Cultivating the Idea
When you are planning on starting a community of practice, you should think about:
- Audience: Who is the community for? Who are the community's stakeholders?
- Domain: What are the key issues facing the intended participants. What knowledge will the community share and what tasks will it undertake?
- Purpose, Goals and Outcomes: What is the community's primary purpose? What are the benefits to the participants and stakeholders? What needs will the community practice meet?
A successful community of practice will have focused and clearly defined purposes that meets the priorities of its participants. The purpose of a community of practice should be defined in terms of the community's stakeholders such as learners, teachers, managers.
When creating a community of practice you should identify practitioners with common interests. You should invite a wide range of people, including people who may typically work alone, this will help provide alternate perspectives. Potential participants should have an incentive to join and participate. Members will take part when they feel there is clear benefit for the time they have put in.
When recruiting members ensure there is value for the time. Some means to ensure this might include:
- Choosing an issue that applies to all participants
- Describing to members how their input will benefit the community
- Detailing the opportunities for networking and personal connections the community will provide
- Offer resources
- Detailing how the collaboration will provide solutions to common issues
When issuing invitations, be clear on the structure of the community of practice and what sort of work it will entail. It is important for new members to understand what they are committing to.
Other learning opportunities such as conferences and webinars can provide useful means of recruiting members. These can be used to promote the community of practice and invitations may be issued to attendees.
Identifying a Facilitator
The role of a facilitator in a community of practice involves consulting, guiding, and connecting members. The facilitator's role also involve collecting, organising and sharing data and knowledge developed through the community. The facilitator should be someone comfortable supporting face-to-face activities as well as online interactions.
A community of practices can have more than one facilitator depending on the needs and skill set of the members. The responsibilities can be divided amongst those who are acting as facilitators. For example, one facilitator may look after the communication aspects while the other may focus on organising and collecting the knowledge created by the community.
If your community of practice will be meeting online or using online resources and tools, it is important to have at least one facilitator to be comfortable using them. While technology can provide an excellent means of bring people together, it can also create stumbling blocks for members who may be inexperienced using them. It can help to make members aware of who they can go to if they encounter any difficulty.
Creating a Space for Collaboration
A community of practice requires an online space and technology to support their activities. Live interactions can be facilitated through the video conference software such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. An online platform should be created to facilitate discussions, collaboration and resource sharing. This could be through Moodle, a dedicated website or webpage or a discussion forum (such as the one available through the Digital Library).
The Digital Library is happy to help facilitate the creation of an online space for communities of practice. If you are interested in using the library for this purpose please get in touch using your ETB email.
When creating an online space for your community of practice, consider creating distinct sections for:
- Member profiles
- Schedule of events
- Resources created as part of the community such as handouts, slides and meeting notes
- Useful links and resources
- Discussions and reflections of participants (such as through a discussion forum)
The online space for a community of practice can be a mix of private and publicly available content. Having public content can provide benefits to those outside of the community of practice as well as providing evidence of its benefits and output. Private spaces can be particularly useful for discussions and reflections so members can share freely and comfortably. Not every all of the content generated by a community of practice is suitable for public consumption and might require some editing and revising before being made publicly available.
Through collecting data, you can help measure the success of your community. Having a data collection plan will help with the broader planning of the community. A clearly articulated data collection plan will help guide participation. By detailing the kind of data that will be collected, you help clarify the purpose and goals of the community.
There are three basic kinds of data that can be collected:
- Needs assessment data:
- What do members want and need?
- What are their levels of expertise?
- What are their learning preferences?
- Participation data:
- How active is the community?
- How many people participated?
- How often did people participate?
- What kinds of activities were they engaged in?
- Impact data:
- How did practice change as a result of the community of practice?
- What goals were met?
- What shifts in practice were observed?
- What evidence have you collected?
Contents of this guide are available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 unless stated otherwise.
This guide has been adapted from Creating Communities of Practice by Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium (ERLC) which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.