Why communities of practice need active management

Here is a cautionary tale about the importance of active Community of Practice management and facilitation, and what happens when the facilitator is removed.

The story comes from Tom Humbarger, who was the community facilitator for a professional community from January 2007 until he was made redundant in July 2008. During his time as facilitator, Tom actively managed the community through –

  • delivery of bi-weekly email update newsletters 
  • production of monthly webcasts 
  • active blog posting and blogger outreach 
  • uploading of fresh content each week 
  • continual promotion of the community in various forums through guerilla marketing 
  • ongoing brainstorming and strategizing with respect to improving the community experience 
  • priming of discussion forums, and 
  • ongoing communications with individual community members

During Tom’s active role the community grew from zero to 4,000 members, and had a sustained high level of activity as shown in the plot above, of 1300 average weekly visits to the community site.

However things changed once Tom was no longer playing the facilitator role. Once he was no longer in place:

  • Membership growth slowed from 55 new memners per week to 20;
  • The number of visits to the community forum dropped by 60%;
  • The number of pages viewed per visit dropped by 22%;
  • The time on site decreased by 33%;
  • Fresh activity (new posts and questions) tailed off to near zero.
The community of practice limped on for a few more months, but performance was lacklustre.
Tom’s story, and the graph above. demonstrate clearly the value that a facilitator brings to a community of practice.

If you want a successful community of practice, it needs facilitation and management. 

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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