Getting started: What is a Community of Practice (CoP)?
A Community of Practice (CoP) is a group whose members share a passion for something [e.g., a discipline, a challenge, an issue, an opportunity, or an idea] and who interact regularly in order to learn and develop new knowledge.
8 Steps to activating your Community of Practice (CoP)
- Develop a Community Vision and Charter
Outline a clear objective or purpose or the ‘why’ that will ignite the community members. Start with creating a Community Vision and Charter document. Articulate the purpose clearly, detail high-level scope and knowledge creation and sharing processes that will be used within the CoP.
And don’t forget to socialize the Community Vision and Charter document with important stakeholders including potential community members.
- Define Community roles
The next task at hand is to sit down with your core group to define the various roles that are needed to create, activate, govern and sustain the community. Without adequate planning on roles and responsibilities or the budget implications of these roles, you are sure to run into early and sustained challenges.
Active communities have at least these three roles:
- Community Sponsor
- Community manager
Create a plan for a citizenship drive where you will reach out to your potential community audience and enlist their participation in the community you are planning on activating.
Ask yourself: Is the CoP membership limited to the internal audience? Would the CoP support an external audience from different organizations or social groups?
It is OK! to start small and grow organically.
In addition, you should consider having designated technology support.
- Select and implement the Technology platform
In the post-pandemic world, your community is not going anywhere without an online collaboration platform. You simply cannot do without this. Select a collaboration platform that works for your community members, meets the community charter requirements, and provides easy ways for community members or citizens to interact with each other, share ideas, brainstorm, co-create new knowledge and publish community knowledge assets.
Platform examples: Yammer, MS Teams, Slack, YouTube, OpenSource Wikis, etc.
Think simple and secure.
- Define Knowledge creation and sharing protocols
You have your CoP charter, community roles, and technology figured out. Great!
The next logical step is to clearly define how the community will get together to create new knowledge, exchange knowledge within the community and share it outside the community, what peer-review standards will be followed, etc.
Believe it or not, in the long-term this will be the deciding factor on whether your community will create value for its members or not. Pay close attention to this step.
We recommend you consult a knowledge management expert!
- Call out success indicators and community health measures
Community endeavors can get soft and squishy fairly quickly. So, before you launch the CoP, make the effort to define what success would look like? What indicators would you track and how you plan to assess community health? These are fundamental decisions you will have to make before launch. Now, we know from experience that not all success indicators are known from the start—nature of the beast—there is an inherent value discovery component in Communities of Practice that most Community sponsors secretly hope for.
It is alright to draw lines in the sand, decide on high-level indicators (e.g., Community membership, no. of events and jam sessions, workstream progress, knowledge sharing sessions, etc.) and the technology (e.g., Microsoft page analytics, Google analytics, etc.) to will help track metrics
Be agile and continue to iterate on the success indicators as you go along the community journey.
- Pause, and put in the workaround Communications and Change management
Most people know this is important and yet do not put in the work. Pick any research around change management and you will know you are heading for sure shot failure if you have not communicated well and enough with all your constituents, not factored in the learning curve, training support, resistance to change, etc.
Our recommendation is to be open and transparent. Share more than less. Develop a process to seek inputs from your potential community members and be ready to tweak your approach when they tell you so.
- Plan and execute the launch event
When the Community of Practice is ready for prime time,
- Organize a formal kick-off meeting or community orientation session.
- In the launch event, share the CoP Vision and Charter.
- Introduce community roles (sponsor, manager, members)
- Address queries, encourage participation.
- Define a process for community members to provide feedback.
- Be ready with a post-launch communication plan.
- Be ready to sustain and improve
Well begun is half done. But now comes the hard part of sustaining the momentum and continuously focusing on improvements. Here are some high-level tips to help you sustain and improve your CoP.
- Plan on seeding ideas, projects, and events.
- Keep feeding the CoP with external influences and expertise.
- Meet and celebrate regularly.
- Remember the golden rule: CoPs are by practitioners and for practitioners.
We wish you great success and are happy to help in your CoP journey.
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