Launch Your Community

Launch a CoP

Build Membership
Once CoP leaders and an initial description of the interest and mission of your community have been determined, it is time to begin the search for CoP members. As you begin to forge solid connections between members during the kickoff of your community, it is also imperative to create the energy needed for the community to begin collaborating successfully. Community leaders must share their knowledge and vision for the community with potential members. Leaders will need to invest time, networking skills, and technical knowledge to launch the Community of Practice.1 The value of using social and business networks for recruiting members cannot be underestimated; leaders should remember to ask new members to help recruitment efforts by contacting potential members within their own networks. Identifying desired membership characteristics may help community leadership craft a general profile of the membership base.8 It may also be helpful to develop a process for identifying prospective members and to craft an invitation based upon the resources below.

Just Remember….

Experts Do Matter! Seeking out thought leaders and soliciting their opinions on how to approach an issue is another way to attract their membership. If there is a shortage of such experts among the membership, then invite external subject matter experts to come and speak / participate on an occasional basis.

“Knowledge is powerful when it is used. There are many knowledgeable people that don’t do anything with their knowledge. There are other knowledgeable people that know a lot about a variety of things and they have the creative ability to link random thoughts together to develop powerful ideas and solutions.”

—Regina Clark
Author, Innovate or Perish! Ten tips for Fostering Innovative Practices

Whatever the resources you choose to utilize, you should emphasize the benefits and value of participating in a CoP.

Interview Potential Members
A useful approach in recruiting members to participate in your Community of Practice is to “interview” them. This process is not used to screen out potential members, but presents an opportunity to discuss the community’s potential value to the individuals and to their organizations. The interview approach is a first conversation aimed at digging deeper into the potential member’s areas of interest and what he or she feels should be the priorities for the CoP. An interview is also an excellent way to identify and recruit future leaders, as it may unveil skills you may not have recognized. Interviews are important in relationship building and may foster one-on-one bonds between members, creating trust — a critical precursor to knowledge sharing and collaboration. The “Invitation Approach” document located in the Resources section may generate additional ideas around this topic.

Survey Members
Once you have a set of members who are interested in participating in the CoP, consider devoting some time to determining interests, skills, and priorities via a survey. The survey serves as a follow-up to your initial contact and allows you to refine the member’s interest at the individual and group levels. The “Needs Assessment Template,” located in the Resources section, can be the basis of a domain survey.

Invite Experts
While the desire to participate and contribute peer-to-peer is sufficient motivation for some members, involving key thought leaders and subject matter experts will lend value to your CoP and encourage new membership.1 Some members of a CoP will participate simply because they want to hear its primary thought leaders speak, or they are intrigued by the prospect of interacting and associating with experts on a collegial level. Of course, thought leaders and subject matter experts who move from occasional presenters to fully engaged community members will contribute greatly to the practice of your community.

The Kickoff Meeting
When community members and a focused area of interest have been identified, it is now time to hold a meeting. The kickoff meeting should be the start of regularly scheduled meetings, which help to anchor the community. To create a sense of community and familiarity, it is helpful to have the group meet in the same space for each meeting—both in person and electronically.

If you are not hosting a face-to-face meeting, or if others might participate remotely, be sure to coordinate technology needs and user access well in advance.

The kickoff meeting should be used to solidify the direction of the group. Your CoP membership will be comprised of diverse colleagues and peers with a desire to work more effectively, solve problems, invent solutions, and learn. It will be important to review the high-level goals and objectives of the CoP at the kickoff meeting.

Agenda items for your first meeting might include:

  • Charter/mission review
  • Leadership selection
  • Goal prioritization
  • Determine objectives
  • Ensure all members are “on the same page”

During subsequent meetings, your CoP can begin to explore the issues of the domain. To start these conversations, you may find it helpful to do one or more of the following:

  • Present your work in the CoP or ask one of your initial members to share some challenges in a domain area, with time for Q&A
  • Distribute discussion material such as related articles or papers in advance
  • Identify a particular community-related topic/issue and ask members to come prepared to discuss
  • Send questions pertaining to the topic to attendees in advance
  • Base discussion around goals outlined in your charter

Your facilitator plays a vital support role for your kickoff and subsequent meetings. Ensure that you have engaged a facilitator who can adequately encourage productive inquiry, manage tension, and work toward the development of a solution.1,6 See the “Facilitation Tip Sheet” in the Resources section for more information.

Determining Priorities
One of the most challenging tasks for new CoPs is to develop an initial set of priorities. Your CoP likely involves passionate, committed individuals, each of whom may have a different perspective. Brainstorming is one way CoP Leaders and core members can elicit information and ideas from other community members about the tasks at hand and start honing in on some priorities. Use brainstorming techniques to get a handle on the group’s priorities, to get the creative juices flowing, and to ensure that all member perspectives are considered.

The document “Brainstorming Technique” in the Resources section guides you through the process of brainstorming, categorization, and priority setting.

CoP Promotion
Once established, the community will want to share initial work and plans with others. CoPs may want to:

  • Create a CoP-focused newsletter for your CoP and share broadly (see “Newsletter Template” in the Resources section)
  • Develop a white paper or “issue brief” on a challenge and potential solution
  • Submit abstracts to conferences
  • Send articles to professional journals detailing the work of the community
  • Highlight activities and accomplishments via articles in journals and newsletters managed by national organizations and other public health partners
  • Post articles about your accomplishments on your organization’s intranet or website

The following table provides an overview of resources located in the Resources section that may be helpful as you prepare to launch your CoP.

The table below depicts appropriations by fiscal year starting in 1986 to present day. Effective fiscal year 2014, funding is being provided through the Prevention and Public Health Fund under the Affordable Care Act provisions.
Related Resource Description Audience
Formation Announcement Template [DOC – 144KB] Your CoP has formed and now it’s time to spread the word. This template suggests some text your community may use to announce its formation. Leaders of new Communities of Practice (CoPs)
Invitation Approach [DOC – 146KB] After identifying people who might be interested in joining your CoP, you may want to reach out to them personally. This template offers dialogue and text ideas to start the conversation. Leaders of new and existing Communities of Practice (CoPs)
E-mail Invitations Template [DOC – 130KB] If you’d like to reach out to potential members by sending them an e-mail invitation to join your CoP, this template offers some general text as a starting point. Leaders of new and existing Communities of Practice (CoPs)
Membership Tracking Template [XLS – 177KB] You’ll want to track both the people you’ve invited to join your CoP as well as those who have joined. This template makes it easy to compile all that information in one central location. Leaders of new and existing Communities of Practice (CoPs)
Member Interest Survey Template [DOC – 186KB] You’ll want to identify the main interests, skills, and priorities of members. This Microsoft Word template can be customized for your domain CoP. Leaders of new and existing Communities of Practice (CoPs)
Needs Assessment Template [DOC – 102KB] You’ll want to assess your members’ needs, assets, interests and potential for participation. This template makes it easy to do this. Leaders of new and existing CoPs
Facilitation Tip Sheet [DOC – 102KB] The facilitator is responsible for managing meetings, keeping conversations on track, and ensuring each member’s voice is heard. This tip sheet gives some tips for how to accomplish these tasks. You can also refer to the “Advanced Facilitation Guide” for an advanced guide to facilitation (suggested for experienced facilitators). Leaders and members acting as Community of Practice (CoP) Facilitators
Brainstorming Technique [DOC – 165KB] Tap into the wisdom and experience of your Community of Practice and create a supportive environment where all ideas are welcome. Read this document for some ideas on how this process can work for your CoP. Leaders of new and existing Communities of Practice (CoPs)
Newsletter Template [DOC – 176KB] As your CoP begins maturing, you may want to develop a CoP newsletter for your domain. This Microsoft Word template gives you a great start. Leaders of new and existing Communities of Practice (CoPs)