Are communities of practice losing popularity as a KM mechanism?

Results from the Knoco 2020 global survey of Knowledge Management seem to show that the use of Communities of Practice is in decline.

Every three years since 2014, knoco has conducted a global survey of Knowledge Management. The latest survey is completed, and the final report written (go here to order a free copy).

One of the intriguing results from one of the graphs was that the usage of Communities of Practice seems to be in decline. So I did a bit more digging in the dataset, and came up with some more evidence.

Firstly, CoPs seem to have slipped down the list of priority approaches. 

The plot below is based on a question that asks respondents to prioritise various approaches within their KM strategy. This question has been asked in all three surveys, and the graph below shows the percentage of people who have chosen each of the options as their highest priority.

You can see that “connecting people through communities or networks” was the most popular “first choice” option in 2014 but has decreased significantly over the 6 years, and is now in 4th place.

Secondly, fewer organisations seem to be using CoPs as part of their KM Framework. 

Participants were asked whether they applied Best Practice, Lesson Learning, Communities of Practice, and (in the 2020 survey only)  Knowledge Retention. The percentages anwering Yes to this question for these four (largely tacit knowledge) approaches are shown below for the three surveys.

You can see that 62% used CoPs in 2014, 57% in 2017 and 55% in 2020. A steady decline.

Finally the organisations in 2020 which ARE using CoPs, are applying fewer of the components, and getting lower levels of satisfaction. 

This last one is a bit more subtle. Out of 13 potential component elements to a CoP framework, respondents in 2020 are using fewer (an average of 5.3 in 2020 compared to 5.4 in 2017 and 5.9 in 2020), and recording lower levels of satisfaction (3.04 out of 5 in 2020 compared to 3.16 and 3.2 in 2017 and 2014).  The prevalence of community sponsors, comunity business cases and community wikis is significantly less in the most recent survey.

These three pieces of data suggest that the use of Communities of Practice is in a slow decline.

But why?

I have to admit that I really do not know why this should be the case. Communities of Practice have been a mainstay of KM from the beginning; they are a powerful mechanism for peer to peer knowledge transfer, and they are the nearest thing to a KM silver bullet. So why are they not still top of the list as a KM priority?

Could it be that the survey datasets have changed – that the types of organisations answering the most recent survey are different? They are no smaller – if anything the average size is bigger in 2020 – but they are less multinational. One explanation might be that the 2020 respondent organisations contain a much higher proportion of government admin departments, and a smaller proportion of professional services firms. So maybe its not that CoPs are in decline, but that KM is being applied more in areas where CoPs are not a common mechanism. Maybe the government admin people need to discover the power of communities?

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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