You can take two main approaches to the creation of Communities of Practice - Top Down, or Bottom Up. One company mixes the two through the use of a CoP application form.
Communities of practice are one of the main building blocks of a KnowledgeManagement framework, and many organizations will seek to create, launch and sustain a number of networks, as a pilot within Knowledge Management Implementation. The communities need to be chosen wisely. Choosing the wrong networks – those without the conditions for success – invalidates the pilot. Choosing the correct networks allows a test of the efficiency of this component in delivering knowledge sharing.
But how do you select the CoPs - top-down or bottom-up?
In top down selection , the company decides on strategic knowledge areas, and deliberately selects communities to support these, assigning leadership and core members and securing resources. This allows resources to be spent supporting the communities which will have most value to the company, but sometimes these top down communities may not align with the interests of the workers.
In bottom-up selection, the company enables the organizations with community tools, and watches for communities that form spontaneously around an area of business need. These CoPs are often high energy, but may not coincide with areas of knowledge which are strategic for the business. Also it is all too common to find multiple CoPs starting up which cover the same topic as each other.
Given that we have two stakeholder groupings in KM, and both need to be satisfied, and given that satisfying one without the other can lead to instability in your KM program, how do we choose which CoPs to support?
The CoP application form
One company seeks bottom-up communities and provides a community technology platform, but asks proposers to complete a CoP application form in order to gain company support and resource. The application form asks
- Does your CoP pass the criteria for eligibility? There are several eligible categories, such as expert groups in specific areas, regional networks around a specialist area related to the business of the organisation, or communities created specifically to address a single issue
- What is the name and description for your Communty of Practice? This includes the welcome text that will be used for new members, and a list of key issues the community will address
- Proposed membership and scope. Specifically whether this is an open or a closed community, and whether it includes people from outside the organisation
- The community failitator.
- Technology requirements.
- Engagement plan.
The application form goes to the KM team, who review it and may suggest
- The CoP goes ahead as planned
- The proposed members join an existing CoP which covers the same area
- The work of the proposed CoP could be done better through a workshop, or a conference, or some other means
In this way the bottom up energy is combined with some top down control, to give a good balanced approach.