Communities of Practice for Promoting Organizational and Informal Learning in Public Administration

Communities of Practice for Promoting Organizational and Informal Learning in Public Administration

David Rodríguez-Gómez (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain) and Joaquin Gairin (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9639-4.ch010

Abstract

Professional development of the members of any organization is a key and essential factor to promote innovation and, ultimately, the improvement of public organizations. Communities of practice is one of the leading strategies used to promote knowledge management processes aimed at generating organizational and individual and informal learning. This chapter presents some of the results and proposals from an extensive study developed in two phases which focus on some key factors for promoting innovation in public administration. The first phase tries to identify some of the mechanisms that facilitate or hinder learning, organizational and informal, in public organizations. The second phase is focused on analysis of knowledge management practices through communities of practice in public administration. The results enable us to suggest some proposals and future research lines aimed at improving both organizational and informal learning, along with innovations that contribute to improving the public administration.
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Introduction

Innovation is an indispensable requirement for Public Administration (Bason, 2018), since it must respond to a rapidly changing context, needs and demands. The aim is to achieve a model of public administration in accordance with the citizens and social organisations demands, which would provide effective, efficient, sustainable responses. The changes to be promoted not only affect the general orientation of the administrative structure, which should be aligned with the European 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development but must continue to focus on key issues such as transparency, public ethics, periodic review of actions and implementation of effective systems of accountability (Arenilla, 2017) closely linked to the activities of its human resources. The innovation capacity of any organisation is directly linked to its learning capacity and, consequently, to the professional development of its workers (e.g., Brix, 2017; Choi & Chandler, 2015; Rodríguez-Gómez, 2015).

Individuals’ professional development is fundamental for the development of any organisation. If we consider learning organisations as those that facilitates the learning of all its members and continuously transforms itself, we are highlighting the value of learning as the fundamental basis of the organisation. The development of the organisation is based on the development of people and their ability to incorporate new ways of developing their tasks. Learning can thus be considered as a necessary requirement that enables the achievement of organisational goals, as an organisational element that acts as a tool at the service of the organisational needs, as part of the strategy that places the organisation in an advantageous situation in the face of possible changes or as the essence that justifies the training and learning proposals in organisations.

In recent years, the increasing interest among organisational practitioners and scholars in searching for and applying alternative strategies and policies to promote professional development, and therefore organisational learning and organisational improvement, has been reflected in the appearance of multiple studies about Informal Learning (IL), Knowledge Management (KM) and Communities of Practice (CoPs) as an strategy to promote innovation (e.g., Dolinska & d'Aquino, 2016; Goodyear, & Casey, 2015; Inkinen, Kianto & Vanhala, 2015).

Strategies promoting workplace informal learning are contributing the most to the professional development of the workers and impact more clearly on their daily professional activity (e.g., Manuti, Pastore, Scardigno, Giancaspro & Morciano, 2015). Workplace informal learning requires a constant interrelation among workers (e.g., Greenhow & Lewin, 2016), thus justifying the development of strategies such as Knowledge Management and, specifically, communities of practice.

However, as we already highlighted in a previous publication (Rodríguez-Gómez & Gairín, 2014), while most studies are focused in for-profit organisations, little attention has been given to the use of IL, KM and CoP in the public administration.

Based on an organisational learning approach, this study addresses this gap in the literature by examining the factors that affect organisational learning in the public administration. Particularly, the study describes informal learning processes and strategies used by public administration workers and identify factors affecting communities of practice success in the public administration.

This chapter presents some of the results and proposals from an extensive study developed in two phases which focus on some key factors for promoting innovation in public administration: organisational learning, informal learning and communities of practice. The first phase tries to identify some of the mechanisms that facilitate or hinder learning, organisational and informal, in public organisations. The second phase is focused on analysis of knowledge management practices through Communities of practice in public administration1.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Innovation: A process through which changes in an organisation are promoted and institutionalized. It usually entails advantages in terms of job performance or personal satisfaction that make it attractive for both individuals and organizations.

Community Of Practice: A group of people working in the same domain of knowledge and/or profession which promotes collaborative process involving the social construction of knowledge with the purpose of finding solutions to their common professional problems.

Informal Learning: A kind of personal learning, often unplanned and at times unconscious, that results from interacting with a context or environment.

Workplace Learning: A kind of learning that takes place at work and results from the interactions among the people who work in the same place.

CoP Moderator: The moderator is responsible for guiding the project towards the objectives established. As the host, facilitator and organizer of the community of learning, he/she is responsible for the online space being a meeting space where it is possible to generate information, construct new knowledge and promote synergies which drive the transformation of reality.

Organizational learning: Process of detection and correction of errors, through which we share and develop knowledge, we exchange ideas, processes and mental models, acquire new skills and develop new behaviors that contribute to the improvement of our own organization.

Knowledge Management: An organizational strategy that promotes and facilities systematic processes to take advantage of the existing knowledge and create new knowledge with the goal of professional and organizational development and the generation of a competitive advantage for the organisation and its individuals.

Professional Development: A series of activities organized and aimed at achieving professional growth in knowledge, skills and workplace involvement. It usually includes the activities of selection, training, mentoring and evaluation and is related to the result of job assessments, career plans, promotional systems and job transitions.

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