Can CoP do a Facebook in Knowledge Networking?

Is Communities of Practice a true-blue Knowledge Management era paradigm? Not really, if you ask me. CoPs have been around for a long time – ever since human beings started the process of social learning. But you know the way it works with Organizational Development concepts – everything needs a name before it gets strategic buy-in. So, it was after Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave formally presented CoP in 1991 that it really got institutionalized as a KM tool.

Look at Wenger’s definition of Communities of Practice: “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. I see three fundamental elements of CoP emerge from this definition: a common domain of interest, learning-centered interactions and shared practice. The last – shared practice – tells you why your hobby clubs or even interest groups cannot be called CoP. Some experts tout forums like the wikipedia as a kind of CoP. My question to them – where is the practice element? The real (or should I say “virtual”?) CoPs in organizations can be seen in a combination of geographies: physical meetings, teleconferencing, lunch-hour discussions, chat rooms, Internet and intranet forums and, of course, blogs! Now that Web 2.0 has truly arrived, Communities of Practice are using software support platforms to morph into seamless, individual-centric and highly interactive avatars.

But then, technology does not have an answer for everything – particularly in a domain like OD. So the big question is – are our organizations culturally equipped with the magnitude of trust and empowerment required to unleash the potential of tools like CoP?

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One Comment on “Can CoP do a Facebook in Knowledge Networking?”

  1. Ramesh Says:

    I think CoP has the power to make knowledge management extremely robust. Are organizations culturally ready for using CoP as a KM tool? My take on this – organizations are also groups of individuals. When individuals are ready to share knowledge as opposed to hoarding it, when they realize that knowledge shared is knowledge multiplied, yes, that organization is ready for this major leap in faith. Technology is but an enabler; it can aid, but never force a change on individuals.

    In theory, the three elements of CoP viz. domains, communities and practice, form one half of Wenger’s doughnut model of knowledge management. He also says that while communities of practice manage their own knowledge, they need knowledge managers to ensure this is shared across the organization.

    What’s most interesting and perhaps the biggest challenge to organizations wanting to leverage CoP as a KM tool is the paradigm shift in how they view the knowledge asset – this model challenges and even throws over the traditional belief that knowledge belongs to management and workers are mere implementers of this knowledge.

    Even today, I think it would take a special kind of an organization to make this 360o shift….but we will get there, sooner than we think!


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