Miyerkules, Agosto 25, 2010

Communities of Practice- Getting The Most Out of Sharing Knowledge by Jolito Ortizo Padilla


Knowledge management is a fundamental quality tool- the better people know how to do their jobs, the better their output and the fewer mistakes they will make. Finding ways to sustain knowledge is therefore a critical job for the quality manager.

There are two types of knowledge that require two very different methods of management. First, explicit knowledge is that which can be written down so it may be communicated to others as needed. This is the knowledge that quality professionals often work with when they are mapping processes and structuring documentation system. The second type of knowledge, tacit knowledge , is less tractable in that it difficult to write down and capture. Tacit knowledge is the knowledge of the expert, the person who has spent years learning on the job.

So how do you manage tacit knowledge? If you cannot write it down , how do you preserve it, spread best practice and teach it to new people? There is no easy answer, but one tool you can use is communities of practice. In keeping with the different nature of tacit knowledge, it is not like a traditional quality tool ; which is structured and explicit.

A community of practice is, in its simplest form, a loose collection of professionals who occassionlly meet up to share ideas and discuss what works. It is not a normal part of the day job and may fall under the radar, unnoticed by managers. Such communities may not be recognized as a critical knowledge tool even by their members. Yet these groups are often crucial for sharing knowledge and sustaining professional development of their members.

So how do communities develop and how can you help them? Internal communities of practice happen within the companies where birds of a feather find one another and flock together, perhaps initially for chats over lunch and later in meetings to help one enother out. An important point; you cannot force such groups and if you try to manage them, their members will drift away. They have to be self managed. All you can do is create the conditions and prompt people to collaborate. Importantly, such meetings must allow very free, trusting and open conversation, including criticising organization.

As an example, a quality manager might go around the security managers in the organization, each of whom may be working independently, then introduce them to one another. Suggestions of "getting together" might be a good idea and you can even find an excuse to fund them travelling all to one place, such as for a joint security review of one facility, putting them all up in a single hotel and organizing dinner just for them (making your own excuses).

External communities of practice mean connecting with people with similar interests in other organizations. One way is to send people on open training sessions, where they will meet and can network with others (such as business continuity manager).Another route is sending people to conferences. A third and important route is to encourage people to join their professional institute where ideas can be exchanged and good practice learned. Much can also be done online and there are groups on websites such as Linkedln , that discuss and share the esoterica of professinal subjects.

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