When people hear about my background in designing and supporting Communities of Practice, they often ask me if there is a recipe for creating one: a step-by-step guide. If only it was that simple – and there was a ‘McDonalds’ style approach – and there was a repeatable sequence of activities which, if followed, would lead to success every time… but life’s not like that.
Because networks and communities are inherently human and dynamic, the McDonalds metaphor doesn’t fit. Even within Q, which I think of as a community-of-communities, there are different patterns of growth for different communities and SIGS – with different leaders and different levels of member availability and commitment.
Even within Q, which I think of as a community-of-communities, there are different patterns of growth for different communities and SIGS – with different leaders and different levels of member availability and commitment.
I guess, if I had to choose a food-based metaphor, it would be a Paella. Nor just because it’s a more social experience, or because it’s better for you than a quarter-pounder – but because of the way in which it’s prepared. Paella provides an excellent metaphor at multiple levels – the way it’s prepared, spiced-up, kept warm, arranged, served and celebrated all have their parallels in the world of ‘Community cuisine”
As part of my work with Q, I recently recorded a short video in which I share some ‘chef’s secrets’ in how to plan, design, launch and sustain a Community of Practice. The video includes some practical tips, models and examples for how to satisfy the appetite for learning and sharing knowledge.
You can view the video below – but to whet your appetite, let me close with one of the one of the interesting challenges which the video covers is that of – How do Communities learn?
If we go back to the original definition -“Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for something that they do – and they learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Etienne Wenger, 2005.) – it’s clear that learning is at the heart of successful communities. If there is no evidence of learning, then there is a danger that old knowledge is being recirculated, with little space for new knowledge development.
Learning in communities can be formal (e.g. training, certification and help-desks) or informal (ad-hoc questions and discussions) – and can be a shared activity (learning together) or a transfer activity (learning from). The model, (drawn from the work of Wenger, White and Smith – Digital Habitats 2009) sets out a range of potential learning interventions.
Think of it as a ‘spice rack’ which you can use to make your community paella more piquant!