Communities of Implementation

Communities of Implementation

Duncan Shaw (Aston Business School, UK), Brad Baker (Aston Business School, UK) and John S. Edwards (Aston Business School, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-556-6.ch008
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The concept of communities of practice (CoPs) has rapidly gained ground in fields such as knowledge management and organisational learning since it was first identified by Lave and Wenger (1991) and Brown and Duguid (1991). In this article, we consider a related concept that we have entitled “communities of implementation.” Communities of implementation (CoIs) are similar to communities of practice in that they offer an opportunity for a collection of individuals to support each other and share knowledge in a dynamic environment and on a topic in which they share interest. In addition, and to differentiate them from CoPs, a community of implementation extends the responsibilities of a CoP by having as its focus the implementation of a programme of change. This may well extend to designing the change programme. Thus, whereas a main purpose of a CoP is to satisfy “a real need to know what each other knows” (Skyrme, 1999) in an informal way, we argue that a main purpose of a community of implementation is to “pool individual knowledge (including contacts and ways of getting things done) to stimulate collective enthusiasm in order to take more informed purposeful action for which the members are responsible.” Individual and collective responsibility and accountability for successfully implementing the actions/change programme is a key feature of a community of implementation. Without these pressures the members might lower the priority of implementation, allowing competing priorities to dominate their attention and resources. Without responsibility and accountability, the result is likely to be (at best) an organisation which has not begun a change programme, or (at worst) an organisation which is stuck halfway through another failing initiative. To achieve these additional objectives beyond those of a CoP, the CoI needs to provide heightened support to its members. In fact often the members will collectively strategise the development and implementation of the change programme they are leading in the organisation. Other concepts similar to CoPs have appeared in the literature, for example “communities of knowing” (Boland & Tenkasi, 1995), but none have a specific focus on implementation. Perhaps the closest example of a CoI, as suggested by our definition, is reported by Karsten, Lyytinen, Hurskainen, and Koskelainen (2001) who describe a CoP in a paper machinery manufacturer which seems to have the necessary focus on implementation. The theoretical aspects of this article will explore the relationship between CoPs and CoIs, and the needs for different arrangements for a CoI. The practical aspect of this article will consist of a report on a case study of a CoI that was successful in its implementation of a programme of change that aimed to improve its organisation’s knowledge management activities. Over two years the CoI implemented a suite of complementary actions across the organisation. These actions transformed the organisation and moved it towards achieving its ‘core values’ and overall objectives. The article will explore: the activities that formed and gelled the community, the role of the community in the implementation of actions, and experiences from key members of this community on its success and potential improvements.

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