Sustain a CoP
In the Sustaining phase of CoP development, it is important to consider strategies for maintaining and increasing membership, as well as achieving the goals of the community. Unlike a work group or team, your members usually participate voluntarily; they have a passion for the subject matter and are interested in increasing their own understanding of the domain and contributing to innovation in the field.4 You have the advantage of active, enthusiastic members who are willing to seek and share knowledge and build trusting relationships with other people.
Participation is Voluntary. People will participate in a Community of Practice because they want to, not because they are made to. By seeking out passionate voluntary members, you’ll ensure that you have enthusiastic participants who willingly seek and share information, which will produce greater results than if members had simply been assigned another task.
“If participation is compulsory, it may become perfunctory.”
The challenge you face is to help members recognize their commitment to the domain and provide the infrastructure for members to share capabilities and build knowledge in a safe and rewarding forum.9 To accomplish this task, you need to:
- Provide new and seasoned members an easy means of participation.
- Ensure that the value of membership is clearly articulated.
- Create abundant opportunities for members to become engaged in the community.
Make it Easy to See the Benefits!
You have already identified passionate people who will voluntarily focus on building knowledge within your domain. It will be equally important to tend to ongoing membership needs. Leaders may help community members relate participation in a CoP to professional and personal work goals. By defining a domain focus that has practical utility for individuals and organizations, you create a tangible, explicit value for potential members.10
Members may need to obtain permission or organizational support to participate in your Community of Practice. Benefits of CoPs to members, organizations, and the public health community are outlined in the Introduction to Communities of Practice section. CoPs provide tremendous value through sharing experiences, promoting best and emerging practices, and providing a forum in which issues and problems can be raised and resolved.11 It may be important to help members make a case to their managers to demonstrate that an individual who participates also has the potential to devise better solutions and make better decisions by:
- Developing an enhanced professional identity
- Networking with peers and increasing his/her visibility among those peers
- Gaining access to subject matter experts who may be able to help focus and articulate developing ideas
- Participating in learning and development events and activities
Organizations also benefit when their representatives participate in a CoP. When an organization allows its personnel to join, it is potentially increasing:
- Employee efficiency, in terms of time and cost, in retrieving information and a reduced learning curve
- Industry benchmarking capacity
- Involvement in key industry and national initiatives
- Organizational reputation as a contributor in building new capabilities
While there are numerous benefits to be gained in CoP participation, it is not always easy for members to communicate these benefits to others. The “Case for Participation Reflection Guide,” “Case for Participation Brief,” and “Case for Participation”, located in the Resources section, are designed to allow potential members (individual or organizational) to identify mutual or shared goals with a domain CoP and the logistical practicality of participation. These resources also allow potential members to plot out an information-sharing plan.
Make it Matter - Create Value for Potential Members. New and potential members need to be excited about the domain-focus of the Community of Practice, but they also need to know that they will get a return on their investment. Work with potential members to help them determine not only what they can contribute, but also what they can expect in return.
“Value is the key to community vitality. When members are clear about the value for themselves and others, they often become more active and committed.”
Cultivating Communities of Practice
In a community where members come from diverse locations, agencies, and jurisdictions, the need to demonstrate the value of community participation will be even greater.1 Leaders and managers may not be directly involved in functional work performed by various employees and will most likely be concerned with ensuring the employees’ work contributes to the organization’s goals. However, if you can help potential members demonstrate how CoP activities relate to organizational goals, members are more likely to successfully develop a case for participation. For example, consider Stanley, a potential member who is an epidemiologist with a county health department. Stanley has a professional interest in electronic messaging standards and would like to participate in the Public Health Vocabulary and Messaging CoP, but his supervisor is not sold on the idea. After all, won’t this just be another series of meetings that puts more on Stanley’s already full plate? Stanley can assure his supervisor that participating in a community that develops HL7 standard messages for case reporting will contribute to the health department’s mission by keeping him current on the vocabulary and messaging standards that enable clarity in data transmission and more efficient analysis. Stanley can develop his case by using the “Case for Participation Reflection Guide”, located in the Resources section, then use a presentation template (PowerPoint Template, Word Template) to present the information to his manager.
When members are linked with a resource that connects the interests of the community to individual, organizational, and public health priorities, they are able to highlight common interests and reconcile disparities that may exist.3 By translating and connecting personal and professional strategic imperatives with the focus of the CoP, the CoP gains a legitimacy that can build a foundation of confidence and trust.
Provide Additional Motivations and Graduated Opportunities
CoP leadership responsibilities are described in How to Identify Leaders in Your CoP. However, leadership in a Community of Practice can evolve when members play various roles at different times. It is important for community growth that multiple individuals play several roles as the community coalesces and matures. Ask new members to take leadership in one or more of these roles to strengthen the core of the CoP and ensure continued development. Identify additional volunteer opportunities to broaden the scope and depth of membership.
Members may need to obtain permission or organizational support to participate in a CoP. By sharing this completed document, potential members can identify mutual or shared goals with the CoP and determine how practical it is for them to participate. This customizable Microsoft Word Template also allows potential members to create a plan for obtaining support from their managers and sharing information about the CoP.
Individuals who are interested in joining a Community of Practice (CoP) and want to justify and explain their involvement in the CoP to their managers and peers
This customizable Microsoft PowerPoint Template allows potential members to share information about the CoP as part of their plan to obtain support from their managers.
This Microsoft Word Brief–includes a brief overview of CoPs
Individuals who are interested in joining a Community of Practice (CoP) and want to explain the concept to their peers or request permission to participate from their managers
- Page last reviewed: March 2, 2015
- Page last updated: May 6, 2011
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