Communities of practice have become an accepted part of organizational development. One should pay attention to domain, membership, norms and rules, structure and process, flow of energy, results, resources, and values.
Olivier SerratIndependent Researcher um Georgetown University, Washington DC
1. The views expressed in this presentation are the views of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian
Development Bank, or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included
in this presentation and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. The countries listed in this presentation do not imply any
view on ADB's part as to sovereignty or independent status or necessarily conform to ADB's terminology.
A Guide to Communities of
2. Define:Community of Practice
Communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for
something they know how to do and who interact regularly to learn
how to do it better. They enhance learning and empower people in
their work. They have become an accepted part of organizational
Across the public, private, and third sectors, a major challenge is how
to tap and share tacit knowledge.
To fructify tacit knowledge, learning organizations build CoPs, leverage
them with effect, and link them to networks of practice.
The simple act of joining and being regularly involved in organized
groups has a very significant impact on individual health and well-
3. The Value of Communities of
Short-Term Value: Members
• Help with challenges
• Access to expertise
• Fun with colleagues
• Meaningful work
Short-Term Value: Organization
• Problem solving
• Time saving
• Knowledge sharing
• Synergies across units
• Reuse of resources
Long-Term Value: Members
• Personal development
• Professional identity
• Collaborative advantage
Long-Term Value: Organization
• Strategic capabilities
• Keeping abreast
• Retention of talents
• New strategies
4. Basic Structure of Communities of
The core group manages the CoP based
on an agreed coordination mandate. It
provides secretarial support as
The inner circle serves as a steering
committee with an informal
structure, meeting once or twice a
year. (Individual members may
contact the core group on demand.
The outer circle embraces
contributors, and readers in a
6. Functions of Communities of
• Organizing and managing information that is
worth paying attention to
• Taking new, little-known, or little-understood
ideas, giving them weight, and making them
more widely understood
• Offering a means to give members the resources
they need to carry out their main activities
• Bringing together different, distinct people or
groups of people
• Promoting and sustaining collective values and
• Helping members carry out their activities more
efficiently and effectively
7. Elements of Communities of
The balance of formal and informal relationships. Hierarchy is not
an important element to CoPs. Most CoPs crosslink organizational
units and organizations.
Domain The definition of the area of shared inquiry (thematic orientation)
and of the key issues that relate to it.
The relationships among active members and the sense of
belonging that these give them.
The priority that a host ascribes to the CoP, with resource
implications. It defines the sector or thematic focus and expected
results. It opens space for self-commitment by members.
The personal interest and priority that members assign to the CoP
in their daily work.
The body of information and knowledge, e.g., methods, stories,
cases, tools, documents, and associated know-how. Each member
has a practice in the domain, which other members recognize.
8. Starting a Community of Practice
Set the Strategic Context
A strategic context lets a CoP find a
legitimate place in a host.
Identify critical development
Articulate a strategic value
Enunciate the need to leverage
CoPs are a familiar experience, but staff
members need to understand how the
new CoP fits in their work.
Conduct workshops to educate
management and potential
members about the CoP's approach.
Help staff members appreciate how
CoPs are inherently self-defined and
Establish a language that legitimizes
the CoP and establishes its place in
9. Starting a Community of Practice
Cultivate the CoP quickly to create early
examples that allow staff members to
learn by doing.
Gather the core group to initiate the
Interview prospective members to
understand issues, discuss the
community, and identify leaders.
Identify areas where there is
readiness and potential.
Help members organize initial value-
adding activities and get pilots going.
Encourage members to steward
A host must have structures and
processes to include the CoP, while
respecting its roots in personal passion
Integrate the CoP in the business
processes of the host.
Identify and work to remove
Align key structural and cultural
10. Starting a Community of Practice
CoPs can use light-handed guidance and
Identify needs and define adequate
infrastructure without undue
reliance on complex technology.
Provide process support, coaching,
and logistic assistance.
Practitioners usually see the value of
working as a community but may feel
the host is not aligned with their
Value the work of the CoP.
12. Critical Success Factors
• A domain that energizes the core group and inner
• Skillful and reputable managers and facilitators
• Involvement of members
• The details of practice are addressed
• Right rhythm and mix of activities
• Clearly delineated function
• Capacities, skills, resources, and systems match function
• Strategic relevance of the domain
• Management sponsorship (without micro-
• Judicious mix of formal and informal structures
• Adequate resources
• Consistent attitude
13. Passing the Fitness Test
• Is the area of shared inquiry, the key issues that relate to it, and the
function of the CoP strategically relevant to the host?
• Are the topics of interest to all members?
• Do all members have their own practice in the domain?
• Is the relevant experience on board?
• Is the heterogeneity of the members assured?
• Is the CoP open to new members and advertised as such?
• Are roles and accountabilities defined in a common agreement?
• Are both distant contacts and face-to-face meetings possible?
• What is the balance between giving and taking among members?
Norms and Rules
14. Passing the Fitness Test
• Is the chosen structure clear and flexible enough?
• Are key roles in the core group defined, e.g., manager, facilitator, and
• Is the step-by-step work planning process open and transparent?
Structure and Process
• Do members care about common interests, commitment, and trust?
• Are there regular face-to-face events? Are social moments celebrated?
• Is the history of the CoP alive and shared with new members?
Flow of Energy
• Is delivering and reporting on tangible results a common concern?
• Do members draw direct and practical benefits from their involvement?
• Are results officially recognized by the host?
15. Passing the Fitness Test
• Do members have sufficient time for the CoP?
• Is the host willing to provide time, space, and incentives?
• Is CoP facilitation attractive and stimulating?
• Is listening to others a cardinal virtue?
• Are members willing to give without immediate return?
• Is diversity in thinking and practice validated?
17. Asking, Learning, and Sharing
I ask questions.
Inquiring minds are
We check first to
see what already
One of Us
We share experience,
learning to make
We connect and
We review lessons
as we go and apply
I share personal
details, roles, and
18. Further Reading
• ADB. 2008. Building Communities of Practice. Manila.
• ——. 2009. Building Networks of Practice. Manila.
• ——. 2008. Creating and Running Partnerships. Manila.
• ——. 2009. Learning in Strategic Alliances. Manila.
• ——. 2011. Survey of ADB-Hosted Communities of Practice.
19. Further Reading
• ADB. 2011. Surveying Communities of Practice. Manila.
• ——. 2011. ADB Resources for Communities of Practice:
Creating Value through Knowledge Networks. Manila.
• ——. 2011. Timeline of ADB-Hosted Communities of Practice.
• ——. 2011. Communities of Practice 101. Manila.
20. Further Reading
• ADB. 2011. ADB-Hosted Communities of Practice—Driving
Knowledge Activities. Manila. www.adb.org/publications/adb-
• ——. 2011. Empowering ADB-Hosted Communities of
Practice. Manila. www.adb.org/publications/empowering-
• ——. 2012. Communities of Practice: Passing the Fitness Test.
• ——. 2012. Communities of Practice: Passing the Fitness Test.
• ADB. 2011. Communities of Practice in ADB. Manila.
• ——. 2011. What CoPs Do. Manila. vimeo.com/91600020
• ——. 2011. The Empowerment of ADB-Hosted Communities of
Practice. Manila. vimeo.com/92214511
• ——. 2013. Developing Capacities through Communities of
Practice. Manila. vimeo.com/92118760