Identifying Needs and Expertise

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Even after a COP has been formed, members will need to further explore common organizational needs and the range of expertise available within the group. This information can be surfaced at an in-person event or through virtual activities, such as teleconferencing or online work. For example, during a meeting, small groups can identify and prioritize their organizations’ needs and then discuss how the COP can tackle these issues. On the other hand, a needs assessment can be conducted through online polling technology. And members can learn about their collective experience by conducting “appreciative” interviews in which pairs explore each other’s knowledge and talents. Whatever methods you chose to help members uncover their needs and expertise, this information helps people recognize the value and gains that may result from their participation in the community of practice.

These in-person activities can help a COP explore needs and expertise.

Here are some possible activities you can use at an in-person session to help members explore their organizational needs and expertise.

  • Build a “web” of needs and expertise.  This interactive activity is great for groups that enjoy a game. Using a ball of twine, participants describe a need within their organization that is relevant to the subject matter area of the COP.  Another member with that expertise speaks up and briefly explains how their expertise might help meet that need.  The person with the “need” then throws the ball of twine to the “expert.”  The game continues in this manner until everyone is connected to another person within the COP.  The group then draws a representation of the web on a piece of paper that documents the needs/expertise discovered through the activity.
  • Create a visual display of expertise objects.  Ahead of the launch, ask participants to bring with them a physical representation of what they have to offer that others might value. This could be an article, story, photo, or tool/template.  Post these objects in a place that gets a lot of traffic.  At some point during the event, give participants an opportunity to introduce themselves to the group by explaining their object.   
  • Conduct appreciative interviews.  On a rotating basis, COP members pair off with each member of their COP, asking appreciative questions to find out what every person has to offer the group. The facilitator can draft appreciative questions, such as:
    • What motivates you to do your work?
    • What talents and skills make you effective at your work?
    • What have been the most fulfilling moments in your career?

    Typically in an appreciative interview process, the interviewer repeats the answers back to the speaker.  At the end of the interview, the speaker and listener swap roles.

    • Identify three common organizational needs.  Give the group thirty to forty-five minutes to identify the needs in each of their organizations, discuss common needs, and then pick the top three most pressing needs across all organizations.  Follow-on activities can include an exploration of the ways that COP members can work together to address these needs.
    • Collect autographs.  Prior to the launch, the facilitator reaches out to participants to gather information about their strengths, experiences, and accomplishments. The facilitator picks a key fact about each person in the COP and includes it on a fact sheet about COP members. Members take the sheet and try to match the person to the fact. When they find the right match, they ask the person to autograph the sheet next to the fact.  The “winner” is the first one to collect all the autographs.

These virtual activities can help a COP explore needs and expertise.

Here are some virtual activities you can use to help members explore their organizational needs and expertise.

  • Conduct a live virtual needs assessment using webinar and polling technology.  You may choose to ask a series of poll questions that will help you, as the organizer, understand the hopes, concerns, and needs of COP members in terms of percentages (e.g., 45 percent of your group might be wrestling with board development).  Show the results as you go.  By conducting the needs assessment this way, you can immediately address “pain points” and shape the COP accordingly.  Virtual needs assessments may also be done ahead of time with an online survey (free tools include SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, and Zoomerang).  You can then use the webinar time to address concerns and potential benefits of COP participation, encouraging discussion among members. Read the article, A Few Good Online Survey Tools, to learn more about online assessments.
  • Conduct a webinar displaying the results of an asynchronous (not live) needs assessment.  One member of the COP administers the needs assessment and puts together the presentation. This facilitator then poses some questions based on the needs assessment findings. Members can answer questions by live conference call or by interactive features on virtual meetings (raising hands, chatting, white boarding, etc.)
  • Identify three common needs of the organizations. Via conference call, have each member prepare and present the most pressing needs of their organization. Use free desktop sharing technology (e.g., ScreenStream, TeamViewer, Yuuguu) to keep a running list of these needs. Based on the list, work together to group and prioritize the needs. Then identify the top three needs that the group is committed to addressing together.
  • Identify major areas of expertise in the group. Via conference call, have each member prepare and present the top three areas of expertise they bring to the group. Rely on free desktop sharing technology (e.g., ScreenStream, TeamViewer, Yuuguu) to keep a running list of the expertise that is mentioned.  Using the list, work together to group and classify the kinds of talent within the COP. Then identify how this expertise might be used to address the priority needs that have been identified.
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Check your understanding of techniques for identifying COP needs and expertise.

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