Communities Overview

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Knowledge is a critical asset in determining organizational success and performance. It is a key ingredient that provides a competitive edge through demonstrated learning, best practices, innovation, and stewardship. Knowledge itself is very difficult to manage. Communities, on the other hand, provide the social context for sharing and retaining knowledge in a form groups can apply to solve complex problems.

As Etienne Wenger says, ‘The knowledge of an organization lives in a constellation of communities of practice, each taking care of a specific aspect of the competence that the organization needs.’ Communities offer a way to bring people together around common interests, passions, or objectives. Communities can provide a trusted and organizationally sound method for sharing and accessing knowledge, to benefit the stakeholders and advance the role of knowledge in international development.

Why Communities are Important

As a natural part of organizational life, communities are an effective means for creating and sharing knowledge. They can develop and grow organically or be fostered through support. The strength and resilience of communities lie in the multiplier effect of bringing their members together to apply their collective skills and knowledge to support common goals. Knowledge can be lost when people move or retire from groups or organizations. Communities help retain experience beyond the bounds of the individual.

What Communities Do

Communities offer a systematic way to capture and share individual and collective experience that will contribute to organizational success. Communities can

  • Provide timely, accurate, accessible information to their members and the organization at large.
  • Apply lessons and replicate successes to achieve results more efficiently.
  • Retain and share institutional memory.
  • Support a culture of knowledge sharing through improved collaboration.
  • Facilitate professional development and mentoring.

What a Community of Practice Is

"Communities of practice" are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their understanding and knowledge of this area by interacting on an ongoing basis,’ Wenger, McDermott and Snyder, 2002, Cultivating Communities of Practice: a Guide to Managing Knowledge.

‘Communities of practice are groups of people who come together to share and learn from one another, face-to-face and virtually. They are held together by a common interest in a body of knowledge and are driven by a desire and need to share problems, experiences, insights, templates, tools, and best practices. Community members deepen their knowledge by interacting on an on-going basis and, over time, develop a set of shared practices.’ American Productivity and Quality Council (APQC) Best Practices Report, 2001, Building Communities of Practice: Continuing Success in Knowledge Management.

Informal, voluntary networks of colleagues operate within the bounds of organizational structures – public or private – function effectively in achieving their organization’s goals and objectives. It is within these voluntary groups that new employees are mentored, their expertise and knowledge are shared and nurtured, experts are identified, and answers are rapidly provided to an array of inquiries. Knowledge-intensive organizations learn to capitalize on their ‘know how’, ‘know who’, and ‘know what’ approaches, to better operate, compete, and provide solutions in an increasingly global environment. At AED, this knowledge is more available, not only through better use of databases and information systems, but through access to the ‘knowledge assets’ of our various communities.

Recognizing this value, CK2C is developing guidance and support structures to facilitate how community members come together around issues and create value for themselves and contribute to solutions for the larger NRM community.

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Date CreatedThursday, December 8, 2011 2:35 PM
Date ModifiedThursday, December 8, 2011 2:35 PM
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