The wealth of communities of practice – pointers to assess networked value?


Building upon the CoP 4L model by Seely Brown, Wenger and Lave (credits: dcleesfo / FlickR)

Building upon a.o. the CoP 4L model by Seely Brown, Wenger and Lave (credits: dcleesfo / FlickR)

The KM4Dev community of practice is going through an intensive action phase, beyond the conversations, as the grant given by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for the period 2012-2013 is leading to a number of interesting activities.

Among them is a learning and monitoring (L&M) plan which really focuses on learning from all other IFAD-funded activities, rather than focusing on monitoring (in the sense of checking delivery of outputs against the plans). And the focus of our L&M plan is about the networked development and value-creation of a community of practice (CoP). How does it fare against governance principles, identity and level of activity, engagement channels and learning / outcomes (which really focus on the most important value creation).

I am involved in the learning and monitoring team and as part of it have started (with support from other L&M team members) developing the table below.

This table offers a suggested selection of ‘learning areas’ that in our eyes matter when working in communities of practice such as KM4Dev.

Learning area Specific issues in this area Description
Governance Transparency Systematic sharing of and accessibility of results of conversations, decisions, initiatives, reification (see below) activities etc. also including the selection process for core group members
Vision, values and principles Development, existence, clarity, understanding and acceptance of general vision, principles and values for the  community of practice by and for its members / normally this is not really a ‘learning’ area but if it isn’t in place it becomes one.
Leadership Demonstrated (and particularly accepted) leadership of the core group and occasionally others by other members of the KM4Dev community. Is there any dissonance between the two groups?
Mobilisation and commitment See below. This is also mentioned under governance as people involved in the CoP governance have to mobilise resources and commit themselves to activities in a specific way
Identity and activity Diversity and expansion Profile of members of the community and the core group (language, region, type of organisation etc.); Growth and expansion (frequency of new members, how etc.) and ties with external networks
Conversation Frequency and quality of conversations around the domain (knowledge management for development) or the community (KM4Dev)
Reification Tendency (quality and frequency) of the community to ‘reify’ conversations into tangible outputs e.g. blog post, wiki entry, journal article etc. Also has a bearing on learning and outcomes
Mobilisation and commitment Capacity of core group members and other KM4Dev members to mobilise themselves and commit to activities (which activities? to what extent/degree of involvement?) and indeed deliver according to the plan and with strong learning. This also has bearing on the governance
Participation Degree of participation of different members to conversations and other activities
Reflection Evidence of social learning, development and sharing of new insights as part of activities (and results – this has bearing on learning/outcomes)
Cohesion Evidence that the relationship between members of the community is good and that everyone finds their place in the community while feeling they are part of a whole
(Learning and) Outcomes Reification / outputs See above. Production of outputs (quality/frequency?) – planned or spontaneous
Reflection / changed thinking and discourse See above. Evidence that reflections from the KM4Dev community have achieved change in thinking and/or discourse among others e.g. citations, semantic analysis.
Inspiration / changed behaviour Evidence of change as a new way to proceed, inspired by KM4Dev activities
Innovation / changed artefact or approach Evidence of KM4Dev influencing development of a new artefact or method, codified concretely
Impact Evidence of larger changes (in autonomy of decision and well-being related to livelihood) where KM4Dev activities have inspired/influenced others within community and particularly beyond. Caveat: attribution.
KM4dev engagement channels Suitability for participation The different KM4Dev channels (mailing list, wiki, ning community), annual meetings) foster dialogue and engagement, and learning
Ease of use / Availability of KM4Dev outputs The different channels are easy to use and complement each other. They make KM4Dev activity outputs visible, and available.
Identity Governance of Km4dev is clear in all engagement channels

This table and the plan which we highlighted triggered a very rich discussion in the KM4Dev core group over the  past couple of weeks. This conversation was meant to provide some initial reactions before opening it more widely with the entire community. As we are about to embark on a much wider and open consultation process with the rest of the community, I thought it might be useful to post this here and see if any of you has any suggestion or feedback on these learning areas…

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2 thoughts on “The wealth of communities of practice – pointers to assess networked value?

  1. Hello Brian,

    Thanks for the recording link and for your useful summary. You are right, activity measures do not matter as much. But in KM4Dev we are at the beginning of some more formal way to assess how the community develops (aside from our ‘gut feeling’ discussions) and in this respect it is great to learn a bit more about the activity, governance, identity etc. as well, as it drives engagement and results and how we might want to proceed to achieve better results later.
    As for the critical comment of that panelist, I would love to hear in which context this applied and what exactly he was reacting to. I also see the limitations of ‘measuring’, but ‘assessing’ (through stories and reflections) is in my view a very powerful way to understand how (informal) learning can help achieve better results. It’s a bit like ‘impact assessment’: it’s probably impossible, it can be used terribly wrong, but we need to get a better understanding of the boundaries of our work and of its relation to impact…

    Thanks again for your conversational comments!

  2. Dear Ewen,

    thanks for posting this material. On 9 May I particpated in a webinar on the subject of the role of social media in learning and development (on-demand recording available here: http://www.trainingindustry.com/webinars/webinars-on-demand.aspx). One of the subjects discussed was the measurement, with the consensus that activity measures were not as important as goal attainment. There was even a suggestion from one of the panelists that there was no utility in trying to measure the impact of informal learning.

    My summary of the key points is here: http://buridansblog.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/social-medias-role-in-learning-and-development-key-takeaways/

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