Considering Community: Communities of practice and double-knit knowledge organisations

Social in silico includes a series of occasional posts focused on community management tips and related information. I’m tagging these Considering Community and you can find all the posts in the series here

Previously on this blog, I’ve reflected on the different types of community that I’ve observed within science and specifically in the first cohort of the community engagement fellowship program that I run at AAAS. I identified four initial broad types of scientific communities – from professional associations to communities of practice. I’m currently delving deeper into communities of practice and am enjoying reading “Cultivating communities of practice” by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott and William M. Snyder.

Today’s post looks at what it means to be a double-knit knowledge organisation – and how we integrate learnings from communities of practice into our day-to-day work.

When asked if her organisation was taking a double-knit approach to knowledge management, Jane replied “I’m a frayed knot.”
Image credit:

A double-knit knowledge organisation is a term used by Richard McDermott to describe where a staff member belongs to an operational team (where they do their core work), and also a community of practice where they hone their expertise (such as other people working on similar projects elsewhere in the same organisation). Outputs from the CoP should feed into the operational work of the day-to-day team for there to be maximum benefit to the organisation from the CoP’s work.

Considering Community

1) Do you belong to a community of practice within your organisation?

e.g. in research science, I’d consider a regular lab or departmental journal club to be a community of practice.

e.g. in my day job I belong to a nascent community of practice of other staff who run fellowship programs in different departments.

Do you think there are particular characteristics that led to the formation of the community of practice? For example, colleagues realising they were encountering similar problems and spontaneously deciding to meet? Or maybe you were assigned to a cross-departmental task force for a particular project and some of you decided to keep meeting once that project wrapped up.

If you don’t have a community of practice within your organisation, can you identify possible reasons e.g. your organisation is too small to support one, or a remote workforce makes getting everyone aligned really difficult? Or perhaps you work in a startup where everyone already wears multiple hats and you don’t have time to take on an additional role.

2) If you belong to a CoP, does anything that you learn there directly or indirectly feed into your day job? How visible is it to your boss and/or senior management?

e.g. maybe by belonging to a social media working group within your organisation you’re more aware and able to keep track of changes to social media platforms in a way that you wouldn’t have time for alone.

e.g. maybe belonging to the staff social committee means you feel more connected to colleagues elsewhere in your organisation such that you’re happier in your job.

Has the CoP become formalised such that other staff know about it, or is it still “under the radar” and not visible to senior management? Has this been a deliberate decision or do you think this reflects the stage of the community or its particular needs?

If your boss knows about your CoP do they understand the benefits it might be bringing to your work, such as increased confidence or faster proficiency in new tools? Have you tried to articulate those benefits – to yourself or others?

3) If you’re a community manager of  an external (online) community which is a CoP, how do you feed back what’s learned in that community to your organisation?

Is knowledge management considered to be a goal of hosting your external community, for example by making materials available and inviting discussion and iteration of them? If so, is there a “double-knit” model at work or is there a missing link in the feedback loop where your organisation isn’t deriving full value from the existence of the external CoP?

e.g. maybe your community members are discussing new trends in your product’s market and which new features they would like to see. Is this feedback noticed by or relayed to your product team or other key stakeholders?

Further reading

  • The first post in this series on CoPs looks at how CoPs are essential for knowledge management.

One thought on “Considering Community: Communities of practice and double-knit knowledge organisations

  1. Pingback: Considering Community: Communities of practice as vital tools for knowledge management – Social in silico

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