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If I Build It, Will They Come? Sustaining Active Communities of Practice for Global Health 


January 24 to February 4, 2011
www.knowledge-gateway.org/KMWG/communitiesofpractice

The purpose of this two-week discussion was to share experiences in using virtual communities of practice (CoPs) for global health and learn about innovative approaches to nurturing the engagement and participation of CoP members. CoP novices as well as veterans are welcomed! In order to share successes and challenges, we would greatly appreciate that CoP leaders, moderators, and facilitators participate since we hope that this community will become an ongoing place where CoP leader/moderators/facilitators can share experiences, tools and lessons learned.

Discussion Statistics


Number of participants:  302
Number of participants' countries: 48   
Number of contributions: 87
% of contributions from developing countries: 64%
Number of countries contributing: 14

Contributing countries:

Canada, India, Kenya, Nepal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Switzerland, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Zambia


Purpose and Objectives 

Purpose:

The purpose of this two-week discussion is to share experiences in using virtual communities of practice (CoPs) for global health and learn about innovative approaches to nurturing the engagement and participation of CoP members. CoP novices as well as veterans are welcomed! In order to share successes and challenges, we would greatly appreciate that CoP leaders, moderators, and facilitators participate since we hope that this community will become an ongoing place where CoP leader/moderators/facilitators can share experiences, tools and lessons learned.

        

Objectives:

  • We plan to spotlight many areas including the following:
  • Benefits and challenges of CoPs
  • IT considerations
  • Engaging and energizing participants
  • Nurturing your CoP 
                                            
Day 1: Use of CoPs

Questions:

In your opinion, do CoPs that reach across organizations have more success than those who only focus internally? What defines and makes these types of communities valuable?

Day 1 Summary:

We received 9 contributions to the day 1 post from individuals working for international NGOs, colleges and universities, an international news portal, and a web technology firm, all of whom are leaders or participants of communities of practice.

Collectively, we agree that building a CoP is simple while maintaining and growing a CoP has its share of challenges. Some challenges shared by members include the following:
  • Inactivity after an event or discussion
  • Limited or no internet connectivity in developing countries
  • Lack of funding for CoP managers/leaders
  • Concerns regarding confidentiality of discussion
  • Lack of real time discussion
  • Limited time to participate

Day 2: The added value of CoPs

Question:

In your opinion, do CoPs that reach across organizations have more success than those who only focus internally? What defines and makes these types of communities valuable?

Day 2 Summary:

We’ve received 8 contributions today from the US, Nepal, Nova Scotia, South Africa, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Geneva. Most participants agree that working across organizations increases the diversity of a community and tends to add to the value of the discussion around a particular topic. Maggie Usher-Patel describes experiences with the Knowledge Gateway and reminds us how important the development of a strategy is when building your community. This is particularly important in terms of sustainability. Professor McPherson from Nova Scotia echoes these sentiments, “By working across organizations within a CoP model there is added-value in that you broaden the possibilities to not only increase partnership numbers, but to also diversity--its resources (possibly more inter-professional; more in-kind supports for the endeavor, such as paying for a web space or conference call phone line), cultures (which may bring more diverse views regarding the etiology of the issue as well as strategies to address it), etc.”
                              
Day 3: Considerations before creating a community of practice. 

Question:

What do you think is important to consider in creating an online community of practice? What tools or best practices have you used to create an online community of practice?


Day 3 Summary:

Based on your responses, we agree that developing overarching objectives is key before starting a community of practice. But the ability to be flexible and modify the objectives as your CoP evolves is equally as important. As I mentioned on Day 1, Etienne Wegner argues that there are three key characteristics that define a CoP: (1) the domain, (2) the community, and (3) the practice - and this discussion focuses heavily on the “the community.”

Many of you mentioned the importance of a moderator whether to encourage direct interaction between members or to serve as a gatekeeper to a discussion. Other contributors mentioned the lack of technology or the inability to access technology, which is a great lead into Day 4’s posting that will be posted shortly concerning IT considerations in starting and nurturing a virtual CoP.

     
Day 4 : IT considerations

Question:

What are the important IT considerations in starting and nurturing a virtual CoP?. 


Day 4 Summary:

We’ve received 6 contributions today from the Nepal, South Africa, the United Kingdom, US, and Switzerland. Your experiences reveal that there is a lot of innovation taking place and hopefully one day everyone will have similar access. Until then, “let's use the opportunities we have, while we look for other solutions” and don’t waste resources reinventing the wheel as suggested by Maggie Usher-Patel in today’s posting (see Contribution 6 for the full text) and Neil Pakenham-Walsh (from yesterday’s post). Also included in the full text daily digest are innovations put forth by participants.

                                                
 Day 5: Rotating the role of moderator/facilitator and assessing your CoP members’ needs.

Question:

  1. We have discussed a number of challenges faced in nurturing an online CoP as well as learned about a number of solutions to addressing these challenges. For instance, we learned about one CoP’s strategy of selecting the moderator of the CoP from the member who is most active in a forum. Have others tried this? What has your experience been? Have you ever tried rotating the role of moderator/facilitator? How did this work out?
  2. We’ve also learned that often less is more in terms of functionality and ensuring access. At the same time, we’ve heard again and again the importance of ensuring that the technology meets the ever changing needs of the CoP members. Do you assess your CoP members’ needs? If so how, often? What strategies do you 

Day 5 Summary:

Thank you for your contributions. We’ve received 4 contributions today from Uganda, Nepal, South Africa and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We identified two main themes from today’s contributions:

The importance of integrating face-to-face meetings and/or technologies that allow participants to meet “in person” with virtual CoPs.

We learned about a number of approaches that community moderators and leaders use to encourage CoP members’ active participation. Some of these approaches include:
  • Using a rotating moderator among the members to share responsibility.
  • To take into account members with limited internet access, “we planned by giving schedules to those people on when they should engage us basing on their preferred time and availability of internet.” (Gotto Danny, Uganda).
  • Sending out monthly or quarterly newsletters to recap previous work and information from members.
  • Using side chat rooms for more specific conversations which allows for camaraderie and encourages discussions.

                                 
Day 6: Combining face-to-face activities and virtual activities.

Question:

  1. How have you combined face-to-face activities and virtual activities? What did you find to be most effective or challenging in doing this?

Day 6 Summary:

We’ve received 7 contributions from members in South Africa, Nepal, Scotland, and the US. Comments from guest experts on this topic included the following:
  • Lissette Bernal-Cruz says “Regarding levels of participation, we are fortunate in this discussion to be reminded that there is value in all levels of participation (long thoughtful replies and brief, e-mail links are both valid). Welcoming a range of participation is absolutely essential for a CoP to work and be of value to its membership”
  • Dr. Patricia Abbot says “Build it and they may come. If there is not value associated it – they will not come back. So, a CoP does not run itself – it works best when there is a team.”
  • Dr. Neil Pakenham-Walsh says in his original message “There is no doubt that this (combining face-to face and virtual activities) helped to raise awareness about the forums, and attracted a substantial number of early members. It also helped to focus our attention in each case on careful planning and preparation, which are so important for the success of any new forum.”
                             
Day 7: The role of incentives in encouraging and nurturing participation.

Question:

What is the role of incentives in encouraging and nurturing participation?

Day 7 Summary:

Today we received 4 contributions from members in the United Kingdom, Kenya, Nepal, and the US. Guest expert, Jude Griffin, responded to each contribution. Topics included the type of facilitation approach used for different communities of practice, the ebb and flow of activity in a community, the importance of giving members a way to manage how discussions will evolve, and the important role of culture in discussion dynamics.

                                 
Day 8: Hosting an effective online discussion forum

Question:

What does it take to host an effective online discussion forum as well as successfully engaging the audience?

Day 8 Summary:

Today we received 8 contributions from members in the United Kingdom, Nepal, South Africa and the US. Participants commented on translation and multi-language discussion forums, moderating a CoP and maintaining databases of members, and many participants provided examples of successful CoPs.                    
Day 9: Multi-language communities of practice.

Question:

What strategies and experiences do you have to share on developing multi-language communities of practice?

Day 9 Summary:

We received 3 additional responses to the Day 9 question (about multi-lingual communities of practice). Elizabeth Westley, Aaron Beals and Maggie Usher-Patel share some of the efforts they are undertaking to overcome the language barrier within and across the COPs they support.                              
Day 10: Using social media to engage CoPs

Question:

Have you developed an online communication strategy that incorporates social media tactics? What social media platforms do you use to engage stakeholders or communities of practice?

Day 10 Summary:

Thank you for your participation, insightful contributions, and sharing your experience using and leading communities of practice- both internally and externally.

Today we received 2 contributions from members in the United Kingdom and Scotland who shared their experiences with Groupsite and TKN.

                                
Program Examples
  • The IBP Knowledge Gateway. The IBP Knowledge Gateway has hosted over 20 online discussions since 2005.
  • S4Health. S4Health functions as an online community of practice run by the Global Health Group at the University of California, San Francisco. The CoP seeks to identify, understand, and promote innovative models for engaging the private sector in health systems strengthening in developing countries. Stakeholders from around the world exchange information and innovations. The CoP intends to decrease duplication of efforts and increase interest in the topic of social franchising.
  • Alumni CoP. Shishir Dahal, a medical doctor in Nepal, noted that the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium conducts a short online course on antiretroviral treatment in English and French every year. Approximately 300 alumni recently decided to start a CoP. 
Post-forum survey results

Number of surveys completed 68

% who have passed content to others 64%

% who have or will use in their work  90%

% very satisfied with forum content 68%

Suggestions for improvement :  

          • Breaking down the topic to daily questions posed, thought this was very well organized….I really appreciated people referencing and providing links to websites and fuller descriptions of work being described. Encourage more of this. I still need to become more facile with different formats in CoP discussions on the gateway.
          • Change the format for deeper and more meaningful discussions. Rather than bringing in your guests/experts to pronounce their experience, let them be resources for others to draw on.
          • I would like to widen the CoP. I need to see more contributions from people. Maybe more time is need to mobilise participants before starting. Also I would love to involve use of social media like Facebook so that we could see faces on contributors. I feel when you see a human face it seems so real than just an email.
          • I think that in order to meet the goal of "connecting people to share experiences," the individual contributions should have been posted as they were submitted, allowing for more of a dialogue.
          • Slow down the discussion. It was relentless having a different topic every day, so some days I would not read anything. 
          • I liked how there were a few key people to share their experiences. It's good to have ‘experts’ available to help give advice and guide the discussions.
References and resources

Click here for related resources and references in the community library

Organizing groups

Johns Hopkins Center for Communications Programs/Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project, WHO/RHR, IBP Knowledge Gateway and USAID, in collaboration with members of the IBP Knowledge Management Working Group, Management Sciences for Health, EngenderHealth/RESPOND Project, the Global Alliance for Nursing and Midwifery and HIFA2015

Contributing experts/facilitators 

Lissette Bernal-Cruz, Knowledge Management Coordinator, EngenderHealth/RESPOND Project

Dr. Sandra Land, Retired Consultant, PAHO/WHO

Dr. Patricia Abbott, Co-Director PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center on Nursing Knowledge Management, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing

Dr. Neil Pakenham-Walsh, Co-Director, Global Healthcare Information Network, Coordinator, HIFA2015

Jude Griffin, Team Leader, Knowledge Exchange, Management Sciences for Health

Maggie Usher-Patel, Scientist, WHO/RHR, IBP Secretariat

Christina Fusco, WHO Consultant, IBP global administrator

Lisa Basalla, eLearning Coordinator, Johns Hopkins University Center for Communications Programs/K4Health Project

Ashley Isabelle Spence, Communications Associate, Johns Hopkins University Center for Communications Programs/K4Health Project

Angela Nash-Mercado, Senior Content Manager, Johns Hopkins University Center for Communications Programs/K4Health Project

Christopher Rottler, Senior Communications Manager, Johns Hopkins University Center for Communications Programs/K4Health Project

Moderators

Ashley Isabelle Spence, Knowledge for Health Project, JHU/CCP