Forming a COP

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Being part of a community of practice requires people to invest considerable time and effort, and it is best when membership is voluntary. If you hope to form a COP, it helps to anticipate the kinds of questions and concerns that people might have. For example, what information will people want before agreeing to participate? How can you reassure them that COP work could be more valuable than what they can do on their own? What will convince them that their time and effort will be well spent? What positive experiences can they anticipate that might influence them to take part? What past experiences might people need to let go of in order to embrace this new experience? These are the kinds of questions that need to be answered before people can fully engage in a new COP. Then to build buy-in and enthusiasm for participation in a COP, consider facilitating activities that help each participant recognize common organizational needs among COP members and learn about valuable experience and expertise within the COP.

There are several different approaches to forming COP groups.

In today’s TTA environment, activities occur both in person and virtually. When launching a COP, it’s highly recommended that the activities take place in person.  Typically, in-person launches take place at training events. They could be held on one evening of a training series, at a conference, or at an orientation.  But keep in mind that launches can work virtually as well.

When forming a COP among your TTA participants, first consider whether you will pre-assign groups or allow for self-selection. Pre-assigning works well when the COP is highly integrated into other elements of your TTA program.  This may be the case in the following situations:

  • Your training series includes “homework” that lends itself to a consistent group doing work together
  • You are intentionally building collaborations across organizations in a specific geographic area
  • You are intentionally building collaborations across specifically targeted organizations
  • Your entire group will be one community of practice (rather than multiple COPs)

If pre-assigning, remember that you will need to do more work to create buy-in about who is in the group and why the group has been formed.

Self-assigning is a great way to get participants to buy into the COP from the very beginning.  Time can be dedicated at a training event or conference for participants to form their own groups based on criteria that they have some part in creating. 

Click to open interactivity Check your understanding of different approaches to forming COP groups.

Check your understanding of different approaches to forming COP groups.

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Here are some in-person activities for self-assigning groups.

Some possible activities for self-assigning at an in-person event include:

  • Holding a group discussion about the criteria for forming COPs followed by allotted time for members to find one another according to the agreed-on criteria. Possible criteria include: subject matter expertise, social service priorities, geographic area, levels of commitment, organizational mission, and preference for virtual or in-person contact.
  • Identifying a list of COP subject areas and having participants choose the subject area that interests them the most. Potential subject areas include:
    board development, leadership and management, staff development, and raising funds.
  • Conducting a speed-dating type of “matching” event in which participants take part in a series of two- to five-minute conversations about their areas of expertise and experience, as well as what they are hoping to learn.  Participants keep a running list of who is a good “match” based on these short, facilitated discussions.  At the end of the event, participants submit their lists. You then use these lists to create the teams, ensuring that each group is made up of a good proportion of individuals who are choosing each other.
  • Asking grantees to identify their organizations on a map with stickers or push pins and letting them group themselves based on geographic proximity.

Here are some virtual activities for self-assigning groups.

Some possible virtual activities for self-assigning include:

  • Hosting a virtual COP kickoff meeting via webinar through GotoWebinar, Adobe Connect, Wiggio, or another online meeting platform. During this meeting you can introduce the COP and facilitate live self-assigning activities. 
  • Setting up sub-groups around practice areas in a virtual workspace and inviting participants to select the one that is most attractive to them.  Possible practice areas include: board development, leadership and management, staff development, and raising funds. Then use online collaboration tools to create virtual workspaces for the COPs working on each pre-determined topic.  Some tools to consider are Wiggio, Ning, Yugma, or Google Groups.  For a comparison of different online collaboration software, visit the idealware website.
Click to open interactivity Tip Sheet for a Webinar-based COP Kickoff

Tip Sheet for a Webinar-based COP Kickoff

Click this link to download a tip sheet with activities for a webinar-based kickoff.

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