Creating a Learning Community

Here are some guiding principles as you search for a learning community to join, or if you end up creating one on your own.

For practitioners, by practitioners

Communities of Practice work when they are attended by professionals that share a particular job function. When people that do the same work in different environments get together, share what works, and share discrete practices, it can be a very rewarding experience. CoPs are learning communities.

CoPs exist only as long as they provide value

We have heard from some would-be community leaders that they worry about an unknown time commitment. CoPs are learning communities, unofficial networks that people find time to attend because they are worth it, and what we learn make us more effective at our jobs. Think of starting a new CoP as an experiment. If value exists, people will keep coming. If not, close up shop. It’s a perfectly acceptable outcome to try to start a community, and have it not last. Experiments are worth trying.

You are already authorized to create a new community

Any staff member can start a Community of Practice. Regardless of which unit you work for, or seniority level —there is no official requirement that you have to meet to qualify as a community organizer. We hereby give you permission to start your own community! Many such communities already exist all over. We want to make them easier to find, and to start, because that’s good for humanity.

Choose a meeting frequency

Running a Community of Practice does not have to be a huge time commitment. Meet as it is practical. That may be once a month, once a week, or twice a month; base these decisions on the needs of your community.

Choose a membership policy

Most CoPs are open to membership from all interested people without restriction; however, if it makes strategic sense for your community to be small and restricted to a certain group of individuals, that is a perfectly acceptable policy. Just explain your membership criteria to help others understand if they need a recommendation or other qualifications to join. A mailing list is a great way for people to participate peripherally, and one of the defining characteristics of a Community of Practice is learning through peripheral participation.

Choose a communication channel

Whether its a mailing list, monthly in-person meetup, a website, or whatever, it doesn’t really matter so long as it works for your group. Less is more, think about what it will be like to maintain your choices six months from now.