Monday, April 19, 2010
Communities of practice are the KM standard. A community of practice is, as you might expect, a community of practitioners; practitioners within a single area or discipline of practice. They may be a community of geologists, of lawyers, of gardeners, of chefs. Their conversation is about practice, and the purpose of the community is primarily to help each other to improve their practice, by using the tacit knowledge of the community as a shared resource. The community do not deliver anything collectively to a host company; all products they create are for the benefit of the community members. Communities of practice generally are voluntary, and often have little or no funding from the host company.
Communities of purpose are different. Here the community is funded by a company or by a host organisation, and in return, commit to deliverables. They have a performance contract, a budget, and agreed KPIs. This sort of community will have an identified set of members, rather than being totally voluntary. They will have joint objectives. They act often as a virtual team. Their conversation is about practice, so they are a different from a multi-discipline team, but they behave in many ways like a team.
Communities of interest are different again. These consist of people who are interested in a particular topic (such as a fan club for a particular pop star, or supporters of a rugby team), but they are not practitioners. Their purpose is to receive and share information, but this information doesn't help them in their work as practitioners. Membership is entirely voluntary.
Social communities are communities of friends. Their purpose is not to share information or knowledge - their purpose is creating and strengthening social bonds. Membership is voluntary, but is often requested and invited. People are invited into social networks, though the invitation can come through membership in communities of interest.
Where community strategies go wrong, is when members of one type of community are treated as if they are members of another type of community.
For example, we have seen one organisation give deliverables to the community, despite the voluntary nature of the community. They have treated them as a community of purpose, though they are a community of practice. The community members did not sign up for delivering products to the company, and rapidly lost enthusiasm.
We have seen another organisation treat a community of interest as a community of practice, trying to engage them in conversation and exchange of knowledge, when all they were interested in was receiving information.
We have seen a third company treat a community of practice as a social community, trying to involve them in the creation of social and friendship bonds, when all they really wanted was access to knowledge.
Community is a wide term, and before introducing any sort of community strategy to your company or organisation, it is worth getting very clear about what sort of community you are dealing with. (Also please note - these communities can be nested within one topic area)