Plan and Prepare

Launch a CoP

As stated in the Introduction to CoPs section of the Resource Kit, each Community of Practice consists of three primary characteristics: a domain, a related community, and a common practice. To identify a potential CoP, it may be helpful to brainstorm functional and technical areas that are not covered by an existing CoP—or perhaps there is a particular niche already covered by a Community of Practice that deserves a greater focus.

Just Remember….

Gaining Focus is about converging, not laying concrete. As leaders invite and encourage member discussion the vision and goals can evolve over time.

“Planning a community is more a matter of finding the triggers to catalyze evolution than creating a full design. The overall goal in the planning stage is to promote community development around each of the three key elements — domain, community and practice — by defining the community’s focus, identifying and building relationships between members, and identifying topics and projects that would be exciting for community members.”1

Public health topics best suited to a CoP connect a wide range of people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to interact or have an available channel to share best practices, discuss common problems, and collaboratively create solutions. It may be helpful to identify topics that are currently the subject of a particularly vexing problem or are widely debated. Keep in mind that the topic needs to be interesting to a number of other people and should relate to public health.

Once you have an idea for a CoP domain, you will need to identify three to five potential members and bring them together to ask several questions to identify topics of interest, possible issues, and potential leaders. Please refer to the “Could it be a CoP” worksheet, located in the Resources section, for ideas and these questions.

After discussing and agreeing upon the CoP idea with others in your domain, you can begin to clarify the community’s goals and expectations. This process is a tool for gaining consensus and buy-in from initial CoP members and for inviting and orienting new members to the CoP.

One way of formalizing a CoP’s purpose is to collectively meet and begin drafting a charter. While you can expect the charter to evolve once the CoP has been launched, coming together to begin to establish the CoP mission, scope, goals, and objectives will aid in ensuring all prospective members understand the future direction of the community. As potential members will guide the direction of the CoP over time, it is important not to over-strategize or limit the potential growth of the community when first creating the charter.6 To learn how to develop a charter, please refer to the “CoP Charter Template,” located in the Resources section.

Within your charter, you may want to document community expectations (rules of behavior) that present guidelines for participation in the CoP. These guidelines will describe the basic principles of the community’s culture, such as a commitment to a collaborative approach, processes around confidentiality and privacy, and the technological infrastructure that will initially support the community. For more information on creating community expectations, please refer to the document entitled “Community Expectations” in the Resources section.

How to Identify Leaders in Your CoP
According to Etienne Wenger, a key feature of successful CoPs is a “skillful and reputable coordinator” Since CoP membership and leadership is voluntary, it is beneficial to divide responsibilities among members to reduce the workload of any one individual.

Two primary roles need to be filled at the time of CoP Initiation: Community Leader and Community Sponsor.

  • Community Leader: Guides the Community’s Purpose and Strategic Intent—Community Leader likely “owns” the charter of the group. He or she may have ideas about what the goals of the group should be, how to reach them, and effectively engages others to collectively chart the CoP’s course. This person helps the group stay focused on its particular domain and helps provide solutions as issues arise.
  • Community Sponsor: Champions the Community Internally and Externally — This person likely has close relationships with leaders in the domain and related communities. He or she is highly motivated to ensure that the community succeeds and encourages member participation. This person champions the community’s successes and advocates for the community’s needs. The sponsor legitimizes the CoP and may also provide perspectives and resources, periodically review progress and developmental needs, and build collaborative relationships with officials or sponsors from other agencies.4,7 Refer to the “Case for Sponsorship”, located in the Resources section, as a guide on how to engage a sponsor and communicate his or her responsibilities.

Other responsibilities (listed below) also need to be addressed as a Community of Practice launches. Each responsibility need not be assigned to a single individual; rather, responsibilities should be divided among several individuals.

Just Remember….

Strong leadership is essential in the start-up of any new CoP. In the beginning, two key roles should be filled: the Sponsor and the Leader. A strong sponsor is needed to support the vision and the process of the community and champion the community internally and externally. A strong leader nurtures the community from infancy and tackles the initial challenges, logistical and otherwise, encountered by the group.

“The key to successful communities of practice is an appropriate leadership infrastructure that guides, supports and renews the community initiative over time. In every case we are familiar with, leadership is the most critical success factor for community participation and effectiveness.”

  • Knowledge Management—Over time, the CoP will likely develop a large repository of information that needs to be managed. While this task may be small at first, it will grow in size with increasing responsibility for organizing and posting community documents (charter, agendas, meeting minutes, etc.) to a common repository and helping to shape the information into knowledge.
  • Meeting Facilitation—To ensure each member has a chance to speak, that meetings stay on track, and meeting goals are accomplished, a member needs to facilitate during community meetings. Refer to the following tools located in the Resources Section for additional information: Facilitation Tip Sheet, Advanced Facilitation Guide, Agenda Template, Discussion Log Template, Scribe Template, Follow-up Item Log Template, and Meeting Feedback Form.
  • Relationship Management—As new members join a CoP, it is important they feel welcome and have the opportunity to meet other members. To strengthen these relationships, an established member should be responsible for making introductions and connecting new and long-time members.
  • Subject Matter Expertise—The CoP is launched to address a particular domain within public health. To begin conversations on this topic, related topics and hot button issues should be identified, and experts who are able to contribute to the conversations brought in for discussion. To gain more insight on this topic, please read the “SME Tip Sheet” located in the Resources section.
  • Technology Management—A crucial tool for a CoP is an easy-to-use, accessible means of communication. You may use an e-mail distribution list, or you may choose to use a message board. A member will need to be responsible for identifying the tool(s) your group will use, ensuring members have access, and confirming that the tools work as expected. Refer to the Resources section “Technology Management Tip Sheet” for more information.
  • Communication Management—It is important to identify a community member who will manage effective distribution of the CoP’s messages externally, seeking ways to promote and share the knowledge products of the community.

Select Collaboration Resources
Members of your CoP will likely span many organizations and geographic locations; it is therefore imperative to have several tools for communication. Your Community of Practice will need to identify the tools that will best serve your group’s communication and collaboration needs. It is critical to offer tools at the time of your CoP’s launch. To help you choose the tools that are right for your community, a feature comparison may be used (see the “Technology Tool Comparison”). You may wish to poll your members to identify any tools already in existence as it may be possible to borrow existing resources without incurring additional costs.

The types of communication can be shown in three groups. In person, real time communication includes teleconferences, web conferences, and online chat rooms. Not in person, not in real time options include e-mail, listservs, message boards, wikis, blogs and podcasts.

When considering collaboration resources, two factors should be considered: geography and timeliness. The image at right, adapted from Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage (p. 89), shows communication methods and tools appropriate for the location of the participants and how fast a response is expected.6

The preferred type of communication is an in-person meeting. These take place face-to-face and participants have the opportunity to respond immediately. Unfortunately, with geographically dispersed members, these meetings are expensive and difficult to schedule. While it is ideal to host these meetings for all members once or twice each year, a lack of resources may make it difficult to hold these in-person meetings on a more regular basis.

Other common communication methods link people who are geographically dispersed, together at the same time. Examples of these methods include web conferences, teleconferences, instant messaging, and chat rooms. These interactions are scheduled for a specific day and time or are initiated by someone who can expect an immediate response.

These first two categories of communication are considered synchronous or “real-time” communication because they happen at the same time for all participants.

The final category of communication includes types of interaction during which someone can respond to a presentation, question, or statement at their leisure. This type of communication is considered asynchronous or not happening at the same time. E-mail, listservs, message boards, wikis, blogs, podcasts, and many types of social networking tools are based on this asynchronous concept. An author can post a blog today, and in 3 weeks, someone else can read that posting and respond via comment or e-mail.

All types of communication are important for encouraging collaboration within a CoP. For an explanation on how communication mediums impact community relationships, please refer to the section Foster Engagement.

A real time meeting or teleconference will allow your group to discuss relevant topics, but it may not be possible for all members to attend at the same time. By using multiple tools, it is possible to include all members via several mediums. For instance, storing meeting minutes in a repository or posting follow-up questions on a message board can yield valuable input from members who missed an event or have something additional to add to the discussion.

This CoP Resource Kit has templates and guides available for each major Resource Kit section. If you have suggestions for additional resources that may be useful to your CoP and others, please provide those suggestions via email to

The following table provides an overview of Resources located in the Resources section that may be helpful as you learn more about CoPs.

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
Could It Be A CoP?[DOC – 135KB] Have an idea for a new CoP? These questions will help you explore the idea with your peers and make sure you’re on the right track. Individuals that would like to start a new Community of Practice (CoP)
CoP Charter Template[DOC – 214KB]

CoP Charter Overview[DOC – 214KB]

CoP charters, developed by each CoP, include mission, scope, objectives, and other course-setting components needed by the group. This template gives you some ideas for the type of information you might want to include in yours — with the expectation that the needs of your CoP, and therefore the charter, may change over time. Leaders of new and existing Communities of Practice (CoPs)
Community Expectations[DOC – 138KB] It’s important to provide guidelines to your members to ensure that they honor expectations that allow your CoP to thrive. This resource provides examples of general guidelines for participating in a CoP and specific guidelines for participating in a CoP meeting. Leaders of new and existing Communities of Practice (CoPs)
Case for Sponsorship Brief[DOC – 138KB] As a new CoP it is important to retain a sponsor who can legitimize and support the community. This template provides a mechanism for demonstrating the value of sponsoring a Community of Practice. Leaders of new and existing Communities of Practice (CoPs) that are in need of a sponsor
Facilitation Tip Sheet[DOC – 106KB] 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 [DOC – 235KB]” for an advanced guide to facilitation (suggested for experienced facilitators). Leaders and members acting as Community of Practice (CoP) Facilitators
Advanced Facilitation Guide[DOC – 235KB] The facilitator is responsible for managing meetings, keeping conversations on track, and ensuring each member’s voice is heard. This guide covers both basic and advanced tips for how to accomplish these tasks. You can also consult the Facilitation Tip Sheet to find basic guidelines for facilitation (suggested for new or interim facilitators). Leaders and members acting as Community of Practice (CoP) Facilitators
Agenda Template[DOC – 135KB] The facilitator may use a variety of tools to manage meetings. This template can be used to help you put together a CoP Meeting Agenda. Leaders and members acting as Community of Practice (CoP) Facilitators
Discussion Log Template[DOC – 150KB] The facilitator may use a variety of tools to manage meetings. This log can help you keep a running log of the discussion points during a CoP Meeting. Leaders and members acting as Community of Practice (CoP) Facilitators
Scribe Template[DOC – 88KB] The facilitator may use a variety of tools to manage meetings. This template can be used to note and report the outcomes of CoP Meeting Agenda. Leaders and members acting as Community of Practice (CoP) Facilitators
Follow-up Item Log Template[DOC – 145KB] The facilitator may use a variety of tools to manage meetings. This template can help you ensure that action items are assigned and appropriately monitored over time. Leaders and members acting as Community of Practice (CoP) Facilitators
Meeting Feedback Form The facilitator may use a variety of tools to help them manage meetings. This template can be used to solicit information from members about the meeting process and where there are opportunities to improve that process. Leaders and members acting as Community of Practice (CoP) Facilitators
SME Tip Sheet[DOC – 152KB] As a SME for your community, your responsibilities include inviting experts to speak to your CoP, bringing in new ideas, identifying topics for meeting agendas, and maintaining the CoP focus. This tip sheet gives some ideas for how to get all of this done. Leaders and members acting as Community of Practice (CoP) Subject Matter Experts
Technical Management Tip Sheet[DOC – 128KB]

Technology Tool Comparison[XLS – 141KB]

You’re technically savvy, but for your CoP you also need to help identify the right tools for your group, define account permissions and roles, and help develop collaboration rules to ensure everyone acts respectfully. Read this Tip Sheet for some ideas on how this can work within your CoP. Leaders and members acting as Community of Practice (CoP) Technical Managers