Communities of Practice
Communities of practice (CoP) are groups of people who share a passion for something that they do, and who interact regularly to learn how to do it better. From Wikipedia: “The group can evolve naturally because of the member's common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally (Lave & Wenger 1991). CoPs can exist online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or in real life, such as in a lunchroom at work, in a field setting, on a factory floor, or elsewhere in the environment.
Organizations often use CoPs to share knowledge thematically, across traditional silos and team work. While teams focus on work outputs, CoPs focus on learning. CoPs also can exist across and outside of organizations. (Consider one of the sponsors of this wiki, KM4Dev!)
The concept and theory of CoPs was developed by Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave in the early 1990's, but the practice has been around as long as humans have gathered to swap stories and show each other how they do things. The original research was done with midwives in the Yucatan, tailors in Egypt and insurance adjusters in Canada.
Communities vary greatly from each other by membership composition (e.g. very homogeneous or very diverse), dispersion (small and community-focused or international virtual networks), and purpose (very closely-defined or broad and far-reaching). The key ingredients are a community (a set of people) with a defined domain (what they care about or do) who work on the body of knowledge about their practice (their work).
It is tempting to mandate communities, but in many cases communities can better be nurtured into continuing existence. By creating the conditions for communities, they can flourish in an organization. Some of those conditions include: helping people with a shared interest find and connect with each other; securing management support for the time and attention it takes to participate and lead CoPs; recognizing the contributions of a CoP; and providing basic support. Here are some additional ideas in this quick start up guide by Etienne Wenger. (See also "Starting a CoP")
* 78% said they ve never contributed to the online discussion * The regular posters on ActKM account for about 1 - 5% of the membership
* Creator to consumer ratio is 0.07%
* 50% of all article edits are made by 2.5% of logged-in users * Over 70% of the articles are written by 1.8% of users
* 1% of the user population might start a group * 10% of the user population might participate actively * 89% just observe
* 41% of members are considered active * 20% of discussion posts were sent by the group owner
* 16% of members are considered active * 50% of discussion posts were sent by the group owner
* 2% of members send 50% of posts * 80% are silent observers * Activity ratio of 2:18:80
FAO facilitates online CoPs around topics within its mandate, such as the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition, e-Agriculture, and the
Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture. In addition to the knowledge sharing around specific technical matters, FAO has developed recommendations on how to get started enabling a network or a community. These recommendations are based on a Thematic Knowledge Network Review paper developed in 2009.
KM4Dev Meeting 06 in Zeist, Netherlands