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Developing Organizational Knowledge Assets at our Communities of Practices

What are CoPs ?

CoPs are ‘Groups of people who share a set of problems, or a passion about a topic and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.’ - Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Synder, W.M. Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge

A Social Learning System

A CoP is, in essence, a social learning system that has proven to be an effective way to manage knowledge. Of late, many organizations have come to realize that designing a knowledge base without a clear domain or a coherent community can easily produce a useless tool, as demonstrated by the numerous databases, built without involving a well-defined community, that are now collecting digital dust.

Paradigm, who has always been a firm believer in customer engagements, had decided to embark on cultivating Communities of Practice (CoPs) for the information industry. To-date, we have spearheaded multiple CoPs, backed by the overwhelming responses of our customers. Our knowledge acquisition model to create, share and apply knowledge, has evolved significantly to establish our own ‘CoP Framework’.

The CoP Management approach, supported by Knowledge Acquisitions Process Tools, encompasses a simple framework which describes a learning cycle – before, during and after each CoP event.

The lessons arising from that learning loop are agreed and distilled by the ‘CoP–Peers’ across the organization who have a stake in agreeing and defining organizational’s best practices, and by selected Subject Matter Experts from related organizations who are able to share best practices.

Finally, the lessons – both specific and generic are incorporated into "Knowledge Assets" in the form of a formal report that is disseminated among to the CoP participants.

What are the characteristics of and how to cultivate CoPs ?

Wenger (2006) had mentioned that there are three elements that are crucial in a CoP:

  1. The domain: A community of practice is not merely a club of friends or a network of connections between people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people.
  2. The community: In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. A website in itself is not a community of practice. Having the same job or the same title does not make for a community of practice unless members interact and learn together.
  3. The practice: A community of practice is not merely a community of interest--people who like certain kinds of movies, for instance. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction.

    It is the combination of these critical elements that constitutes a Community of Practice. And it is by developing these three elements in parallel that one cultivates such a Community.

How can Communities of Practice be applied in Learning Organizations?

Communities of practices have been around for as long as human beings have learned together. The concept of community of practice is influencing theory and practice in many domains. From humble beginnings in apprenticeship studies, the concept was grabbed by businesses interested in knowledge management and has progressively found its way into other sectors.

The concept has been adopted most readily by people in business because of the recognition that knowledge is a critical asset that needs to be managed strategically. Initial efforts at managing knowledge had focused on information systems with disappointing results. Communities of Practice provided a new approach, which focused on people and on the social structures that enable them to learn with and from each other.

Today Communities of Practice can be used as a vehicle for developing strategic capabilities in organizations:

Communities of Practice enable practitioners to take collective responsibility for managing the knowledge they need, recognizing that, given the proper structure, they are in the best position to do this.
Communities among practitioners create a direct link between learning and performance, because the same people participate in Communities of Practice and in teams and business units
Practitioners can address the tacit and dynamic aspects of knowledge creation and sharing, as well as the more explicit aspects.
Communities are not limited by formal structures: they create connections among people across organizational and geographic boundaries.

From this perspective, 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 of Practice have now become the foundation of a perspective on knowing and learning that informs efforts to create learning systems in various sectors and at various levels of scale, from local communities, to single organizations, partnerships, cities, regions, and the entire world.

   OUR CoPs
1st CoP @ UMT - "Key Performance Indicators for Librarians"
2nd CoP @ UiTM - "Competency Skills for Librarians"
3rd CoP @ PPAPP - "Innovation in the marketing of Information Services"
Key Learnings: Key Learnings: Key Learnings:
  • What are the Key Performance Indicators?
  • Why are Key Performance Indicators essential in measuring performance?
  • How to successfully implement KPIs in Libraries?
  • The importance of competencies
  • Identified the competencies needed for their profession
  • List of competencies for librarians
  • Learned about various tools that can be used to assess their environment
  • Learned to develop a marketing plan
  • Produced a list of innovative marketing strategies

4th CoP @ IIUM - "Pushing the Frontier :From Information Management to Knowledge Management "
5th CoP @ UM - "From Information Management to Knowledge Management: Developing New Competencies for Librarians"
6th CoP @ MINDEF - "Developing Intellectual Capital through Knowledge Assets: Importance of Knowledge Audit in KM"
Key Learnings: Key Learnings: Key Learnings:
  • Indentified the difference between IM & KM (processes)
  • Importance of KM to the organization and industry
  • Learned how to capture tacit knowledge via a Knowledge Cafe
  • Importance of KM to the organization and industry
  • Identified the competencies needed in KM
  • Developed a Competencies Gap Analysis (CGA) for their organization
  • Identified knowledge assets in their organization
  • How knowledge assets in their organization contribute to their organizational knowledge
  • Identified competencies needed for a knowledge audit

7th CoP @ PNM - "Techniques in Marketing Knowledge: Making Libraries More Competitive"
8th CoP @ PPUKM - "From IM to KM: Providing Knowledge-based Services for the Medical Industry "
9th CoP @ UiTM - "Core Competencies for the Marketing of UiTM Library Services and Facilities: Analysis and Evaluation"
Key Learnings: Key Learnings: Key Learnings:
  • Identified the different techniques to market a library
  • Fundamentals of marketing knowledge
  • Modern marketing from the library's perspective
  • Identified critical success factors in knowledge management
  • How do libraries assist in the creation and development of a knowledge culture?
  • Clinical medical librarianship
  • Identified the core competencies needed to market the services and facilities of a university library
  • How do libraries support the university's core businesses?
  • Linking marketing to strategic plans

Come. Learn. Share.

Further reading

For the application of a community-based approach to knowledge in organizations:

  • Cultivating communities of practice: a guide to managing knowledge. By Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William Snyder, Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
  • Communities of practice: the organizational frontier. By Etienne Wenger and William Snyder. Harvard Business Review. January-February 2000, pp. 139-145.
  • Knowledge management is a donut: shaping your knowledge strategy with communities of practice. By Etienne Wenger. Ivey Business Journal, January 2004.

For technology issues:

  • Supporting communities of practice: a survey of community-oriented technologies. By Etienne Wenger. Self-published report available at, 2001.

For in-depth coverage of the learning theory:

  • Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. By Etienne Wenger, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

For a vision of where the learning theory is going:


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