How an Association Evolved Using Communities of Practice

How an Association Evolved Using Communities of Practice

Anne Zender (American Health Information Management Association, USA)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-563-4.ch044
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Abstract

Communities of practice have always existed in some form. However, it was not until the late 20th century that they entered the lexicon of business. Experts such as Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002) point to companies such as Shell, World Bank, and Xerox that have successfully used communities to encourage innovation or the development of best practices. But the concept was rarely extended to other kinds of organizations, such as nonprofit organizations and associations. In creating and launching its online Communities of Practice (CoP), the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) blazed new trails as it set out to redefine the way it worked as an association. The drive toward communities emerged from a number of factors. The 76-year-old association is at the epicenter of a healthcare world where information and knowledge are key assets in the ongoing effort to advance health and patient care. AHIMA now serves a membership of 50,000 professionals who work in increasingly varied roles. Like many associations, AHIMA strives to demonstrate and improve the value of its services to members at the same time that member needs are growing more and more diverse. Members seek ways to better leverage information to achieve greater levels of personal efficiency and effectiveness and contribute to better performance for their healthcare organization’s business operations. By the late 1990s, members were looking for more efficient forms of knowledge exchange with other members. Many of the breakthrough professional practice improvements were happening in the field. Members could not wait for these best practices to “trickle up” to the national level, be packaged, and trickle back down. New ways of disseminating information had to be devised to complement the tried-and-true ways. AHIMA members said that one of their primary reasons for belonging to the association was the interaction it provides with their peers. However, with decreasing travel and conference budgets and severe time constraints, members were less able to extract themselves from their workplace to attend meetings. The association offered membership in specialty groups as a means of networking, but this structure was costly for members and for AHIMA and not flexible enough to meet member needs for networking and knowledge exchange. In 1998, AHIMA’s Board of Directors charged an organizational structure task force with leading an organizational design process. This design process was not about rearranging the boxes on an organizational chart, but about creating a new model that would allow the association to be more member centered and facilitate interactions between members. The task force released its recommendations in 1999. One of these called for instituting “practice communities.” It defined “practice community” as a way of enabling AHIMA members with common interests to network across geographic boundaries. The task force went on to recommend a new association-wide model, a key component of which is CoP.

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