Communities of practice – wild gardens, or market gardens?

What sort of garden is your community of practice?

Barnsley House kitchen garden,
from wikimedia commons

One of my stock sayings is that if knowledge is organic, KM is gardening.

This recognises that knowledge is not a uniform commodity than can be counted out like money, but also recognises that looking after knowledge is hard work.  However even within the topic of gardening there is a range of approaches, and we can see that also in KM terms when it comes to how we work with communities of practice.

There really are two approaches to “community gardening”, and we can call them “select and support” versus “seed and promote”.

The first – “select and support” – is a bottom up approach. It sets the conditions for community growth, lets communities emerge spontaneously, and then selects and supports the ones that are felt to be strategic. Its like preparing a flower bed, allowing flowers to appear, then thinning out the ones you don’t want and watering the ones you do want. You get a wildflower garden if you are lucky, or a bramble patch if you aren’t.

The second approach – “seed and promote” – is more of a top down approach. Here you deliberately seed communities on key topics. Here you plant the things you want to grow – the gardenias and the hollyhocks, or the carrots and the pumpkins.

Each approach has its merits and demerits

The “select and support” approach makes use of existing networks and existing energy. As a manager or network champion, you will be “pushing on an open door”. Payback will be rapid, as there will be very little start-up time and cost. The communities will spring up. However there may be no existing communities which cover the most crucial and strategic topics, and many of the communities that do emerge may have relatively limited business benefit.

The “seed and promote” approach allows you to set up communities to cover the three areas of

  • Strategic Competencies (crucial to competitive success),
  • New competencies (crucial to growth and new direction), and
  • Core competencies (crucial to income and market share).

However payback may take longer, as you need to climb the start-up curve, and it may be hard work generating enthusiasm and energy among prospective community members. These communities will take more work, just as creating a vegetable plot full of prize-winning vegetables takes more work.

But the results may, in the long term, be more valuable to the organisation.

View Original Source Here.

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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