The Do’s and Don’ts of Communities of Practice

by | Feb 9, 2015 | Articles

A conversation eXchange with Kandy Woodfield, Director of Learning at NatCen Social Research

With such fast-moving and far reaching technological change, the way in which NatCen gather social research data is changing beyond recognition. Gone are the days of doorstep polling: the primary research model has moved online. For their Quality Focus teams operating across just three UK sites, communities of practice have been established that operate largely as innovation hubs for the whole not-for-profit business.

Setting up communities of practice internally began with a top-down approach – not the best model to ensure participants valued them! This led to a much more strategic and successful approach, building the skills in the target audience and ensuring that the community was user-led.

Kandy offered a number of ‘Do’s to those gathered around the table on the first morning at Learning Technologies 2015 and stimulated great interest and debate in how the NatCen experience could be applied across other sectors and for other business purposes:


  • Get management buy-in – and sponsor people’s time to allow them to take part
  • Up skill the community around the use of social media – using freely available tools such as ‘23 things’
  • Research what is easy for people to use
  • Provide guidance to would-be bloggers on how to write a short, punchy blog to give them confidence to add their voice to the debate
  • Allow those who put in the time and effort to rise to the top –  but engage the ‘loud’ voices in other ways
  • Encourage members to manage the community as ‘Blog editor’
  • Nurture the communities constantly – bring in in fresh ideas from outside the organisation where possible
  • Research on what other Communities of Practice are doing
  • Invite guest blogs
  • Keep it informal, without putting pressure on people to contribute
  • Remove barriers to help staff fit the community into their workflow
  • Schedule twitter chats at certain times
  • Keep gathering feedback – and ask staff if the community is still working
  • Keep re-assessing its impact and reach and change direction if necessary
  • Allow the community to be self-determining  – facilitated, not led by L&D


  • Be the only voice
  • Have complicated platforms that get in the way of engagement
  • Be afraid to re-post good ideas

Introducing social and collaborative learning through communities of practice doesn’t just happen overnight. Turning that interest group or ‘network’ into an online ‘community of practice’ demands a willingness to share from all those involved. Further support the growing community with face-to-face meetings or scheduled weekly calls.

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