Community of Practice Facilitators Workshop

We had a very good day at the IDeA Community of Practice Facilitator’s Workshop on Friday 11th April. These are regular (bi-annual) events where we get the CoP facilitators (and several guests) together to share knowledge and experience of facilitating one or more of the 300+ CoPs now active across local government.

The day was organised and facilitated by a team from the IDeA, led by Michael Norton, who interestingly enough has just put his toe in the water and started his own blog. I’m sure he’ll have lots of valuable things to say about his specialist area – knowledge management.

Socialreporter David Wilcox was there with an eye on proceedings and video camera at the ready. David did a video interview with Michael Norton and me, but not quite sure where this will appear (note – since posted here). David is also trialling video streaming using QIK and his new S60 Nokia so we’ll look out for some instant video commentary next time!

Hot air balloons

One of the key themes for the day was how to make a CoP fly. We used the analogy of the CoP being a hot air balloon, and the need to ensure it could gain sufficient height to cross a mountain range. The injections of hot air being the various activities that a facilitator could take to keep the CoP flying. There’s a useful article over at Knowledge Board about this.

We also had a video from Nancy White, who has been chairing a hotseat in the Facilitators CoP for the past two weeks on the topic: Are our assumptions about sustaining groups online out of date in the network era?

My personal interest was in listening to the stories ‘from the coal face’, i.e. the experiences of the various facilitators. I have a role as technical steward for the CoP platform, so I want to make sure that the technology is meeting the needs of the facilitators and ordinary members, and that future developments are keeping pace with how the platform is being used. I briefly covered what was being planned for next phase of development, and fortunately the new features seemed to be consistent with what users were asking for. However, I was a bit surprised at how some people were using blogs – not as I had anticipated in that they would be associated with personal comment and promotion on what is happening in a CoP, but in some cases as the vehicle for collecting and distributing confidential CoP comments and documents to just the members of the private CoP. My plans for changing the blog facility from being just internal to each CoP to more of a platform-wide facility to encourage more inter-CoP communication and collaboration may have to be reviewed – though I still think this is a valid need.

Overall it was a very successful day, with lots of useful tips interchanged on how to keep that CoP flying. The benefit of all these type of events is the realisation that you have colleagues out there facing similar issues to you, and can draw on the collective knowledge and experience of a growing cohort of facilitators.

There were a few quotes I will remember:

“I’m not sure that we have permission to innovate in our organisation”

I’d like to think that CoPs do empower people to make change, but the heavy hand of command and control is still evident in many organisations, and could in some cases snuff out that spark of innovation that is in all of us.

“Someone read and commented on my first blog! I got a real buzz out of that – it’s not an ego trip or anything, I’m just so pleased that someone thought I had something interesting to say”

Yes, let’s have more of that!

“We’re all learning together; IDeA does not have all the answers – it’s up to us to help each other”

On that note, I went away feeling quite happy with life!


  1. Matthew Rees said:

    An interesting post, I am almost upset that I left Local Government before the CoP service was fully up and running!

    Maintaining a Cop (you can take a horse to water … etc.) has always been an issue and it is encouraging that it has been cracked in these organizations.

    I also like the balloon metaphor and the fact that you picked my favourite photo from your recent trip to Egypt to show this!


    April 12, 2008
  2. Mark said:

    “I’m not sure that we have permission to innovate in our organisation”

    I think that could be quite a common feeling in some government organisations in Ireland. Often management don’t want to innovate or sponsor innovation as it is seen as sticking your head over the parapet..and creating unnecessary risk …hopefully this view will fade as managers start to understand the principles of CoP and Web 2.0 enabling technologies more clearly

    April 13, 2008
  3. Steve Dale said:


    I think David Gurteen refers to this is “Management 2.0”. The technology is there, there’s a willingness collaborate and share amongst the users, but Management are still detached from it all. Until they change, the full benefits and opportunities available in the Web 2.0 world will not be realised. I think there is evidence of changing attitudes amongst senior managers, but as with all things new, it takes time before ingrained cultures change.

    April 13, 2008
  4. Steve Dale said:


    thanks for the comment. I knew that balloon photo would come in useful! What is encouraging is that many of these facilitator’s have the enthusiasm to make these communities successful, even where they don’t have the support from their managers.

    April 13, 2008
  5. […] mean people can easily steps outside the confines of their institutions. Steve captures that in his item about the event when he recalls someone saying: “I’m not sure that we have permission to […]

    April 13, 2008
  6. Steve Dale said:

    Hi Joitske,

    thanks for the comment – and the link to your blog. Have added to my regular reading list.

    April 19, 2008
  7. […] mean people can easily steps outside the confines of their institutions. Steve captures that in his item about the event when he recalls someone saying: “I’m not sure that we have permission to […]

    July 31, 2008

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.