Communities of Practice

A Community of Practice is an excellent collaboration and networking process.  They are made up of a network of subject matter experts; typically scientists, academics and practitioners in rural industries and communities who collaborate, share knowledge and research, create ideas, and produce solutions together.

A Community of Practice (CoP) interacts amongst themselves as members and can also aim to interact with identified users/audiences (Communities of Interest (CoI)).  The interaction between a Community of Practice and a Community of Interest forms a ‘Learning Network’.  The concept is based on the vision:

‘Together we can achieve more’

The process formalises and focusses professional networks, who operate under an agreement to achieve outcomes

Why it is necessary?

The agriculture sector in Australia faces a variety of opportunities and challenges. Working together to do things better is one way to help our farmers, service providers and their communities, share information and knowledge amongst others facing the same opportunities and issues.

Cutting edge research and development, with the potential to improve farming businesses and rural communities across Australia; needs to be sourced, curated and made accessible in the simplest and most effective manner; to reduce duplication, effectively harness the wisdom and knowledge of the crowd and target the communication to where information is needed; to the decision makers. Effective professionals relationships are key.

Key benefits of the approach include, it can:

  • More effectively leverage the knowledge and wisdom of the crowd
  • Bring previously developed knowledge and information to light at the right times
  • Reduce duplication of effort
  • Increase efficiency
  • Allow what can be a limited number of industry expects to widely discuss and spread their knowledge
  • Produce creative solutions to complex problems through group interaction and collaboration
  • Maximise outcomes from resources and resource investment
  • Enable a far quicker identification of knowledge and faster response times
  • Build focussed and effective networks of subject matter experts
Successful Communities of Practice stay targeted and outcome focussed

What makes Communities of Practice (CoP) Successful?

Successful Communities of Practice have these characteristics:

  • Have a purpose, agree on a focus and target audience
  • Find “expert” champions and develop a shared vision with them
  • Develop key strategic alliances and have synergy with CoP member’s work programs (help achieve their needed outcomes)
  • As new CoP members join, they do something early with them, take action
  • The follow up, do what they say they are going to and thank and acknowledge people who help
  • Members have a real interest in their subject matter area
  • Members genuinely care about the well-being and success of each other and their end users
  • Members like extending their networks, and making new useful contacts
  • Members enjoy helping end users (CoI) together with their peers and celebrate success
  • Members actively reach out to their CoP and CoP members

Steps to Forming a Community of Practice (CoP)

During the start-up phase of a CoP, there is a focus on establishing CoP leadership groups, developing initial scopes of work (developing a focus) and forming a CoP membership base.

These steps can be used as a guide and modified to suit individual situations.

  1. Brief and get agreement from the key organisations/people that need to commit to supporting and providing CoP management, agree on the objectives for forming the CoP
  2. Brief and appoint a CoP manager(s) and then CoP leader(s) (Key influencers and or people who will carry out key roles)
  3. Have an initial face to face or virtual meeting for potential leadership team members to provide additional information and seek commitment to the CoP leadership team
  4. Have a workshop to introduce the leadership team to each other and workshop an initial scope of work.  Which may involve at least one and ideally several, face to face meetings per year.  Some face to face interaction works best for building and maintaining relationships.  These meeting generally involve some needs analysis and goal settingA 90-day plan is a good approach to getting early action and the Community enjoying achieving early outcomes
  5. Develop draft terms of reference, codes of conduct and/or a legal agreement under with the CoP will be able to collaborate and communicate in real time
  6. Identify roles and responsibilities and key actions that can get early results.  Continually review and update a scope of work
  7. A Program Logic approach works well

Roles and Responsibilities

Leadership Team
The CoP Leadership Group is responsible for the leadership and being a key point of reference for their Community of Practice.  It facilitates, mentors and sustains the CoP.

CoP Manager
Leads/facilitates the group and is the key point of contact for the CoP.

CoP Member
Collectively identify issues and opportunities for the CoP and contribute to outcomes.  They network across jurisdictional and geographic boundaries and participate in a continuous improvement process for the CoP.

Keeping Communities of Practice Relevant and Engaged

This video from a long stand Community of Practice gives a good overview.