Thursday, December 07, 2006

Communities of practice during the Global Development Learning Forum

Erik Johnson facilitated a session on communities of practice during the Global Development Learning Forum in Washington. Even though I was invited, I couldn't make it.

So I decided to interview Erik:

1. What was the objective of your session on CoPs, facilitated with Paul Starkey, during the GDLN World Forum?
Paul and I were aiming to stimulate some thinking as to how GDLN-affiliated Distance Learning Centers (DLCs) could use CoPs as a part of their work. The idea was that they could either support them as a part of their learning activities, or perhaps even provide technical assistance in supporting CoP work. So, we presented the participants with some of the concepts behind CoPs and networks, lessons from previous experience and some examples.

2. How many people attended it, and what was their background?
We had two separate sessions, but with pretty modest participation. There were several parallel sessions with tough competition. But as a result of the small group size, we had very lively discussions. I believe we had maybe 12 people in all. They were mostly the staff of DLCs from places such as Afghanistan, Japan and Peru, as well as a couple of World Bank staff and representatives of the British Council.

3. What were the most compelling questions by the participants?
As expected, many of the questions focused on ways in which CoPs could help distance learning centers to be sustainable. The whole Forum was aimed at providing GDLN affiliates with ideas on how to run successful distance learning centers. So, it was interesting to discuss the "communities" of people that some of the centers were serving such as small business entrepreneurs (in Peru) and development partners in Afghanistan. Instead of thinking of clients as "target audiences", we discussed them as "communities". In this way, we focused on how to motivate learning in these groups. Since the term "audience" implies one-way communication, the multidimensional interaction which takes place in communities/networks is something very different to support. The participants seemed quite interested in exploring this.

4. Why do you think CoPs are important for development?
Human capacity is the one essential ingredient to development. I don't think that we would talk about something called development unless we were interested in developing ourselves, in living healthier, more prosperous lives. CoPs are a potent tool for us to develop our skills and competencies, to feel better about our jobs. They are entities that we have been making use of all of our professional lives, but now that we have begun to examine them and try to enhance their effectiveness, they will increasingly become important development tools. It's easy to get hung up on terminology like the difference between a CoP and a network, but in the end, these are structures which allow us to learn from each other. And with this learning comes better development programs, policies and... yes, practices.

Thank you, Erik!

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