Tuesday 27 August 2019

What makes a community of practice successful? Top 10 factors

There have been many articles and blog posts (including here) listing "Top Success Factors for Communities of Practice". Usually these are based on a combination of experience and theory. Here's a different approach.

Image from wikimedia commons
As part of our global global Knowledge Management Surveys in 2014 and 2017, we included an optional section on communities of practice. 251 people out of the 700 participants answered this section. Those that did were asked to rank the effectiveness of their Communities of Practice in adding value to their organisation. They were also asked to identify which of a list of CoP components they apply as part of their CoP approach.

The combination of these two questions allows us to work out which of those components make the most difference to the effectiveness of the CoPs. The "difference figure" is calculated as (average effectiveness when this component is included) divided by (average effectiveness when this component is absent), expressed as a percentage. High percentages therefore represent the greatest effectiveness impact. The top ten factors are listed below, together with their effectiveness difference (for example CoPs with a way of interacting online are rated as 23% more successful than those which don't).

To be clear, this list is based not on theory or experience, but on looking at the common elements between successful CoPs as defined by global knowledge managers. The list is in order of declining importance, with the most important factors at the top. Obviously these elements are not independent, and so the list is approximate rather than exact.

  1. A way of interacting online - 23%
  2. A performance contract or objectives agreed with the sponsor - 20%
  3. A charter or terms of reference which reflects the members' view of the network objectives - 19%
  4. A clear focus on business issues - 19%
  5. A business case - 19%%
  6. A defined facilitator in addition to the leader - 18%
  7. A defined leader - 17%
  8. A store for common documents - 15% 
  9. Training for CoP leaders and facilitators - 13%
  10. A collaboration tool for collaborating on documents - 11%
Also, let's not forget that size is important, and with Communities of Practice, Bigger is Better.

So the number one requirement for effective CoPs is a way to interact online, while requirements 2, 3, 4 and 5 are all about governance and a common valuable purpose. Then 6, 7 and 9 are about leadership.

Give communities a defined common purpose, a way to interact, and good leaders, and success will follow.

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