Sunday, June 08, 2008

In search of germs

On June 2nd, with a group of CoP enthousiasts, we organised a working conference about communities of practice in the Netherlands, which was attended by roughly 75 people. I had the impression not everyone who has experience working with this concept was present, but it's a good start. The start of the day worked well, everyone was handed a quartet card, and had to find the other 3 people to form a quartet. This offered a nice way to start networking, and lateron in the day, we came back to this group to reflect on our experiences. In the picture you see my quartet.

With Sibrenne Wagenaar, I facilitated the 'facilitation circle'. I enjoyed it very much. Though a lot of people are searching for 'how to facilitate a CoP' there were also some people with interesting experiences. The dilemma between 'sturen en loslaten' - 'steering versus let go' appeared to be a key theme for most of the participants. In the afternoon the term 'kiemkracht' - 'germinal force' was coined to represent the seed that you are looking for when you start facilitating. Without germinal force you may start pulling a dead horse and that's not fun!

From my experience I would see the following 4 signals to identify germinal force:

Signal 1: If a group of practitioners are together, conversations flow spontaneously and hardly need any facilitation. The exchange generates energy, it is an endogeneous process.

Signal 2: Different actors have a stake to innovate practices, the actors can be practitioners or sponsors of the CoP or both.

Signal 3: Practitioners are passionate about the domain, and have a personal connection with it, but may be working in relative isolation. One or several persons have a vision that working together may catalyze innovation.

Signal 4: There is already an informal network around the domain of the community, but there is no effort to systematically exchange and generate knowledge. There are possibilities to improve knowledge creation and innovation in practice.

In case of organisational CoPs, you could add a fifth signal:

Signal 5: The domain of the CoP is of strategic importance for the mission of the organisation

Any ideas? Do you need a Yes to all signals in order to invest or are there situations where you can work on a CoP without one of these germinal forces?

If we would use these signals to analyze the germinal force for a community of practice about communities of practice in the netherlands, you can say that signals 1, 3 and 4 are strong, but signal 2 is weak, there isn't really an organisation or actor with a strong interest to innovate CoP practices within the Netherlands.


Dorine Ruter said...

Hi Joitske,
Thanks for listing these signals for 'kiemkracht'.

Personally, I don't think that all signals are required. Signal 2 for example: As a CoP member, I am not always looking to innovate practices. Sometimes I just hope to learn from other, more experienced members (and share my own experience where relevant). Practices that others have been using for ages might be new to me.

Also Signal 5 is not a requirement, I feel. It can sometimes even work against a CoP when the domain is considered to be of strategic importance. In return for 'allowing' staff to spend time on a CoP, management can try and influence the direction in which the CoP is growing. Pushing the CoP to spend energy on goals that are not shared by the CoP members.

This also links to your note at Signal 2, about sponsors having a stake in the innovation of certain practices. Tricky issue, I think!


Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Hi Dorine, nice that you have time to read blogs :).

I do think signal 2 may be important if you want to leverage knowledge creation strategically. Maybe KM4Dev would have been a nice informal group of people exchange on km issues, but because bellanet had the interest and the vision to create the CoP, it has evolved in this way and is a place that new entrants can even find via the web or via their networks.

For informal CoPs it may not be necessary I agree.