How To Build Successful Communities of Practice

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Session: Communities of Practice Facilitators: Kristin & Dirk

What are communities of practice? Where peers share knowledge and get help to do their jobs better.

Exercise: pair up and write down what groups you’ve been in where you got knowledge, whether intentionally or unexpectedly.

What works? A range of thoughts & examples:

  • No central authority
  • Urgency and relevance to people’s life (even their survival)
  • Focused on answering questions
  • Lonely people
  • It may start out social & fun & “stupid” – (example: sharing stickers with pictures of friends getting drunk) – but that turned into genuine support
  • Started as a way of sharing frustration over technology that worked badly, but evolved into real support
  • Safe; respected by the community no matter how simple or naive your question seems
  • Need to know that people share my values
  • Protected domain; I can ask a question and my ignorance isn’t necessarily broadcast to the whole world forever
  • It’s nice if there’s something written that tells new members what to expect – even: how many members there are in the community, whether it’s mediated or not, standard of behavior if any...

Thoughts about online and off-line communities:

  • Often an online community comes spontaneously out of a face-to-face encounter, like a conference or a coding boot camp
  • In some settings users prefer online because of anonymity

Other thoughts and questions:

  • Community is an investment. People must have an incentive. Face-to-face participation can really strengthen that (even: “somebody paid my plane ticket to the meeting place, it must be important!”)
  • How do you establish trust in your community of practice? (“You judge whether the information that you get is any good!”)
  • Is it important that people know who is running the group, how it’s organized, who is there? (“Transparency”) Not necessarily; for example Stack Overflow – many people use it and trust it, even without having any clue about its workings, since the information it gives is so consistently useful.
  • “But how do we FIND our group?”