities of Practice in Public Administration: the Case of Catalonia’s Government"

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Presentació del programa Compartim a la 5th International Conference on Intellectual Capital, Knowledge Management & Organisational Learning, New York Institute of Technology

Presentación del programa Compartim en la 5th International Conference on Intellectual Capital, Knowledge Management & Organisational Learning, New York Institute of Technology.

Presentation of the program Compartim in 5th International Conference on Intellectual Capital, Knowledge Management & Organisational Learning, New York Institute of Technology.

Nova York, 10 d'octubre de 2008.

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Presentació "Success Factors of Communities of Practice in Public Administration: the Case of Catalonia’s Government"

  1. 1. Success Factors of Communities of Practice in Public Administration: the Case of Catalonia’s Government Dr. Mario Pérez-Montoro1, Jesús Martínez2 1 Department of Information Science, University of Barcelona, Spain 2 Center for Legal Studies and Specialist Training, Justice Department, Generalitat, Government of Catalonia perez-montoro@ub.edu jmm@gencat.net Abstract: Over the last three years a Knowledge Management project has been implemented in the area of Justice Administration in the government of Catalonia (Generalitat de Catalunya). From the outset, this project has been organised around one of the methodological tools most widely used in these types of initiatives: communities of practice. As has occurred in many similar experiences, the introduction, the smooth running and even the very survival of these communities of practice has come up against a number of cultural, technological and organisational barriers endemic to public administration. Based on a detailed analysis of this project, this paper aims to identify and make inferences about the conditions which need to be taken into account to guarantee the success of communities as a methodological strategy in Knowledge Management when applied to the field of public administration. The main results produced by this study are focused on four different areas. Firstly, on the one hand, a checklist has been designed which allows rapid identification, within the different types of public institutions, of those entities where the professional or working groups are found that can bring together more guarantees of success in the formation of stable and productive communities of practice. Secondly, a model has been drawn from this work that aims to depict the standard life cycle which communities of practice go through in the area of public administration. Thirdly, for each of these phases that constitutes the life cycle model a series of indicators has been identified (grouped into three broad categories: use, impact and quality) which allow us to classify specific communities of practice within this development model. Fourth and lastly, critical success factors have been identified which can guarantee the smooth running and survival of the communities of practice in the field of public administration. Keywords: Communities of practice, Knowledge Management, Public Administration, Knowledge Creation and Sharing, Collaborative Environments, Knowledge Technologies, Information Management. 1. Introduction In the information and knowledge society, organisations, especially public ones, are depositories of large quantities of information and knowledge which is underused. The organisational structures, as well as the pre-established organisational culture, do not enable knowledge to be properly disseminated throughout the organisation and be effectively exploited to formulate public policy and decisions. Many of the shortcomings of public management derive from the lack of spaces for the sharing of information and practices, and which encourage collaborative work. Improving this situation requires the introduction of innovations in the way we organise public administration. With this in mind, over the last three years a Knowledge Management project is being implemented in the area of Justice Administration in the government of Catalonia (Generalitat de Catalunya). The project involves 14 communities of practice, 27 working groups and more than 2000 people. From the outset, this project has been organised around one of the methodological tools most widely used in these types of initiatives: communities of practice (CoP). As has occurred in many similar experiences, the introduction, the smooth running and even the very survival of these communities of practice has come up against a number of cultural, technological and organisational barriers endemic to public administration. Based on a detailed analysis of this project, this paper aims to identify and make inferences about the conditions which need to be taken into account to guarantee the success of communities as a methodological strategy in Knowledge Management when applied to the field of public administration. The main results produced by this study are focused on four different areas. Firstly, on the one hand, a checklist has been designed which allows rapid identification, within the different types of public institutions, of those entities where the professional or working groups are found that can bring together more guarantees of success in the formation of stable and productive communities of practice. Secondly, a model has been drawn from this work that aims to depict the standard life cycle which communities of practice go through in the area of public administration. 1
  2. 2. Thirdly, for each of these phases that constitutes the life cycle model a series of indicators has been identified (grouped into three broad categories: use, impact and quality) which allow us to classify specific communities of practice within this development model. Fourth and lastly, critical success factors have been identified which can guarantee the smooth running and survival of the communities of practice in the field of public administration. 2. Communities of Practice in Public Administration In specialist literature, public administration is usually characterised as a range of organisations which are very similar and homogenous in their structure and operation, but in practice the reality of the groups and sub groups comprising it is much more complex. This complexity is so acute that within what we know as public administration there are different organisational structures than condition and influence, on the basis of their own characteristics, the achievement of their own objectives. Based on the experience of setting up communities of practice, presented herein, it was possible to design a model making it possible to rapidly distinguish from among the different types of public organizations those units including professional or working groups having more guarantee of success, in order to create stable and productive communities of practice. In this context, the term “Communities of Practice” refers to groups of people that form to share what they know, to learn from one another regarding some aspects of their work and to provide a sociocultural context for that work. This particular model provides a multi faceted classification of units capable of hosting these CoP. This classification is, in turn, formed by the addition of various classifications or facets. Specifically, these classifications or facets are the following: the size and specialisation of the professional grouping, the level of obsolescence of the professional knowledge being managed, the level of organisational hierarchies and level of involvement of information technologies and communication in carrying out work. Each of these classifications or facets parallels the others and is at the same semantic level. Each unit is classified by the entirety of these classifications or facets. Classification deriving from the size and specialisation of the professional grouping is highly significant. There is a high level of job specialisation within public administrations. This specification affects most professional groupings. In the last instance, the size of the professional group affects its level of specialisation and the level of demand for its services. In our experience in the setting up of communities of practice, we have to distinguish between professional groups of less than 100 (small), professional groups of more than 100 professionals (large), and we hypothesise that the smallest professional groups will tend to be more productive and more easily establish communities of practice. Table 1: Classified professional groupings Need for constant Non Small size professional Direct link with ICTs to innovation and hierarchical grouping carry out work knowledge structure Psychologists x x x Legal experts x x Professors x Art instructors x x Prison educators Youth Justice x x Professionals Youth Justice Mediators x x Youth Justice Educators Youth Justice legal x x x advisors Legal librarians x x x x Legal registrars x x x x Language teachers x x Classification deriving from the level of obsolescence of professional knowledge is based on the need for rapid updating of the knowledge managed by the professional grouping, due to its high obsolescence level. In our case, it is psychologists and jurists in the penal sector or legal advisors which are examples of professional groups which require their knowledge to be permanently updated if they are to carry out their work. At the other end of the scale are professional groupings that do not require constant updating of knowledge to carry out their work. Of note among these are, for example, art instructors or social workers.
  3. 3. Classification deriving from the level of organisational hierarchy is based on the disjunction existing between hierarchical organisational structures and non hierarchical (flat) structures with greater autonomy. One of the variables that best identifies the Administration is the existence of professional groups with highly pronounced hierarchical structures and a low level of autonomy (such as, for example, prison officers or policemen) compared with other groupings, such as professors or librarians, where there is less of a hierarchy, and they have greater autonomy in the execution of the work. Finally, we can see classification deriving from the level of involvement of information and communication technologies (ICTs). One of the distinctive elements of modern public administration resides in the level of involvement of ICT in carrying out work. Beyond the usual computer tools, which are necessary for all professional groupings, there are specialist jobs that cannot be carried out without specific computer applications. This is the case, for example, with librarians and legal registrars. On the other hand, other groupings can carry out their work without needing them, such as, for example, educators or social workers. Table 1 presents combinations of these four classifications, with the professional groupings in which communities of practice have been set up. It can be seen that the combinations cover all possibilities: from professional groupings that meet the four ideal conditions (registrars) to groupings that meet very few of these conditions (professors). 3. Life cycle of communities of practice Communities of practice (CoP) have become one of the methodologies most successfully implemented to develop knowledge management projects in organisations. However, the concept of CoP has come a long way since it was developed in the 90s. It was E. Wegner (1998, 2003) the most influential author who inspired a specific methodological way of working that is today to be found in most applied experiences. Later, the mass use of technology lead to a change in previous approaches, enabling new configuration methods and expanding their scope, breaking down previously solid barriers such as time and space. Certainly, exploitation of technology has multiplied expectations as to the benefits that can be gleaned from communities as a tool for productivity and learning. In any event, and although expectations are high, communities of practice do not always take root in the same way within an organisation. Some do so with notable success while others, unfortunately, disappear without meeting most of their initial expectations. Table 2: Development of a community of practice within the context of public administration First Stage Proto-Community - Group of enthusiastic people of Practice - No action for knowledge transfer Second Stage Developing Community - Genuine Community of Practice of Practice - Actions for knowledge transfer - Exchanges of information normally presence based and do not correspond to a pre-fixed schedule Third Stage Consolidated Community - Leader or moderator with a range of responsibilities of Practice - Members with role in discussions and a shared schedule of presence based meetings - Computer system for discussions and exchanges through virtual strategies Fourth Stage Mature Community - Community highly consolidated, invisible and integrated into of Practice the day to day processes - Organization acts as a large community of practice - Community of practice becomes an important part of the organization’s DNA If we concentrate our focus on the first group of CoP, which worked, it is possible to draw certain conclusions in respect of the behaviour and evolution of same within public organisations. Specifically, on the basis of our experience and research, it is possible to extract a model which seeks
  4. 4. to presents the standard life cycle of communities of practice within the context of public administration. This is a pattern of evolution, more or less general, which tends to exemplify CoPs in this special type of context. According to this model, the natural and standard development of a community of practice within the context of public administration follows these stages: it starts out by identifying itself as a nascent or seed community, then it becomes a developing community, then it enters a consolidation phase and, finally, becomes a mature community of practice (table 2 and 3). Strictly speaking, in the first stage, when it is a nascent or seed community of practice, it is hard to consider this group of persons as a genuine community of practice. They are rather a proto- community of practice. They are a grouping of enthusiastic people concerned by the problems that arise in their work on a day to day basis, and seek to find responses in the habits of their own colleagues, but do not take any hard action for this knowledge to be transferred between them. They do not act in this respect, but in their attitude can be found the seed that will later become a community of practice. This group of persons, supported by a series of specific cultural and organisational factors, pass to the second stage, forming a developing community of practice. At this moment we can start talking about a genuine CoP. In this second stage the range of people making up this community begin to act as a group and start sharing problems and solutions deriving from their own day to day habits. In this stage, we start seeing the elevation of a leader or internal monitor who leads the discussions tabled between them, but exchanges of information are normally presence based and do not correspond to a pre-fixed schedule. Once this group of people begins to obtain and apply in their day to day habits the benefits of the knowledge they have obtained from their participation in the group, as well as receiving adequate institutional support, they enter into the third phase, which we can call a consolidated community of practice. In this third phase, the leader or moderator is clearly assigned a range of responsibilities, the members have assumed the role they are to play in discussions, they have a shared schedule of presence based meetings and, also, they have an adequate computer system so they can continue their discussions and exchanges through virtual strategies. In this phase, the obtention of results and the quality of same significantly strengthen the proper functioning of the community and, in turn, they act as a clear factor of organisational cohesion. Table 3: Professional groupings in Community of Practice’s stages Proto-Community Developing Consolidated Community Mature of Practice Community of of Practice Community of Practice Practice Psychologists x Legal experts x Professors x Art instructors x Prison educators x Youth Justice Professionals x Youth Justice Mediators x Youth Justice Educators x Youth Justice legal advisors x Legal librarians x Legal registrars x Language teachers x The final stage that normally typifies CoPs in the context of public administration is maturity. In the same way as nascent or seed communities or practice, strictly speaking a mature community of practice cannot be considered a genuine community of practice. In this last stage, the community itself, being highly consolidated, becomes invisible and integrates into the day to day processes of the administration. We are now no longer faced with a disincorporated and referenced group of people who discuss and create knowledge products, to then return to being a community having a concrete form, rather in this phase it is the organisation itself that acts as a large community of practice and, in the day to day development of its processes it naturally integrates the strategies derived from communities of practice. To put it one way, the community of practice is no longer an internal group of reference in the organisation, but has diluted and become an important part of the DNA of the organisation itself.
  5. 5. 4. Indicators for the classification of communities As we have just seen, there is a model which seeks to look at the standard life cycle of most successful communities of practice in the context of public administration. Along the same lines, for each stage making up this life cycle of communities, it is possible to identify a range of characteristics and indicators that enable us to visualise and identify the evolutionary stage of a specific community of practice within this model of the development of four stages. These characteristics or indicators focus on the following aspects: characteristics of the professional grouping, collaborative work process and production of knowledge, institutional facilitators and external support elements. Let’s begin by characterising the first of these evolutionary stages: the phase of being a nascent or seed community of practice. On the one hand, the main characteristics that define the professional grouping are a high level of institutional commitment among its members, a concern for the problems that arise on a daily basis in respect of their work, and the prior existence of proposals for innovation and improvement made to governing bodies. On the other hand, in respect of the collaborative work process and production of knowledge, it is important to highlight the value placed on collaborative work, a desire to find responses in the habits of their own colleagues, but a lack of coordination so that this exchange of knowledge can occur between them, and an absence of collective production of knowledge. Within the scope of institutional facilitators, these are characterised mainly by an absence of workplace or institutional conflict. Finally, in terms of external support elements we should highlight the lack of a leader or moderator who can articulate the whole process of creation and dissemination of collective knowledge. Let's now move on to the second stage: the developing practice community. On the one hand, the main characteristics that define the professional grouping are still a high level of institutional commitment among its members, a concern for the problems that arise on a daily basis in respect of their work, and the prior existence of proposals for innovation and improvement made to governing bodies. To these characteristics should be added an adequate level (greater than 15% of the total professional grouping) of members directly involved in the CoPs. On the other hand, in respect of the collaborative work process and production of knowledge, it is important to highlight the value placed on collaborative work, a desire to find responses in the habits of their own colleagues, and coordination so that this exchange of knowledge can occur between them, and nascent production and dissemination of collective knowledge. Within the scope of institutional facilitators, these are also characterised by an absence of workplace or institutional conflict, but, also, by having a formalised and internal incentives policy and by the holding of knowledge exchange meetings, usually presence based and not corresponding to a pre-established schedule. Finally, in terms of external support elements we should highlight the existence of a leader or moderator who can articulate the whole process of creation and dissemination of collective knowledge. In the third phase, that of the consolidated community of practice, there are several changes in respect of certain indicators. On the one hand, the main characteristics that define a professional group are basically the same as those that define a community of practice under construction. On the other hand, in terms of the collaborative work process and the production of knowledge, the most notable changes focus on a consolidation of the production and dissemination to the professional grouping of the knowledge products created, and the application of the knowledge to the organisation. Within the scope of institutional facilitators, progress focuses on the provision of a formalised incentives policy distributed throughout the entire organisation, the holding of presence based meetings for the exchange of knowledge, according to a pre-established schedule, and the provision of a virtual environment to facilitate the creation and dissemination of collective knowledge. Finally, in terms of external support elements we should highlight the existence of a leader or moderator who can articulate the whole process of creation and dissemination of collective knowledge, and the presence of an external facilitator within CoPs. This facilitator can act either as a methodological expert and group leader or as an expert in the actual topic on which the community of practice is working. Finally, in the mature phase, the community of practice has characteristics which are extremely similar to those found in the consolidation phase. The main difference in this final stage is that factors related to the professional grouping, the collaborative work process and production of knowledge, institutional facilitators and external support elements are all integrated, as a matter of course, within the culture and operating processes managed by the organisation itself.
  6. 6. 5. Success Factors Contrary to first impressions, communities of practice do not usually function better and become a good strategy for the creation and dissemination of knowledge when they are developed at the margins of any type of organisational intervention into same. Our research has enabled us to conclude that, in a very special way, in the context of public administration, it is necessary to take a range of organisational decisions and actions to be able to guarantee the proper running and survival of communities of practice in this type of organisational context. These organisational decisions and actions are factors of success in designing and implementing an adequate network of communities in a public organisation. To present these factors of success, we will group them into two main categories: reactive (or pull) factors of success and proactive (or push) factors of success. Reactive (pull) factors of success are organisational decisions and interventions not implemented within the CoP, but aimed at accompanying it and supporting the proper development and operation of CoP. Proactive factors of success (push) are, on the other hand, organisational decisions and actions implemented within the CoP and designed to encourage the proper development and operation of the community of practice. Let’s begin by presenting the reactive (pull) factors of success that we can extract from our analysis. Among this special type of factors of success, we should highlight the following. Firstly, it is important to encourage the setting up of a CoP only in those situations where there was previously a grouping of enthusiasts in terms of the community project, and that within this grouping there is a culture of sharing and exchange, and, above all, that there is no type of workplace conflict, present or future. This latter condition is one of the most important factors in support of the adequate development of the community. And, secondly, on the other hand, there need to be certain institutional commitments in support of the correct evolution of the community itself. Among these, as well as providing the CoP with internal information systems (in particular the library) there should be, on the part of the organisation’s management, a commitment to validate the results of the community, an annual analysis of these results and internal and external dissemination of these products and the analysis. An important element of this dissemination is the planning of regular best practices workshops. These workshops are aimed at disseminating and transferring to the entire professional grouping the new knowledge available. They also usually include an opening session by an external expert, and are used to detect proposals on new knowledge to be developed in the future within the community. They are scheduled at the end of each cycle of the knowledge management process, and are usually held once a year. Now, to finish off, let’s present the proactive (push) factors of success that we have been able to extract from our analysis. The first group of factors of success focuses on strategic aspects. In this respect, for example, to guarantee the proper development of CoP it is necessary to ensure that the objectives pursued by the community are in line with the organisation itself. On the other hand, institutional support to guarantee fulfilment of goals is also vital. The second group of push factors shows us that to guarantee the success of a community of practice it is necessary to implement, at least initially, two important measures. On the one hand, it is vital to have the participation of an external expert who introduces and consolidates a discussion methodology that guarantees the creation and capture of knowledge. On the other, it is important at this stage to schedule physical meetings, and not rely exclusively on online work. Physical meetings at the outset guarantee cohesion and provide the mechanisms to allow for subsequent online work. The possibility of virtual work does not automatically generate new knowledge. Only in those communities where there was already cohesion and shared interests does online work provide interesting results. The third group of factors is related to training. On the basis of our experience, we have detected that it is critical and necessary to train members of communities on two fronts: information literacy and communication techniques. Without this training, the moderator and members of the community may not properly make use of the potential of the virtual platform. Finally, the fourth group of factors of success focuses on the human resources available to communities. In this respect, on the one hand, we have highlighted the need to implement an incentives policy. Particularly in public administrations, it is necessary to introduce a public and transparent incentives policy to help the project succeed. On the other hand, it is highly counter- productive to force a person to participate in the community without having detected in them a certain amount of enthusiasm in this respect, and putting up moderators who are not totally signed up to the project. Finally it is also vital to demarcate the responsibilities of each member of the organisation, and try and obtain as a result a specific, useful and dynamic knowledge product.
  7. 7. 6. Conclusions From the experience of this project we have been able to extract a range of interesting conclusions and learnt a series of lessons, easy to extrapolate to most community of practice projects implemented in the context of public administration. The first of these conclusions relates to the model life cycle of a CoP, and in particular to its final stage: maturity. We should recognise that in our project we have not detected any mature community of practice. The lack of this type of community has a clear explanation. Integrating the functioning of communities of practice into the very processes of the organisation requires significant changes in cultures and values. And, particularly in public administrations, the introduction of these changes is particularly slow. The second shows that to guarantee the success of a community of practice, it should be established in groups which are free from labour conflicts or pending internal promotion processes. Our experience leads us to state that the failure to respect this condition necessarily means the community will fail. The third leads us to again insist on the obligatory nature, at least in the initial phase, of the participation of an external expert to train members of the community in the methodological aspects necessary for it to operate correctly. Along the same lines, we should state that without training in information literacy and communication techniques, the results to be obtained from the community are clearly reduced. The fourth focuses on the need for physical meetings and the existence of an incentives policy. Due to its special characteristics, in public administration it is necessary to introduce physical meetings (not only virtual) and a public and transparent incentives policy to help the project succeed. Finally, we should also highlight a significant event with which to conclude our project. The setting up of communities is causing a dual beneficial effect within public administrations. On the one hand, the professional groupings which make them up are homogenising. Progressively, on the basis of the creation and dissemination of the new knowledge deriving from these communities, the members of these groupings have more standardised and better quality daily habits. On the other, due to the development of communities of practice, an increase in the institutional commitment of its members and a better perception of the internal logic of the organisation is being detected. In this context, people, when sharing knowledge, acquire a better and greater understanding of the majority of processes and strategies occurring within the organisation, leading to, in this way, a better perception of same and one’s personal positioning within the organisational framework. References APQC (2006) “Building and Sustaining Communities of Practice”. [online], http://www.apqc.org/portal/apqc/ksn?paf_gear_id=contentgearhome&paf_dm=full&pageselect=detail& docid=108356. Collison, C. and Parcel, G. (2001) Learning to Fly, Capstone, Oxford. Davenport, T. (2005) Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performances And Results from Knowledge Workers, Harvard Business School Press, Boston. Davenport, T. and Prusak, L. (1998) Working knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know. Harvard Business School Press, Boston. Generalitat de Catalunya (2007) “QueEseCatalunya”, [online], Generalitat de Catalunya, http://ecatalunya.gencat.net/portal/faces/public/quecat/ Maragall, E. (2002). “Las comunidades de practica como experiencia formativa para la mejora de las Administraciones públicas”. Paper read at VII Congreso Internacional del CLAD sobre la reforma del Estado y de la Administración Publica. Lisboa, June Wenger, E., McDermott, R. and Snyder, W. (2002) Cultivating Communities of Practice, Harvard Business School Press, Boston. Vasquez Bronfman, S. (2007) quot;The Launching of a Knowledge Management Project in a Public Administration”, Paper read at XIVth EDINEB Conference, Viena, June. Viedma, J. M. (2000). ICBS-Intellectual Capital Benchmarking System, Instituto Universitario Euroforum Escorial, Madrid. Wenger, E. and Snyder, W. (2000) “Communities of Practice: the Organizational Frontier”, Harvard Business Review, Vol. 78, No 1, pp 139-145).

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