Erik Johnson from the World Bank sent me the link to the World Bank video of a brown-bag lunch about client communities of practice on October 23 at the World Bank. Since I'm always on the outlook for practical examples, I am very grateful to be able to sit in on a brown bag lunch in the US! I do wonder if it affects the level of exchange, knowing that you will be visible in public on the internet. The participants do not seem to bother much...
The whole exchange is 81 minutes but you can watch separate parts: either the presentation on the Rede Nos project in Brasil (Monica Amorim; 18 minutes) or the presentation by Elena Nikulina on the PEM-PAL program for learning on public expenditure in Eastern Europe that covers 13 countries (10 minutes). Personally, I found the comments by Phil Karp and Erik Johnson more interesting if you want to learn about the process of cultivating the communities.
The community of practice in Brasil focuses on poverty alleviation and social inlusion in Northern Regions in Brasil, and started as a World Bank initiative in 2004 out of a need to develop more practical, low-cost solutions to local economic development. To create a space for people to interact, often working on projects in an isolated way. It uses online discussions (Dgroups), a website, tours, seminars and storytelling as its main learning tools. Phil adds that the value of this community of practice is really on connecting rather than collecting. There seems to be a large demand as people keep on showing up. It has also helped the World Bank to be closer to client needs, small and medium scale enterprise came on the Bank's radar through this community of practice. The mutual learning is very valuable, rather than asking another consultant to do a study.
The community of practice PEM-PAL on public expenditure management regrouping practitioners from 13 countries in Eastern Europe started only this year, and will rather be a constellation of communities of practitioners like treasurers, auditors, etc. The community of treasurers has been launched, and other communities may come up through a rather organic process. The main challenge is that the launch started donor-driven and hence the World Bank will need to make sure that their is sufficient ownership with the community itself. Some of the lessons shared are:
* Working across 13 countries is challenging due to timezones and language variations.
* A good preparation for the launch is key, you have
to get in touch with interested parties and get a sense of their interests.
* For sustainability sake, it's important to show that something happens
after the launch, to show that it's not an one-off event, for instance in
this case the topic of 'single treasury account' seemed a 'hot topic' during the launch and hence
a new event will be organised on this topic.
* Evaluation will need to be different from project evaluation as the results will be harder to define. Stories which understand the impact of the community of practice on inidividual participant's level may be important.
During the question and answer session a participant asked about the cultural sensitivity to the target groups. In the given responses, I found it interesting to hear that there was very little hierarchy in the e-discussion in Brasil. The virtual medium for discussion seemed to work as a leveling mechanism for this group.
Another remark I found highly interesting was about the nature of the community of treasurers. As a 'technocratic' community it gets harder to find their energy. From this response you would guess that the 'culture' of the field of treasurers is more determining for the way knowledge is exchanged and the community will function than the various national cultures involved. (which links back to my earlier post on dealing with differences)