Com­mu­ni­ties of Prac­tice as KM Tool

Lave and Wenger first in­tro­duced the con­cept of a Com­mu­nity of Prac­tice (COP) in 1991. They saw the ac­qui­si­tion of knowl­edge as a so­cial process where peo­ple can par­tic­i­pate in com­mu­nal learn­ing at dif­fer­ent lev­els, de­pend­ing on their level of au­thor­ity o

Insurance - - FEATURE - by Dr Ida Yasin Se­nior Man­ager Malaysia Pro­duc­tiv­ity Cor­po­ra­tion (MPC) The au­thor can be con­tacted at

COPs be­came one of the cen­tral fo­cuses of knowl­edge man­age­ment af­ter their first book on COPs, “Com­mu­ni­ties of Prac­tice – Learn­ing, Mean­ing, and Iden­tity,” was pub­lished in 1998. Since then, COPs have played an im­por­tant role in the con­text of Knowl­edge Man­age­ment (KM), es­pe­cially for shar­ing com­mon knowl­edge be­yond for­mal di­vi­sions/de­part­ments and, in­deed, as a tool to break down the bar­ri­ers to knowl­edge flow across or­gan­i­sa­tions. Def­i­ni­tion: COPs are groups of peo­ple who share a con­cern or a pas­sion for some­thing they do, and learn how to do it bet­ter as they in­ter­act reg­u­larly. In the con­text of KM, COPs are formed — in­ten­tion­ally or spon­ta­neously — to share and cre­ate com­mon skills, knowl­edge and ex­per­tise among em­ploy­ees. Char­ac­ter­is­tics: COPs can ex­ist in a di­vi­sion or depart­ment in an or­gan­i­sa­tion, across de­part­ments in an or­gan­i­sa­tion, or be­yond bound­aries of mul­ti­ple or­gan­i­sa­tions, de­pend­ing upon its ob­jec­tive. COPs are usu­ally for shar­ing and de­vel­op­ing com­mon skills, knowl­edge and ex­per­tise, such as a group of ac­tu­ar­ists work­ing on sim­i­lar prob­lems, a net­work of ad­justers, insurance agents and so on, ex­plor­ing novel tech­niques, or a gath­er­ing of first-time man­agers help­ing each other. There are also some COPs that fo­cus on gen­er­at­ing new knowl­edge and in­no­va­tion. The size of COPs varies from two to three peo­ple to thou­sands of peo­ple, and mem­bers of ex­per­tise could be ei­ther ho­mo­ge­neous or het­ero­ge­neous. For ex­am­ple, a Com­mu­nity of Prac­tice (COP) for ef­fec­tive/ef­fi­cient prob­lem solv­ing on a cer­tain tech­no­log­i­cal do­main would have ad­justers in the same area, whereas a COP for im­prov­ing qual­ity of a cer­tain prod­uct and ser­vicers would have mem­bers from var­i­ous ar­eas, such as claims, risk man­age­ment and un­der­writ­ing staff.

The fol­low­ing three el­e­ments are cru­cial when one de­signs COPs. • The Do­main: A COP is not merely a club of friends or a net­work of con­nec­tions be­tween peo­ple. It has an iden­tity de­fined by a shared do­main of in­ter­est. Mem­ber­ship there­fore, im­plies a com­mit­ment to the do­main and, there­fore, a shared com­pe­tence that dis­tin­guishes mem­bers from other peo­ple. The do­main is not nec­es­sar­ily some­thing recog­nised as "ex­per­tise" out­side the com­mu­nity. They value their col­lec­tive com­pe­tence and learn from each other, even though few peo­ple out­side the group may value or even recog­nise their ex­per­tise.

• The Com­mu­nity: In pur­su­ing their in­ter­est in their do­main, mem­bers en­gage in joint ac­tiv­i­ties and dis­cus­sions, help each other and share in­for­ma­tion. A plat­form that en­ables such ac­tiv­i­ties is es­sen­tial for a COP. It is based upon a re­la­tion­ship of trust be­tween mem­bers that en­cour­ages fre­quent in­ter­ac­tions to share and de­velop com­mon knowl­edge. • The Prac­tice: COPs are not merely a com­mu­nity of in­ter­est — they could be peo­ple that like cer­tain kinds of movies, for in­stance. Mem­bers of a COP are prac­ti­tion­ers. They de­velop a shared reper­toire of re­sources: ex­pe­ri­ences, sto­ries, tools, ways of ad­dress­ing re­cur­ring prob­lems — in short, a shared prac­tice. This takes time and sus­tained in­ter­ac­tion. It is the com­bi­na­tion of th­ese three el­e­ments that con­sti­tutes a COP. And it is by de­vel­op­ing th­ese three el­e­ments in par­al­lel that one cul­ti­vates such a com­mu­nity. COPs can be ei­ther non-IT or IT-based, de­pend­ing on ge­og­ra­phy con­sid­er­a­tions of the mem­bers.

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