On communities of practice – an example

A workplace initiative at a former workplace that I am really proud of was the introduction of communities of practice (CoP’s) – I named them “Pubs”. The pubs connected people with a common interest and a common workplace need across three key business units (and some others), and across geographic space in Australia and New Zealand. I have elaborated on this before so I won’t dwell on it here.

Whilst I am not currently working on establishing CoP’s where I work now, I am still interested in hearing about other people’s experiences with these type of knowledge management activities.

I was therefore pleased to read a recent article describing CoP’s within an engineering environment. Allow me to quote at length the relevant example of interest:

Schlumberger Ltd, a company involved in the gas and energy exploration industry, provides a useful example. A knowledge management system called Eureka links technical experts in its Oilfield Services unit into communities of practice. It is through these communities of practice that relevant tips, tricks, and conceptual understanding are shared. Engineers, regardless of location, can access the collective knowledge of their peers within the company. Each technical expert within Schlumberger has two organizational “homes”—the formal, rational, hierarchically sanctioned home that corresponds to a position on a chart, and the Eureka technical community, the informal, natural, horizontally linked network of peers who share a common interest, goal, or passion regarding what they do to create wealth for the corporation.”

The notion of a formal and informal “system” of knowledge exchange and knowledge distribution is where significant potential exists for organisational knowledge sharing and knowledge rearticulation. I also like the notion of “home” – a safe place in which to have open and frank discussions. I hope that is the case at Schlumberger.

I believe that CoP’s still have a part to play in good knowledge management activities, despite the popularity of blogs and wikis. I am pleased to read that other organisations are finding value in CoP’s as well.

And, talking about value, Patrick Lambe recently blogged about CoP value as an extension of a discussion on the act-km listserv – a discussion in which I also participated. Ascribing value is always important – how the people at Schlumberger do it would be of interest. The challenge is in presenting CoP “value” to management in a way that delivers meaningful and relevant quantitative AND qualitative information in a form that management is happy to accept and understand.

And the more CoP success stories I hear about, then all the better!

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