Communities are all differnt

Communities are all different

Organizations are increasingly becoming more diverse and distributed while at the same time pursuing mechanisms to increase collaboration between groups and consistency of knowledge and practice. A community of practice (COP) is often used as a tool to share knowledge and improve performance. Etienne Wenger-Trayner suggests that a community of practice is formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor. There are four common requirements for a community of practice to exist:

  1. Common Area of Interest – The first required attribute for any potential community of interest must have is a common area of interest among a group of people. The area needs to be specific and an area where knowledge is not viewed as proprietary but can be generated, shared and owned by the community as a whole. When knowledge is perceived to be propriety it will not be shared.
  2. Process – The second must have attribute a community of practice needs is set of defined processes. Processes that are generally required include mechanisms to attract legitimate participants and the capture and dissemination of community knowledge.  The existence processes differentiate COPs from ad-hoc meetings.
  3. Support – There is a tendency within many organizations to either think of COPs as socially driven by users and self-managing or as tools to control, to collect and disseminate knowledge within the organization. In their purist form, neither case is perfect (we will explore why in a later essay) but in either case, somebody needs to take responsibility for the COP. The role is typically known as the community manager. The role of the community manager can include finding logistics support, budget, identifying speakers, capturing knowledge and ensuring the group gets together.
  4. Interest – Perhaps the single most important attribute required for any COP to exist is an interest in interacting and sharing. Unless participants are interested (passionate is even better) in the topic(s) that the community pursues they will not participate.

A community of practice tool promotes collaboration and consistency of practice even in organizations that are becoming more distributed and diverse. Communities of practice provide a platform for people with similar interests to build on individual knowledge to create group knowledge which helps organizations deliver more value.