I was presenting at a client internal conference recently, together with Etienne Wenger. Etienne was presenting great material on Communities of Practice, while my presentation was on Knowledge Management Frameworks.
In one section of my talk, I introduced the concept of the Practice Owner, which I described on the accompanying slide as follows;
- Accountable for “Owning and managing,” or "Acting as Steward" for, defined areas of critical knowledge for the organisation
- Validates (or rejects) new knowledge
- Writes or updates practices, or delegates this within the CoP
- Broadcasts new knowledge, or delegates this within the CoP
- Often the same person as the CoP Leader
Those of you who follow this blog regularly will be aware of this role - I see it as one of the pivotal KM roles in an organisation. However this slide generated a lot of negative discussion.
- "Will this role not be a bottleneck for learning" people asked.
- "If you put one person as arbiter for knowledge, will they not just decide what they want, and stifle discussion?"
This took me aback a little, as I have only ever encountered this role as a positive, enabling, facilitating and mediating role. Perhaps I had described it wrongly? This is where Etienne stepped in.
"The important thing about this role" he said "is its connection with the Community of Practice". He saw this role as a Stewardship role (and he liked the term Steward) as being answerable not only to the organisation, but also to the Community of Practice. By linking Practice Owner and Community Leader, the Practice Owner then speaks on behalf of the CoP, and co-ordinates CoP knowledge into a single place. The practice Owner mediates and facilitates the process of drawing together Community Knowledge into a Community Resource which the CoP can trust and rely upon.
To this extent, the Practice Owner is as much a servant of the community as they are a leader, and play a stewardship role both on behalf of the CoP and on behalf of the organisation. It is only when you divorce the Practice Owner from the CoP that troubles arise.