A community of practice is formed when different people come together to form a group with several objectives in mind. The group can comprise of people from the same field or different but related fields who see the need to share knowledge and experience in different fields. With the community of practice, everyone has the chance to teach other people and still learn from them. It helps to form a mutual benefit process for different professionals.
Before any community of practice is formed, the members must share their relevant objectives to a lead agency. The lead agency will go through the group objectives in order to determine if they are viable. The lead agency is responsible for providing several platforms that will make the group run smoothly. This will include funding, provision of working space, among other relevant resources. Several guidelines on how to form a community of service exists, but all of them are tied around the life-cycle of the community. Once the life-cycle is mastered, the creation of the community should not be a hard process.
Importance of a Community of Practice
People are now realizing just how much power is involved in the creation and using a community of practice. Imagine having the best minds under one organization brainstorming about anything. The outcome of such a social structure is bound to be onto another level. Here is the importance of forming a community of practice.
- The community of practice helps to connect people from different social backgrounds. Some of these people might not have met before but thanks to the group, it will be possible.
- There is a provision of common objectives for the members to work towards achieving. This helps them to work together even when they barely know each other. It will help in building their professional perspectives on different levels.
- The community of service provides a chance for dialogue between people who want to share knowledge on different aspects of life. The community will act as a uniting factor for them.
- Anyone involved in the community of practice process is motivated to learn more. Many people will be attending the group, each having a different thing to share in the community. This makes such a place a hub for a lot of knowledge.
- The community of practice will encourage the organization of people and ideas at any moment. This helps the flow of ideas from one person to another. It is better rather than having a random group without any coordination or structural flow.
- Whatever people learn from the community of practice, it is always a life-changing moment. It is something they will want to share with other people out there. The knowledge found at such groups helps in shaping the society to have a positive thinking towards different issues in life.
Community of Practice Life-cycle
Any community of practice will have a life-cycle that will guide it in achieving its best objectives. At each stage, we have different things that must be accomplished before moving onto the next stage. The community will start with a formation process, it will grow into a powerful community and then there is a lifespan for any community of practice. Below is the community of practice life-cycle.
At this stage is all about taking into consideration the viability of the community of practice. Identify the purpose of forming such a community. What are the goals that must be achieved within a specified amount of time? Consider the type of audience that will be attending the community of practice. Finally, unveil the mission and vision statements of the group.
Learn about the different design activities that will help the community of practice function optimally. This includes the type of technology to use, the different organizational structures and the support team for the group. Define the roles of the different members who will attend the community of practice.
The use of a prototype is to help in understanding the designed system. Run a pilot program with a few members to check if the system will actually run smoothly. It helps in identifying the different flaws in the system and how to patch them up. It is possible to refine the community of practice strategy during this pilot process.
At this point, the community design structures had been tested at all are working properly. Launch the completed community structure to a wide range of people who have been invited to join the group. If there is any training required for the system, make sure that it is well covered for the newcomers to adapt to it easily.
In order for the community to grow, there is the need to get the group involved in every aspect of the group objectives. Having a good audience will help even surpass what the group had initially hoped to achieve. For such a case, the group will have come out strongly to become the best at what they do.
At this point, is all about asking what will keep the community of practice going for a long time? As the organizer, ensure that most of the members are comfortable with what they are supposed to achieve. Set realistic goals and enough time for the members to achieve complete and trustworthy results. Learn about the other things required to keep the community strong. This will involve listening to the issues raised by the members and finding a way on how to deal with them.
The lifespan of any community of practice will depend on how the coordinator runs point on things. It is important for the coordinator to keep the members engaged at all times during the whole process. It will help in finding the best solutions and sharing known to different issues raised by the coordinator. Without proper management, then the whole community of practice might just be a waste of time.
Maintenance of a Community of Practice
Once the community of practice has been formed, there is the need to keep it in check by performing several maintenance routines. This is the work of the coordinator who has to ensure that the group gets everything it needs work efficiently towards its objectives. Below are some of the things that the coordinator has to keep in mind when it comes to maintenance of a community of practice.
- Engaging the members of the group in meetings and discussions on a web portal
- The content of the group website must be updated regularly. We have members who rely on the group website to learn about the different things happening around. This should help them know about any new development in the group.
- Evaluate the meeting attendance of several members. Inquire as to why some members are always missing the meetings. If there is a problem with communication, let it be sorted out quickly.
- Encourage members of the group to attend several meetings and workshops to encourage the teamwork spirit.
- Invite some experts in different fields for the members to learn from them. Some members might have all the experience in their respective fields. Such visits will help them to know more on what their responsibilities are in the community of practice group.
Evaluating a Community of Practice
There is the need for an evaluation process to be carried out on a community of practice regularly. The evaluation will help to understand if the group is still working towards achieving its main objectives. The evaluation process should involve the feedback from several members of the community. They are the ones directly impacted by the group activities. The evaluation of any community of practice will help to understand any new emerging issues that might need quick responses.
The evaluation process includes the following processes:
- The quality control team will have to attend several meetings and member sessions to understand the working process of the group. The control team will have to counter check this with the existing community of plan objectives.
- Perform several interviews with different members of the group. The members will help in understanding the different conditions that the community of practice must meet.
- Learn about the level of participation for the members in a meeting, presentations and email discussions.
- Use of checklists to learn about what the group has achieved and not achieved
- What is the member satisfaction in all the group operations? The members must be satisfied that the group is still running towards achieving its best goals.
The results of the evaluation process are important to decide the next step for the community. It might trigger several things to happen to the group. Such changes might include:
- Change in management – If the current management team is not yielding the kind of expected results, they are likely to be replaced. The process of recruitment for the managerial positions will be advertised with an interim team working on driving the group forward.
- Allocation of more funds – Among the several issues raised might be based on the availability of funds. The lead agency will have to allocate more funds to the community of practice for them to achieve their objectives easily.
- Creation of new dockets – The creation of new posts in the community of practice is meant to help it function properly and achieve its goals. The creation of a new post is influenced by the fact that one sector or person is heavily burdened with a lot of work. This means that some of the work will not be completed on time as expected.
- Employ more people – If after the evaluation process it turns out that the community needs more staff members, an advertisement for the vacancy will be created. The aim of such a practice is to help the group achieve its objectives.
- Closure of the group – Not all evaluations will have positive results at the end of the day. We have some that will recommend the closure of a community of practice. The evaluation process might discover that the group is no longer trying to achieve its objectives. This might lead to immediate closure to save on the resources allocated to the group.
When to close a Community of Practice
Everything at some point will have to end. We have seen several communities closed based on a number of factors. Here is what is likely to cause a closure for a community of practice.
- It will reach a point when the group will no longer be active. The cause might include several members having other commitments and busy schedules to keep.
- Every community of practice will have its goals and purpose it wants to achieve. Once that goal is achieved, then there will be no use for the group again.
- The regular assessments carried out on the group will determine if it is still working on the agreed mission. The lead agency might decide to close the group if it has drifted from its objectives or when it is no longer a priority for the organization.
However, it is not that easy to wake up one morning and decide to close a community of practice. Several considerations have to be put in mind before the actual closure period. Here are some of the things to consider:
- There is the need to consult all the members about the decision of closing the group. Not all of them will like the idea that is one thing to expect from such a process.
- It is crucial to recognize what the group has achieved throughout its existence. It gives the members a sense of pride in what they have worked hard while they were members of the group.
- Appreciating the individual member contributions will ease the pain of them knowing that the group is being closed. They will know that their contributions brought some change in life to several people.
- Make the community of practice closure official by sending messages via email or offer meetings to tell them about the move. It can be hard for some members to realize later on that their group is no more when there was no official communication.