Thursday, 17 February 2011

When communities are not the answer

Communities of practice are one of the cornerstone concepts of Knowledge Management, and a tool that many KM strategists or implementers reach for when looking to start a KM program.

However a community is not always the tool you need, and just because they are a successful component of KM, doesn't mean they are the answer to every KM problem.

Here's what John Keeble of Enterprise Oil says about communities

"We have had some people come to us saying they want to launch a community, and we have ended up encouraging them just to have a workshop. Invite the same people you would have invited to the launch of the community, and just see what level of interest there is. I think the one advantage of that is that it avoids overloading the community with excessive expectations early on. It is much easier to say "we had a workshop; we covered the subject and thats it", whereas if you launch a community, people expect to to have a lifecycle of at least 2 years, and you may discover that's not what you need"

Sometimes you don't need a community of practice, sometimes you need a workshop, or a training course, or better communication within a team or a department.

So when do you need communities of practice? You need them where they can address issues which are not otherwise easily addressed by any other group. You need them where they can cross the organisational boundaries and the organisational silos. You need them where they are multilocational and multi-departmental. Have a look at the boston square above, and the four situations it paints

  • Where the knowledge needs to be shared across locations and across organisational boundaries between departments, then communities are ideal
  • Where the knowledge needs to be shared across at a single locations and within a single department, then you don't need a community of practice. The community would merely duplicate the existing organisational structure. You don't need new structures or new community leaders or community sponsors - what you need is a better way of sharing knowledge within that department. This is the situation we describe here.
  • Where the knowledge needs to be shared across locations within the same department (ie you have an organisational department with geographic spread), then communities are useful when tied into the departmental structure.
  • Where the knowledge needs to be shared across departments  within the same location, then you need a better system for sharing knowledge at that location. This may be a community of practice (which can meet face to face), or it may be a series of problem-solving workshops, or it may be a single conference. Communities are an option, but not the only option.
So think before you reach into the KM toolbox for that community tool. Make sure it's the right one for the job.


Md Santo said...

Community of Practice is a matter of evolution in organizational learning. The history of CoP strongly related with the history of Internet. Web 2.0 currently becoming human new workplace as well as new learning place contrary with Web 1.0 which is only acting as information aggregator. CoP is the platform of “Know where” learning, a relatively new learning strategy complementing “Know how” and “Know what” learning as well. CoP strongly associated also with Social Media. Social Media itself is the evolution of Multi Media and people say as the future of e-leaning. Therefore CoP is strongly associated with the development of Organizational (Collective / Social) Learning

From my point of view, regardless the structure as well as the characteristics of an organization, CoP with its variations is needed in a modern enterprise

Nick Milton said...

I think you will find that communities as a concept is not that new, nor does it post-date web 1.0, nor is it that strongly associated with social media (unless you count emails and lotus notes as social media)

There is plenty of history of communities from 20 years ago, working via email, working via face to face encounters, working very effectively to share knowledge using whatever tools were or are available.

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