Monday, 21 September 2009
We ran a KM Assessment last year with the KM lead for an organisation. At one point we were talking with one of their KM team, who proudly announced "we have lots of communities of practice". When we pressed her a little more to find out what she meant by this term, we found that for her, a Community of Practice is a SharePoint site with a list of contributors, a blog, and a wiki. Then when we went online to look at these "communities", the vast majority were entirely empty. Quite silent. No activity at all.
It takes far more than technology to build a Community. The key is in the word Community. Community is a feeling - it is a feeling of having something in common. It is a feeling of trust and of loyalty. Communities of practice deliver value in organisations because they set up structures of dual loyalty. A community member is loyal to their work team, but also loyal to their community, and this loyalty and trust is what enables the communities to be a conduit of knowledge between one work team and another.
Providing a set of community tools and expecting community behaviours to emerge is a variant of the "Build it and they will come" argument, which is pretty well discredited (see here for example). It's like building a village hall in sectarian Northern Ireland, and expecting a multi-sect community to develop.
They key is to build the community first, and let them build the hall. Or the website/blog/wiki/whatever. You can provide the tools, and the bricks and mortar, but the community builds their own site.
That's why we always recommend face-to-face community launch, to build the sense of community, the trust and the loyalty, before we build the toolkit. And sometimes the toolkit is not needed - the six communities we helped launch in Kuwait* are delivering value without the aid of SharePoint, blogs and wikis (all of which are coming, but not there yet)
*Unfortunately the link to the community case studies on the KPC site is no longer active