1. Curate the group

There do need to be some rules about who’s in and who’s out. CoP members have to be active practitioners so they can contribute current, lived experiences that are relevant and valuable to others. They need to be peers and possess the qualities that make CoPs work – openness, honesty, lack of judgement and confidentiality.

​If you want to run a successful network you have to create relationships where people are getting equal amount of value for their time and effort.  You need to really understand who’s part of your network, what they’re interested in and how your network can be useful for them to achieve their goals.​ 

- Will Nicholson -

You can curate who’s in by: – profiling the typical CoP member – the experience they have, the level they are at in their practice, their commitment to the wider movement, and their objectives for taking part – running a transparent selection or approval process – selection based on the dynamic of the group as a whole, not just the strengths of the individual members

You need to make networks mutually beneficial so that participants can see the benefit they get as well as the benefits they can provide. This doesn’t always have to be a personal benefit. It can be attractive because it aligns with an individual’s vision of the change that they wish to see in the world.
- Michael Thomas -

2. Create a Space to Collaborate

CoPs rely on one to one interactions between a trusted group of practitioners. These can take place in a physical or virtual space and your role is to create a safe, welcoming and productive environment that helps people focus, relax and trust each other. You could think about: – providing a neutral, welcoming physical space, or the tech for virtual meet-ups.  Appoint someone to facilitate your collaboration efforts.  They should understand the movement at large and be able to help out in selecting members.  They should also be comfortable getting to know the community, finding fruitful areas of focus, and helping when needed.  A good facilitator will be able to train members on different techniques to get the best out of each other, like action learning sets or appreciative inquiry.

3. Enable Shared Understanding

CoPs share knowledge through personal storytelling, based on real-life experience. The members share mistakes, successes, lessons learned, and contemplate new ideas and solve problems together. They become walking, talking repositories of knowledge and best practice which they share and apply in their extended networks or workplaces. That might be enough. But if you want to make their stories more widely available and codify that knowledge, here’s one way of doing it: – giving CoP members a platform to share their stories, ideally unfiltered, by audio, video or written blog – using your own comms channels to get them heard – creating a feedback loop by making direct calls out to the wider movement to add their experiences, identify the new knowledge that emerges and curate the content into follow-up blogs or quick-fire tips

4. Get Your Governance Right

One of the challenges of a community business is having to share the decision making with so many people. The democratic voting model can work but sometimes it feels like the same people are always in the minority.  Among the major challenges a CoP faces is creating a sense of ownership by the network members while still maintaining a clear identity, particularly when the community is an initiative of a well-established organization. Those leading the CoP need to find the right balance between “managing” and letting go.  There is a fear of letting go, in terms of losing control.  Ensuring their is a backbone organization to help the community flourish is essential to enabling its maximum potential.  Over managing a CoP can also be a problem.  Control requires a significant time commitment, so the right mechanisms need to be in place before you allow the community to manage itself.

5. Take Care of Your Community

A CoP can get a bit heavy when people start opening their hearts and minds to each other. Taking care of your of your community is important.  Listen to what’s going on, bring biscuits, make tea and facilitate this thing you’ve created. Put the same level of love and care into the curation of events as you want people to show in their participation at them. The key is to make sure the ground rules are set to encourage positive, constructive information sharing. 

When you do nothing you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better.
- Maya Angelou - 

When you’re building social movements, it helps to provide safe spaces for discussion: spaces which allow people from different disciplines and practice areas to come together and share information. These spaces form what is often known as a peer network or Community of Practice (CoP). They galvanize and energize leaders in their practice areas, helping accelerate social change. So what are CoPs, why do they work and how do you create one and govern it well? Check out our handy how-to guide below, featuring tips from a number of community and network managers.

What are communities of practice?

Communities of Practice are groups of active practitioners in a specific field who share ideas, experiences and best practice and support each other. They can emerge naturally or be deliberately created by an organization or institution to pool and acquire knowledge.

Why do they work?

Communities of Practice work well in large scale dispersed social movements because they bring influential practitioners with diverse experiences together around a common purpose. Valuable learning therefore gets pooled. New knowledge gets created, which the members take back out again into their domain. And the experience of being in the CoP strengthens the sense of shared purpose and values between key movement members.

Requirements to Create and Maintain a COP Webpage on the OBT Portal

  • Submission and approval of the COP Webpage Request Form
  • Community of Practice (COP) is focused on transforming the business of the Army
  • Declaration of a COP Mission that addresses a current business transformation requirement or aspiration
  • Designation of a primary and secondary representative manage and maintain the COP webpage
  • There is not an Army organization already tasked to achieve the goals of the COP

COP Webpage Terms of Use

(Any of the following infractions may result in a webpage being suspended or removed permanently)

  • Publication of classified material
  • Failure to routinely update and maintain the COP Webpage
  • Information on the COP webpage is routinely incorrect or inaccurate 
  • Failure to maintain an attractive and professional appearance
  • Any conduct on or through the webpage that is prejudicial to good conduct and discipline
  • Content on the webpage significantly and consistently diverges from the stated purpose of the COP
  • Exclusion of any Army affiliated personnel from participating in the COP (without cause)