The Impact of Communities of Practice: Evaluation and Measurement

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The impact communities of practice (CoPs) make can be understood in several different ways, depending on which theoretical perspective is used. For example, CoPs have been studied from a learning-theory perspective, from organizational development theory, and from a small-group theory. To understand the effects of participating in a CoP on individuals, groups or the organization in which they function, we could use traditional learning theory, organizational learning theory, information-processing theory or small-group process theory, etc. Or we could look at the internal processes of CoPs; the output they generate, or employ a synthesized view. CoPs can also be seen as impacting different actors in the organization in which they operate; individuals, groups or the whole organization. This means, for example, that we could look at CoPs from an organizational learning perspective to see how CoPs impact strategy development or renewal. At the level of the group, we could look at how CoPs lead to increased group performance and how that in turn leads to a higher output of knowledge products. And as learning is one of the key processes in a CoP, an important aspect of we need to study is how the individual learns, as well as what the individual learns. The complexity of impact a CoP can have on the diverse actors requires a pluralistic and multiperspective approach. However, a review of the literature showed no comprehensive model that neither integrates these different levels of impact nor employs multiple theoretical perspectives. Furthermore, most models of measurement or assessment use traditional types of output measurement, such as ROI, or anecdotal evidence that the CoP has improved organizational capability. Much like any human resource development initiative – which is the perspective of CoPs we take in this paper – there has been no real attempt to develop measures for assessing impact. We try to fill this gap by presenting a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, conceptual model that approaches measuring certain aspects a CoP has on individuals, groups and organizations.