|SAP Design Guild Edition on Collaboration|
|Knowledge Sharing in Practice|
|Locating and Linking Experts – A Knowledge Management Approach at Aventis Pharma|
|Characterizing the Virtual Community|
|Etienne Wenger's Homepage|
|William Snyder's Homepage|
|Richard McDermott's Homepage|
By Christine Wiegand, SAP User Experience, SAP AG – September 28, 2004
This review takes a personal look at the book Cultivating Communities of Practice – A Guide to Managing Knowledge by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder.
Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, & William M. Snyder
|Etienne Wenger is a thought leader and consultant in the field
of learning systems. He is the author and co-author of seminal books on
communities of practice, including Situated Learning, where the
term was coined, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity,
where he lays out a theory of learning based on the concept, and Cultivating
Communities of Practice, addressed to practitioners in organizations
who want to base their knowledge strategy on communities of practice.
(From Website www.ewenger.com)
|William Snyder is a co-founder of the Social Capital Group, a
research-consulting group that helps civic organizations and businesses
create community-based knowledge strategies to achieve social and economic
outcomes. Recent public-sector work includes research and consulting on
several civic learning networks on topics such as healthy families, workforce
development, and safe cities. Recent publications include Communities
of Practice: The Organizational Frontier and Cultivating Communities
of Practice: A Practical Guide to Managing Knowledge.
(From Website guerillakm.org; his own Website www.socialcapital.com is currently under construction)
|Richard McDermott has been designing knowledge-intensive organizations
for nearly two decades, working with engineering, professional service,
sales, and manufacturing. He was recently the subject matter expert for
a national study on how to create a culture that encourages knowledge sharing
and is currently subject matter expert for a similar study of communities
(From Website www.mcdermottconsulting.com/about.shtml)
The field of knowledge management had gone through a first wave of focusing on technology. A second wave dealt with issues of behavior, culture, and tacit knowledge, but mostly in the abstract. A third wave is now discovering that communities of practice (CoP) are a practical way to frame the task of managing knowledge. They provide a concrete organizational infrastructure for realizing the dream of a learning organization.
The number of companies launching initiatives on communities of practice is increasing rapidly and the authors wanted to write a guide for practitioners, built on actual examples that described how communities of practice could be made an explicit part of how organizations work. The authors are basing their knowledge initiatives on existing communities of practice, including Microsoft, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Shell, HP, etc.
Etienne's earlier book on communities of practice was targeted at an academic audience. Cultivating Communities of Practice is targeted at:
The authors start with the conceptual foundations of communities of practice (Cop), what Cops are, and why they are appropriate social structures suitable for developing and sharing knowledge in the organization (chapter 1).
Chapter 2 examines the structural elements of Cops:
The three elements provide a practical model to guide community development. This model is used as a guiding principle throughout the book.
Although Cops develop naturally, an appropriate amount of design can be a powerful engine for their evolution, helping members to identify the knowledge, events, roles, and activities that will catalyze the community's growth. Therefore, the authors have derived seven principles for cultivating communities of practice:
In chapter 3, the authors explain these principles. (You can also find them on the Web.)
Chapters 4 and 5 specify the five stages of community development (see also figure 1):
Figure 1: Stages of community development (adapted from the book)
The authors discuss the key issues related to each of the structural elements of Cops– domain, community, and practice. For each stage, they offer a "typical work plan," that is, a number of activities that help communities move through the stages, for example interview potential members during the "potential" stage. They also define the key functions of a community coordinator and the community librarian role.
In chapter 6, the authors consider the special case of (geographically) distributed communities. They explain the key issues (distance, size, affiliation, culture), (again) the three elements – domain, community, and practice in global communities and the key development activities.
In chapter 7, they take a look at the potential downsides of communities of practice. They describe some common disorders that arise from dysfunctional behaviors in any of the three structural elements and propose some treatments for the domain, community, and practice disorders. Unfortunately, some of these countermeasures stay on a very abstract level and may still not help to solve the problems.
Then they turn to the challenges of measurement and management (chapter 8). Measures of communities' value are instrumental for communities to gain visibility and influence, and to evaluate and guide their own development. This chapter proposes systematic anecdotal evidence. As communities cannot be measured and managed in conventional ways, it is best to assess the value of a Cop by collecting stories that explain how knowledge resources are produced and applied. The authors also provide a five-step approach for developing a measurement system.
Chapter 9 provides the strategy to design community-based knowledge initiatives. It describes the design principles for a community-based knowledge initiative and the phases it goes through.
Finally, in chapter 10 the authors deal with the broader potential of Cops for organizing knowledge beyond single organizations and in society more generally.
Throughout the book, the authors substantiate their models, methods and tips using real-life examples of communities of practice. (I was not aware of the fact that so many companies cultivate Cops)
This book can be used in a cookbook manner and also provides the reader with the necessary background information on communities of practice. Regrettably, its layout makes it hard to scan the book and the proposed steps and tips quickly – I assume most of the practitioners have too little time to read Cultivating Communities of Practice from the beginning to the end.
Particularly, the "how to" parts of the book could be made more visible in terms of the layout to facilitate easier scanning. Short step-by-step instructions or checklists at the end of the respective chapters or in an appendix would have been a great addition to the book and of much value for practitioners.
If you already know what Cops are, the stakeholders are already convinced, and you can start building a Cop right away, then chapter 3 – the seven principles for cultivation Cops– as well as chapters 4 and 5 – the stages and activities proposed – would be of most interest for you.
On the whole, the book contains the necessary methods, concepts, and tools to set up Cops in your own organization.