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Looking Beyond Numbers: Measuring the Value of Communities of Practice (CoPs) for Global Health  

April 4-15, 2011

The purpose of this two-week forum is to bring novices as well as veterans together to share experiences and lessons learned in measuring the value and success of virtual communities of practice (CoPs) for global health.

Discussion Statistics

Number of participants:  371
Number of participants' countries: 56   
Number of contributions: 142
% of contributions from developing countries: 28%
Number of countries contributing: 11

Contributing countries:

United Kingdom (4), Nigeria, Canada, Nepal (3), USA (8), Switzerland (3), France, Kenya, Belgium, Mauritana, Uganda

Purpose and Objectives 


The purpose of this two-week forum is to bring novices as well as veterans together to share experiences and lessons learned in measuring the value and success of virtual communities of practice (CoPs) for global health.  


  • Begin to codify the added value and successes of CoPs for global health, which are often in community leaders’ and participants’ heads and not often documented and widely available.
  • Share experiences that will assist the K4Health Project in creating case studies for a collaboratively authored piece on making the case for CoPs in global health.


Day 1


  1. How would you define a CoP’s success?
  2. Does the definition of success vary among the perspectives of a participant, an organizer, and a subject matter expert?

Day 1 Summary:

Today we received 7 contributions from Canada, Nepal, Nigeria, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the USA. Our contributors noted that success means reaching a large number of participants with key information, that discussion threads are clear and easily understood, and that it generates debate that is provocative, interesting and stimulating. Another measure of success for an organizer would be if the CoP encourages participants to discover new ways to tackle problems and to foster sustainable partnerships between participants and organizations.

Day 2


  1. How do you or your Community of Practice measure its success?

Day 2 Summary:

We received a total of 10 contributions from the US, France, Kenya, Belgium, Nepal, Mauritania, and Switzerland. Participants agreed that success should be defined before the community is launched or at least at the very beginning of forming the community. In addition, success should be informed by the community’s membership and an understanding of its needs. A number of other contributors noted the importance of usage statistics, such as “number of members, contributions, settings represented, organizations linked to those members (if they belong to NGOs and start to involve more colleagues or if they bring in institutional collaborations),” and outputs achieved by the community.

day 3


  1. Is knowledge sharing an important enough goal in and of itself for a CoP? How is knowledge sharing measured? What metrics do you use?


Day 3 Summary:

We've received 5 contributions from the UK, Uganda, the US, and Nepal. Participants discuss different ways that they measure knowledge sharing. Participants agree that it is important to focus on specific deliverables and set targets at the outset and that both quantitative and qualitative methods are needed to measure success. Several participants noted that knowledge sharing in not an important enough goal in and of itself for a CoP. Overall, everyone agrees that measurement is a complex topic.

Day 4


  1. Have you experienced unexpected outcomes as a result of your involvement in a CoP? 

Day 4 Summary:

We received one comment in which Jude Griffin discussed the unexpected outcomes as a result of her involvement in CoPs over the years.

Day 5


  1. How do we capture qualitative outcomes of Communities of Practice?

Day 5 Summary:

There are many different methodologies for facilitating CoPs, and there are also many different approaches to 'capturing' the experience and expertise of participants, and using this to further promote understanding and further dialogue. Guest expert, Dr. Neil Pakenham-Walsh describes the methods that HIFA-2015 is using.

Day 6


  1. What has been learned on monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of CoPs?

Day 6 Summary:

This digest reflects on key literature regarding what has been learned on the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of CoPs. Researchers tend to agree that M&E should seek to improve performance, impact, and knowledge sharing. Additionally, many feel it is important to know why and how to measure outputs and outcomes prior to designing an M&E plan. Authors also believe it is important to go beyond basic statistics in order to better understand whether or how knowledge was transferred or acquired by the user.

Post-forum survey results

Number of surveys completed 24

% who have passed content to others 64%

% who have or will use in their work  32%

% very satisfied with forum content 60%

Suggestions for improvement :  

  • When accepting the contributions for the discussions archive online, clean up messages prior to accepting. (e.g. erase the original message and email thread leaving just the contributor's message.) This will make it MUCH easier to read and browse the archived discussion.
  • Maybe shorter in timespan, and even more focused?
  • I would have preferred the discussion to have taken place through the KM4D email list as this is the kind of discussion that happens there most of the time- having an extra group didn't really seem necessary to me.
References and resources

Click here for related resources and references in the community library

Organizing groups

Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs/K4Health Project; World Health Organization/Department of Reproductive Health and Research; IBP Knowledge Gateway; and the US Agency for International Development, 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 Health Information for all by 2015 (HIFA 2015)

Contributing experts/facilitators 

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

Lisette Bernal-Cruz, Knowledge Management Coordinator for the RESPOND project at EngenderHealth

Peggy D’Adamo, Knowledge Management/IT Advisor at USAID

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

Dr. Sandra Land, retired consultant, WHO/GANM

Lisa Mwaikambo, e-Learning Coordinator at Johns Hopkins University Center for Communications Programs/K4Health Project

Kavitha Nallathambi, Communications Specialist at Johns Hopkins University Center for Communications Programs/K4Health Project

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

Ashley Spence, Communications Coordinator at Johns Hopkins University Center for Communications Programs/K4Health Project

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


Ashley Isabelle Spence, JHU/CCP