How to select a methodology for a CoP event

You want to plan a face to face event for your Community of Practice in order to transfer knowledge, but which event style do you select?

This is a discussion I have been having recently, and it struck me that this might be a useful blog post.
Now there may be many reasons for a CoP event; to launch the CoP, to celebrate CoP achievement, or to agree on the CoP charter, work plan, objectives and knowledge focus areas. For these purposes you may use many styles of meeting – Open Space, World Cafe, Knowledge Market etc. 

However if we assume that the purpose of the CoP event is to transfer knowledge among the members on one or more topics of interest, then the primary driver of the choice of event style or methodology is driven by two factors:

  • The number of CoP members who have knowledge and experience on the topic (“knowledge holders”, and
  • The number of CoP members who actively need to acquire the knowledge (“knowledge needers”). These are not just “interested parties” – these are people who will apply the knowledge they gain to improve the way they work. 
  • Please note that many people can be both holders and needers – they hold some knowledge but need to acquire more. 
The crossplot of these two factors above is used to suggest some methodologies or styles of knowledge transfer meetings, all of which should be based on positive dialogue between the knowledge holders and knowledge needers. Also note that if your CoP meeting addresses many topics, then you may need many styles of meeting at the same event – either one after the other, or in parallel in separate spaces. How do you find out the topics, and the number of holders and seekers within the CoP? You either conduct a survey, do some knowledge mapping, analyse the questions in the community forum, or hold a Knowledge Market
If you have a relatively small number of knowledge holders and a large number of knowledge needers, then you can hold a lessons learned discussion. This requires active moderation, and should be driven by questions from the knowledge needers. The discussion will create reference content for the CoP. Alternatively, a storytelling session may be appropriate. Or if the knowledge is very polarised, with one or two experts and everyone else in the CoP novices, then a training session may be the best approach, but try to drive the training by the questions of the needers as much as possible.
If you have one or two people with experience in the topic and a moderate number of knowledge needers, then in some cases a knowledge site visit may be appropriate. Here the CoP meeting is held at the premises of one of the knowledge holders (a factory, or a working office) who can demonstrate the knowledge in application.

If you have many knowledge holders and many knowledge needers, then a knowledge exchange may be appropriate. Here the CoP members discuss the topic, and all its subtopics, exchanging experience, answering questions, and discussing and co-creating best practice. The process is driven by the questions of the knowledge needers, and is suitable when there are one or more areas of practice applied by most of the CoP members, but where approaches differ. This process can develop good practice reference documents for future use by the CoP. 
If there are a moderate number of knowledge needers, then you can run a Peer Assist to enable knowledge transfer to the needers. Generally the process adds value to others as well.

If there is a topic where there are a few holders and a few needers, it may be best not to make this the focus of a CoP event, but to create a small action learning group, which will report back to the CoP through the online portal, or through short briefings.

Finally if there is a new topic which the CoP wants to explore, but currently has no experts or knowledge holders, then a more open process such as Open Space or World Cafe/Knowledge cafe.

However if transfer of knowledge is your aim, use one of the processes above to ensure effective dialogue between the knowledge holders and the knowledge needers. 

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