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Communities of practice for knowledge sharing and innovation at KMWorld 2023

Communities of practice (CoP) has become an increasingly crucial aspect of proprietary KM; placing people at its center, CoPs play several roles, ranging from hosting forums for educating members through senior staff knowledge to developing technical procedures and innovations, managing mentor relationships, sponsoring discussions on technical issues, building relationships, and more.

Stan Garfield, author of five KM books and founder of SIKM Leaders Community led KMWorld 2023’s workshop, “Communities of Practice for Knowledge Sharing & Innovation,” discussing community fundamentals and foundations that invite successful CoPs that emphasize community culture, management, goals, and measurements.

CoPs and the commonplace of virtual and remote working worlds are innately intertwined. As the workplace has become increasingly digital, successful iterations of these environments will thrive on thoughtful exchange, known colloquially as “working out loud.” Adapting the practice of sharing ideas and perspectives to the virtual workplace is crucial, where new CoP strategies will inevitably be the catalyst for a prosperous, remote enterprise. 

Garfield defined CoP as a group of people, further adding that “a community is not a thing, not a website, not a tool, not some sort of amorphous concept.” Rather, it’s people who “choose to come together to deepen their understanding of some subject, they want to ask and answer questions of one another and share ideas,” said Garfield.

A great community, however, is more than just a group of people; it centers around a compelling topic with a critical mass of members (at least 100 people) that organizes regular events and active online discussions, spearheaded by a committed leader.

CoPs should maintain a distinct vision for their success, Garfield explained. These visions should be guided by timely replies, user-friendly processes, positive feedback (likes, thanks, comments, praise), all centralized within a single, informative platform.

While not a technology by itself, there are several tools that may aid in the cultivation of CoPs. Information sites that provide information about the community program, a community’s directory, a request form for new communities, or a community site template for a rapid, streamlined startup of new communities are tools that can enable CoPs to succeed.

Garfield then dived into the ten principles that define CoPs, which include:

  1. Communities should be independent of organizational structure.
  2. Communities are different from organizations and teams, they are based on topics, not on assignments.
  3. Communities are not sites, team spaces, blogs, or wikis, they are people who choose to interact.
  4. Community leadership and membership should be voluntary.
  5. Communities should span boundaries, crossing functions, organizations, and geographic locations.
  6. Minimize redundancy in communities, where before creating a new one, check if an existing community already addresses the topic.
  7. Communities need a critical mass of members where steps are taken to actively build membership.
  8. Communities should start with as broad a scope as is reasonable.
  9. Communities need to be actively nurtured.
  10. Communities can be created, led, and supported using TARGETs: Types, Activities, Requirements, Goals, Expectations, Tools,

Garfield particularly noted the criticality of passionate, involved CoP leaders, explaining that “I’ve been in communities that still exist and those that have died, and the key difference is in whether they have active leaders or ones that gradually fade away.”

Leaders can leverage TARGETs to produce a successful and active CoP, according to Garfield. He explained each facet of TARGET:

  • Types (topic, role, audience, industry, union, location) can be used for describing communities, creating a community directory, and helping users readily navigate to the communities which interest them.
  • Activities (subscription, posting, attending events, contribution, engagement) should be used to explain to community members what it means to be a member of a community and how they should participate.
  • Requirements (subject relevance, members interested, ongoing interactions, presence of leaders, overall enthusiasm) should be used to decide if a community should be created and if it is likely to succeed.
  • Goals (participation, anecdotes, tools, coverage, health) should be set for communities, and progress for those goals should be measured and reported.
  • Expectations (scheduling, hosting, answering questions, posting, expanding reach) should be set for community leaders to define their role and ensure that communities are nurtured.
  • Tools (website, calendar, events, news, and threads) should support member interaction.

Convincing people that a CoP would be beneficial is a hurdle that KMers will likely encounter in their KM journeys. Garfield explained that demonstrating the use case and emphasizing its utility is the best way to secure CoP buy-in. Use cases can range from sharing ideas and lessons learned to generating innovation through brainstorming, reusing solutions, collaborating in threaded discussions, and learning from other members in the community.

“If you can think of use cases that are unique for your company that enable people to do something better than the way they did it before, use that as your pitch,” said Garfield.

CoPs can also benefit from community program managers who ensure that the community is active, responsive, and engaging.

Garfield offered ten tips for community managers to ensure that their value is maximized:

  1. Carefully choose the community topic
  2. Publicize the community
  3. Increase membership
  4. Post and reply to community members
  5. Use newsletters, blogs, and wikis
  6. Schedule and host events
  7. Provide useful content
  8. Tell members how they should participate
  9. Set goals and measure progress
  10. Solicit, find, and publicize success stories

KMWorld returned to the J.W. Marriott in Washington D.C. on November 6-9, with pre-conference workshops held on November 6.

KMWorld 2023 is a part of a unique program of five co-located conferences, which also includes Enterprise Search & Discovery, Enterprise AI World, Taxonomy Boot Camp, and Text Analytics Forum.

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