Talk:Communities of practice and thematic networks in international development

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Nancy White, 2009/12/18

Hi all

I'm working on one of FAO's IMARK modules on communities and networks and I would love to diversify my set of stories and examples of successful communities of practice and thematic networks in any area of international development. I'm particularly interested in examples where there is a web page I can point to, networks in English, French or Spanish. I find I tend to reuse the same ones over and over again and I'd really like to profile a nice rich range.

In the example you offer, if you know, I'd be interested in the following:

  • focus or domain of the group
    • Is it a closed or open group
    • how does it define itself (or point me to page/URL)
    • is it organizationally sponsored
    • size
    • how long it has been around
    • status (thriving, starting, dying, etc.)

I'll be forever grateful and include you in the credits! :-)



Loe Schout, 2009/12/18

Dear Nancy,

May I point you to a very successful, Africa-based and driven network working to support the cultural sector in Africa.

Kind regards,

Loe Schout

Jaap Pels, 2009/12/18

Hi Nancy,

We @ IRC are running the below Google groups around themes / regions / topics :-)

  • focus or domain of the group: see name
  • Is it a closed or open group: they all started closed and some are opening up now
  • how does it define itself (or point me to page/URL; described on the first screen
  • is it organizationally sponsored: yes, IRC runs most of them, some co-managed
  • siz; various: some only IRC staff, MUS and Sanitation > 300
  • how long it has been around: most of them since 1-1-07
  • status (thriving, starting, dying, etc.): various, some sleeping and waiting to be kissed :-)

Best, Jaap

Global WASH IM Tools WASH Sanitation and Hygiene
RCD Community of Practice (171) WASH Sector learning(13)
SWITCH Theme 6 (45) WASH South Asia group(8)
WASH East Africa group(4) WASH Transparency group (93)
WASH Governance (46) WASHCost (10)
WASH local dialogues(130) WASHCost Ghana (70)
Recently visited [clear] [1]
IRCSymposium WASH Middle East Northern Africa group
MUS group mailing system (1) WASH News Services(27)
MyWASH public discussion hub WASH Southern Africa group
WASH Communication(27) WASH West Africa group
WASH Financing group WASH-NKMC (6)
WASH Latin America group (24) WASHCost UBUNTU(17)
WASH Livelihoods group(7) West Africa Water Initiative Knowledge Management

More groups:

  • Accra city Learning Alliances: [2]
  • WASH Arena <]
  • WASH Sector learning: [3]
  • Amhara Resource Centre: [4]
  • WASH Communication: [5]
  • WASH South Asia group: [6]
  • Consument: [7]
  • WASH Development group: [8]
  • WASH Southern Africa group: [9]
  • Consumentenbond: [10]
  • WASH East Africa group: [11]
  • WASH Thesaurus group: [12]
  • de luis in de pels: [13]
  • WASH Financing group: [14]
  • WASH Transparency group: [15]
  • GLAAS: [16]
  • WASH Global: [17]
  • WASH triple S: [18]
  • Global WASH IM Tools: [19]
  • WASH Governance: [20]
  • WASH West Africa group: [21]
  • Hamburg city Learning Alliance: [22]
  • WASH Innovation group: [23]
  • WASH-NKMC: [24]
  • IRC Symposium: [25]
  • WASH InterWATER (Organizations): [26]
  • WASHCost: [27]
  • km4dev: [28]
  • WASH iwrm SWAP: [29]
  • WASHCost Advisory: [30]
  • Lodz city Learning Alliance: [31]
  • WASH Latin America group: [32]
  • WASHCost Burkina Faso: [33]
  • MUS group mailing system: [34]
  • WASH Library Services: [35]
  • WASHCost Ghana: [36]
  • MyWASH public discussion hub: [37]
  • WASH Livelihoods group: [38]
  • WASHCost India: [39]
  • Process documentation: [40]
  • WASH local dialogues: [41]
  • WASHCost Monitoring and Impact Assessment: [42]
  • RCD Community of Practice: [43]
  • WASH Middle East Northern Africa group: [44]
  • WASHCost Mozambique: [45]
  • socialtext-nl: [46]
  • WASH News Services: [47]
  • WASHCost UBUNTU: [48]
  • SWITCH 4 IUWM - umbrella group: [49]
  • WASH Participatory planning and management: [50]
  • WASHirika: [51]
  • SWITCH Lima: [52]
  • WASH Portal Services: [53]
  • WATSAN groups directory: [54]
  • SWITCH Theme 6: [55]
  • WASH Publications Services group: [56]
  • West Africa Water Initiative Knowledge Management <]-
  • WASH 2015: [57]
  • WASH Regional / National program: [58]
  • WASH Action research and learning group: [59]
  • WASH Resource Centre development: [60]
  • WASH Agenda: [61]
  • WASH Sanitation and Hygiene: [62]
  • WASH Alliance: [63]
  • WASH Sector Dialogues: [64]

Meghendra Banerjee, 2009/12/18

Hi Nancy... you can visit to find out about Solution Exchange communities in India, Bhutan, Thailand and Indonesia. They are all at different levels of vibrancy, but all on an average are thriving.

You may particularly look at the Food and Nutirtion Community in India which is co hosted and run by FAO in India -



Grant Ballard-Tremeer, 2009/12/18

Dear Nancy,

Some of ours are thriving, in particular:

The URL's should answer all your questions but I can provide more info if you like. You're welcome to join any of them if you'd like to experience the inside story.

The overall thematic network HEDON Household Energy Network ( is very vibrant and growing rapidly. Currently all in English, but the next version of our publication "Boiling Point" will be in English, French, Spanish and Chinese so we are starting to diversify.

Regards Grant

Charles Dhewa, 2009/12/18

Dear Nancy,

We have some action here: .

Best wishes,

Charles Dhewa

Nancy White, 2009/12/18

Thanks to Bonnie, Carl, Miep, Jaap, Gauri, Meghendra, Grant and Charles for the suggestions so far. When I'm done, I'll put a listing of exemplar networks and communities on the wiki. I find it is very difficult to show the value of these forms via a "definitional" route - in fact the definitions are muddy. But real stories shed much more light. I appreciate your contributions. And this in itself is a great example of community/network in action.

(I'm grinning because often I ask myself, Is KM4Dev a network or a community. By my measuring stick, it is a network that contains communities, but always feels very community like to me because I actively participate at the community level, while many simple read messages as information passing by!)

If there are any more examples, please feel free to share them with me!



Yorsaon Christophe Hien, 2009/12/18

bonsoir Nancy,

Tu peux visiter:

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, 2009/12/18

Dear Nancy,

I would like to put forward HIFA2015 as an example. focus or domain of the group - Healthcare Information for All by 2015 - bringing all stakeholders to realise a world where people are no longer dying for lack of basic healthcare knowledge Is it a closed or open group - open how does it define itself (or point me to page/URL) - community of purpose (ie CoP with a goal) is it organizationally sponsored - yes, BMA (British Medical Association) is main sponsor size - 2600 members, 150 countries, all stakeholder groups how long it has been around - Oct 2006 status (thriving, starting, dying, etc.) - thriving

HIFA2015 uses a process called Reader-Focused Moderation:

More info: HIFA2015 (Healthcare Information For All by 2015) is a global campaign and knowledge network administered by the Global Healthcare Information Network, a non-profit organisation working to improve the quality of health care in developing countries. HIFA2015 brings together more than 2600 health workers, librarians, publishers, researchers and policymakers from 150 countries worldwide, all committed to a common goal: By 2015, every person worldwide will have access to an informed health care provider. One-third of members are based in Africa, one-third in Europe, and one-third in the rest of the world. Together we are working for a future where people are no longer dying for lack of basic healthcare knowledge. During 2009, HIFA2015 has received financial support from the British Medical Association, ePORTUGUESe, International Child Health Group, Network for Information and Digital Access, Royal College of Midwives, and Royal College of Nursing. Join today:

Seasons greeting to all.

Best wishes, Neil

Nancy White, 2009/12/18

To keep track - and to give any of you a chance to add your thoughts, I'm collecting the examples in the interim on this page:

Please email me directly if you would like editing access. Once we are done, we can transfer to the KM4Dev wiki!



John Smith, 2009/12/18

This must be one of those questions that will never go away and our answers will never be complete.

Joitske Hulsebosch and others produced this fine compilation some time ago: aFZ5T1E

(In case that's folded, use this: )


Ana Maria Ponce, 2009/12/21

Dear Nancy,

I would like to add the Mountain Forum (MF) network to your list.

Focus: The Mountain Forum is a "network of networks" created as followup of Chapter 13, Agenda 21 to raise awareness on sustainable development of mountain ecosystems and people living in them MF is an Open Network of practicioners and experts on Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD)


MF is sponsored by SDC since its inception

MF was created in 1998 with a small secretariat hosted by TMI in West Virginia, then the Secretariat was moved to ICIMOD in Kathmandu (Nepal), it operates Through regional nodes hosted by organizations in Asia (ICIMOD), Africa (ICRAF/AHI), Latin America (CIP), North America (Banff Center, Canada), and Europe (Le Maison the La Montagne, Chambery, France)

MF is thriving and is a virtual space to raise issues affecting life for mountain communities. I was the Executive Secretary of MF in Nepal between 2005-2008, and The current Exec. Secretary is Mr.Frans Neumann

Sincerely yours,

Ana Maria

Satish Vangal, 2009/12/21

Hi Nancy and other km4dev-ers,

I would like to highlight UNDP's internal Management Communities of Practice. We have 4 active un-moderated networks in the areas of HR, Finance, Project Management and Procurement and the discussions revolve around management support to development goals. Each community has 1200-1600 members from our 140+ offices around the world and Headquarters. These are the most active of UNDP's communities and focus primarily on day to day problem solving in operational issues, but also provide feedback on our rules and regulations to make them more responsive to on-the-ground needs of our offices. Over the lifetime of these communities (5 years), more than 50% of members in each community have sent at least one message.

PROS There are no 'silly questions' in these communities; there are no official moderators or facilitators; members feel empowered to seek solutions from their colleagues on a range of topics; from something that they could have looked up easily online to more complex queries. Members write in to bid farewell when they move on; and welcome new members when they introduce themselves - there is a real 'community feeling', particularly among the communities core - the Finance, HR, etc. professionals in each of our offices. The fact that the actual communities are 5-6 times larger than the relevant professional grouping (HR staff, Finance staff, etc.) is testimony to the perceived utility of the networks.

CONS Available technologies / knowledge bases need to be better utilized to channel queries off-network when appropriate, to reduce the sheer message volume, particularly in terms of repeat queries.

  • focus or domain of the group - internal management topics (HR, Finance, Procurement, Project Management)
  • Is it a closed or open group - restricted to UNDP staff, and other UN agencies as appropriate
  • how does it define itself (or point me to page/URL) 4 primarily day to day "problem-solving" networks in the functional areas of Finance, Human Resources, Procurement and Project Management
  • is it organizationally sponsored: un-moderated; No formal Facilitator; HQ Specialists monitor networks to ensure that correct / best answers are provided by staff.
  • size 1200 - 1600 each
  • how long it has been around: 5 years
  • status (thriving, starting, dying, etc.) Thriving: anywhere from 10 - 20 or more queries and replies daily.

Happy Holidays everyone!


Jaap Pels, 2009/12/21


Am I right to conclude all these UN-internal-CoPs are on secondary (Finance, HR, etc) processes?

There is no such thing as a UN-internal-CoP on rain water harvesting / good governance / 'development as communication' etc?

Best, Jaap

Satish Vangal, 2009/12/21

Hello Jaap,

Thanks for the question. I should have clarified that UNDP's communities of practice began with our development practitioners around 8 years or so ago. The development communities are aligned around our major Practice areas and include the following. Membership ranges from a few hundred to 2,000+. These networks are primarily composed of internal staff as well as external experts in the different fields. They are all active (moderated) and a key resource for our staff.

  • Crisis Prevention and Recovery
  • Democratic Governance
  • Environment and Energy
  • HIV/AIDs
  • Poverty Reduction
  • Capacity Development
  • Evaluation
  • Gender Equality
  • Human Development Reports
  • Human Rights Policy
  • Millennium development Goals

In addition there are Regional Communities of Practice managed by our Regional Centres. All our development communities are moderated, usually with dedicated Facilitators and Research Analysts with expertise in the field.

The knowledge networks have always received high ratings in our annual internal products / services surveys.

MY KM4DEVcolleagues on UNDP's development side can share additional information about our communities as needed.

Cheers, Satish

Brad Hinton, 2009/12/21


These "functional" internal work areas are good places to have CoPs since they are often the areas where staff, outside specific roles in these areas, have the least understanding but need to know.

However, I would imagine that over time many of the answers to the questions and "the solutions" would become routine practice and so I am wondering if "the answers" have actually become embedded in the work practices of staff, and to what degree.

If the same questions get repeated with the same answers, unless there is high staff turnover, then this indicates to me that the CoP has not really evolved into an organisational learning facility and remains in the Q&A space only. Whilst Q&A is fine, repeated questions and answers of the same thing are repetitious and could be improved by embedding this information to work practices. Naturally, refinements can still take place.

Any comments?

Many thanks.



Satish Vangal, 2009/12/21

Dear all,

Thanks to Brad at AusAID for very valid points on the evolution of 'functional' communities such as the ones in internal management at UNDP that I referred to earlier. This seems like a good opportunity to put out some experiences with UNDP's internal management communities and to see what other's experiences are.

It's important to remember that for many of us, particular in large organizations, sound management underpins the delivery of our development services. Our development focused communities of practice can only succeed when the operational machinery is well oiled. And the more we can integrate our management / operational staff with our development work, and acknowledge their contributions, the easier it is to motivate performance across the board.

Conditions that will favour the growth of active Management Communities of Practice

1. COMPLEXITY OF RULES: Complex Policies / Procedures / Guidelines (in the areas of Project Management, HR, Finance, Procurement, etc.) that often have to be tailored to local contexts

2. NEED FOR CLARITY: Regulations / Instructions that do not always provide 100% clarity in all situations

3. GLOBAL PRESENCE: Multiple office locations and the need for prompt guidance in interpreting and applying the rules and regulations

4. INTRODUCTION OF NEW SYSTEMS: A key catalyst can be the introduction of new management systems that necessitate completely new ways of doing business. For UNDP it was the introduction of an integrated ERP system (Enterprise Resource Planning<>).

5. CLIENT FACING MANAGEMENT SERVICES: Some of our client countries have approached UNDP for advice in implementing ERP systems, and in other internal management areas.

Do any of your organizations fit this picture? Is there a divide between Programme and Operations? When the above conditions exist, the launch of a community of practice with simple tools such as an email-based network and a website to capture Q&As emerging from the network will likely lead to an active virtual community with strong potential to add value to operational effectiveness.

UNDP, like any entity in the multilateral or government sector, has complex Policies and Procedures. Given our global presence (offices in 130+ countries), each office is likely to encounter special challenges. UNDP's management communities were launched in connection with a global roll-out of an ERP system (that we refer to internally as ATLAS). Operational staff in all our offices and HQ were connected on 4 simple email groups in LYRIS (The same software that runs DGroups). The traffic was extraordinary. There were dozens and dozens of queries and cries for help on a weekly basis on these networks, and staff began answering each other. In effect, the network became its own first tier Helpdesk that complemented the existing ATLAS Support Centres. There are now 1200-1800 staff on these sub-networks, and 3000+ staff from all backgrounds on the parent Management Practice Network. The networks are an invaluable resource not just to country office staff but also our project staff away from the capital cities.

SAMPLE QUERIES: Problem Solving to Strategic

  • Should our staff take part in protests against wars in other parts of the world?
  • I need an example of a Country Office Resource Mobilization Strategy
  • Can we provide Scholarship payments to officials in government institutions to attend training programmes?
  • Sample MoU between UNDP and UNICEF
  • Do we have long term agreements for procuring computers of brand X?
  • What is the most effective way to process salary payments to remote project staff in conflict-ridden countries?

FROM Q&As to SOUNDING BOARD: Gradually the management networks started to be used as sounding boards for revised policies and procedures. There is now a formal mandate that all new or revised policies and procedures are circulated on the relevant management practice networks in order to obtain feedback from on-the-ground users, particularly in the field. This ensures that our rules and regulations reflect actual needs as much as possible.


  • INFO - Includes corporate announcements, Vacancy Notices
  • Q&A - Questions that usually have one defined answer (where can I find a leave request form; do we have long term agreements for procuring armoured vehicles, etc.)
  • SAMPLE DOCUMENTS - Requests for TORs, sample interview questions
  • EXPERIENCES - Queries where there is no clear guidance; usually requires a Policy Specialist to provide clarity, or the 'best-possible' answer after evaluating experience shared by different offices.
  • COMMENTS - Requests for feedback on Corporate and other Documents / Websites, etc.


  • High volume of questions
  • Genuine problem solving occurs, but so do 'lazy' questions
  • Discovery of informal subject matter experts outside of HQ: The networks have revealed that expertise exists outside of our formal policy specialist structure.
  • Problems not always solved accurately - usually an indication of the need for greater clarity in the regulations
  • A lot of useful material in networks email archives; but also 'noise'
  • 70% of queries have specific answers that should be categorized and stored for easy future retrieval and avoidance of repeat queries. This will then allow a focus on the remaining 30% - the EXPERIENCES questions - that lead to knowledge generation in specific areas based on a diverse set of practices shared by network members.


  • A CULTURE THAT ENCOURAGES QUESTIONS: An open and relatively un-structured environment ensures maximum participation and a collegial 'water-cooler-conversation' approach on the networks.
  • UNMODERATED VS MODERATED: There are arguments for moderated and unmoderated networks; for example our HR communities have tried both approaches. In the absence of 24 hr moderation, it was felt that an un-moderated approach led to the most participation and information and knowledge sharing
  • SYSTEM FROM DAY ONE TO VERIFY, CAPTURE, CATEGORIZE AND DISEMMINATE Q&As and other network exchanges: This was lacking with our communities. A Mediawiki based system is currently being developed to capture network Q&As. The next step is to set up a workflow whereby staff who ask queries are required to categorize then into topics and sub-topics corresponding to our Corporate Policy areas. Our policy specialists can then verify the answers.
  • NEED FOR DEDICATED FACILITATORS: A dedicated facilitator can ensure that an accurate knowledge base is built up over time to help reduce the incidence of repeat questions.

I'll stop there, I look forward to hearing about other management focused communities and their current stages of evolution.

Cheers, Satish