Evolve a CoP
Share Success Stories
Storytelling is an excellent way to capture historical knowledge and build a repository of the accumulated wisdom of members. As a community storyteller, consider questions such as:
- What motivated you to join the Community of Practice?
- What has been a highlight of your experience?
- What challenges have you faced?
By relating these experiences in a story, community member listeners are engaged in your experiences. You are able to create a bridge that supports learning through social interaction. It is not just the story itself, but the process of crafting a narrative, individually or collectively, that creates that bridge. This will help other members relate to your situation and understand your perspective. Storytelling creates feelings of trust, openness, belonging, and commitment to others in the community.
Storytelling also conveys some of the most critical knowledge that often gets missed in typical documentation of processes and problem-solving techniques. While work products are concrete outcomes of a community’s practice, the understanding of how a community got to that end is often detached from a technical description of the process. Stories allow members to articulate intricacies of a collaborative work process that are often obscured or ignored by traditional documentation methods. By creating and exchanging stories both within and outside of the community, members can extract a history and a coherent account of what has happened––either alone or together.
Storytelling can take place at the beginning of a project to help focus a group and give direction.1 A story can also help people prepare for what lies ahead––perhaps a change in requirements or regulations. It can, in principle, take listeners from where they are now to where they need to be, by getting them familiar and comfortable with the future in their minds.
The deliberate and effective use of storytelling can also establish links between participants and can set the stage for high performance. According to Wenger, “the value of a Community of Practice usually manifests outside that community and not inside the community. In most cases, practitioners have other places where they engage in the practice. Often it is not primarily within the Community of Practice – it is on their teams and in their practitioner worlds.”
Storytelling helps engage practitioners and shows how the activities in the community have translated into improvements in their professional worlds.
Equally important, a story adds an emotional element to an event or process that might otherwise be dry. Placing your community’s activities in an emotional context can create a compelling case.
Tell Your Stories. Outcome evaluation is critical in documenting and demonstrating the value of your community. But don’t forget the importance of anecdotal information from key informants to convey a real and complete sense of the total value of your community, including the role of social capital and how relationships produce results.
“Stories are the best way to traverse the knowledge system in a way that explains the linkages between community activities, knowledge resources, and performance outcomes. Only a story can describe the complex causal relations while incorporating implicit contextual factors that may be crucial to appreciate, but hard to codify or generalize."
Create a Success Story
You can use the Storytelling Template to discover and communicate success stories. A success story shows your community’s development and progress over time and the impact it has made. Equally important, a success story serves as a vehicle for engaging additional members and can help you in securing funding for your activities.17
Success stories are a tool that a Community of Practice can keep in its promotional “toolbox.” There are multiple types of success stories, including: 17
The Elevator Speech. Known as the “elevator” speech because it is the story you tell when you have less than a minute and a convenient opportunity to share what’s happening with your community. It’s the story you tell in the time you might spend riding up an elevator with an interested party. Be prepared with a 10-second story that captures your audience’s attention and then follow-up with additional details or materials. The idea is to capture the audience’s attention and engage them enough to want to learn more.
The Spotlight. Publications, newsletters, web pages, and numerous other media sources often have space to fill. Because the editors are typically looking for small blurbs to fill white space around feature items, the request for a spotlight paragraph will rarely give you a lot of lead time. Have a paragraph or two ready that can easily be shortened or lengthened that tells what your community is about and how to get additional information.
The One-Pager. A one-pager (which can also be a double-sided “two-pager”) is a short and simple, but tremendously effective, mechanism to grab the attention of multiple stakeholders and important decision-makers. A good one-pager is a polished document that conveys the most salient information about your community to the readers in a brief and engaging format. Take advantage of photographs, illustrations, anecdotal stories, and quotes to attach emotion and the “human face” to your story. You can use bullet points or tables to present facts and data that support your overall story.
A Program Brief or Annual Report. While the other types of stories are short and sweet, this is the opportunity to provide a comprehensive feature on your Community of Practice. Pull ideas from your one-pager, then elaborate on both the process and the outcomes of your community’s activities. Use photographs, illustrations, and other design elements to emphasize particular points and be sure to have a good mix of the facts and emotions that make up your community’s story. A full report is also a good way to report on your community’s activities regularly, and spending time developing a quality product can result in a quality document that can be shared with multiple stakeholders over time.
The Storytelling Template located in the Resource section provides guidance on how to craft and share stories.
Boundaries Were Meant To Be Challenged. The Communities of Practice is designed to be a collection of communities that finds value in crossing and spanning boundaries. It is important to understand where your work begins and another’s ends, but connecting with community members, you may find a much needed opportunity for growth and development that keeps your CoP truly cutting-edge.
“...Boundary crossing can be the source of a deep kind of learning. While the core of a practice is a locus of expertise, radically new insights and developments often arise at the boundaries between communities. Something very creative can take place in the meeting of perspectives at these boundaries when participants make a genuine effort to listen to each other or to solve a common problem.”
As a means of maintaining vitality and enhancing the work of the CoP, a mature CoP may take opportunities for collaboration, which may occur among members, across organizations, or among multiple CoPs. These collaborations may be fostered by:
- Asking members to share about domain-specific information from other organizations to which they belong and
- Attending meetings, conferences, or events with professionals interested in your CoP’s focus area.
Your CoP can start to tell stories from its inception. You can usethis Microsoft Word template to structure storytelling activities and as means to gather information and document best practices / lessons learned from the community.
Members of Communities of Practice (CoPs) who are interested in sharing stories and creating Success Stories
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