Case Studies of Knowledge Sharing via Communities of Practice

In this session we looked briefly at how EngenderHealth, FHI360 and Ipas have implemented CoPs, what’s working and what the challenges are. The session handout is replicated below :


Case Studies of Knowledge Sharing via Communities of Practice

Jill Leonard (bio), FHI360
Julia Cleaver (bio), Ipas
Christopher Lindahl (bio), EngenderHealth

Summary: Communities of Practice (CoPs) are groups of people who share an interest (technical or professional) and share knowledge, information and experience in their group. In this session, we look briefly at how EngenderHealth, FHI360 and Ipas have implemented CoPs, what’s working and what the challenges are. We then open the discussion to how we in the APLIC community might apply the lessons learned to enrich our own experiences, build a sense of belonging and add value to our practices.


What is a CoP?

  • “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”[1]
    • Domain: The area of shared inquiry and of key issues.
    • Community: The relationships among members and the sense of belonging.
    • Practice: The body of knowledge, methods, stories, cases, tools, and documents.


Why CoPs?[2]

Facilitated introductions “Are you doing what I am doing? Who else is interested in this?”
Facilitated resource sharing “Have you seen this? Do you have what I need?”
Problem solving “Can we work on this design and brainstorm some ideas; I’m stuck.”
Requests for information “Where can I find the code to connect to the server?”
Seeking experience “Has anyone dealt with a customer in this situation?”
Reusing assets “I have a proposal for a local area network I wrote for a client last year. I can send it to you and you can easily tweak it for this new client.”
Coordination and synergy “Can we combine our purchases of solvent to achieve bulk discount?”
Discussing developments “What do you think of the new CAD system? Does it really help?”
Documentation projects “We have faced this problem five times now. Let us write it down once and for all.”
Visits “Can we come and see your after-school program? We need to establish one.”
Mapping knowledge and identifying gaps “Who knows what, and what are we missing? Who else should we connect with?”


EngenderHealth Experience

  • Developed and maintained external communities of practice through projects such as the Maternal Health Task Force and the RESPOND project
  • Currently establishing internal communities of practice
  • Staff survey identified gaps/challenges that CoPs could potentially address
  • Brought in graduate intern who had experience with CoPs at UNDP to do literature review, identify good practices, and talk to partner organizations about their experiences with CoPs
  • Launched Monitoring, Evaluation, and Research Community of Practice (MERCOP) in fall 2014
  • Allows staff working on M&E around the world to more easily interact with each other, share good practices, address issues, discuss tools and resources, and ask questions of their colleagues.
  • Creating sense of community among staff and getting them to know colleagues.
  • Currently exists as an email group, a page or two on our intranet and regular meetings using GoToMeeting.


FHI360 Experience

  • 30 or more CoPs on technical topics including Evaluation, Mobile Technology, etc.
  • Varying levels of engagement across them – some CoPs have created knowledge products, created databases of all staff with M & E experience, done group applications to conferences, shared announcements on funding, new developments, articles, webinars and observations on a conference or presentation
  • Model of facilitator vs Moderator- We find that a facilitator does not have to be an expert, but rather someone who partners with experts to host meetings, facilitate projects, take notes, post materials to corresponding intranets and invite and introduce new members
  • Each CoP is on MailList listservs, has a Yammer channel, and a Sharepoint page. We use Intercall and Adobe Connect for meetings and try to schedule meetings so that field staff can attend
  • Listservs show varying level of activity that wax and wane as do the groups and their activities
  • Overall we have found that staff like to feel part of groups in ever growing organizations where we are separated by offices and geography, but time to participate is biggest barrier
  • Getting to know other people and working together in groups have been the most tangible benefits
  • The CoPs must be continually nurtured, but they are a key tool in a knowledge sharing organization


Ipas Experience


  • Staff requested a platform that could be used to collaborate with partners outside Ipas. They need a way to host email lists and document libraries.
  • Ipas did not have technology to achieve this
  • Many of our partner organizations use the IBP Knowledge Gateway (KG) to host online communities. We had hoped that by joining IBP Consortium we would be able to use that technology. Unfortunately, we were told at a late date, that we cannot post abortion content on the KG as it is funded by USAID.
  • Paying a fee to have an Ipas Portal using this platform
  • The underlying platform of the KG is called CommunityCloud and is run by a man in Geneva called Damir Simunic. Working to create a connection between Dgroups, KG, and Ipas – User’s Group


  • 12 staff from 4 units formed a working group to inventory the potential communities and lead pilots
  • We wanted to start by using best practices. Hired Nancy White, co-author of the book Digital Communities, to provide a series of webinars and in-person training in the fall of 2014.
  • This helped us learn how to be leaders of effective networks and online communities, and to define scopes and purposes to move this work forward.

Next Steps

  • Learn to technically administer the portal
  • Brand the Ipas portal
  • Set up overall governance, roles and responsibilities and community norms
  • Pilot communities!

Activity: Variation of 25/10 Crowd Sourcing from Liberating Structures

Additional Resources

[1] Etienne Wenger, “Communities of practice a brief introduction.”

[2] Etienne Wenger, “Communities of practice a brief introduction.”

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