Communities of Practice
Solve Complex Societal and Governmental Problems
Purpose and Outcomes
Purpose: Government Communities of Practice (CoPs) are designed to help their members reach beyond their agency and other traditional outlets.
CoP members can consult subject-matter experts (SMEs) in government to solve problems, share ideas, develop peer relationships, and build on shared resources. Individual members can fulfill personal and professional goals around a defined topic of interest. Communities of practice allow government to do more with less. Their use is steadily increasing.
When communities of practice are properly cultivated, they grow into dynamic and innovative social structures. While agencies and other groups can initially sponsor and set up a community, the members must define and sustain it over time. Most communities consist of volunteer members who determine the goals, structure, and governance of the community.
By joining one or more of the government CoPs, federal employees can:
- Achieve White House strategic goals through coordinated efforts across the CoP.
- Consult a network of experts at any time
- Improve existing shared services and tools
- Improve shared performance outcomes
- Institutionalize the roles and responsibilities for innovation within agencies
- Provide professional development opportunities for members to enhance or learn new skills
- Reduce costs related to training, shared resources, and professional development
- Use each other’s strengths to produce a mutually beneficial solution
Agencies benefit when their employees join government communities of practice because the CoP can:
- Connect people across the government who might not otherwise be able to
- Inspire new ideas from cross-agency interactions and collaborations
- Build shared solutions by leveraging subject-matter expertise
- Learn from each other in a forum where conversations can produce solutions and provide a network for mentoring and coaching opportunities.
- Share resources and best practices including educational development tools for member knowledge and development.
Actions and Considerations
If you’re deciding whether to start a CoP, ask yourself these questions:
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- Does anyone else in the government have the same problem?
- Is anyone currently working to solve this problem?
- Is a community of practice the ideal way to solve this problem? Should we keep a formal group together for future collaborations?
- Is there a subject-matter expert available to set up and grow the community?
Follow these steps when deciding to setup and maintain a government CoP:
Explore: Identify the audience, purpose, goals, and vision. Reach out to others within a community for lessons learned and shared resources.
Plan: Define the activities, technologies, group processes, and roles that will support the community's goals. Use all the resources and guidance of existing government community of practice hubs such as DigitalGov University.
- Launch: Distribute the new community of practice to the designated government agency and engage all new members with upcoming activities and benefits. Promote the community to other communities.
Grow: Engage members in learning and knowledge-sharing activities, group projects, and networking events to create a cycle of participation and contribution.
- Sustain: Review and assess the knowledge and products created within the community for future strategies, goals, and technologies. Use short surveys to prioritize the next steps.
Successful communities measure their accomplishments on predetermined outcomes, community maturity, or other factors. However, elements of community success such as learning about best practices, knowledge transfer, and building government-wide solutions are intangible and impossible to quantify.
To measure properly, include metrics for both tangible and intangible outcomes, whenever possible. Here are some ways to measure both outcomes:
- Tangible outcomes:
- Number of members, discussions, interactions, posts to a forum, and finished deliverables
- Website analytics (pageviews, returning visitors, file downloads, etc.)
- Social media analytics (if applicable)
- Intangible outcomes:
- Transfer knowledge within the community
- Track the networking of peers and experts to easily answer questions
- Post success stories
If a CoP doesn’t meet your needs, consider joining or creating one of these groups:
|Type||Definition||When to Use|
|Centers of Excellence (CoEs)||A group of people with specialized skills and expertise whose job is to provide leadership and disseminate their knowledge.||When there is a group of SMEs or executives who wish to coach, teach, and mentor for a defined period of time. A CoE can lead to a CoP.|
|Community of Interest||Similar to CoPs but tend to be narrower in scope and have a specific focus.||When there is a specific topic within a bigger community that members want to build out.|
|Guild||An association of craftsmen or merchants who set standards, and pricing, and work to perfect their skills. Guilds were originally started during the Middle Ages.||When a group of people in the same organization or agency want to share best practices, lessons learned, and collaborate on projects.|
|Public-Private Partnership||Collaboration between public and private sectors, typically on a long-term basis.||When there is a need to use members from industry and government to solve problems.|
|Working Group||Group of individuals who collaborate to achieve a specific objective.||When there is an issue or project to solve and there is a defined beginning and end.|
There are currently no direct policies about setting up and managing a government community of practice. As a federal government, consider these recommendations:
- Understand your agency’s policy about using all government equipment.
- Behave online in such a way that you do not bring your agency into disrepute, even if you are not officially representing your agency.
- Do not participate in commercial communications or endorsements.
- Remember all of your email correspondence with the CoP are subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
- Check your current agency policies on managing records. Find more information on the National Archives Records Management Information Page.
Note: If your community includes members of the public (non-government), please review the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) Guide before sending out a survey or other requests for feedback.