What is a Community of Practice?
A Community of Practice (CoP) is a community of professionals with a shared practice who learn from each other by sharing information and expertise on an ongoing basis in order to improve that practice. CoPs are a rapidly growing and cost effective strategy for creating systematic change - within organizations and across a field - through professional development and knowledge development and management. CoPs incorporate a variety of tools and formats for learning, including meetings, teleconferences, presentations, emails, listserv, one-on-one "backchannel" conversations, surveys and more. CoPs allow for open channels of communication across organizations, staff positions, divisions, and geographical regions.
Communities of practice help members to overcome knowledge sharing barriers by building an environment of trust and mutual respect. When these elements are present, members are more likely to be open, take risks and be transparent, which, in turn, results in greater and deeper learning. A community facilitator works with members to define shared goals and guidelines for the community in order to create a network of support and encouragement for ongoing professional development and innovation.
CoP Member Benefits
- Solve day to day problems and gain access to useful documents and tools
- Acquire insight and knowledge from colleagues and thought leaders
- Strengthen professional networks and relationships
- Gain emotional support
- Increase efficiency - professionals learn from the mistakes and successes of others
- Gain recognition by peers for good work
- Participate in enhancing the field
CoP Sponsor Benefits
- Ongoing learning / professional development
- Surfaces and diffuses best practices
- Stimulates innovation
- Increase cost effectiveness - knowledge is developed and then re-used by many people
- Increased morale
- Effectively builds adaptive capacity
- Cost effective means to reach large numbers
- Field building and positive externalities
- Long lasting cultural change
Barriers to Knowledge Sharing
- Failure to appreciate the value of sharing knowledge
- Lack of understanding of how to effectively share knowledge
- Lack of incentives or rewards (material or psychic) for knowledge sharing
- People often feel that they are too busy and don't develop a habit of knowledge sharing
- Professionals fear to reveal that they do not know something; they do not want to take risks or be shown wrong because they would feel embarrassed.
- Concern that sharing knowledge will reduce one's own value, prestige or recognition. Competition -- real or perceived -- for limited resources decreases motivation and safety for sharing.
- Lack of clarity on issues of confidentiality can lead to either withholding information that can be helpful or sharing it inappropriately.
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