Monday, 25 September 2017

Sites don't build communities; communities build sites

It takes more than a SharePoint site to build a Community of Practice.

Image from wikimedia commons
Not for the first time, we recently ran a Knowledge Management  Assessment for an organisaton which claimed to "have lots of communities of practice". When we pressed her a little more to find out what she meant by this term, we found that for her, a Community of Practice is a SharePoint site with a list of contributors, a blog, and a wiki. Then when we went online to look at these "communities", the vast majority were entirely empty. Quite silent. No activity at all.

It takes far more than a SharePoint site to build a Community.

The key is in the word Community. Community is a feeling - it is a feeling of having something in common. It is a feeling of trust and of loyalty. Communities of practice deliver value in organisations because they set up structures of dual loyalty. A community member is loyal to their work team, but also loyal to their community, and this loyalty and trust is what enables the communities to be a conduit of knowledge between one work team and another.  The site is a tool they use to support the sense and feeling of community, not something that creates this feeling.

Providing a set of community tools and expecting community behaviours to emerge is a variant of the "Build it and they will come" argument. It's like building a village hall in sectarian Northern Ireland, and expecting a multi-sect community to develop.  For many organisations, there are internal divisions and silo walls to overcome before anyone even thinks about sharing knowledge with each other.

They key is to build the community first, often through hard work and much face-to-face interaction,  and let them build the hall. Or the website/blog/wiki/whatever.  The community builds their own site.

Below is the vision I like to offer to communities of practice when it comes to building and populating their site. This is not something you do for the community, it is something the community does for itself.

Provide lots of sites, and you just end up with empty sites. Provide a sense of community, and the site will be built.

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