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Foster Engagement

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Sustain a CoP

Foster Engagement

Because domain members will have differing levels of involvement, it is important to create a variety of forums where people can build and share knowledge. The ability to connect members through relationships will be at the heart of any community building. Regular events in both the public and private space of a community are particularly essential in distributed communities. Building a visible community with rhythm and routine helps to keep members focused on the community and allows them to develop trusting relationships through interaction and familiarity.1 Interactions can occur in public and private spaces:

  • Public Spaces are open or visible to all and can include forums such as a face-to-face meeting, an online discussion group, or a blog, either in real time or not in real time. Public opportunities are critical in allowing members to gather, connect, explore ideas and concepts, and collectively solve problems. Public gatherings also create a platform for learning about the community, gauging community culture, and getting to know many of the participating members.1 Community participation in public spaces allows members to feel as though they are part of a joint enterprise and can be crucial in reinvigorating a community on a regular basis and creating benchmarks for the community’s history. Public spaces are ideal for capturing and cataloging the community’s documented, codified knowledge.7 Through the use of public forums, members are more likely to connect in private spaces.1,7Potential members may discover the existence and value of a CoP through its public postings. While public spaces can provide an important platform for CoP collaboration, private spaces should not be ignored, particularly as the community is coalescing.8
  • Private spaces are one-on-one or small group interactions that can occur face to face, by phone, or electronically, either in real time or not in real time. Private spaces not only allow members to share and problem solve one-on-one, but also strengthen the relationships between members.7 Private or semiprivate dialogues allow members to bring up novel, peripheral, or partially formed issues and ideas they may not want to bring up in a public space. Then, the more mature, domain-specific issues can be addressed in a public space by the entire community, and members will likely be able to contribute to problem solving.1

The graphic below highlights various types of public and private spaces as well as assorted features of each.

Private spaces include project or subgroups, site visits, and one on one by phone, chat room, etc. Public includes websites, wikis, RSS feeds, podcasts, tele/video/web conferences, and face-to-face events. Listservs, blogs, and social networking sites can be both private and public.
Adapted from: Snyder WM, de Sousa Briggs X. Communities of Practice: A New Tool for Government Managers. IMB Center for the Business of Government. 2003.

Forum TypePublicPrivateFeatures
Website, wikis, RSS feeds, podcasts

X

  • Captures information
  • Publishes for group to view
  • Allows easyaccess to group knowledge
  • Allows for passive and transitional education
Listserv, blogs, social networking bookmarks

X

X

  • Offers efficient information sharing
  • Allows unobtrusive Q&A and peripheral learning
  • Can be private or public, based on user choice
Site visits

X

  • Allows members to develop personal relationships and build shared histories
  • Creates a foundation and context for problem solving
  • Provides opportunity to learn about site-specific challenges and opportunities
Face-to-face events

X

  • Facilitates relationships
  • Builds trust among members
  • Creates a sense of joint enterprise
  • Can jump start work on a special topic
  • Provides opportunity for “private” connection
  • Increases productivity in other learning venues
One on one—by phone, chat room, etc.

X

  • Allows members to develop personal relationships and build trust
  • Facilitates deeper problem solving
  • Allows ideas to be vetted by other members before presenting to the whole group
Tele/ video/ web conferences

X

  • Low-cost option to increase interactivity and relationship building
  • Provides opportunity to address issues “on demand”
  • Reinforces cultural norms of CoP and allows members to get to know each other’s style
Projects or subgroups

X

  • Build relationships and sense of joint enterprise
  • Address collective needs (e.g., developing protocol or standards) by tapping into individual interests or focus


As a CoP leader, you are the gatekeeper of the interface between private and public interchanges. By thoughtfully managing private spaces and the resulting relationship building, you will enrich events and interactions in public spaces. 1

Create a Member Directory
A member directory is a simple, straightforward mechanism that allows new members to begin participation immediately, with ease, and without risk. To create a member directory, each member must create a basic profile that includes contact information, title and role(s), and areas of interest or expertise within the domain. When members expand their profile to include more in-depth professional characteristics, interests, values, and accomplishments, members have insight into information that may serve as openings for casual conversation and subsequent relationship building.6 Members should consider including individual photographs and links to personal or professional websites (keeping in mind that the content is for work-related use). Use the “Biographical Sketch Template”, located in the Resources section, as a template for creating a member directory. A member directory may be helpful in distributed communities where face-to-face interaction between members may be rare.

Develop a Person-to-Person Activity
A Person-to-Person activity is a unique method for welcoming new members into the community and is intended to encourage members to establish a personal and professional relationship with one another and to set the stage for future collaboration within the group. In a Person-to Person activity, a new member is usually paired with a current, experienced member who can share his or her experiences and the benefits gained from participation in a CoP. The experienced member may introduce the new member to the community’s social norms and help the new member become integrated into the community.

The People Connector may facilitate a Person-to-Person activity by pairing members and making introductions. Topics the paired members may discuss include their reasons for joining the CoP, current interest or work in the domain, and anticipated and actual professional benefits of CoP membership.

Facilitate Mentor/Protégé Relationships
A mentor is generally understood to be a knowledgeable individual who volunteers his or her time to guide another’s development. A Mentor-Protégé program is meant to provide new members with:

  • A relational process for developing an understanding of member roles and responsibilities
  • A relationship with a seasoned member or leader who knows and understands the community’s culture and norms and how to navigate within the structure of the community
  • A relationship that can assist the mentor and the protégé to develop additional professional relationships within and outside the community

The mentor helps a protégé to:

  • Create a vision for what may be accomplished through the community
  • Clarify and set goals
  • Shift perspectives to new possibilities
  • Develop new action strategies
  • Remain accountable
  • Draw upon the mentor’s existing experience and knowledge

To facilitate a mentor/protégé program for your Community of Practice:

  • Develop a list of available mentors and ensure you will be able to sufficiently meet the anticipated demand
  • Create a set of loosely defined responsibilities for mentors and protégés. Allow mentors and protégés to negotiate the activities and terms in ways that best work for them
  • Solicit volunteers interested in cultivating a mentor/protégé relationship
  • Pair mentors and protégés based on professional goals, experience within the community, and availability
  • Offer the “Mentor-Protégé Agreement” resource to pairings to assist in plan development

The “Mentor-Protégé Agreement” located in the Resources section provides guidance on items the mentor and protégé may want to negotiate, such as activities and the length of the anticipated commitment. Responsibilities for both mentor and protégé may vary from one experience to the next and may change as the protégé’s abilities and goals evolve. The primary purpose of a mentor/protégé program is to overcome barriers, build relationships, and create opportunities for community members. If the program becomes burdensome for either participant, adjustments may be made accordingly.

Related ResourceDescriptionAudience
Biographical Sketch Template [DOC - 196KB]To help your CoP members get to know one another, you can ask each person to share some information about their personal and professional interests. This resource provides the framework for that sharing.Members of Communities of Practice (CoPs) who would like to provide a brief biography of themselves to their community
Mentor-Protégé Agreement [PDF - 155KB]If you set up a Mentor-Protégé program, it may be helpful to give participants some guidelines for coming up with an agreement. This resource may also be used by community members who want to enter into a mentor/protégé relationship on their own. This customizable template can be used to ensure that participants are considering concrete action items when making their arrangement.Members of Communities of Practice (CoPs) who are interested in forming a Mentor/Protégé relationship as either Mentor or Protégé
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