Early this week I met Etienne Wenger. The occasion was an informal chat at IFAD with several people also from FAO.
Etienne talked about Communities of Practice. Here are a some notes that I took during the conversation we had.
Genesis of Community of Practice:
There is a tension between being self organized and sustain a CoP to better organize it. There is no substitute for the internal energy of a CoP. There is no substitute for the “relation” itself. A Community starts with a sort of dating. I never thought that someone can START a CoP.
Ways to stimulate CoP:
Create the activities that allow people to understand the kind of relationship they can have among them. Allow people to talk and engage about their practices. Asking for lessons learned is not a great technique!!! It is too vague. Rather, take advantage of every chance to learn from someone else.
Steps to go through:
Every CoP has its own rhythm. A good community is good for the members, not necessarily for you. Domain discipline: what is this CoP about? Community discipline: given this domain, who are the partners? Practice discipline: on the knowledge of some practice, define the size/shape of the domain. Find your rhythm!!!
CoP and Networks:
Nothing can tell us how long a CoP will last. Often CoPs dissolve into Networks. CoP is just a name. You can call them as you like. Technically speaking there is an identity which is based on the “domain”: this produces a learning implication. In a Network, the accountability is only on the “links”.
Role of Facilitation:
The facilitation can help the Core group of a CoP. Facilitation is not a substitute for leadership. CoP without leadership is usually a failure: look for the core group. A bit of support is very useful because lives are very intense and people can be busy. I changed my mind on this point! Anyhow, you have to create value for them: what do they need?
Participants’ imagination is limited: you have to propose them some ideas. Pulling someone is better than to push him/her. Try to set up activities that create a pull for people’s knowledge. Example: a concrete case for which you need a solution. We are talking about very common sense! Make a clear distinction between energizing and de-energizing tasks for community.
Spend your time on strategic conversation about knowledge.
Connect knowledge sharing to one strategic objective of your project.
Most of the times people working for projects are considered focus groups rather than communities.
I have to admit that I agree almost at 100% with what Etienne said!
P.S.: Thanks Roxy and Willem for creating always good occasions to share and discuss.