Brad Hinton wrote a paper about his experiences with communities of practice at the Rabobank Australia. You can download the paper here.
He explains that knowledge and information transfer have become important ingredients for an organization's competitive advantage. Learning organizations look at enabling and encouraging knowledge (creation) and its use throughout the organization. Communities of practice can be an important component of a knowledge management strategy. People in communities share their experiences and knowledge in a free-flowing, creative way.
The Rabobank Australia and New Zealand wanted to leverage the knowledge of the rural account managers and financial officers, with better information provision and business solutions to clients as the desired outcome. They started communities of practice under the name 'pubs'. The pubs are dairy product based eg. beef, cotton, dairy, oilseeds etc. The first pub was created opportunistically, after a Roundtable event. Unfortunately the pub was not successful because there was insufficient input into its development.
Then more research was undertaken into the knowledge management and communities of practice literature and also into the information use patterns of the relationship managers. Preferred communication methods were interpersonal, and e-mail.
A group e-mail system was then chosen over more sophisticated technological options because of its ease of use and familiarity to facilitate early adoption and activity. Some key success factors included personal visits to explain the concept of communities of practice. The name pub generated also a lot of interest. The 'pubs' now provide a vehicle for ideas and discussions that can lead to innovation and improved work performance. Benefits have been helping staff to work smarter, encourage thought and put that into action by helping clients.
I liked the approach of going for simple technology. That's what I usually do too, a short inventory of what people use and then choose the best, most familiar option. What I noticed though is that when organizations have invested in an online forum, the urge to use that forum is quite big, and group e-mail is no longer an option. Maybe this is an option to bring back into focus, even when there is a 'more sophisticated' forum? And how to combine a toolset? And how to stimulate people who are used to other forums and may feel the simple technology is not appealing? I would be interested to know more about the facilitation of the later pubs. Brad states that the first failed because of little facilitation, but what kind of facilitation was offered to the later pubs?