Directed or directionless CoP's

There’s an interesting item on Dave Snowden’s blog about whether a community of practice should be self-organising, or if it should be directed. I’d agree with Dave on the point he makes that CoP’s evolve and can’t be designed top-down. However, I think it does depend to some extent on the context or environment in which the CoP evolves as to how much planning and direction you afford it. My experience of how CoP’s are evolving in the public sector is that there is a need for some degree of planning to identify where a community approach might work better than the usual ‘let’s set up a web site for identifying best practice in the South West local authorities’ – or wherever – approach. Many of the people involved in these regional/local initiatives are only just beginning to see the light in terms of cross-boundary collaboration and need a nudge or two to get them thinking in terms of CoP’s. Whether one wants to think of this as ‘planning’ in the engineering sense I’m not sure. All I know is that there is a degree of direction involved in getting a CoP established, and a need for some care and maintenance of the CoP during the early days. The concept of CoP’s is still new to the majority of the public sector, and someone needs to apply liberal amounts of fertiliser to encourage growth!

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