How to stimulate the engagement of members of a community of practice?
While many leaders of communities of practice wonder about the low participation of their community members, especially remotely, we look at means to stimulate member engagement.
1. What is at stake?
Communities of practice survive as long as their members find value in their involvement in the community. A company without an active community is less likely to innovate, takes longer to bring newcomers up to speed in their positions, capitalizes less on critical knowledge and risks losing strategic knowledge when people retire.
2. What are we looking for in a community?
A place of exchange and sharing, the community is a space of well-being. Relationships between members are based on respect, listening, transparency, audacity, and co-construction. Physical and/or virtual meeting spaces stimulate exchanges between members.
The members of a community of practice are generally volunteers. Their commitment stems from the quality of the exchanges within the community, its usefulness in their daily work and the need to learn from their peers. These exchanges generate the desire to help each other and the will to co-construct a common knowledge base.
Experts who are members of a community are also looking for recognition from their peers (internally or externally) and to improve their level of expertise. They love to help solve complex problems that members bring to them.
Members of an innovation-oriented community are stimulated by a common problem to solve, usually outside the company’s classic innovation process.
The members of an operation-oriented community are stimulated by the improvement of business processes and by the resulting improvement of their practice.
The most engaged communities are those whose topics are aligned with the members’ business, practice, area of interest or expertise, goals or passions.
3. The role of the facilitation team
The role of the community’s facilitation team (leader and core-team) is fundamental in stimulating this commitment. A charter (or manifesto) accepted by all can also reinforce this commitment.
The community leader (animator) is a person who is legitimate in the eyes of the members in the practice, or the domain concerned, who has good interpersonal skills, good digital skills, who is aware that animating a community is not the same thing as managing a project or a team, and who also has time dedicated to this role (20% is recommended)! As it is difficult to find this five-legged sheep, the role can be split between two people for example, one with a strong legitimacy (an expert for example) and another one with the relational and digital skills.
The core-team is composed of active members who volunteer to co-animate the community and represent it to the members in their business unit.
The facilitation team helps the community to organize itself. Its role is to:
- Organize rituals to create links between members (webinars, workshops, work groups…).
- Facilitate exchanges on the online forum of the virtual community.
- Manage the community’s knowledge base.
- Collect the expectations of members and stakeholders.
- Co-construct with the members an animation plan for the year.
- Integrate new members.
- Interface with the formal structure of the organization.
- Demonstrate to the members and the organization the value of the community, which allows members to allocate time dedicated to the community.
4. How to foster member engagement?
Member engagement in a community of practice (CoP) can face many barriers, especially if the CoP is virtual. Lack of time is often the main barrier. Participation in a virtual CoP requires more time and effort than in a face-to-face setting. Members who provide knowledge to others may also fear losing face if they share knowledge that is not valuable to their colleagues.
Some tips and tricks include:
- Encourage members to capitalize and communicate on the knowledge built and produced by the community.
- Encourage members to communicate in community meetings about lessons learned in their practice or about case studies.
- If a question on the online forum (if it is a virtual community) remains unanswered after 48 hours, ask an expert member to answer it.
- Solicit members via questions or messages, but not too frequently.
- Moderate the conversations in the forum, if necessary, in order to avoid drowning the members in a deluge of messages without much added value.
- Organize cross-presentations with other communities.
- Solicit members for occasional help. For example, a member asks a question on the forum or forwards a question that has been sent to him/her directly, in order to stimulate exchanges between members and get the best answers.
- Thank, recognize, and congratulate the active members of the community on a regular basis: for their time spent, their results, their commitments…
5. In a nutshell
Members’ commitment to the CoP depends on their professional commitment and the perceived value of the CoP. The leaders of the CoP must ensure that it brings meaning and value to the members, by sharing best practices and creating new relevant knowledge.
Solutions to improve engagement include (i) building a knowledge repository that is easily accessible to members, (ii) encouraging knowledge sharing within the community by organizing regular events and meetings, or (iii) developing working group on specific sub-topics.
6. To go deeper into the matter
Two articles :
- Aurore Haas, David Abonneau, Stefano Borzillo, Louis-Pierre Guillaume, Afraid of engagement? Towards an understanding of engagement in virtual communities of practice, Knowledge Management Research & Practice, April 2020
- Five Classic Engagement Tactics for Communities of Practice, APQC, December 2017
A practical guide on communities, co-authored by some 40 practitioners and researchers under the aegis of Kedge BS’s KCO, to be released late 2021.