It is possible to lose trust in a Community of Practice.
Here's one story of how it happened.
- This community started well, with 4 or 5 questions per week from community members.
- The community facilitator forwarded these questions to community experts to answer (because she believed more in the wisdom of experts, than the wisdom of communities).
- Sometimes the expert would answer on the community forum, but most of the time they answered by telephone, or personal visit.
- Often the expert did not have enough business context to answer the question (this is a complicated business), so when they did answer on the forum, the answer was vague and high-level
- Often the questions themselves were asked with very little context or explanation, so it was not possible to give good answers
- Where there was a discussion around the question, it very quickly went off-topic
- When the facilitator followed up, to see if the questioner was satisfied by the answer, the answer was usually No
- A year later, the questions have dropped to 1 or 2 a month.
The users have lost trust in the community forum as a way to get questions answered effectively, and have almost stopped asking.
The way to revitalise this community will be to set up a series of face to face meetings, so that the members regain trust in each other as knowledgeable individuals, then ask the members to help design an effective online interaction. This will almost certainly involve asking the community and not the experts, and making much more use of the facilitator to get the questions clarified, to make sure the answers are posted online, and to keep the discussions on topic.
But far better for the community to set off in the right way, as an effective problem-solving body, so that the members trust that their questions will be answered quickly and well.