Planning a workshop to launch a Community of Practice

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In order to start a Community of Practice (CoP), it is recommended to conduct a face-to-face event in which the founding members get to know each other, discuss common thematic issues and interests and establish a charter and governance framework for the new CoP. In a network discussion, KM4Dev members shared tips and experiences on Planning such a workshop to launch a Community of Practice.


Community of Practice, CoP, learning, workshop, planning, facilitation, flipchart, presentation

Detailed Description

Johannes Schunter posted a draft agenda for a CoP workshop which his organization was about to conduct. The workshop for 30 participants was meant – among other things – to initiate the launch of a Community of Practice with members of a UN agency and external partners. Besides some substantive sessions around thematic issues and sharing of experiences, they had allocated session slots of altogether 4 1/2 hours to achieve the following with regard to a possible CoP:

Day 1:

  • Explain what a Communities of Practice is
  • Review and discuss results of a needs assessment survey for the CoP which was done online prior to the workshop
  • Identify together with workshop participants further needs, possible benefits, priorities and possible challenges with regard to a new CoP
  • Define together what kind of CoP this should be:
    • To what extent the CoP should focus on problem solving, knowledge sharing, best practices and/or innovation
    • Discuss possible services and outputs
    • Discuss possible governance structure, meeting rhythms, etc)

Day 2:

  • Formulate CoP vision statement
  • Formulate CoP charter
  • Formulate CoP governance structure
  • Identify core CoP group (3-6 people)
  • Define next steps

Johannes asked the community to submit their ideas and suggestions how to best achieve the above results, particularly with regards to

  • facilitation techniques to get the most effective input from participants with regards to their needs and priorities for the new CoP
  • facilitation techniques to develop concrete output documents (vision statement, charter and governance structure)
  • good ways to identify a core group to take ownership in nurturing and co-facilitating the CoP

KM4Dev Discussions

Community members came back with a range of advice and practial suggestions:

  • Sam Lanfranco highlighted that "it is frequently a mistake to try to weld the CoP together based on common wish list", because "all will agree, then sit back and do very little to move that list forward". Instead, he stressed that it is most important to "figure out what is the core 'glue' that holds the group together as a community of practice. What do they have in common that they currently recognize and attend to on almost a daily basis?" Then the CoP should be built from this core 'glue'.
  • Sam also emphasized the importance of having a "watchful moderator" with respective soft skills "to keep the group social dynamic on track while dealing with each participant's individual persona".
  • Similar to the idea of a 'core glue', Carl Jackson elaborated on the concept of identifying a 'boundary object' which helps the community "to experience the sense of a bounded space within which members have more things in common than standing outside it". To achieve this he suggests the method of a Concept Map:
"A nice exercise for helping to create [such a] vision would be to get people to create a map of the concepts that mean most to them in relation to this area of practice and where they are captured. You could do this by having groups of 3 brainstorm and capture on cards and then on the floor cluster cards and link [them] with strings. Then have a discussion about which are the 2 or 3 diagrams or papers that are most important to this community. You could then refer to these concepts [...] in your vision statement."
  • Christina Merl recommended Structured Storytelling as a facilitation method to create a community spirit and get people engaged in constructive, collaborative action, which could be an important basis for a joint vision statement:

"We had 24 participants, split them up into 3 groups of 8. All three groups got the same instruction, i.e., write a story about a topic that fitted their context (you'll need to choose a topic that fits your context). Then two groups wrote a fantasy story at first. They discussed their fantasy stories and filtered out their emotions and had to create one story out of it. Both teams worked with a moderator who helped them filter out their emotions. The final story had to be the "ideal story", i.e., the way it should have been.

Of course, both groups produced different stories -- that shows that you can work out emotions of all members, cover all the aspects.

The third group did "episode" storytelling, which is an analytical storytelling method. They got the same instruction but had to collect the facts only. For this, they worked on exact time slots -- for each time slot they collected the important facts. After having done so they also had to create a story on the basis of these facts, again their ideal story. They also worked with two moderators.

So, in the end we got three results, two based on fantasy stories and one based on facts.

It was interesting to see how different the results where.. you can then analyse this further and discuss it with members. They should become aware that KM is a product of emotions and facts and that knowledge sharing is not only fact sharing."

  • Daan Boom suggested several methods. First, introducing a role play could help to demonstrate the effective working of the Community lead members. This could be done by "designing a factious CoP and have some pre-written mails or contributions which are either offensive or out of scope, basically managing a virtual discussion." The task of the members is then "to assist CoP lead to take away the discussion or the responses and directly engage with the concerned person and try to find out what it is before it gets out of hand", which requires diplomacy and understanding.
  • A a second tool, Daan proposed the Depolarizer E-Mail Game which can be used as ice breaker or as teaser game to demonstrate how communication flows from one person to another and to get CoP members connceted.
  • Finally, Daan pointed out that CoP etiquette plays an important role in communities. Bylaws need to be drafted by the CoP on how they want to go about privacy, information shared, objectives, work plans, platforms, measurement of progress and impact.
  • Dorine Ruter used Speed Dating for people to speak with many others in a short time and discover connections." Such a session has proven to be very powerful and receieved good comments from participants during the event evaluation.
  • Joitske Hulsebosch supported the idea of conducting a CoP needs assessment prior to a workshop as the the question how such a workshop is planned best depends a lot on the professional culture of the group. Based on the results of such a needs assessment one can get an "idea about what may excite this particular group", and include a content topic into the workshop agenda accordingly. This way CoP members can "talk about what excites them in their practice or about practice dillemmas", which can then be used later for the CoP formulation.
  • Caitlin Bentley mentioned that she had problems talking about needs and goals of CoPs when people weren't yet aware of the possibilities. Therefore, before getting in to specifics about what a CoP is, she recommends to make "the participants to talk about their work in a structured manner so that people can make connections amongst themselves and get to know each other better." E.g. before the workshop, one could "ask people to introduce themselves, their work, their biggest challenges, their priorities and something intriguing about themselves." This would give the facilitator an idea who might fit together and how to put them in groups to get them to talk about their challenges. Only after the needs and goals of the members have emerged in such group discussions, the facilitater would then explain what a CoP is and collect the opinions of CoP members about what should come out of the CoP.
  • After conducting the workshop outline in the original query, Johannes returned to the community with a follow-up post in which he presented two methods he used to achieve the workshop objectives.

"I tried to build on Sam’s notion of "identifying the glue" by doing the Map of Concepts exercise suggested by Carl. We’ve divided people into groups of 6 (it turned out 3-4 would have been better) and let them develop a contextualized map of their working environment by identifying key concepts they deal with, as well as stakeholders, activities and outputs in relation to these concepts. In addition we asked the to come up with 2-3 statements on what role the CoP could play to support them in these topics, activities and outputs and let one person of each group present their result. The whole exercise, including presentation, took about 90 min."

"In the final session I introduced an open space drafting process in the form of a Flipchart Wiki. In order to develop a first draft of a possible CoP charter and governance framework, we prepared flipchart templates with all the key sections to be covered by a charter and governance document and placed them on different tables in the room. Then people were free to go anywhere and contribute text suggestions (white cards) or add comments, corrections and objections (green, yellow and red cards). In a second step, we gave everyone little “Dot”-stickers to walk around and stick on any statement or comment they agreed with (only 1 dot per item). This way we were able to identify which draft fragments or comments were suitable for consensus. The whole exercise was very lively and fun, and it created in a very short time the basis for a first draft document (to be consolidated by the workshop team after the workshop). It’s also a great way to showcase what an online wiki is all about. The whole drafting process took about 1 hour 15 min and the voting exercise and wrap up another 30 min."

  • Finally, Johannes pointed out that the notion of CoP ownership by members cannot be stressed enough. Many participants of his CoP workshop originally had the idea that it would in the end be the event host who will 'deliver' all these things they’ve identified as needs, activties and outputs. As Sam already pointed out above, it seems clear that just letting the CoP members develop a 'wish list' will not lead to sustainable community life.

Original Thread

The original contributions of the community members participating in the discussion can be found in the KM4Dev discussion list on DGroups.