Evolve a CoP
A significant challenge faced by evolving communities is the ability to sustain momentum. There tend to be natural shifts in the CoP’s practice, members, leadership, and technology as the CoP develops. When key members are unavailable, less active members must step in and assume greater responsibility to maintain momentum. For this to occur, it may be necessary to attract new people to the core group. Over time, the community must take steps to maintain energy and may want to implement these strategies to rejuvenate the community:
- Host a renewal workshop.
- Review documents and materials from the CoP’s early existence.
- Target new members from groups that do not yet have strong representation.
- Invite guest speakers or lecturers to talk about their work or innovations in a particular field.1
A Time for Change
Five ‘stages of development’ have been observed in the Communities of Practice life-cycle: Potential, Coalescing, Maturation, Sustaining, and Transformation.1
Communities of Practice: Stages of Development
Image adapted from Wenger, et. al. 2002
In the Potential stage, a problem or project is identified that would best be solved jointly by colleagues from different departments, parts of an organization, or perhaps different organizations. This is a time of imagination and discovery as the ground work is laid for formation of a new CoP. Members discover commonalities and find one another at this time.1, Once the group has formed and the kickoff meeting has occurred, the work of the community will be further refined.
During the Coalescing stage, new ideas incubate, and the CoP’s value is further defined. This is a vital time for group members to come together for a common goal and understanding of the true nature of the work of the CoP. 1,24
During the Potential or Coalescing stage, potential members may also discover that it may not be the right time to launch a new CoP. Developing a successful CoP is a delicate balance of many different factors. Even when careful consideration has been given to key success factors such as leadership, membership, and the domain, a new community simply may not thrive.
When this happens, potential leaders and members should not feel that they have failed. Although research and experience indicate that a community of practice can be an ideal way to produce results, we can also learn from early ventures that some communities simply may not take root and thrive.
Don’t forget to keep your relationships with initial core members alive. By participating in conversations where multiple members interpret the process, you may be able to develop a potential future community. You may want to try interviewing one another or having a findings meeting to discuss what worked well and what would have worked better. Whatever your findings, processing the shared experience can also result in shared knowledge. Each participant may be able to develop a better sense of the whole situation by using a conversational process to simplify and focus on what is important.
In the Maturation stage, the work of the group is undertaken in earnest, the focus of the group is further defined, and the membership is expanded to include new members with the expertise and interest to do the work of the CoP. Members engage in developing a practice and joint activities. Artifacts such as a knowledge repository made up of edited notes on community meetings, data bases, relevant articles, books, cases and other resources are created during this stage.1,24 Roles may change during the maturation stage as old members transition out of the community and new members join the effort. Maintaining and expanding focus are key elements of this stage.
The level of energy and the vitality of the CoP are greatest during the Sustaining stage. The work of the community will be well underway and set milestones will be realized. CoP members will adopt an attitude of openness toward the work of the community and assume ownership for the tasks and projects underway.
During the Transformation stage, the CoP experiences major shifts in its organization and focus. One CoP may break apart and reorganize. Another CoP may undergo a split or merge with another CoP. During transformation, the primary objectives and goals that formed the CoP have been achieved and members may begin to let go and start to remember where the group has been and what has been accomplished.1,24 A CoP might find there are different interests represented and choose to diversify those interests into new and separate CoPs, or may choose to align with another CoP with similar interests. Occasionally, when the work of a CoP has been achieved the group is dissolved. This is a very normal part of the CoP lifecycle.
In essence, the Community of Practice has done its job, and now it is time to move forward. This is the time when members let go and define their legacy. When a CoP has been successful, members often want to continue to be engaged even if the group’s work has been completed. Leaders of the CoP can support members by:
Helping them let go. It is natural to want to hold onto a good thing. Members who feel confident about their achievements and find opportunities to continue relationships and other types of engagement with the domain are likely to be more successful with the transformation process. Encourage your members to explore related professional networks and collaborations.
Facilitating the storytelling process.The storytelling process is useful in the early stages of a community, and it also can be a vital tool in helping members and other stakeholders remember the critical and historical value of a community that is ready to dissolve. Refer to the "Share Success Stories" section to help with this process.
Celebrating and communicating successes. While celebrating successes early and often is encouraged, a final celebration of the CoP’s success is also a valuable idea. You may consider developing a final Success Story to outline the overall accomplishments and contributions of the community. You might also consider having a celebration dinner or on-line awards ceremony. Members should be recognized for the valuable work they have done individually and collectively.
Ensuring that artifacts are preserved. You can help the work of the community live on by maintaining a space where the community artifacts can be housed and ensuring that members have access to those artifacts. Equally important, you can work to ensure that members can maintain their relationships with one another by planning periodic reunions and ensuring that databases are accessible.
The following table provides an overview of resources to increase and maintain momentum within your CoP. Each resource described is located in the Resources section.
Your CoP can start to tell stories from its inception. You can use this Microsoft Word template to structure storytelling activities and as means to gather information and document best practices/lessons learned from the community.
Members of PHIN Communities of Practice (CoPs) who are interested in sharing stories and creating Success Stories
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