Friday, August 06, 2004

Interesting discussion on communities of practice

I am a member of a yahoo listserv on KM and we are having an interesting discussion on communities of practice.
My question to the listserv was regarding research topics for next year. I threw out the concept of "Next generation communities." Steve Denning helped initiate some thought provoking comments by questioning whether "next generation communities" actually existed or if we are just rehashing the same concepts over and thus getting caught in a stale KM initiative rather than focusing on "what's next?" What more should we be doing to make KM effective? Is the answer innovation, blogging, mobile technology....
What are your thoughts? If anyone has any comments please reply to this post.

Continuing on Communities of Practice

I am going to stay on the topic of communities of practice for a bit. I will provide links to more content that I think will help those of you who are starting out. This presentation given by Richard McDermott at APQC's conference in San Antonio a couple years ago is a great concept paper. Richard always does a fine job of making communities easy to understand.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Types of Communities

When we conducted our study on Building and Sustaining Communities of Practice we found a trend in the types of communities that organizations typically have. The three types are helping communities, best-practice communities, and innovation communities.
Helping communities exist in all our organizations. They consist of people helping one another when needed. You could call them your social network. The only difference between a helping community is that its intra-organization whereas a social network crosses organizational boundaries. Of course helping communities can cross organizational boundaries too but in its simplest form its employees (interested in the same topic area or having expertise in a topic areas) informally helping one another.
A best-practice community is a slightly advanced helping community. In a best-practice community, the members not only share tips with one another but make an effort to capture and reuse lessons learned and best-practices uncovered during regular work or special projects. These communities require a bit more formality. They typically have a leader, someone who helps with categorizing the information, maybe some meetings, and some of the member's time is formally allocated to community activities.
An innovation community typically stewards its body of knowledge. If the organization makes cars, then a "brakes" community would be in charge of knowing everything there is to know about brakes on a car. That means that when a new car is being designed, the designers would contact the "brakes' community to find out what types of brakes would work best on the new car. Participation in this type of community is typically not voluntary and working collaboratively is a large part of the community member's job.

These communities are not exclusive of one another. A helping community can morph into a best-practice community, or a best-practice community can morph into an innovation community. It is however not required that communities change. They can stay at the same stage they began in as long as the needs of the members are being met.
Most organizations have several different types of communities at the same time. If we stay with the same example of a car company, the HR department may have a helping community and really never move to best-practice, research and development will typically always have innovation communities, whereas assembly line workers may be part of a best-practice community where they share what they learn on a daily basis with others in the same field.

If you are attempting to introduce communities in your organization, look around. Find groups that meet regularly and see if you can create some structure around their community in order to enable them to spend more time in it. Careful though, communities don't typically like too much structure. If they get too formal they crumble easily because then it starts looking too much like your regular job.