Leaders come from within communities of practice

Leaders come from within communities of practice

The effectiveness of communities of practice depends on the dynamics within each group of practitioners, says Eli Malinsky, program manager for the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto.

“The results are really a reflection of the energy and leadership within the group,” Malinsky explains.

The centre, described on its website (www.socialinnovation.ca) as dedicated to catalyzing, informing, inspiring and supporting social innovations and social mission initiatives, began holding communities of practice workshops for collaboration practitioners and technology practitioners this year.

The results, thus far, have been mixed, Malinsky says.

“We haven’t seen much energy from the collaboration practitioners community of practice,” he says. “The leadership has been lukewarm.”

There were about 20 people in the practitioners group at the first meeting March 6, and the second is scheduled for May 29 at the centre. The centre had hoped members of the group would organize the second meeting.

The centre is supportive but any community of practice should not be led from outside the group, he says. “The solutions to common challenges have to be driven by the peer group participants.”

There has been a much better response to a community of practice initiative for technology practitioners, Malinsky reports.

“These are people where the technology role has fallen on their shoulder and their expertise ranges from a full programming background to people with a great interest in technology but not much background.”

Technology practitioners include web developers and people assigned to content development, outreach and mailing lists, he explains. “A lot of people are facing this type of work, it’s very challenging and they don’t have a road map.”

Twenty years ago, no one in an organization was responsible for technology, he points out. “It is clear from the response we got that there is a real need for peer networking and skills development.”

The technology practitioners community of practice sprung from an original group of eight to 10 people, including Malinsky, meeting on a regular basis, he says. “We realized there many more like us and decided to invite them in.”
Close to 40 people expressed interest in such a community of practice, Malinsky said.

Technology practitioners are often the only people in an organization who understand what it is they actually do. The communities of practice provide an opportunity to share their knowledge, collaborate and learn together, he says.
In a community of practice, participants collectively use each other’s expertise to take on problems they are wrestling with, Malinsky explains. “People bring the issues they focus on.”

The second event for the technology practitioners is scheduled for June 9 at the centre. “We have already had examples of leadership within the group,” Malinsky said. “They have formed an e learning committee responsible for organizing this event.”

The centre does not dream up a community of practice to launch, he says. “We will support an idea if it comes to us and help incubate that, and provide a support structure to an individual who organizes a meeting.”


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John Driscoll

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